Monday, April 30, 2007

Week In Review: They Were the Worst of Times

Week 4: April 23-29

Record for the Week: 1-5, 23 RS, 41 RA
Overall: 9-14, 131 RS, 125 RA (5th Place AL East, 6.5 games out of 1st)

The Breakdown:

4/23 Yankees 8, Tampa Bay 10
Big A-Rod performance (4 for 5, 2 HR) squandered by Kei Igawa (7 R in 4.1 IP) and the previously-steady Brian Bruney. BJ Upton and Rocco Baldelli put the screws to New York. Lesson learned: Turns out those Devil Rays can score some runs (2nd in the league in runs scored, behind the Yanks)--then again, they've had some help from the Yankee pitching staff.

4/24 Yankees 4, Tampa Bay 6
Chien Ming Wang comes off the DL, and shows some rust (4 R through 6.1 IP). The Yanks led 3-2 in the 7th before the Rays broke it open, with a grand slam by Carl Crawford off Mike Myers. Lesson learned: What do you call a Lefty One Out Guy who doesn't get lefties out? Waste of a roster spot, perhaps?

4/25 Blue Jays at Yankees, Rained Out
Lesson learned: When you've lost five in a row, sometimes you can use a little rain. Or maybe not.

4/26 Toronto 6, Yankees 0
The Golden Child, Phil Hughes, debuts. Kind of a lot to expect that the rookie will end the losing streak, and he doesn't really pitch well enough to win. Not that he had a chance, since the Yanks gave him absolutely no run support. Lesson learned: There's a reason why the Blue Jays gave AJ Burnett all that money. When he's not on the DL or pitching like a bonehead, he can throw the ball pretty good.

4/27 Boston 11, Yankees 4
Early favorite for most disgusting loss of the year. The Yanks led 4-2 after four innings against Daisuke Matsuzaka, and then Andy Pettitte, Everyday Scott Proctor and Mariano Rivera all spit the bit. Lesson learned: Losing seven in a row is very, very painful.

4/28 Boston 1, Yankees 3
Talk about your bad news/good news situations. On the first pitch of the game, Jeff Karstens takes a liner off the knee. He has a fracture, but tries to continue pitching. Kei Igawa then comes in for his first relief appearance since losing his slot in the rotation, and gives the Yanks six scoreless innings. They weren't perfect innings (2 hits and 4 walks went with Igawa-san's 6 Ks) but he got the Yanks out of a two-on no-out jam in the first, and really came up big against all expectations. Jorge Posada struck the big blow, a two-run home off Wakefield. Lesson learned: Maybe Igawa shouldn't pitch from the windup for the rest of the season.

4/29 Boston 7, Yankees 4
The Yankees take a 3-2 lead into the fifth--the three runs coming on a Doug Mientkiewicz homer--but good things just aren't lasting long with this pitching staff. Wang's control was off, perhaps due to a split fingernail. Losing ensued. Lesson learned: when Doug Mientkiewicz is the guy driving your offense, you're probably going to lose.

Player of the Week:
Alex Rodriguez gets a break from Player of the Week props, slacking for only 2 HR and 3 RBI on the week (.304/.360/.565), and missing out on the all-time April records for homers and RBI. The week's honors go to Derek Jeter (.444/.450/.611). Jason Giambi also contributed a nice week (.450/542/.550), and made his first appearance in the field in Saturday's game. That was pretty much it, though.

Dregs of the Week:
The only pitcher who didn't surrender a run on the week (Colter Bean), got sent down to AAA. The whole pitching staff was awful, with Mariano Rivera and Sean Henn having superficially the worst week(s). Since Igawa's six scoreless came in relief, the Yanks managed to get through the week without a single quality start. However, since Dregs is mainly an individual honor, we feel bound to single out Bobby Abreu (.087/.222/.130) who had the worst hitless streak (0-19) of his career this week. Johnny Damon (.158/.273/.158) and Robbie Cano (.143/.217/.286) also had weeks they'd like to forget.

Story of the Week:
We've already talked about the Phil Hughes experience, so I'll take a pass here and just segue into some short-form Month In Review awards.

Player of the Month:
Well...duh. Alex Rodriguez leads the AL in OPS (1.297) is the only Major Leaguer with double digits in home runs (14) and the only player in the Show with over 30 RBI so far (34, nine ahead of the next guy down the list). There is no conversation to be had about this.

Dregs of the Month:
The only time Mariano Rivera has posted an ERA higher than this month's 10.57, was in his rookie season. In June 1995 Rivera allowed 12 runs, 11 earned, in 6.1 innings, for a 15.63 ERA. In Friday night's game, for the first time I can recall, Rivera actually looked like a beaten man. Thankfully, he and his pitches looked better on Saturday, when he got the save to end April on an up note. Still, we're holding our breath hoping that this month isn't a sign that he's hiding an injury, or of ineffectiveness to come.

Mariano shares Dregs "honors" with Melky Cabrera. Somewhere, out there, Bernie Williams is thinking that he could do better than this--and since Melky hit .200/.238/.213 in nearly full-time April work, with just one extrabase hit, Bernie Baseball would probably be right in that assessment. The organization made the right decision to give Melky the fourth outfielder job, but you have to wonder how long he'll get to struggle like this before he's sent down, and maybe Kevin Thompson is brought up to take that extra outfielder role?

Story of the Month:
For the second time since the end of the 2006 season, Joe Torre is on the hot seat. This team's systemwide failure goes beyond Torre--there's some bad injuries, bad luck, and mainly there's been bad pitching--but like with Melky you have to wonder how long these poor results will be tolerated before the brass decides a change is needed, if only for change's sake. The man who's widely acclaimed for saving Torre's job this winter, Steve Swindal, is no longer with the ballclub.

Now, getting rid of Torre would be an overreaction, a classic panic move. I don't know that Torre's presumed successor, Don Mattingly, could do a better job motivating this club--is a month as bench coach enough experience for the most high-profile managerial job in the game. I will say that if he got the job now, he'd likely look successful just based on the fact that this club is operating far below its level now, and is likely to bounce back to decent if not better than that.

