Monday, July 30, 2007

Week In Review: 499

Week 17: July 23-29, 2007

Record for the Week: 4-3*, 42 RS, 31 RA
(*5-3 if you count the completion of the June 28 game with the O's)
Overall: 56-49, 4 games behind Cleveland for the Wild Card

Once again, we're skipping the Breakdown, just this time it's because I didn't get to watch as much baseball as I would have liked last week.

Player of the Week: In a week where the pitching wasn't terribly exceptional, the prizes go to hitters. Hideki Matsui (.296/.364/.519) and Robinson Cano (.407/.452/.556) have been on fire all month. Jorge Posada (.333/.417/.571) gets extra credit for getting into it with Kyle Farnsworth this week. But the winner is Melky Cabrera (.385/.419/.692), who's doing a lot to justify the considerable faith put in him this season. There have been times when he looked like he needed to go back down, and he's still inconsistent enough that next week could be one of those times. But for right now, he's the player of the week.

Dregs of the Week: As mentioned before, we have Kyle Farnsworth (1 HR, 2 runs, and 1 catcher argument in trying to blow Sunday's game)--you can't live with him, you can't shoot him and bury him in the back yard. But then we also have Scranton-bound Kei Igawa (5 runs in 5 2/3) who's a befuddling mix of strikeout stuff and tateriffic hittableness. And Shelley Duncan (1 for 8 on the week with a walk) went from the highs to the lows, showing that even a three homer weekend doesn't guarantee a rookie playing time in Joe Torre's world. I'm not sure if that's bad or good.

Story of the Week: The chase for Alex Rodriguez's homer number 500 is the sort of thing that's bound to take on a life of its own. A-Rod reached 499 last Wednesday, against the Royals, raised the possibility of his 500th homer being caught in a time warp if he went yard in the Yankees' two-inning mini-game to complete the Yanks/Orioles' June 28th matchup, which was suspended due to rain under the new MLB rules.

By Saturday, however, the story was about how Rodriguez was pressing for #500, conveniently feeding into the "Rodriguez is a sensitive guy who folds under pressure" meme that's been so popular in previous years. People who want to put that one out there can point at Rodriguez's .123 batting average last week. This forgets that the O's steadfastly refused to give him anything in the strike zone--with their own fans sounding disappointed every time Rodriguez didn't hit a homer, the Birds walked Alex five times over the three regular games of the weekend series.

This isn't to say that Alex isn't feeling the pressure. It's hard to try to go out and hit a homer, and I'd bet it's harder still when everyone is expecting you to hit one on...this at bat. But give the guy a break--the O's obviously wanted no part of an A-Rod ESPN highlight this weekend.

(From a more cynical perspective, you could also note that keeping the "will he or won't he" excitement for homer #500 going through the weekend could possibly have helped the O's at the turnstiles. Does Baltimore draw a capacity crowd on Saturday and Sunday if Rodriguez hits #500 on Friday? Maybe, maybe not.)

Back with the Month in Review on Thursday.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Separated at Birth?

Bronx Banters's Emma Span brought this up the other day, about people people remarking on Shelley Duncan's looks (or lack thereof). Personally, I think that there's enough of a resemblance that he could have been Matthew Lillard's stunt double in Summer Catch. Actually, considering the weak cuts that Lillard took in that movie, you can make that "should have been."
[For anyone that hasn't had the pleasure, Summer Catch is one of a trilogy of movies released in 1999-2001 which were lightly remodeled youth remakes of good 80s movies, just starring Freddie Prinze Jr. this time. So you had Wing Commander, a/k/a Freddie Prinze Jr.'s Top Gun, you had Boys and Girls, a/k/a Freddie Prinze Jr.'s When Harry Met Sally, and finally Summer Catch, Freddie Prinze Jr.'s Bull Durham, just set in the amateur Cape Cod League. The highlights of Summer Catch are few, but I've taken the time to catalogue them for you:
1. Brian Dennehy in a phoned-in role as Prinze Jr.'s manager. Dennehy's a multiple-Tony winner for his work on Broadway, but I'd argue that, as good as he is on stage, he's actually much better at this kind of phoned-in "look, I had to make a mortgage payment and this was the only offer my agent had" kind of role. If "Best Phoned-in Performance in a Lousy Motion Picture" were a category at the Oscars--and it should be--Dennehy would be a two-time winner for this movie and Gladiator...the one with Cuba Gooding Jr.

2. An uncredited John C. McGinley as a scout for the Phillies who, for no good reason, speaks with a thick Louisiana accent. If you ever meet McGinley, please ask him to repeat the line, "He trow de hebby ball. And de hebby ball ain't gonna find many bats."

3. Jessica Biel as the awkwardly-named Tenley Parrish. There's a shot of her getting out of the pool in this movie that's nearly worth the price of admission all on its own.]

Since getting whooped by the Rays Friday night, the Yanks have been on the warpath, doing what they need to do in Kansas City while two of the four teams ahead of them--Boston and Cleveland, trade body blows in Jacobs Field. The Red Sox lead is down to 6 1/2 games, but I'm still only keeping track of the Wild Card standings, where the Tigers (who beat ex-Yank Jose Contreras like a rented mule last night) have a 4 1/2 games lead on the Yanks, and the fading Mariners (losers of their last six at a time when the Yanks have won six in a row) stand between the Bombers and Detroit, but lead by only a half-game.

So tomorrow, Alex Rodriguez--currently sitting at 499 homers after an eighth-inning two-run blast of Gil Meche--and Kei Igawa lead the Yankees against the Royals one more time, before heading off to Baltimore, where they'll have an odd double-header on Friday. First, at 7:00 PM they'll complete the game suspended by rain on June 28th, which was left with the score 8-6 and two outs in the top of the eighth inning. Then, at that game's conclusion, they'll play another one at Camden Yards. Let's hope neither of those games goes into extra innings...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Week in Review: Three Two Three

Week 16: July 16-22, 2007

Record for the Week: 6-2, 66 RS, 36 RA
Overall: 51-46, 6.5 games behind Cleveland, 3rd place for the Wild Card

The Breakdown:

7/16 -- Toronto 4, Yankees 6
Kei Igawa allowed 3 runs in 5 innings off 11 baserunners and two homers, and was still in line for the win until Scott Proctor blew it for him.

7/17 -- Toronto 2, Yankees 3
Andy Pettitte was masterful, Kyle Farnsworth was a no-pickoff-move-havin' punk, and Blue Jays closer Jeremy Accardo balked in the tying run. Lesson learned: Miguel Cairo isn't fast anymore, but he's one of the best guys at catching on when a pitcher isn't paying attention to him on the basepaths. He's stolen 21 bases and only been caught twice over the last two years, and his ninth-inning steal of second against Accardo (on what looked like a busted hit-and-run) helped discombobulate the young closer.

7/18 -- Toronto 1, Yankees 6
Roger Clemens gutted his way through six nine-hit innings, although he didn't figure in the decision with the Yankees getting their runs late. Again, the strikeout rate on the Rocket was low, three whiffs for the game. Lesson learned: The Yankees' two hottest hitters in July, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano, both went yard along with Alex Rodriguez, to finally give the Rocket the kind of artillery he thought he'd get when he signed up with the Yanks in May.