I'd hope that Torre gets a couple of weeks with a more-or-less intact starting rotation before anyone makes any rash decisions. The Yanks haven't had four of their intended starters in the rotation at the same time since the Minnesota series. The Yanks, through no fault of Torre's, have had to go to the bullpen more than any other team in the AL--97 bullpen innings in April. Normally we'd be slagging Torre for the fact that four Yankees are in the top 9 pitchers in the AL in appearances--Scott Proctor and Luis Vizcaino share the league lead with Dennys Reyes with 15, and Mike Myers and Brian Bruney aren't far behind with 14 each--but what choice has he had? The starters have had the third worst ERA, as a group, in the majors (5.94, just ahead of Tampa Bay and Texas) and they have the fewest quality starts in the majors. If something's going to change, that has to be it--because I'm pretty sure the Yanks can't keep this up for the rest of the season.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Night at the Opera

One thing I didn't share with all of you when I posted the other day about Phil Hughes' major league debut was that I wouldn't be watching the game live. No, my TV isn't broken, nor was I expecting a rainout of Hughes' start--I had tickets for the opera.

Yeah, you heard me, the opera. You got a problem with that?

When La Chiquita's uncle, who's an opera buff, bought us tickets for the Barber of Seville at the Met several months ago, I couldn't have imagined that the Yankees would choose the same night to unleash Phil Hughes on the major leagues. I almost hoped that the Yanks would push Hughes' start over a day when Wednesday's game was rained out--but I knew that that was just being selfish, that there's just no way the Yanks' most promising prospect should be thrown into the Yanks/Sox meatgrinder, even if it was a home game. Plus, 1) the promise of Phil Hughes debut would probably sell a few extra tickets, and therefore would be wasted in a Yanks/Sox near-sellout, and 2) the rotation sets up better with Pettitte facing Boston rather than the righty-heavy Jays lineup.

So I set the DVR and decided that, even though the opera was starting at 8:00, I wouldn't try to catch the top of the first live (it's a matter of willpower--if I'd been watching the start of the game I would have been able to peel myself away for my scheduled dose of Rossini, but I probably would have delayed enough to make us late). Since I didn't watch the beginning, I chose a "media blackout" approach, promising not to look if we passed any TVs that were showing the game, and not to look for the score on my phone. Before the performance and during intermission, I answered the phone with "Whatever you do, don't tell me what's going on in the game." I still checked my email, taking the risk that some stinker would put something like "Hughes no-hitter through five" in the subject line. I lucked out on that score. I also worried vaguely that I might pass guys, not under a similar self-imposed media blackout, taking about the game while at the Met. I needn't have worried. First of all, for someone to have spoiled the game for me, I'd have had to run into opera fans who spoke English--which, along with people under the age of 60, was pretty rare. I just don't think the cross section of opera/baseball fans is all that big--feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

[Taking things out of order, this is how the best laid plans of mice and men work out: after the opera and dinner, I get home, put on the DVR, and for some reason it starts playing from the three hour mark rather than from the beginning. So after staying away from TVs and not checking the score, the first image I see tells me that the score was 6-0 in the eighth. Grrrrr.]

Back at the Met, prior to the opening curtain, someone came up to make the announcement that, even though she would still be singing, the female lead, Joyce DiDonato was fighting a throat infection. Strange thing is, the announcement put me in my element. Someone's playing with pain, when they could just pull themselves out for an understudy--this is like sports! Then, as the conductor walked into the pit, the crowd started cheering, and didn't stop until the conductor turned and acknowledged the audience, just like Roll Call at a Yankee game. Alas, we weren't chanting "Mau Be-Ni-Ni (clap, clap, clapclapclap)" to win his wave to the crowd. I would have paid good money to see that chant get started. Then, since there are also box seats at the opera and I wasn't sitting in them, we could have finished up strong with a chant of "Box seats suck!" all before first pitch--er, I mean the opening curtain.

[Later, La Chiquita got into the sports-themed spirit of the evening, saying that the Met should really have vendors walking the aisles, ready to bring you a beer or a hot dog. What can I say, she's a woman after my own heart.]

The Barber of Seville is a great experience for someone who's not an opera expert because it's genuinely funny. All the lyrics are in Italian, but at the Met you get subtitles from a machine on the seat back in front of you. Since the lyrics are often delivered lightning-fast machine gun-style bursts, it's easy to catch the rhythm of the humor, even if you're not keeping up with the dialogue too well. Add to that a lot of physical comedy, a few self-aware digs at opera itself, and a few pieces of staging that evoked Monty Python, and you will laugh, guaranteed.

The story's simple. Count Almaviva wants to get with Rosina, a pretty girl newly-arrived in Seville. Rosina's guardian, a doctor, keeps her locked up in the house. In a creepy turn that might have been slightly less creepy in the early 19th Century, one of the reasons the doctor keeps her locked up is because he wants to marry her himself. Into this love triangle steps Figaro, the eponymous Barber...who's also a semi-pro dentist, pharmacist, wig-seller and matchmaker. Even though Figaro's feeling stressed out because everyone's putting demands on his time (that's what he's singing about in the piece from this opera just about everyone knows, sung here by George Steinbrenner favorite Robert Merril, Largo al Factotum) he takes on the wealthy Count as a client, promising to find a way to hook him up with Rosina. Hilarity ensues.

As you can probably tell, I had a great time at the Met, probably a better time than I would have had watching the Jays beat down the Yanks for the Bombers' sixth straight loss. As promised, Ms. DiDonato was a gamer, despite her hurting pipes and a nasty unscheduled spill she took in a scene where one of the characters is supposed to pull her around like a rag doll. Met newcomer Lawrence Brownlee--who resembles a much stockier Prince onstage--was great in a role that calls for an ultra-sincere lovestruck dolt one moment and over-the-top wackiness the next. Although the Count and Rosina are the protagonists, the real stars are the men playing Figaro and the Doctor--since they have to play broadly for humor, and rattle off the faster tongue-twisting arias. Russel Braun and John Del Carlo were amazing in those roles, particularly Del Carlo, who simultaneously evoked pity, loathing and humor as Dr. Bartolo.

Once I got home, I finally got to see Hughes pitch his debut. The results were ugly, but he wasn't bad--he was definitely nervous in the first inning, when it looked like he was over-gripping the ball, making for a couple of curves that came nowhere near the strike zone, and one fastball that hit the ground at least five feet in front of Jorge Posada's target. He gave up a couple of runs that inning, on a booming double over Johnny Damon's head off the bat of Vernon Wells and a nice piece of hitting by Frank Thomas for an RBI single. Still, Hughes seemed more in control of himself in the second, third and fourth before Alex Rios and Wells touched him up for another couple of runs in the fifth, and ended his night. Despite the results, it was a pleasure to watch him pitch, and it promises better things in the future.

I can't say that there was any pleasure watching the Yanks bat in last night's game, however. The Captain was out of the lineup, still bothered after getting drilled in the leg during Tuesday's game against the Devil Rays. A lineup which simultaneously carries Miguel Cairo and Doug Mientkiewicz is an aberration of nature, the kind of thing you'd think we'd be done with in the 21st Century. Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu and Jorge Posada all looked bad against AJ Burnett. This team is coming into the weekend set against the Red Sox ice cold.

In other news, the rainout means that, at least for the moment, Kei Igawa has been demoted from the starting rotation. I'm curious to hear what the reaction to that is in Japan. As a way-side note, Damon and Mientkiewicz were mobbed by press before the game, due to Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne's accusation that the red spot on Curt Schilling's ankle during the 2004 ALCS was paint, not blood. Even for the Red Sox, that sounds just too stupid to be true.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Seeeing the Hughes Half-Full

All the plans were to be protective of Philip Hughes. The number two prospect in the minors last year--pretty close to a consensus, although Delmon Young and Homer Bailey may still want to be heard on that issue--Hughes is a guy that a lot of teams would have had up in the Show last year, when he was beating the everlovin' crap out of the Florida State and Eastern Leagues. But the Yankees had different plans, particularly after the wunderkind's control abandoned him during Spring Training. Hughes would get the Yankees' full course of patience--spending most, if not all the season in lovely Scranton, PA. It was possible he'd get a September call-up, but the Yanks figured they'd picked up so much pitching depth that if he was called up, it wouldn't be out of necessity.

Fast forward to mid-April (trust me, it doesn't take long) and the depth is toast. I've already talked about 60% of the rotation going down to injury--if there's one thing that Hughes's call-up tells us, is that the Yanks maybe aren't too optimistic that Carl Pavano will return quickly from his latest owie. Then there's been the none-too-inspiring early returns on Kei Igawa. There's the injury to Karstens and the general ineffectiveness of Karstens and his baseball twin Darrell Rasner. There was the rushing of Chase Wright to the majors after two career starts above A ball.

Down on the farm, bad things have been happening. Last Wednesday Humberto Sanchez, the top pitcher (and boogie-down Bronx native) the Yanks picked up for Gary Sheffield, had ligament replacement surgery for his pitching elbow. He joins Christian Garcia and Mark Melancon among the top Yankees prospects to have "Tommy John" surgery in the last few months, and J.B. Cox makes for an even four Yanks prospects to have elbow surgery.

Of the remaining healthy advanced pitching prospects in the Yanks system, the early returns haven't been awe-inspiring. Tyler Clippard has a 5.12 ERA at AAA, and Ross Ohlendorf has walked more guys (14 in 20 IP) than he's struck out (12). Steven Jackson couldn't get out of the fourth inning of his last start. Other than Hughes, Matt DeSalvo is the only starter pitching well at Scranton--but giving how low he is on the prospect totem pole, DeS is going to have to
show his stuff for a while longer before the Yanks believe he's major league ready.

So the Phil Hughes era starts on Thursday.

In addition to forcing the Yanks' hand into bringing up Hughes now, Sanchez and the others' elbow injuries reinforce an idea--that pitchers are largely on borrowed time, and sometimes the best you can do is get major league innings out of them while they're still effective. That's a rather dark take on carpe diem, I know, but the point is, if Phil Hughes could be getting major league hitters out now--and there's plenty to indicate that he's ready to do so--then what's he doing in the International League, other than running up the odometer?


It's rainy and cool today in New York, and I'm hoping they can get the game in. After the Yanks' disastrous two-game set in Tampa Bay, Andy Pettitte could do Hughes a real favor by winning tonight. It's enough pressure to be the Golden Child, the savior of baseball's most storied franchise. It's quite another to make your first major league start with the pressure of having to end a five- or six-game losing streak on your shoulders.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Week in Review: Sweep/Sweep

Week 3: April 16-22

Record for the Week: 3-3, 44 RS, 32 RA
Overall: 8-9, 114 RS, 91 RA

The Breakdown:

4/17 Cleveland 3, Yankees 10
Onetime Yankee farmhand Jake Westbrook gets brutalized in the second inning, including A-Rod's 8th homer. Chase Wright learns that it can be good to debut as a Yankee.

4/18 Cleveland 2, Yankees 9
Jeremy Sowers is made to squeal like a pig while A-Rod collects more kudos. Kei Igawa gets his first win.

4/19 Cleveland 6, Yankees 8
The unkindest cut of all, the Indians come into the ninth inning leading 6-2, get two outs, then blow the game. Alex gets his second come-from-behind walkoff homer of the year, even more unexcusable since first base was open. This could be the death knell of the "let's disrespect Alex Rodriguez movement" by opposing managers if not the home fans.

4/20 Yankees 6, Boston 7
Now it's the Red Sox turn to come from behind, as a 6-2 lead becomes a 7-6 loss. Mariano Rivera is brought in to stop the bleeding in the middle of the eighth inning with men on--often not a good place for the Sandman--and it turns out horribly. Then the Pinstripers fail to take advantage of the Papelbon Rules, by which the Red Sox closer isn't allowed to pitch three days in a row. The most frustrating loss of the season, thus far.

4/21 Yankees 5, Boston 7
The Sox put the smackdown on a fresh-off-the-DL Jeff Karstens. Yanks waste a game in which they tagged up Josh Beckett for five runs.

4/22 Yankees 6, Boston 7
Back. To back. To back. To back. The second time out isn't kind to Chase Wright, even though the Yanks again lay the bats on Daisuke Matsuzaka (6 runs in 7 innings).

Player of the Week: Yeah, there's not a lot of drama about this one. Jason Giambi got off the schnide, with a .435/.500/.783, 2 homer, 8 RBI week. Nice week...for a mortal. Jorge Poada hit .333/.357/.667--he's having a really good month, so far. But they're not Alex Rodriguez.

Alex added another five homers, and another 13 RBI to his tally. His rate stats .370/.393/1.000 are simply phenomenal. He's having a historic start to this season. By the way,
Alex Rodriguez .370/.393/1.000 5 HR, 13 RBI. He's simply so strong right now that when he makes an out in a big spot--like his lineout in Friday's game against Hideki Okajima, it's a surprise. And I'm starting to get tired of reminding people that it's only April.

On the pitching side of the ledger, Kei Igawa and Andy Pettitte did well for the week, Pettitte again pitching on his throw day against Boston on Sunday. I like that Torre's doing something innovative, but it's a little strange that the innovation is happening with a) a guy with Pettitte's history of injury, and b) the Yanks' only reliable healthy starter. Ick.