7/19 -- Toronto 3, Yankees 2
Once again, the Yankees have nothing against Dustan McGowan. It looked like they were well-positioned for the sweep when they scored a couple of runs in the first, but after that, the offense faltered, and then Chien Ming Wang stumbled in the seventh, giving up three runs keyed by an Aaron Hill triple that got past Melky Cabrera. Lesson learned: The Yanks aren't good in these get-away day games, even if they're not the ones travelling. Overall the team's 16-20 in the daylight.

7/20 -- Tampa Bay 14, Yankees 4
Back-to-back losses tend to trigger the "here we go again" reflex in Yankee fans. Edwar Ramirez's first appearance in two weeks is a disaster--he walks the bases loaded and then allows a grand slam to former Yankee farmhand Dioner Navarro. He's sent down on Saturday (which was the plan before he even took the mound Friday night). Lesson learned: If performances like this (4 2/3, 7 H 3 BB 5K 6 ER) is what the pitcher/personal catcher relationship between Mike Mussina and Wil Nieves nets the Yanks, then what use is it? Mussina's got a near-Hall of Fame track record and a seven-figure contract keeping him on the team. Wil Nieves? Not so much so.

7/21 -- Tampa Bay 3, Yankees 7
Kei Igawa doesn't set the afternoon on fire, but doesn't give up runs on anything but a couple of Igawa Specials--that's what we're calling solo homers now. Sadly, the five innings he pitched wasn't enough to get him the win. Andy Phillips had another timely hit in the Yanks 5 run 6th inning barrage. Lesson learned: Shelly Duncan's actual name is David Duncan--just like his dad, the Cards' pitching coach. Shelly's his middle name. Oh, and when he gets a hold of one, he hits it far--his two-run homer capped off scoring in the sixth.

7/21 -- Tampa Bay 5, Yankees 17
Matt DeSalvo didn't change anyone's worldview--the 4 runs he allowed in 4 2/3 innings made the Yankees' lead slightly uncomfortable, up until the Bombers cracked the game open with back-to-back 5 run innings in the 6th and 7th. Lessons learned: An entire generation who might be unfamiliar with their work got a big reminder that Jay Witasick couldn't pitch in New York, and Al Reyes could. Of course, by the time Al took the mound, it was already 17-5, in large part thanks to Jay.

7/22 -- Tampa Bay 4, Yankees 21
There was actually a moment in this game when someone--I think it might have been the Voice of Reason, Michael Kay--actually said words to the effect of, "This isn't fun anymore." Over two days, they'd eventually see the Devil Rays pitching staff allow 45 runs--that's 15 runs per game. Shelly Duncan hit two homers. Alex Rodriguez got his 34th homer, Hideki Matsui got five was unreal. Lesson learned: A ten-run inning takes a long time.

Player of the Week: With all the runs scored, it's easy to lose track of the pitchers this week. Andy Pettitte had two fine starts, and a 2.77 ERA for the week, Luis Vizcaino threw 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball, Mariano Rivera pitched in 3 2/3 of his own, with 5 whiffs. Sharing the honors with Pettitte is Robinson Cano, who hit .500 for the week (actually, .500/.528/.765) with two homers a double, a triple, and eight RBI. Righ behind him are Hideki Matsui (.400/.432/.743 and 4 HR), Shelley Duncan (3 HR in 14 PA this weekend), and Alex Rodriguez (.346/471/.808 with 3 HR and 12 RBI). Nice friggin week.

Dregs of the Week: The only hitter who really didn't have it going on this week was Johnny Damon (.167/.333/.292). He gets to share the stage with Mike Mussina's 11.57 ERA this week, and the footnotes go to Brian Bruney (4 ER on 4 H and 3 BB in 2 1/3--no strikeouts) and Scott Proctor (9 hits allowed in 4 2/3, 3 HR this week), for some undistinguished accomplishments in relief.

Story of the Week: The team fights back from the precipice, finishing up strong against the Rays after an awful series opener, and seems to make a statement that they consider themselves buyers for the next week, picking up the Lesser Molina, Jose, from the LA Angels of Anaheim (of USA, of Earth, of Milky Way). I heard (actually, read--I've taken to watching Yankee games with the volume off and closed captioning on) about the trade just as Wil Nieves, the outgoing backup catcher, was hitting his second double of the game, in what might have been the best offensive day of his major league career. Too little, too late. Molina's not a worldbeater, by any means (the Halos wouldn't be surrendering him if he was) but its's a marginal improvement over what the team had. Marginal improvements are what the Yanks should be in the market for, right now. Molina's a low-average, no-walks-type with a bit of pop. The big positive is his defense, which should be a touch up on what the Yanks were getting from Nieves...or from any other backup they've had for a number of years.

Another refreshing improvement was Shelley Duncan, finally added to a team that's been vulnerable to any southpaw takes the mound against them. I'm not too optimistic about his long-term prospects. Shelley's a minor league vet, and he looked like Pedro Serrano on a couple of breaking pitches this weekend. But still, he's a big guy (technically, somewhere between a lug and a galoot) and the power is something he's been flashing in the minors for the last couple of years. So for his sake, I hope he enjoys it while it lasts, and for the Yanks' sake, I hope it lasts a while. Likewise, I hope that Andy Phillips keeps it up (.306/.352/.435 since seizing the first base job late last month)...although, again, I'm not holding my breath.

The Yankees get a week on the road, next, Kaufman Stadium and Camden Yards, two places where it's been a while since .500. By the time the Yanks open their next homestand, A-Rod may have hit his 500th career homer, we'll have found out if the team is going to bring in a big-ticket item on the trade market, and we'll have a much better idea of where this season's going. If ever, now's the time to keep the fires going.

Friday, July 20, 2007

On Racism, and Sheff

I've been troubled by Gary Sheffield's comments, both to GQ earlier this season and to HBO's Real Sports this month, and I've wanted to respond...but I've held myself back. I try not to write angry, specially when the issues involved are as...touchy as the topics Sheff's big mouth has kicked up this time. I just couldn't figure out how to approach this, and my blogger account is littered with unpublishable drafts, trying to approach this and failing.

Then, fortunately for me, a young lady decided to comment on a throwaway remark I made in yesterday's post about the Spike Lee film Summer of Sam. I'd mentioned the fact that Lee got racist hate mail from the residents of Throgs Neck, and noted that in turn, his portrayal of the members of that community was a gruesome caricature, which I considered was also racist. Eve Montana, of the Evie Does It blog wrote in the comments section:
Please stop using the term racist so easily. Racism is the system in which a group of people in power use economics and politics to repress another group. African-Americans in this company don't have the POWER to be racist. Prejudice, yes. Racist, no.
Usually, I hate it when someone quotes the dictionary to me in a discussion. I find it a condescending way to make a point. But, since I make my living in words, when someone tells me I don't know the meaning of a term I usually turn to my good friends at Webster's:
Main Entry: rac·ism
Pronunciation: 'rA-"si-z&m also -"shi-
Function: noun
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination
- rac·ist /-sist also -shist/ noun or adjective
Neither of these definitions support the "only white people can be racist in America" theory that Eve sets forth. By the second definition, racism is racial prejudice, so I don't see where drawing a distinction between racism and prejudice makes much of a difference. Moreover, the idea that African Americans don't have the power to affect others through their feelings of racial antipathy is a little dated. Power isn't just controlling the national government. There are all sorts of power relationships in society, which means all sorts of opportunities to put their ignorant attitudes on display to the world. If someone denies you service at their restaurant because of the color of your skin--I don't care what the color of your skin is, or what the color of their skin is--you've been subjected to racism.

Getting back to Summer of Sam, to imply that Spike Lee doesn't have power is just plain silly. He's one of America's foremost filmmakers, and by the standards of most folks, he's pretty darn wealthy. The idea that he's on even footing with the people he was skewering in that movie is absurd--they may be white, but he's the one with the big pulpit. So yes, when I look at the portrayal of characters as racial and ethnic stereotypes, with no intelligence or redeeming qualities, I don't think that calling said portrayal "racist" is out of line. You might look at it, and disagree, say maybe Lee wasn't being unfair, or that I'm overreacting about the portrayal...I'll admit it's not as clear-cut a case as the portrayal of African Americans in Birth of a Nation or Mickey Rooney's turn as a Japanese landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

But if it's not racist, the reason isn't because African Americans (or any other group, for that matter) are unable to exploit whatever power they might have to express prejudices and/or feelings of racial superiority. Honestly, I can't figure what purpose re-defining the word racism as Eve proposes serves, other than to selectively excuse prejudicial conduct.

Which brings me to Sheff. Like Lee, Gary Sheffield is someone whose work I love. Sheffield's a hitting machine. The player he reminds me of is Paul O'Neill--the slashing stroke, the unrelenting attitude--just most of his career has been spent performing at the peak levels of O'Neill's career. Throughout his career, by and large, his reaction to adversity (whether external or self-created) has simply been to perform, and to keep hitting. During his first two years with the Yankees, he was probably the player I was happiest to see at the plate in a big spot. And this season--as I remarked more than a month ago--he's been exactly what the Bombers have been missing.

That, however, is 20/20 hindsight. When the Yanks traded Sheff this past winter, I understood with and agreed with their reasoning. Sheffield was a 38-year-old coming off a big injury in 2006, whose performance had been off even before he got hurt. The Yankees had acquired a replacement who was five years younger, uninjured, and under contract for 2007. Since they were tethered to the Jason Giambi contract, the Yanks didn't have the DH at bats available that Detroit's been able to give Sheffield this season. Plus, there was the fact that as he always has in his career, injury or no Sheffield was intent on negotiating his next contract in the media.

So, it seemed like moving him was a good idea at the time. The Yankees did well by Sheffield, trading him to a contender that immediately re-upped him to a new deal. The fact that he's hitting like last year's wrist injury never happened, and that he's on the Tigers--one of the teams that the Yanks are now trying to catch for the Wild Card--should be all the revenge that Sheffield needs against the Yankee franchise. But from day one, Sheff's been sniping at Joe Torre, sniping that's now reached the level where Gary Sheffield levels the claim that Torre treats African American players "differently." While he claims to stop short of calling Torre a racist, the fact is that Torre had power over Sheffield and other African American players, and Sheffield clearly implies that Torre showed preference to other players based on skin color.

Anyone reading his comments should be forgiven for thinking that he's calling Torre out as a racist, becoming just the last person to slam one of the best managers in New York City history on what seems to be his way out the door. Classy, very classy.

But who's treating people differently on the basis of race, here? It's Sheffield who's applying the brown paper bag test to his former teammate, Derek Jeter, saying that the Captain (the longest tenured African American on Torre's Yanks) doesn't qualify as "all the way black" because his mother's white. It's Sheffield who suggested that he has more Hispanic colleagues in baseball than African Americans because Latinos are docile creatures who don't demand that their employers "treat them like men."

I'm not just a Yankees fanboy grouchy over the fact that Sheffield's taking on the Yankees' sacred cows--Jeter and Torre. Those two have plenty of defenders. As a Dominican American, it's the lack of respect that Sheffield has shown his Latino colleagues (including, presumably, the Latinos who are keeping his team in contention: Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, and Ivan Rodriguez) that burns me.

For all the garbage that Sheffield's spewing, the outrage hasn't really been there. Hispanics haven't fired back at Sheff, neither have Jeter and Torre. I'm not one for silencing people's views, but I can't help but thinking that if someone where making similarly negative comments about African Americans, players and interest groups would be demanding suspensions or firings.

I guess maybe more people buy into Eve's definition of racism than I thought.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

TV Review: The Bronx is Burning

I originally wanted to review ESPN's miniseries after its first episode, scheduled right after the Home Run Derby game last week. I was actually not at home at the time, so I set my DVR to record at the scheduled time...and presto! No mini-series, since the Derby apparently (and unexpectedly?) went long.

Usually, this sort of incompetence--blowing the start time of your big, heavily hyped miniseries because of poor scheduling of a live exhibition event--is usually enough to turn me off of something for good, but this is the Yankees we're talking about, so I recorded a later showing. But I wasn't able to put out a review until so late last week, I figured I might as well wait to have two episodes under my belt.

The Bronx is Burning is based on real-life events in New York City back in 1977, a time which seemed a lot like the apocalypse in the Big Apple. No joke, things were so bad that year that my dad reverse-immigrated my family to the Dominican Republic. The city was in shambles and pretty much broke, it was an election year, there was a huge blackout complete with looting, the high-profile serial killer David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz was on the loose...oh yeah, and the "Bronx Zoo"-era Yankees won the World Series, for the first time since 1962.

The miniseries focuses on the Yankees, although floating newspaper headlines segway us to a separate storyline about the hunt for the Berkowitz, and will probably drag us away to other storylines as the political race heats up and the blackout happens. It's strange, and the approach of "Wow! 1977 was a weird, messed-up time all over New York!" is an approach that's reminiscent of Spike Lee's 1999 flick, Summer of Sam.

[BRIEF TANGENT (Capsule review of Summer of Sam): Spike Lee's first film without a primarily black cast was an interesting failure. The story was about the reaction to the Son of Sam murders in the Italian neighborhood of Throgs Neck in the Bronx. Because it tried to encapsulate the whole NYC in 1977 scene, it aggressively name checks all the cultural hallmarks: the blackout, Reggie, Studio 54, Plato's Retreat, and on and on. The movie fails in large part because Lee has such palpable contempt for the people of the neighborhood, that Berkowitz is probably the most sympathetic character in the story. Turns out that Lee's contempt was well-earned--the neighborhood hated the fact that he was shooting a film about the murders, and so he received a constant stream of racist hate mail and abuse from residents of the area. Still, the caricature he draws of that community is so nasty (and, itself racist) that the movie's close to unwatchable.]

The first two episodes take the Yankees very quickly from George Steinbrenner hiring Billy Martin in 1975, through the Yankees' world series loss in 1976, Steinbrenner signing Reggie Jackson, and then through sometime in May of the 1977 season. As has been reported elsewhere, two of the three leads really get the job done. John Turturro needs prosthetic ears to get Martin's look down, but he captures all the rest through pure acting: Martin's ever-present scowl, his question-mark posture, his gestures, his accent. Meanwhile, although Oliver Platt doesn't look much like Steinbrenner, and it doesn't seem like he's doing an impression, but he's pitch-perfect in portraying the way that Steinbrenner talks and expresses himself--and the script does a good job of giving him a steady stream of Steinbrennerspeak to repeat.