Dregs of the Week: Chase Wright uses his one-time plenary indulgence, and isn't a guy we're talking about in the Dregs column. Despite the four-in-a-row bombardment on Sunday, Wright did an OK job in his first start, and should get some leeway considering that he came into last week only two starts away from the Florida State League. Jeff Karstens was pretty brutal, too (7 runs in 4.1 IP), and Melky Cabrera's slump is starting to take the dimensions of something more--.208/.240/.208 this week, .203/.233/.203 for the season, given regular playing time. At least he's doing better than the runner-up, Wil Nieves, who was 0 for the season, 0 for 11 last week.

No, the Dregs honors this week have to go to one of the sacred cows of the Pinstriped faith, Mariano Rivera. Sure, it was only one appearance, but it was his only appearance of the week...which, come to think of it, may be part of the problem. A little perspective--Mo has as many appearances this season as Pettitte. Although Rivera's four-seamer has shown good velocity, his bread-and-butter pitch, the cutter, hasn't been sharp so far.

Rivera spent a lot of time this Spring working on a changeup which looked like a great new addition to his arsenal. However, I don't think I've seen the pitch since Rivera was unable to throw it for strikes in the opening series against the Devil Rays. I don't know if working on the change meant Rivera neglected his main pitch, or if the experiment's thrown his mechanics off. It's altogether more likely that he's just rusty.

As usual, two stright blown leads means that some folks are hitting the "Is Rivera done?" macro in Microsoft Word--which automatically sets up a game story template where all you have to do is put in the details of the latest blown save to frame a discussion of whether Mariano has finally turned into a human being just like the rest of us. The answer, as with many things is that it's still very early, and we don't know anything for sure--Rivera could be on the decline, or it may just be a bad week-plus; A-Rod could be en route to the best offensive season since Bonds broke the home run record, or he could be booed consistently in the second half if he "only" winds up hitting 40 homers.

[SIDE NOTE: I've seen in a few places accusations that Mariano Rivera "threw at Julio Lugo's head in frustation." Get real. If Rivera were throwing at Lugo the guy would've been in the hospital, not enjoying his umpteenth crotch-tug of the inning afterward.]

Story of the Week: Smoke 'em while you got 'em, Red Sox fans. I was flooded with work from my day job last week, so I only caught snatches of the action throughout. Whenever I tuned in to the Yanks/Sox series, something bad happened. I tuned in right before the 8th inning meltdown. The next day, convinced I was a jinx, I boycotted--but I couldn't resist the temptation and saw Karsten's too-too straight fastball getting teed up. Sunday, I turned on the TV for just one moment and saw Manny, J.D. Drew, and Mike Lowell go back to back to back. I turned off the TV in disgust before Jason Varitek joined the home run derby and Chase Wright got a bad place in the history books.

It was a good series for the Red Sox, and for all I know, maybe this is a sea change in the AL East. But taking a closer look, this is Boston winning three very close games, with their three best starters, while the Yanks pitched Pettitte (who pitched quite well), a guy who'd been rushed back from the DL (Karstens) and a guy who'd been rushed in from AA. Under those circumstances, and without Hideki Matsui, and punting offense in the first base slot, the Yanks were in every one of those games at Fenway. So pardon me if I don't give up on the season in April.

If the Yanks rotation doesn't get healthy, Alex Rodriguez could hit 75 homers, and the team would still come up short at the end of the season. If Darrell Rasner, Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright break 45 total starts for the season, the streak of first place finishes in the AL East will be over--and the Red Sox will have relatively little to do with it. While the Beantowners did a nice job over the weekend, their team still plays a short lineup, and the bullpen's weak outside of one guy whose pitching shoulder is a ticking time bomb. In a month, maybe I'll get worried; but right now it's important not to get too up when the Yanks sweep, or too down when they get swept.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Week In Review: April 9-15, 2007

Record for the Week: 3-3, 31 runs scored, 21 runs allowed
Overall: 5-6, 4th Place AL East, 2 games behind the Red Sox

The Breakdown:

4/9 Yankees 8, Twins 2
Carl Pavano controlled the Twinkies' attack, while Bobby Abreu led the offense, with two singles, a homer, and 3 RBI.

4/10 Yankees 10, Twins 1
Johnny Damon with 3 RBI, A-Rod with his 6th homer in 7 games, and Andy Pettitte pitched 6 clean innings.

4/11 Yankees 1, Twins 5
It looked so promising--Moose on the mound, Ramon Ortiz on the other side--so promising until Mussina motioned to the dugout in the third inning, and took himself out of the game. Kyle Farnsworth spit the bit after some good relief work by Sean Henn, Scott Proctor, and Luis Vizcaino.

4/13 Yankees 4, A's 5
After more Kyle Farnsworth silliness (homer to Nick Swisher in the 7th) this one went 11 innings before the Yanks took the loss.

4/14 Yankees 4, A's 3
Like the previous game in reverse, the Yanks coming back from early deficits, before breaking out behind Jason Giambi's homer in the 13th.

4/15 Yankees 4, A's 5
It's strange when Mariano--the only guy who normally wears #42, anymore--blows one. I was actually on the phone when Marco Scutaro took the Sandman deep for a three-run shot, and I just trailed off in mid-sentence...of a business call. A fitting end to a lousy week for the team.

Player of the Week: Another three homers, another seven RBI, .364/.448/.864 line. Alex Rodriguez is having a monster April, and leading the league in homers through Sunday. Nice. Jorge Posada put in a good supporting performance, .348/.423/.478 and three doubles. Derek Jeter would make this list with his .360/.467/.360 week, but his defensive troubles continued--he now has six errors in eleven games. Suddenly, people we've never heard criticize Jeter's "d" are saying things like "It's a well-known fact that he's an overrated defender." Yeah, it was a well-known fact back in 2000. Where were these guys then?

As noted above, the starters corrected course after earning joint Dregs honors (dishonors?) last week. Andy Pettitte came back with two quality starts--he gets co-Player of the Week honors with A-Rod--Pavano pitched in one of his own, Kei Igawa and Darrell Rasner managed tolerable starts, going five innings.

Dregs of the Week: Kyle Farnsworth's 13.50 ERA for the week is a great hint. In a bullpen that has a couple of established righthanded setup guys in Proctor and Vizcaino, plus the surprisingly good Brian Bruney, Kyle the blockhead could be losing his his place in the feeding line. His effort was more than matched by Doug Mientkiewicz's .050/.136/.050 week. That's bad enough to make you forget Melky Cabrera's ultrabad .240/.231/.240 week, as well as the bomb Mariano gave up to Scutaro. Lucky them.

Story of the Week: ...and then there were two. At this point, the entire righthanded compliment of the Yankees starting rotation is down with injuries, which we're told are of the nagging type--so far. But hamstring pulls can be a nasty kind of nagging injury, and the fact that be if the injured fellows is Carl Pavano is just plain bad news. Last time he was going to "just miss the minimum" with a not-so-serious problem, we didn't see him in uniform again for more than two years.