That leaves Daniel Sunjata, who plays Reggie Jackson, as the weak link in the starring cast. He just doesn't evoke Jackson's larger-than-life presence, physically (Sunjata's a bit too lean for the part) or otherwise. His performance lacks the conviction that Jackson's always displayed in his public appearances, and that makes his Reggie seem more like an empty braggart than a true egotist.

He's not bad, by any means. He's just not Reggie.

For comparison's sake, the real Reggie Jackson makes an appearance after the first episode in a postscript interview in which he denies having made the infamous "straw that stirs the drink" comment that fuels the action of the second episode. When it comes to vehemence, there's no contest--true or not, you get the feeling that you could polygraph Reggie Jackson about his interview with Sport magazine that year and the needle wouldn't twitch as he denied the comment.

That postscript featurette is also interesting for another reason. The first episode features the scene in which we see the Spring Training barroom interview that caused all the ruckus, with Sunjata faithfully intoning the boldfaced highlights of the interview. In the featurette, we learn that the actor who was interviewing Sunjata in that scene is Robert Ward--the author of the Sport magazine article. I don't know why, but that struck me as an odd decision by the series producers. I guess maybe Ward's presence is intended to lend legitimacy to the scene, but to me, the whole thing felt terribly self-serving, right down to the way that Ward intoned "Are you sure you want me to print this, Reggie?" at the end of the inteview scene.

I wasn't there, maybe that's the way it actually went down. But in retrospect, Ward's presence in the scene is a bit of a distraction. It wouldn't have hurt anybody to have an actor play the part, and if Ward insisted on participating, maybe make him the bartender in the scene, who gives Sunjata his drink.

Overall, I'm sticking with this miniseries. I haven't read the book, yet, and we haven't gotten far enough into the other storylines for me to say for certain whether there's enough payoff to them to make the clunky segways between baseball and real life worthwhile. Still, it will be odd to have a project like this, focused around Martin, Steinbrenner, and Jackson, that ends in 1977, without taking in the remarkable events of 1978 and 1979. Maybe we'll get a montage of these events in the final episode, or maybe ESPN has a sequel in mind for next year, the 30th anniversary of the '78 team. I guess my point is that there was plenty of material on Yankees that they could have done this as a straight sports story, rather than enlisting the Son of Sam's help.

I'm recommending the Bronx is Burning, if only for Turturro and Platt's performances.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Week In Review: 96 Hours in Tampa

Week 15: July 12-15, 2007

Record for the Week: 3-1, 24 RS, 19 RA
Overall: 45-44, 7 games behind Cleveland for the Wild Card, 4th in line

The Breakdown:
7/12 -- Yankees 7, Devil Rays 3
Solo homers from Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Bobby Abreu in the fourth inning power Andy Pettitte over Jamie Shields. Lesson learned: Bobby Abreu (3 hits, including the homer, 3 RBI) could be the key player of the second half. If he can hit like a star player again, The Yankee lineup can resemble the murderer's row we were expecting at the beginning of the season.

7/13-- Yankees 4, Devil Rays 6
The new, no-strikeout version of Roger Clemens gets smacked up for 5 runs in five innings, walking 4 and striking out 2; late homers by Matsui and Posada are too little, too late. Lesson learned: The Yankees suck against lefthanders, take 15--Scott Kasmir dominated while he was on the mound.

7/14-- Yankees 6, Devil Rays 4
Bobby Abreu returns to the #3 hole in the lineup, and celebrates with a homer and 5 RBI. Wang is sharp in seven innings of work. Lesson learned: While the Yanks were winning, the Rays were benefiting from the services of Carlos Pena(3 RBI, a homer and a double), whom the Yanks had in the minors last season. Pena has more homers (22) than anyone in the Yankee lineup, other than A-Rod. Lesson learned: You can find hitting talent at the first base side of the defensive spectrum, but you have to be dilligent. We'll see if the Yanks' gold-panning with Erubiel Durazo works out any better.

7/15-- Yankees 7, Devil Rays 6
Mike Mussina tried emulating Clemens's pitch-to-contact strategy (11 hits, 2 walks, and no Ks in 6 innings) courting disaster. It took some sweet hitting by Derek Jeter and Andy Phillips for the Yankees to pull out the series win. Lesson learned: Ron Villone entering a close ballgame? Bad idea.

Player of the Week: Bobby Abreu (.375/.375/.875) and Hideki Matsui (.333/.333/.778) share the honors. Each of the cornermen had two homers and two doubles in the way short week. Mariano Rivera gets an honorable mention with three scoreless innings and two saves; shoutout to Luis Vizcaino with three perfect appearances.

Dregs of the Week: Robinson Cano (.167/.214/.167) had four crappy games in Florida. Roger Clemens got beat down by the scrappy, speedy Rays for a dishonorable mention.

Story of the Week: There's a moment in the Princess Bride when our hero, Wesley, is recovering from being dead all day. He received a miracle cure, but he's still completely paralyzed from his ordeal, he and his friends are outnumbered 60-3, and he's only got a matter of minutes to figure out how to stop the marriage of his true love to his hated foe, Prince Humperdinck.

So when one of his companions excitedly notes that he's managed to shake his head all on his own, Wesley snaps back "You think a little head jiggle is supposed to make me happy, hmmm?"

The Yankees have been declared dead. With the Red Sox's hot start, the Indians and the Tigers playing leapfrog with the AL Central lead and the Wild Card, surprising success in Seattle and not-so-surprising success in Minnesota, much of the season has been spent planning the Bombers' funeral. Most area and national baseball writers have been rehearsing some sort of eulogy all year, just in case, y'know, someone asks them to speak.

But it turns out that the only baseball story that would be bigger than the Yankees' funeral, apparently, would be their miraculous resurrection. So it's become the popular dark-horse pick--if you don't mind mixed-metaphor oxymorons--for commentators to say that the Pinstripers might just get back in the race. "They could make some noise. They're still basically a sound team."

In other words, with apologies to Billy Crystal and William Goldman, "They're not dead, they're only mostly dead."

That may be the case. The Yanks could still transform themselves into the team we've been expecting all year. But even if they did, they're running out of time. If there were 100 games left in the season, I'd look at 7 games back of the Wild Card and think its doable. But the Yankees frittered away another 26 games treading water at .500.

So even if we're not going through the Yankees' double-knits for loose change (the only thing you can do with a ballclub if they're all dead), a bit of skepticism is called for. You think one little game over .500 is supposed to make me happy, hmmm?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

At the Break: The Hitters

In the Week in Review on Monday, I did the pitcher's grades at the All-Star Break. Now it's the hitters' turn:

Alex Rodriguez (A+): .317/.413/.665, 30 HR, 86 RBI, .341 EqA-- Possibly the best offensive season by a Yankee since far. The only category in which Alex is trailing his performance last season is (possibly) marital bliss. The Yankees, not wanting to give up the best player in baseball (or the money that the Texas Rangers are throwing into the kitty for him to play for the Yanks) have announced that they're willing to negotiate with Alex in-season to get an extension done, so long as he agrees not to opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Alex's agent, Scott Boras, knows he has the Pinstripers bent over a barrel, so he's reveling in doing that crazy thing where he talks to himself about how bad-ass one of his clients is, and how much money he'd get on the free market, in earshot of a reporter. That's gonna be a fun negotiation, fer sure.

Jorge Posada (A): .326/.399/.505, 9 HR, 25 2B, .305 EqA -- No one's talking about extending Hip Hip Jorge! in season--which probably means that it's more likely to happen than in Alex's case. He's having one of his best seasons, ever, but does that mean the Yanks can afford to forget that he'll be 36 years old in a month?

Derek Jeter (A): .336/.408/.463 -- Aside from an early-season spate of errors, hasn't slacked off his 2006 performance at all. Just amazing.

Hideki Matsui (B-): .274/.358/.464, 11 HR, 54 RBI, .274 EqA -- Not bad, but no better than his disappointing 2003 performance. When you figure that this is a 33 year old leftfielder with old player kinda figures that way.

Robinson Cano (C): .274/.314/.427, 6 HR 40 RBI, .247 EqA -- That grade could be lower...but the scarier thought is that this is precisely the sort of player that Robbie looked like coming up through the organization. He could easily reach his rookie season numbers from where he is right now...but you'll probably be healthier if you don't hold your breath waiting for him to replicate his 2006 performance.

Melky Cabrera (C-): .275/.331/.385, .252 EqA -- More playing time than anyone expected; better in centerfield than anyone expected; but the bat and the power have been disappointing.

Jason Giambi (C-): .262/.380/.436, 179 PA, 7 HR -- Was his regular self in April, was injured in May, and now is in plantar facia limbo. But at least he'll be spending his spare time with the Mitchell commission, so at least he won't be wasting his ti...on second thought, he will be wasting his time! Even before the injury, was less valuable than ever because he wasn't able to play first base. The team could definitely use another big bat, though...

Bobby Abreu (D+): .264/.352/.373, 12 SB -- Looked like his career was over in April and May, then mysteriously snapped back to his regular self in June. For about six weeks there, looked like he couldn't hit high school-level pitching, like he'd never played the outfield before in his life, and like he didn't care. I've seen weirder things, but not by much.

Johnny Damon (D+): .245/.339/.344, 5 HR, .251 EqA -- The last time Boras was talking to the New York media about how special one of his guys was, he was trying to sell the Yankees on Damon being the best centerfielder since Mickey Mantle (just, y'know, more durable). Well, he's still never hit the DL in his career, but that's more for his benefit than the team's. The team is stuck with a DH who doesn't hit for much power, doesn't walk much, and whose wheels don't work. Funny, though, for a guy whose legs aren't healthy, he's stolen 15 bases without being caught.

Miguel Cairo (D): .263/.308/.323, .234 EqA -- ...first baseman. Sure, he gets the occasional single. But still...firstbaseman. Say he's all clutchy if he's the utility infielder, maybe it's not so bad. Maybe. The less said about this, the better.

Doug Mientkiewicz (D): .226/.292/.379, .230 EqA -- The lefthanded Miguel Cairo. A little better. More palatable back when Damon was a center fielder, and Giambi was a DH.

Josh Phelps (D): .263/.330/.363, .239 EqA -- He could've had a better shot, but he also could've done more with the shot he got. Book's closed on this bold Rule 5 experiment, since he's a Pittsburgh Pirate now.

Wil Nieves (F): .120/.154/.120, -.123 EqA -- We only wish he was a Pirate. Signature moment of the first half just might've been when Nieves broke his seasonal 0-fer, then immediately got thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double.

Andy Phillips-- Everything looks good so far, but we've been down this road before.
Kevin Thompson -- I still think he can be a great spare part, but he's having a tough time making a case for that.
Chris Basak -- Why is he taking up room on the 40-man roster? Not that I begrudge him, but it just makes no sense.

So, if we look at all of this

Monday, July 09, 2007

Week In Review: At the Break

Week 14: July 2-8, 2007

Record for the Week: 5-2, 49 RS, 24 RA
Overall: 42-43, 8 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the Wild Card

The Breakdown:

7/2 -- Twins 1, Yankees 5
Roger Clemens two-hits the Twinkies over eight innings, and Bobby Abreu smacks a homer to start off the four-game series on a winning note. Lesson learned:

7/3 -- Twins 0, Yankees 8
Chien Ming Wang keeps the good pitching going, and Robbie Cano hits a homer to drop Minnesota again. Another sixth-inning barrage puts the game out of reach. Lesson learned: Edwar Ramirez has got a spastically great changeup, a Bugs Bunny-type deal that had the Twinkies talking to themselves in the ninth inning. Ramirez struck out the first three batters of his Major Leagu career.

7/4 -- Twins 6, Yankees 2
Jason Kubel put the Twins ahead with a two-run shot off Mike Mussina in the seventh inning. Johan Santana wins the pitching duel. Lesson learned: It might be a little unfair, but I'll ask--why is Moose pitching the seventh inning?

7/5 -- Twins 6, Yankees 7
Yanks do a little home run derby on Kevin Slowey in the second inning, but it's Hideki Matsui's homer off Pat Neshek that put the Yanks over the top. Lesson learned: Kei Igawa? Really not this team's savior. You knew that already, but I just wanted to say it again.

7/6 -- Angels 9, Yankees 14
The Yanks and Halos slug it out, as neither Bartolo Colon and Andy Pettitte can get it done, and the game is 9-9 after 5 1/2 innings. Alex Rodriguez's sixth inning two-run homer pushes things over the top. Lesson learned: Edwar Ramirez gets roughed up a little--it was bound to happen sooner or later.

7/7 -- Angels 2, Yankees 1
We covered this on Sunday: Old Timer Rock 'n' Roll. Lesson learned: Old Timers' Game outfielders play shallow. Oh, and it's good when the guys don't swing at a ton of pitches out of the strike zone.

7/8 -- Angels 0, Yankees 12
Wang, Mike Myers, Scott Proctor and Ron Villone team up on the shutout, and Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, and A-Rod all hit three run homers. Nice to get another series win, and nice to beat Ervin Santana, who's one of those players I dislike irrationally. Lesson learned: Three run homers help win ballgames. Duh.

Player of the Week: Chien Ming Wang threw 13 1/3 innings of shutout ball on the week, and won both his starts, which is usually all we'd ask of a Player of the Week. But Roger Clemens did Wang one better. Sure, he allowed runs (all two of 'em) and the Yanks lost one of his starts, but he pitched more innings (16) and allowed fewer baserunners (9) than Wang (15). That's the player of the week. Joining Wang among the honorable mentions are Scott Proctor (4 2/3 IP, three baserunners, seven strikeouts; Robinson Cano (.385/.429/.769, 3 HR), Hideki Matsui (.308/.438/.731, 3 HR), and Bobby Abreu (.500/.500/.727). And a very special shout-out to Andy Phillips for managing two straight good weeks (.389/.450/.556 this week). This has been a problem in the past.