The horrible thing is I saw this happening. I watched Pavano's start and thought, "Hey, that isn't bad at all. Guy knows how to pitch." I that point I should have known something bad was going to happen. Maybe I could have called in a warning to the Metrodome switchboard. Too late now.

Chase Wright, who looked good in Spring Training and dominant in his first two AA starts (five baserunners and 19 Ks in 14 innings) comes up to pick up the slack. Wright's a curveballer who tore up the Florida State League last year, albeit at the age of 23. He's not a horrible pick for the start since he's not considered a top prospect--still, it's surprising that with all the depth the Yanks picked up at starting pitcher, the guy who they're calling on is someone who has all of 2 games of experience at AA. It'll be an interesting game.

In the meanwhile, if you see Andy Pettitte or Kei Igawa, please treat them gently.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

This One's on Minky...

Yanks dropped the first of their three-game set in Oakland last night, our first official casualty of the Doug Mientkiewicz era. In the eighth inning, the Yanks had the bases loaded with one out (after having started the inning with second-and-third, no outs) and Dougie Spellingerror came up. Now, this is one of the problems with having a dinky hitter like Mientkiewicz in the lineup, and the Yanks not really having a bench. I'd rather have Josh Phelps up in that spot, but the idea that Joe Torre would pinch-hit against the platoon advantage for the left handed "hitting" Mientkiewicz.

Anyway, Minky grounded out as weakly as possible, forceout at the plate, capping an 0-5 night where he left 7 men on base. Couldn't come up with a weak grounder under similar circumstances in the bottom of the 11th inning, when the A's won.

Thanks, Minky!

It's a shame, because Kei Igawa wasn't awful this time out--he was victimized by a brutal fielding error by Bobby Abreu, and a big bomb by Eric Chavez. However, with some help by Minky on offense and Kyle Farnsworth in the pen, Igawa had no shot at the win.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Performance Enhancement=Hamstring Pulls?

On Opening Day, my brother and I were just getting to our seats as the Devil Rays' roster announcements ended, and the Yankees' roster began being called out. As usual, they started with the non-high profile coaches--it's always a lot of fun when trainer Gene Monahan gets to take his bow, since it's the only time all season he'll run onto the field without it being bad news.

One announcement that caused us a shrug and a chuckle was the announcement of the "Director, Performance Enhancement" Marty Miller. The shrug was because it sounded new; the chuckle was because the title sounded a lot like the title that the Yanks gave Chad Bohling a couple of years back--Director of Optimal Performance--which was ironic since the start of the 2005 season was pretty sub-optimal.

Anyway, Miller's fancy new title just means that he took over the Yanks' strength and conditioning program this year. Which is a shame, since so far the main evidence of "performance enhancement" on the 2007 Yankees seems to be a series of hamstring pulls which have taken down four Yankees players so far. Mike Mussina joined Chien Ming Wang, Johnny Damon, and Hideki Matsui in feeling something "pull" in his leg during last night's start. Like Damon (but unlike Matsui and Wang) Moose hopes to avoid the DL, but we'll have to see what happens, since hamstring problems tend to linger.

The lesson here, of course, is don't go for a fancy title when a simple one will do.

The Yanks lost their series finale in the Metrodome, 5-1, after dominating the Twinkies 18-3 in the first two games. Seeing that yesterday's starter for the Twins was retread's retread Ramon Ortiz, there was good reason to anticipate a sweep at the start of the game. Alex Rodriguez continued his hot start, batting in the Yankees' only run.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Week In Review: April 2-8, 2007

Record for the Week: 2-3, 33 runs scored, 31 runs allowed

The Breakdown:

4/2 -- Yankees 9, Devil Rays 5
Crappy defense can't keep the Yankees from feasting on the Rays' middle relievers.

4/4 -- Rainout

4/5 -- Devil Rays 7, Yankees 6
Andy Pettitte makes a not-so-triumphant return to the Bronx, Jay Jaffe and Jonah Keri manage not to freeze to death, even in the bleachers.

4/6 -- Orioles 6, Yankees 4
Mike Mussina can't make it through five, continuing the streak of bad starting pitching.

4/7 -- Yankees 10, Orioles 7
Kei Igawa bombs in his first major league outing. He probably didn't imagine that the United States was this cold in April. Alex Rodriguez bails Dr. Kei out with a ninth-inning walk-off grand slam.

4/8 -- Orioles 6, Yankees 4
It isn't the cold so much as the wind and the horrible starting pitching. Darrell Rasner gets taken yard by Paul Bako, and Rodriguez's first inning homer is wasted.

Player of the Week: This one's kind of obvious, so we'll do the runners-up first. Yankees relievers--with the exception of Scott Proctor--rocked the house after the starters got beat up early. Brian Bruney has been overwhelming (6 Ks in 2 2/3 scoreless), and the icewater in Mariano Rivera's veins wasn't affected by the cold weather, at all (4 Ks in 2 scoreless innings). The big surprise has been Sean Henn, putting in 4 2/3 scoreless innings of work in three appearances. He wasn't overpowering, but it's good enough to make Ron Villone's return from Scranton unlikely.

With that out of the way, the Player of the Week was clearly Alex Rodriguez. He hit .381/.458/1.095 for the week, hitting four homers in five games, plating 13 runs, scoring eight himself. In the opener, his stolen base set the tone and started the Yankees comeback. On Saturday, his game-ender reached the black seats. Outside of the dropped pop-up in the opener, his defense has been solid. It has been a good week. A really, really good week.

But it's just a week. The same press that rushes to pillory him has been tripping over itself to declare that he's turned a new leaf. Let's give that a little time. It's a good week, against Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Week after next, if he has a bad week against the Indians and Red Sox, this early glory will be forgotten. It's good to see people getting off his back, and when he's got it going on, Alex Rodriguez is an absolute pleasure to watch. But somehow I doubt the season will be this easy for him.

Everyone--and this includes Alex himself--should enjoy this while it lasts.

Dregs of the Week: Can any one person take the credit for this five-man effort? Here are the numbers -- 0-2, 21 2/3 IP, 36 hits, 13 walks, 12 strikeouts, 9.97 ERA. Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Kei Igawa, and Darrell Rasner, take a bow! The last three did a marginally worse job than the first two, but that's apropos of nothing. Igawa's the only one to make it through the fifth inning, but he gave up seven runs en route, so let's not quite give him a cookie or anything. In the Japanese arms race, the Yanks are far behind the Red Sox, whose big-money signing, Daisuke Matsuzaka, had a sterling debt against the Royals (7 IP, 1 run, 10 Ks).