Dregs of the Week: The lefties--Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa--combined for 13 runs allowed in 10 innings. Compared to that, none of the hitting performaces look all that bad (Johnny Damon: .200/.375/.200 and Jorge Posada .231/.333/.308 are the west).

Story of the Week: The first half is over, the Yanks are still under .500, and the team is still buried behind five other teams for the Wild Card. I know letter grades are somewhat cliche--but then again, so's bringing your sweetheart red roses. We do it anyway:

Chien Ming Wang (A): 9-4, 3.36 ERA -- Pretty easily the definition of an ace starter--one of the top twenty pitchers in Major League Baseball. It's made all the richer by the fact that he came out of the Yankees farm system at a time when the favorite adjective used to describe it was "barren" (although some people preferred labels like "empty" or "bereft of talent").

Roger Clemens (B+): It's early, yet, and the shrinking strikeout rate is a real problem. Still, he's pitched well, and has been totally screwed for run support. I'm no Alanis Morissette, but I think there might be some irony in there, somewhere.

Mariano Rivera (B): 3.71 ERA, 11 Sv -- Tempting to append a minus to that grade because of the high expectations Rivera brings with him all the time. We'll settle for the fact that since the April meltdown, Yankees fans have felt safe with Rivera on the mound a good 80% of the time. Now, that's down from previous years, but still about as good as it gets.

Andy Pettitte (B-): 4-6, 4.25 ERA -- Held the team together while Wang and Mussina hit the DL, and while they were waiting for Clemens to arrive. Upon the arrival of his good Texas buddy, has fallen apart. The question with Pettitte is, is this a physical problem? Has a reputation for not fessing up when he's hurt.

Scott Proctor (B-): 1-5, 3.59 ERA in 47 2/3 IP -- The peripherals all look bad for Proctor. He's throwing lots of innings, he's walking more guys, his strikeouts are down. Still has those Proctor moments where a game will end with a bases loaded walk. How many elite relievers do that, anyway?

Mike Mussina (C+):4-6, 4.62 ERA -- Looks tired. The much maligned 100 pitch count is a simplification...and we discuss Mussina, we may be talking about at a guy for whom 100 pitches is way too much. After 90 pitches, batters against Mussina hit .500/.529/1.188.

Darrell Rasner (C): 1-3, 4.01 ERA -- treaded water well enough as long as he could remain in the game. With Yankees blue-chippers at Trenton, the window for Rasner and Karstens and so many others could be closing fast.

The Low-Leverage Trio (C-): This would be Mike Myers (2.61 ERA), Brian Bruney (2.57) and Ron Villone (3.26). These guys all have nice ERAs, but they're not allowed within a country mile of a game that's actually a contest. Bruney's the big disappointment, since he has a live arm that seems completely messed up right now. Mike Myers isn't making lefthanders scared anymore, so he has done most of his work in deep mopup assignments. Now he's joined by another lefty in the pen...who's also a mop-up specialist. Guess what? This team doesn't have enough mop-up innings for all three of these guys. Until someone steps up, it's C-minuses all around.

Luis Vizcaino (C-) 4-2, 5.02 -- Right behind Proctor in innings pitched, though the grind seems to have had a good effect on him. He's been a good pitcher in June and July after being radioactive in May (9.00 ERA). Still walks too many guys to be the go-to man.

Kyle Farnsworth (D+) 1-1, 4.46 -- Useless disproportionate to his performance. Even when he pitches well, there are so many strings attached that you don't know if he'll be available the next time he's needed. Has not exceeded an inning pitched in any appearance--even if he's only thrown eight pitches in his inning of work, like he did on Saturday. Has only pitched back-to-back days four times all year. It's like having a cell phone that only works for two hours in any given day--and you never know which two hours they'll be.

Matt DeSalvo and Tyler Clippard (D) -- They've become a single creature in my mind, the way that Karstens and Rasner became conjoined last year. They're both high-strung pitchability guys, Clippard's the prospect, DeSalvo's the underdog. Even moreso than Rasner and Karstens, they should be hearing footsteps.

Sean Henn (D): 0-2, 4.66 -- Showed good velocity out of the pen, and looked on route to earning Torre's confidence early in the season. Then it all fell apart, thanks to those mean ol' base on balls.

Kei Igawa (D-): 2-2, 7.14 -- It's like Kenny Rogers, Hideki Irabu, and Jose Contreras all wrapped into one ugly, neurotic package. In a way, he's symbolic of everything that's bad about this ballclub--simultaneously awful and expensive, and the awful won't stop any time soon because of the expensive. Has no fastball, and therefore no trade value. Can't even do the Ron Villone Extremely Low Pressure relief work, because he can't maintain his pitching mechanics. How the heck was this one of the best pitchers in Japan?

Carl Pavano (F): Yeah, I know he's injured. Doesn't make him any less of a failure. All that big talk about how this was the year that he was going to get back out there and prove to his teammates he was healthy...and boom! He goes straight from pitching effectively against the Twins to "out indefinitely," and from there to surgery.

Phil Hughes -- His return could be the remaining bright spot to this season, if the Yanks can't find some way to get back into the hunt.
Chris Britton -- How do you get from Scranton to the Bronx? I'm sure Britton can give detailed directions by now. A few more one-day call-ups, and he'll likely be able to drive the route in his sleep.
Edwar Ramirez -- Could be the most fun we get to have this year--aside from the Alex Rodriguez contract run--is watching Edwar pitch. It'd be great if someone, either Edwar or Bruney, stepped into the Farnsworth gap.
Chase Wright -- Has 33 walks and 33 strikeouts in 70 2/3 AAA innings. This does not bode well.
Colter Bean -- Has always been able to get AAA batters out--until this year (6.33 ERA at Scranton).
Jeff Karstens -- Already on his rehab assignment, which should put some pressure on Igawa.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Old Timers' Rock 'n' Roll

Old Timers' Day is always big with me and mine. It's probably the memories from darker days at the Stadium, when Old Timers' was the highlight of some ugly seasons. I mean, the Bombers were dead in seventh place from mid-May 'til the end of the 1990 season, but it was pretty hard to hang your head on Old Timers' Day, when Joe Dimaggio was walking on the Yankee Stadium grass--even if he 75 years old and not even picking up a bat on a bet. Once a year the baseball heroes of yesterday would take over the field for an afternoon--just a small bit of the afternoon, actually--and remind us that there had been better times in this ballpark, maybe make us dream of better days to come.

Those years Old Timers' Day issues seemed almost as vital as real ballclub issues--when the big question is whether or not to bring Jim Walewander up from Columbus, you're more likely to get wrapped up in the mini-drama of when (or if) Yogi Berra would ever return to the Stadium for Old Timers' Day. Berra boycotted Yankee Stadium between 1988 and and 1999, because of bad blood with George Steinbrenner stemming from Steinbrenner firing Yogi just 16 games into the 1985 season, and during that decade, Old Timers Day never passed without Berra's absence being noted.

By the time Berra and the Boss kissed and made up, Old Timers' had lost a little bit of its appeal. It was 1999, and the Yankees were in the middle of three straight championship seasons. The day Berra returned to Yankee Stadium, David Cone threw a perfect game against the Montreal Expos. In part it seemed like a moving tribute, specially since one of the other two Yankees to ever throw a perfect game, Don Larsen, was honored along with Berra. But there was another message in Cone's effort--that what was happening on the field those days consistently trumped the nostalgia. Seeing great players in the lineup every day somewhat blunted the need to see the giants of yesteryear. Old Timers' was still fun, and still well-attended, it just wasn't as important as it had been.

It's been at least a decade since the Old Timers came into the House that Ruth Built to find a sub-.500 Yankees ballclub waiting for them there. The date for Old Timers' Day changes every year, but 1995 is the last time the Yanks were under .500 in the late June-early August window where the Yanks usually bring the oldsters in (the Bombers didn't break over .500 for good until September 8th of that strike-shortened season). While we're not yet in the state of despondency that overtook the franchise in the late-80s/early-90s, a question lingered over Old Timers' Day, 2007--have the scales between the past and the present re-aligned themselves again, putting nostalgia for Yankee yesterday above optimism for Yankee tomorrow?

Brother T and I weren't in such a meditative mood when we got to the Stadium this afternoon, but close to seven hours later, on the way home after watching the Yanks blow their latest chance to reach .500 by committing five errors in a 2-1, 13-inning loss, thoughts like these started churning through my mind. This year's Old Timers' festivities featured a number of players from the late 90s dynasty, making their first old-timer appearances: Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius...and Homer Bush. Another player from that era (but not an Old Timers' Day newbie) Darryl Strawberry was also playing in the game. Although this Old Timers' Day was supposed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1977 World Champs, the nostalgia wafting through the Stadium was more for Yankee baseball of the 1998 Vintage.

The reaction to O'Neill, in particular, was interesting. The biggest crowd response during the introduction of the Old-Timers usually comes when the crowd greets Don Mattingly, or one of the guys with Hall of Fame plaques. This time out, O'Neill blew everyone away. The nyuck-nyuck laugh line that Old Timers' emcees Michael Kay and John Sterling usually trot out is that a player looks so good that he could probably suit up with the current Yankees--well, O'Neill did actually look that good in his uni today. Heck, three strikeouts into a five-strikeout game, I was hoping that Torre would send O'Neill in to pinch-hit for Melky Cabrera, for real.

And there it is--nostalgia overwhelming the present. In the late-afternoon game, Roger Clemens and John Lackey locked horns in a pitcher's duel. Clemens was fine but not dominant--one walk and only three strikeouts in eight one-run innings. Aside from a rough spot in the second inning, Lackey owned the Yankees--11 strikeouts, no walks in eight innings of his own. The Yankees kept chasing Lackey--and later Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez--out of the zone. It's a familiar story from this season--the Yankees, despite being a very veteran team and having a couple of walk machines (Bobby Abreu and Jorge Posada) in the lineup, aren't working opposing pitchers the way they used to.

In the 13th inning, after eight innings of Clemens, two of Rivera, one of Blockhead Kyle Farnsworth, and on the second inning of Luis Vizcaino, the Angels broke through, thanks to some weak defense from Miguel Cairo (three errors on the day). The bottom of the inning may well wind up being symbolic of the first half, and maybe the whole season. With one out, Cairo singles, then takes advantage of F-Rod's mistakes: first stealing second base, then advancing to third on a wild pitch. And suddenly the Stadium's alive again. Man on third, one out, the top of the lineup up. Johnny Damon walks and we're ecstatic. The crowd--still pretty large given the pregame festivities and the extra innings--is on their feet, cheering like crazy. All it takes is a good fly ball to tie the game, and we're feeling it, we're feeling the comeback.

Then Melky Cabrera strikes out, for the fifth time in six plate appearances. Then the Captain grounds out to end the game. So much for getting over .500 before the All-Star Break...


The pitch Cabrera struck out on in the thirteenth was a diabolical breaking ball. It seemed to fall straight down onto the middle of the plate and just stay there. The movement on that ball was so strange that everybody in my section was convinced that Melky must have fouled it off--but he just walked away toward the dugout.

This year's obscure Yankee Old-Timer: Mickey Klutts. Klutts was a (f)utility infielder who came up for cups of coffee with the Yanks in 1976, 1977 and 1978, before he was traded with Dell Alston for Gary Thomasson. From there, Klutts had a five-year run as a spare part with Oakland and Toronto. All told, Klutts had more plate appearances against the Yankees (34, plus another 7 in the 1981 ALCS) than he had for them (24) in his career.

This year's weakest bit of puffery: Kay and Sterling try to make every old-timer sound like a vital cog in Yankee history, but the best Kay could come up with for Eli Grba was "...won eight games over two seasons." He didn't mention that Grba had nine losses to go with those eight wins, or a 4.74 ERA, more than one run above the league average. In an odd bit of serendipity, the Yanks lost Grba in the 1960 expansion the franchise they played after the Old Timers' Game, the Los Angeles Angels.

Odd sight: Paul O'Neill in short left field, shadowed by a camera man during the game.

Odder sight: In-game short left field interview with Paul O'Neill, by Bobby Murcer.

All of those 1998 Yankee Old-Timers, with the exception of Strawberry, were younger than the starter for the Yankees' non-exhibition game, Clemens (Darryl's five months older than the Rocket). Worse than that, at the age of 34, old-timer Homer Bush is 18 months younger than I am!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Month In Review: June

Record for the Month: 15-11, 142 RS, 113 RA

Player of the Month: Alex Rodriguez's June looked like something out of the Ted Williams scrapbook--.406/.500/.781, 9 homers, 34 RBI. If this is what the chaos of being under the public microscope does to a person...well, let's just say I expect more Yankees be seen getting escorted to strip clubs by trashy-looking women, who are not their wives.

I mean, sometimes you got to sacrifice for the team!

In the non-adultery related crapstorm category, a number of Yankees had fine Junes, just not quite up to A-Rod standards. Derek Jeter hit .321/.383/.486 in June, and Mariano Rivera showed no further ill effects from his nightmare April, with 12 strikeouts and only two runs allowed in 12 June innings. Just a hair behind those, Chien Ming Wang won four of his six starts, posting a 3.56 ERA in 43 innings. Mike Mussina was right behind Wang in the rotation with a 3.43 ERA in 36 2/3 innings, and four quality starts for the month. In June, Bobby Abreu turned back into the player he's been pretty much his entire career: .290/.408/.470.

Dregs of the Month: Johnny Damon's damaged goods season continued with a .226/.286/.333 June. Miguel Cairo was praised after taking over part of the first base job after Doug Mientkiewicz was injured, but in reality, he hit a very empty .273/.310/.333 in June. Not acceptable. Unfortunately, his main competitors hit only .217/.308/.217 (Josh Phelps) and .125/.222/.313 (Andy Phillips). Speaking of bad backup performances, Wil Nieves did a .158/.200/.158 in June, which raises the question--if he doesn't hit, and he's not the best defender like, ever, what is he doing on this team?

Not on this team is Tyler Clippard, who skated through his first June start, but didn't make it past the second round of Interleague play. He wound up with a 9.00 ERA on the month, and allowed 25 baserunners in 12 innings pitched.