The Yanks didn't lead through five in any of the games they played, and needed some late-inning heroics to secure both of their wins. On offense, Melky Cabrera struggled (.118/.211/.118) when given some playing time due to Johnny Damon's strained calves. Now that Hideki Matsui's on the DL, Melky had best get himself straight. Jason Giambi didn't hit too well overall (.158/.273/.316) but he got big hits in both Yankee wins, so he gets a pass...this time.

Story of the Week: It was a cold homestand, and we have to hope that a big dose of 30 something-degree weather was at least partly to blame for the Yanks' poor pitching and fielding this week. Still, since it tends to get chilly in October, the Yanks better get used to the cold if they want to achieve their ultimate goal. Until then, they have to hope the starters and defense get back on track.

That's all--we'll keep it short the first week. Enjoy the season!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Razzies for Rasner, Part II Paul Bako--who had 14 homers in 589 games coming into this year, and 46 homers in a pro career dating back to 1993--smashed a homer off Darrell Rasner to give the O's a 5-3 lead, a lead that would hold up for the rest of the afternoon. I'm getting ahead of my week in review here, but it's no secret that the Yankees starting pitching has been a huge disappointment this first week. The Yanks have yet to lead a game through five innings. Darrell Rasner, who I've touted here before, had nothing on Easter Sunday. His fastball was between 86-88 MPH on the Stadium scoreboard, touching 89 on a couple of occasions. And he was trying to bring that stuff up in the zone, which was a recipe for disaster.

More on this tomorrow.

Two other notable features of today's game. The reaction to A-Rod's homer in the first inning was the warmest response I can recall ever hearing for Rodriguez at the Stadium. It's been a long while since I've been to the Stadium without hearing anyone grouse about Alex's salary or was nice that that talk was shelved, at least in my section, for a day.

The other thing was the further adventures of Miguel Cairo, major league leftfielder. Cairo was pressed into service--Hideki Matsui's hamstring pull is bad enough he's hitting the DL--and he didn't cost the Yanks much in the outfield; but whenever Cairo appears in the outfield, it's an indication that something has gone very, very wrong with your roster construction. Lineup-wise, having Cairo and Nieves in the lineup at the same time was like putting a speedbump in the Yankees' offense. Erik Bedard's too good of a pitcher to be given that kind of advantage.

More on this when we review the week tomorrow.

Razzies for Rasner

Just got back from Sunday afternoon's loss to the Orioles. Stayed all nine innings, despite it being a nasty, nasty, day for a ballgame. To show how strangely the competitive male psyche works, every time I thought about leaving (invariably when flurries were coming down and the wind was whipping in my face) I thought: if Jay Jaffe and Jonah Keri can do nine innings in this weather at night, I darn well better be able to do the same in the daytime.

So while there is some sense of accomplishment in the "I survived the frozen tundra that is Yankee Stadium" experience, the game was otherwise a downer. It started off well enough, with Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter singling to start the game, Bobby Abreu collecting a sac fly to score Melky from third, and then Alex Rodriguez going deep to center field to give the Yanks a 3-0 lead. There was the feeling that maybe the Yanks would grab O's starter Erik Bedard by the throat and not let go. But the Orioles would come right back, behind the Fried Chicken Man, Kevin Millar. Then Rasner lost control against the bottom of the Oriole lineup. When Rasner went 2-0 against the #9 hitter, Paul Bako, the Yanks' catcher (Sunday starter Wil Nieves) went out to the mound. I imagine the conversation must have gone something like, "Remember, this is Paul Bako." By the time Rasner threw him a strike, Bako had forgotten that he's Paul Bako--he took Rasner deep for a homer.

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Opening Day Photoblog

I was at Opening Day on Monday, the kind of experience that never gets tired. My notes of what went down are up at Baseball Prospectus as a Game of the Week piece--as free basic content. Here's the required taste:
  • Speaking of upsets, who had 1:16 PM ET in the pool on when Alex Rodriguez would start getting booed? With two outs and Cark Crawford on base in the first inning, Rodriguez had trouble seeing a foul pop-up off of the bat of first baseman Ty Wigginton. Rodriguez got a late break, then overran the ball for an error, and you’d have thought Project A13 never existed. Happy Opening Day, Alex!

  • Twelve minutes later, it was Rodriguez at the plate with two men on and one out in the bottom of the first. As the count went full, a fan behind us hissed “If he strikes out looking here, he’s done. For the season, it’s over.” Again, this was inning one of game one. Fortunately for Rodriguez’s season, he struck out swinging rather than looking, flailing away at a low-90s fastball from Scott Kazmir. The runners eventually came around to score on a Jason Giambi single.

For follow-up I wrote a few additional notes over on BP's, blogthingie that they don't want to call a blog. The taste of that (as with all Unfiltered content, that, too is free):
Best Moment of the Day: With not only Lidle, but remembrances for Bowie Kuhn and Hank Bauer at the beginning of the program, things were pretty somber at the Stadium to start the day. So when the Stadium video screen started on a tribute to Bobby Murcer, who was diagnosed with brain cancer less than four months ago, I was ready to get bummed out again–until they showed Murcer, minus quite a bit of hair but looking pretty good otherwise, in the YES Network broadcast booth. Probably the most heartfelt standing ovation I’ve seen, for something that didn’t happen on the field.
But wait, there's more! More brother and I had our cameras, so we snapped a few pics to go along with all this prose:

Here, courtesy of my brother JJ, is a shot from the IRT train platform outside the Stadium. One of the things I discussed in my Game of the Week column was the joy of seeing the ballpark come into view as the 4 Train goes elevated approaching the 161st Street Station. Usually, you can hear a buzz in the subway car as the Stadium pops into view. (Yesterday, however, we were pressed into the Subway like sardines. The only sound as we rolled into the station was the sound of people preparing to exhale).

Here (again, courtesy of JJ) is a view of River Ave, and the creatures waiting to get into the bleachers.

This one's one of mine: the new Stadium, embryonic view. Right now it looks like an extensive (not to mention expensive) collection of wooden scaffolds. Sadly, it won't remain that way, or magically transform itself back into a park.

Another one of mine, this time the Yanks and Rays lined up after the announcements--just moments away from the start of the season.