Another note of concern--while not technically something to call Dregs on--was Brian Bruney's loss of control in June. Bruney, the promising 25 year old the Yankees picked up off waivers last season, looked like just the guy to counterbalance the enormous mistake the Yanks made with Kyle Farnsworth (5.23 ERA in June, by the way). In June, his strikeout touch abandoned him, and he was both hittable (9 hits in 8 2/3 innings) and out of control (11 walks against 2 strikeouts for the month). This bears watching.

Story of the Month: Enough ink has been spilled (and...electrons, I guess) over the big tease this Yankee team pulled last month. The Red Sox actually wound up a game under .500 for June, which is a quick and easy way to define "vulnerable." Sadly, no one--not the Yanks, not Toronto, no one--took them up on the invitation they sent out for a divisional race.

So now, what's left is to see if the remaining teams between the Bombers and the Wild Card all want to issue invitations of their own. Detroit, Seattle, Minnesota, Oakland, the Blue Jays--that's a lot of guys who are going to have to spit the bit for the Yanks to win the Wild Card with the 90-92 wins that are now the best case scenario for this team.

Unlikely. That's the word. It only takes one of those teams to hold their ground, and the Yanks don't make the postseason--and the Tigers and A's have proved themselves plenty tough this season. The sad truth is that the only say the Yankees have in it, right now, is scratching and clawing to get to that 90 win mark, and hope for a miracle.

Cheerful, huh?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Week In Review: Fiasco

Week 13: June 25-July 1, 2007

Record for the Week: 1-4 (17 RS, 32 RA)
Overall: 39-42, 8.5 games behind Detroit for the Wild Card (6th in WC standings)

The Breakdown:

Back by popular demand! (Albeit of trolling Red Sox fans...)

6/26 -- Yankees 2, Baltimore 3
6/27 -- Yankees 0, Baltimore 4
I already said my piece about these two games last week, in Death of a Thousand Cuts. The Orioles are not a good team, and getting beat by them stings like lemon juice on an open wound. Lesson learned: It's sometimes hard to distinguish between Leo Mazzone casting his magic spell on a pitching staff, and your offense just plain sucking.

06/28 -- Yankees 8, Baltimore 6 (Suspended, rain)
Under the old rules, if they called a game due to rain after the fifth inning, it was over. The team with the lead won. This winter, they changed the rules so that a game that was stopped in progress would be completed at a later date. The new rule makes sense, but it still feels strange for a game like last Thursday's--the Yanks, reeling at the end of their disastrous road trip, blew a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh, then came back to score four runs in the top of the eighth. And with the comeback in full swing, the game was stopped, mid-rally (two outs, man on second) and then put in limbo for a whole month. The final ten or so outs of the game will play out on July 27th, prior to the Yanks' next series at Camden Yards. Lesson learned: A postponed game can throw Week in Review into chaos, since sources seem to disagree on whether the stats are official, yet. Confusing, all around.

06/29 -- Oakland 1, Yankees 2
Good old-fashioned pitching duel between Mike Mussina and Joe Kennedy. Some would say it speaks a lot about both offenses that this game was a pitching duel. With two on and Jack Cust coming up in the eighth, Farnsworth took offense that Torre would take him out of the game for Mariano Rivera. Farnsworth's point of view: he'd just struck out Nick Swisher, and wanted a chance to get himself out of the jam. Torre's counterpoint: the team's been losing, and with four outs left, you can't afford to lose this game with anyone other than your best pitcher on the mound. Rivera preserved the lead, for his third save in three weeks. Lesson learned: Kyle Farnsworth can't do anything right, even when he doesn't actually screw up the game.

06/30 -- Oakland 7, Yankees 0
One hit. That's all this team managed against Chad frellin' Gaudin and a rehabbing Rich Harden. It's enough to drive you insane. On the other side of the ball, the Kei Igawa souvenir baseball promotion continued, with Igawa allowing three A's--including punchless Jason Kendall--to hit homers off of him. Lesson learned: If anyone in the Yankee PR department had a sense of humor, they'd arrange for a late-season promotion featuring "This Yankee Offense Was Supposed to Score 1,000 Runs But All We Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt" shirts, for all fans 16 and over.

07/01 -- Yankees 5, Oakland 11
So much for a homestand being the cure for all this team's ills. This time Pettitte couldn't get out of the second inning. The Yanks actually scored five runs off of Danny Haren, but it didn't matter after Pettitte treated them to an eight-run cushion. Lesson learned: If it's not one thing it's the other with this team. Just a vomitous performance.

Player of the Week: Mike Mussina (7 IP, 1 R, 6 H, 1 BB, 3K) and Andy Phillips (.308/.357/.538, 1 HR 3 RBI). Melky Cabrera (.316/.409/.421) is a runner-up, but that's it. What a lousy week...

Dregs of the Week: Everyone else. Let's put it another way: four Yankees' regulars couldn't even manage a .600 OPS for the week: Derek Jeter (.280/.308/.280), Robinson Cano (.143/.217/.190), Hideki Matsui (.136/.208/.182), and Bobby Abreu (.100/.208/.100). Overall, the Yankees had an isolated power of .050 last week, which is Neifi Perez bad. They managed only nine extra base hits overall! Chien Ming Wang and Luis Vizcaino (ERAs=9.00) were awful last week, Roger Clemens and Kei Igawa were merely bad (ERAs circa 6.00), and Scott Proctor hit bottom with a thud and a bounce (4 ER and 7 baserunners in 2 IP).

Story of the Week: We're three games from the midpoint of the season, a week from the All-Star Break. How do the Yankees suck right now? Let me count the ways...

1) They suck on offense: The Yankee bats have gone utterly flaccid. As usual with LD (lumber dysfunction) a prime culprit is age: the lineup's elder statesman (36 y/o Jason Giambi) is out of the lineup, perhaps for good, and three of the Yanks' 33 year olds (Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Bobby Abreu) have been nowhere near as good as expected. But it isn't only the middle -aged veterans who can get LD, it's also young guys like Robbie Cano and Melky Cabrera. The only three Yankees who are getting the job done with their bats (Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada) are all going to the All-Star game.

2) They suck in their division: The Yanks are 8-17 against the AL East, a record of divisional futility that's only matched by the Texas Rangers, who are 6-15 against the AL West. The Yankees' only series wins against the AL East have both come against the Red Sox.

3) They suck against lefthanded starters: As a team, they're hitting .267/.345/.389 against lefties, with only 19 homers in 849 AB. The lefty hitting regulars, Abreu (.245/.318/.298), Cano (.257/.311/.385), Damon (.273/.349/.351) and Matsui (.233/.327/.367), have helped drive those numbers down, and two righty-hitting players being counted on to balance those platoon splits, Cabrera (.237/.306/.342) and Josh Phelps (.264/.318/.302), didn't help at all.

4) They suck at intimacy: This is just my fanciful way of saying that the Yanks are horrible in close games--5-13, worst in the league. Part of this is the bullpen, which is 10th in the AL in WXRL (weird Yankee fact: Kyle Farnsworth leads the Yankees in WXRL, ahead of Mariano Rivera, and way ahead of Scott Proctor). This crap record in one-run games is part of the reason why the Yankees are performing 6 games worse than their pythagorean expected won-loss record. Sadly, there is no pythagorean wild card in Major League Baseball. You have to actually win the games.

We'll be back tomorrow with June in Review.