...and three hours later, we're off to never-never land. This shot (courtesy of JJ, who as you can probably tell by now has a better camera and way better skills than I do) is the final pitch of the game, Mariano Rivera delivering to B.J. Upton. Rivera was absolutely throwing darts out there, pumping fastball after fastball 95 MPH.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Opposition Roundtable: Devil Rays

As we lead off the new season, we're going to try out a few new features here at the WTDB. To lead things off, I've convened a panel of a few of the best and brightest minds covering the Yanks' opponents in their first series, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Our panelists are:

Kevin Gengler, of the Rays Talk Blog

R.J. Anderson, of the DRays Bay Blog

Manny Stiles, of the newly-created Devil Rays Universe Blog

Tell us about yourself as a baseball fan. How long have you been following the Devil Rays? Were you a fan of baseball before the Rays came around, and if so, of what team?

KEVIN: I was a Braves fan until the late 90's, but since I was never really attached to them as a hometown team or anything, I had no problem switching allegiances to Tampa Bay, although I didn't follow baseball really closely until Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli were emerging.

RJ: I’ve been a fan of the Rays since their inception in 1998, before that I wasn’t really into baseball and I was somewhat young.

MANNY: I have been a baseball fan essentially since birth. I only became a fan of the Devil Rays this month after putting my fanship and writing skills up for charity to the highest bidder on ebay. Matt Silverman, the President of the Devil Rays won and now I am of course, a Devil Rays fan. Before that, I just pretty much liked whatever team was beating the Yankees.

What do you think of your team? What place will they take in the AL East, at the end of the year? Do you think they'll make the playoffs, and if so, how far will they get?

KEVIN: I think they have more talent than ever, but we'll see how that translates to the win column. The important thing this year, in my opinion, is to get the youngsters as many at-bats as possible. Hopefully we minimize the at-bats guys like Greg Norton get and maximize the at-bats for guys like B.J. Upton and Elijah Dukes, who need to experience but don't really have a regular spot.

RJ: Best case scenario? 3rd place in the AL East, realistically? 4th. Playoffs? Nope, but watch out next year.


Who's the one player on the Devil Rays that every Yankee fan shouldn't take his eyes off of when he's in the game? What's so great/interesting about him?

KEVIN: The obvious answer has to be Delmon Young. He's got it all: He can make the diving catch, nail the runner at third, and then knock one out of the yard. Also, Carl Crawford obviousy has the athleticism to make anything happen. And B.J. Upton, because he can make the impossible look routine and the routine look impossible.

RJ: The obvious answer here would be Carl Crawford, but since I want to go a different way I’m going to say Delmon Young, he’s just got that aura that screams superstar.

MANNY: I would say Carl Crawford, but you already knew that. Most exciting player in baseball. So watch out for Delmon Young instead!

Is there any player on your team who you wish would be traded elsewhere? Why?

KEVIN: I wouldn't "like" to see anyone go, really. But it's pretty obvious that someone has to get moved. Assuming we move one outfielder (to make room for Dukes) and one infielder (to make room for Upton), my two guys would have to be Baldelli and Cantu. I'd hate to lose Baldelli, but like I said, one of our outfielders will probably have to go. And Cantu is the IF choice because Upton seems to have taken to 2B the best, and has much better tools than Cantu. The return on Cantu would likely be minimal, but that's how it goes.

RJ: Indeed there is, Josh Paul, he’s really not all that useful to be honest.

MANNY: I would never WANT to trade any of my players away.

Are there any moves your team made this off-season that particularly excited you? Why?

KEVIN: Yup, that Scott Dohmann signing. Seriously, we didn't do much this offseason, and I don't really view the Iwamura signing as something that got me excited. Unless he absolutely rakes, he's essentially just keeping the seat warm for Evan Longoria, who'll be up for Opening Day 2008 if everything goes according to plan.

RJ: Signing Al Reyes to a minor league deal. Well, re-signing, but nonetheless I’d say he’s going to be a hot commodity in the league and in fantasy leagues if/when he gets his chance to close.

MANNY: I am most excited to see a full season of Delmon Young in the bigs.

What is the one player move you think your team should make?

KEVIN: This is a really tough call. Logic says deal a strength (outfield) for a weakness (pitching), but honestly, we're so stocked with pitching prospects that I don't know about that. Unless you can deal Baldelli or Crawford for a bona-fide #2/borderline #1 pitcher, I think the right deal would be to deal an OF for a top-of-the-line relief pitcher and an A-/B+ prospect. To throw one out there, how about Rocco Baldelli to Atlanta for one of their relief guys (*ahem* Mike Gonzalez) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

RJ: Trade Jorge Cantu for a reliever, and move B.J. Upton to second.

MANNY: DON'T trade anyone

What do you think of this year's Yankee team?

KEVIN: Scary-as-hell lineup, serviceable pitching. Concerned about the bullpen, since Torre seems to ride 1-2 guys too hard during the year. My money says they win another division crown, but fall short in the playoffs again. And I have to say, I'm really excited for the Phil Hughes era.

RJ: They’re very talented, I think Brian Cashman and the front office has begun to learn that money doesn’t always buy wins or titles. I think the prospects they got in the Sheffield deal may be slightly overrated, but then again when you’re getting an animate object for a near-40 year-old who's had some injury issues, I’d say you came out on top of that deal.

MANNY: They suck.

Which Yankee player (if any) do you dislike the most? Why?

KEVIN: Just one? Okay, let's go with... Actually, the Yankees don't really have that one standout guy that just grates on you (Curt Schilling, I'm looking your way). Let's go with Robinson Cano, since I don't believe he's nearly as good as the stats say.

RJ: I don’t really ‘hate’ any Yankee to be frank. I respect what Jeter and Mariano have done, but if I have to go with my least favorite it’s gotta be Giambi.

MANNY: All/Any of the Yankees. I am particularly fond of disliking Derek Jeter a.k.a. "Plays like #2"

Which Yankee player do you like the most (or, if you must, which player do you dislike the least)? Why?

KEVIN: Does Phil Hughes count? If not him, then possibly Bobby Abreu. No real reason

RJ: Same feel as the last question, I don’t particularly like any of them, Derek Jeter has earned my respect from the money he (along with Tino Martinez) have poured into the University of South Florida baseball program.

MANNY: I think A-Rod is FAR better than Jeter and anyone who doesn't see it needs sterilized for the good of society.

Have you ever been to Yankee Stadium, and if so, what did you think of the experience?

KEVIN: I've been there once, and didn't really have as good a time as when I went to Citizen's Bank Park. Of course, the following factors were in play: I was watching the Rays in Philly, I think it was Yanks-Mariners at the Stadium, and I was with my friends at CBP compared to my parents at YS. I'm really interested to see how they go about things with the new park, and I'll probably try to get out to Yankee Stadium at least once more before it's gone.

RJ: Nope, never been to New York at all.

MANNY: Been to the neighborhood but never to a game there, which saddens me a bit.

How do you like the Devil Rays' ballpark? Any features fans shouldn't miss when they visit (special food, seats with a special view, nearby bars or restaurants)?

KEVIN: N/A, never been to the Trop since I live in New Jersey.

RJ: It’s better than advertised. The ‘must sees’? Eh depends, if you have a child the rays touch tank may interest you, or the numerous museums/games may be your thing

MANNY: I haven't been there (YET). Bu I am going next month (I live in Arizona) and am planning on doing a LIVE running blog from the stadium on the Monday night ESPN game (April 23) vs. the Yankees. I'll get details to you as they emerge, because I'd like Yankees fans and ALL onlookers to enjoy the unique perspective.

What's your favorite pro-Devil Rays chant? What's your favorite anti-Yankees chant? Favorite thing you've ever heard a heckler say about the Yankees or a Yankees player?

KEVIN: I dunno, if the "Ee-Wah-Mur-Ah" thing catches on here like it did in Japan, that'd be pretty cool. Are there even anti-Yankee chants? I'll just play it safe and go with "Yankees suck," though that's not really a chant. Nothing in particular comes to mind in the way of heckling, but anything The Heckler says is my favorite.

RJ: To be frank we really don’t have a ‘chant.’ My favorite anti-Yankee chant? Ditto, but maybe I can start the ‘2000’ chant?

MANNY: Don't know any Devil Rays chants... "Year 2000 clap, clap, clap clap clap" is always fun, or my personal favorite --
"Any Yankees fan born after 1920 is a bandwagon jumper" - Manny Stiles

The Yankees and Devil Rays are going to play 18 times this season. Off the top of your head, predict how the season series is going to wind up.

KEVIN: Yankees 10, Devil Rays 8

RJ: I’d love to say the Rays win the series, but I’ll go 8-10 Yankees.

MANNY: 18 wins for the Devil Rays, ZERO for the Yankees.

Well, thanks for the insights, guys! A few comments:

1) It looks like the Devil Rays need some lessons in chanting and heckling. Please, feel free to use the comments to share some pro-Rays chanting options, or perhaps share some of your favorite heckling concepts, for the education of our brothers in baseball down in Tampa.

2) Ask for Cantu to be driven out of the lineup, and Upton to replace him, and ta-da! the Devil Rays front office sends Cantu down to the minors. Very accommodating, those folks.

3) If gambling were legal, there'd be a pretty decent living to be made off of Manny Stiles...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Spring Training, 2007 in Review

Spring Training Record: 14-13-3

A winning record, barely. Usually, George Steinbrenner would be acting as if squeaking out a .500 record in the Grapefruit League was either a rousing success or a barely-tolerable embarrassment. Alas for the Boss, the Steinbrenner family has far bigger fish to fry. Let's look at the awards:

Spring MVP: Since the big things are people fighting for jobs or showing they're coming back from injuries, the Yanks' Grapefruit League MVP should be a player who had something at stake--in this case, Josh Phelps. Phelps, playing for the righthanded side of a first base platoon with Doug Mientkiewicz, hit three homers and ten RBI, each a tie for the team lead. This in a limited number of plate appearances. Other big offensive performances by people tuning up for the season? Robinson Cano suffered a number of indignities that happens when you're a junior member of a veteran team--long bus rides, no early exits from the games, even when the other starters were already on the golf course...and he made the argument for some preferential treatment by smacking the ball up, getting a team-leading 24 hits, nine of them doubles. Alex Rodriguez's three homers suggest that maybe unburdening his soul to the media is good for his swing.

On the pitching side of the ledger, Darrel Rasner won a job by getting through 12 innings uninjured. The 1.50 ERA was far less significant than the fact that unlike Chien Ming Wang or Jeff Karstens he could still throw off a full mound at the end of the month. Brian Bruney locked down a spot in the pen with 13 strikeouts and two walks in six innings. Andy Pettitte didn't allow a run this Spring, although that comes with a bunch of time lost to back spasms.

Dregs of the Spring: Ron Villone still hasn't come back from the bout of ineffectiveness he suffered at the tail end of 2006. With a roster spot on the line, he got raked to the tune of 13 baserunners and two homers in four and two-thirds innings. Andy Phillips had to leave camp at the start of Grapefruit action to care for his ailing mother. Thank heavens, she got better, but he never recovered losing out to Phelps, dropping through waivers, and now heading back to AAA. Chris Britton, after having a very solid middle relief season for the Orioles last year, lost out on a roster spot, getting railed to the tune of an 11.11 ERA in eight appearances.

As for guys that made the team? The good news for Doug Mientkiewicz is that three of his five hits this Spring were doubles. The bad news? He hit .132 with .211 slugging. Ladies and gentlemen, here's your starting first baseman! I hope Phelps starts out the season hot against Kazmir, and that quickly the Yanks turn first base into an offense/defense platoon between Phelps and Minky. Melky Cabrera didn't do much to win the fourth outfielder's spot. Irony is, if Bernie Williams had accepted Torre's offer to come down to Spring Training on a minor league deal, there's a chance he could have taken the whippersnapper.

Story of the Spring: A-Rod me no A-Rods--this is baseball, not Days of Our Lives. Let's talk pitchers, instead. It's been a month full of upsets. Rock-solid Tiger Wang got injured, Carl Pavano hasn't [Ed. note: ...yet] and so it's Can't Play Carl that gets the Opening Day assignment in a bigger upset than the first Liston-Clay fight. Jeff Karstens pitched his guts out to make the team, only to come up lame when the fifth spot in the rotation opened up for him, and Darrell Rasner backed into a roster slot. Sean Henn broke camp with the club under similar circumstances, not quite dazzling anyone with his stuff, but making it by being lefthanded at a time when Villone faltered. While these guys made the staff, Colter Bean had another nice Spring Training, and again discovered that he cannot buy, beg, borrow, or steal a spot on this team.

At this point, it looks like the key man in this pitching staff is going to be newcomer Kei Igawa. In his native Japan, Igawa was nicknamed "Iron Nerves." At times this Spring, it took iron nerves to watch Dr. Kei pitch. Igawa struck out more than a man an inning, but walked almost as many (19/12 K/BB ratio in 17 innings). Can this Yankee pitching staff hold together in Wang's absence? Will Mussina and Pettitte show their age? Will Phil Hughes be ready to take things to the next level, if/when he's called on this season?

For better or for worse, the Spring records are all erased. In a month, no one will recall how well or badly anyone hit in the Grapefruit League. Here's wishing everyone in the Yankees organization (yes, even Can't Play Carl) a great 2007 season. Have a wonderful Opening Day!