Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Still a Two-Team Town

Do two teams still play in this town? Is one of the 11 wins better at the first unofficial measuring stick of the baseball season, Memorial Day? If you picked up a local paper, or browse an espn.com, and have been sleeping under a rock for the past two months, you may be surprised that the Mets, yes the Mets, do still play, and are in fact much better than the Yankees.

While the best team we thought money could buy was busy responding to team meetings and owners threats by limping to a pathetic three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels, the Mets were busy posting a ho-hum three-game wipeout of the Marlins. Despite missing half their outfield to injuries by the end of the series, the Mets received solid starting pitching, flawless defense, and more than enough hitting. Florida is a team the Mets should beat, and like good teams do the Mets beat them, not even giving the Marlins a glimmer of hope over the weekend.

Friday was Senior Citizen discount night in the visitors clubhouse, as El Duque made his triumphant return to the mound, and Pedro Martinez made an out-spoken cameo in the clubhouse. On the field, Hernandez was vintage, twirling breaking balls, keeping batters off balance, and looking sharp as ever in tossing six shutout innings. Then after the game he spoke more like someone in need of a month off, not a pitcher returning from a month off. El Duque Who else returns from the DL, throws a shutout, then tells reporters the next day was important and could determine if he makes his next start. Next start? The Mets can already pencil El Duque in for at least one more prolonged DL stint, with an ailment to be named later, but if he shows up October 1st with the stuff he had Friday, Willie and Omar will live with it.

Pedro missed Spring Training, has yet to throw off a mound, but his mouth was in mid-season form. He already has himself coming back throwing high-90’s, claims he can pitch better than Clemens right now, and delivered some crazy quote about walking under the bridge, reminiscent of his mango tree reference from years past. Like it or not, Pedro will provide a lift in the clubhouse, at the very least. If he is anything close to Pedro, circa 1999, the Mets become heavy favorites to win the title. One guarantee, there will be no shortage of quotes.

….this Mets team looks, feels, and smells, more and more like the ’96 Yankees. They find a new and exciting way to win every night, they have a deep bench and every time a player goes down someone fills in and plays better, the bullpen is almost automatic (yes, that is 30 straight for the new Sandman, as painful as it is for me to say), and the defense is flawless. Right down to the star pitcher returning from injury to carry the team down the stretch, ala David Cone. Will the ’07 Mets finish in the Canyon of Heroes?

…looks like Carlos Delgado got the message. Instead of complaining about being dropped in the lineup, he is responding, a few multi-hit games, and a multi-homer game. Wright is back, now here comes Delgado. Beware NL pitchers.

..As if they needed any help, how about the two division competitors both losing key bullpen members within days of each other. The Phils Brett Myers and the Braves Mike Gonzalez are both out, Gonzalez for the year, and those two injuries could directly lead to losses for each team. I thought they would each hold their own with the Mets, and I still like the Braves team, but its becoming clear the Mets are the team to beat.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Big Stein Speaks

In NY Sports it’s the equivalent of the President giving his State of the Union address. The media goes into a frenzy, the fans start to speculate, and everyone involved with the team is either relieved or feeling the heat. When The Boss speaks, everyone listens.

Yesterdays exclusive interview with the AP was no exception. Steinbrenner was authoritative, but not threatening. I love his statements and interviews because Steinbrenner does not mince words. Everyone knows exactly where they stand. Here are some major points:
• Torre is safe. After he got over the Mets-Red Sox hump without the train going off the tracks, followed by the call of support from Steinbrenner, it Torre surviving the season became a foregone conclusion.
• Brian Cashman is on the proverbial hook. Over the past decade Steinbrenner has excelled in finding ways to point the finger when someone else’s decisions backfire, yet remaining quiet when his rash decisions, see Raul Mondesi, fail. This time Cashman deserves the blame, and if there was any doubt yesterday cleared everything up. If the Yanks do not make the playoffs, Cashman is out. He did not to discuss Pavano, Igawa, the bench, or any other Cashman move, he simply placed the load directly onto Cashman’s shoulders.
• In classic Steinbrenner fashion he said Jason Giambi should just shut up. I could not have put it better myself.
• Sometimes the Boss’ rationale eludes me. How has Don Mattingly showed anyone a lot? I know Steinbrenner is not on the field everyday watching him coach, and Mattingly sure did not leave a great impression during the one game he subbed for Torre. Why even stir the pot and bring up Mattingly? Saying Torre is safe for now should be enough.
• I have to criticize Steinbrenner for his Clemens comments, or lack there of. Yes, its great that you love him, but lets talk about performing for $28 million, or the family plan. Give me something. Put some responsibility on his shoulders. To me, his comments on Clemens indicate Steinbrenner was most likely more involved with the decision than we originally believed.

I hope Steinbrenner did not intend to motivate the team with his comments, since they certainly did not respond last night. For all the hoopla, we did not learn anything new here. All Steinbrenner did was confirm the speculation that Cashman is out if the team fails, and that Torre will last the season. I want to see Steinbrenner comment on Clemens if he does not come back and perform. That would be worth the price of admission.


What does the Yankee series win over Boston mean in the big picture? Absolutely nothing if they follow it up with lethargic performances, like last night against the Angels. Tyler Clippard returned from Cloud 9 and pitched like a rookie pitcher, struggling through four innings, but keeping the team in the game. Clippard looked sharp at times, sporting a lively fastball and nice change-up, but he left too many pitches up in the zone and the Angels made him pay for it.
Down 3-2 after four innings, with Clippard only at 76 pitches, Torre inexplicably pulled him. He certainly struggled out there, but Clippard was still holding his own and showing enough that he could keep the Yanks afloat. Plus, does Torre have any better options in the bullpen? The bullpen quickly answered that question. Matt DeSalvo could not find the plate, or the catcher for that matter, and the Luiz Vizcaino disaster continued. Seven runs, only three outs, and what seemed like two hours later, the game was unwatchable and out of reach. I have no doubt Clippard could have done better through six innings. Another case of Torre’s quick hook haunting the Yanks.

…He continues to fly under the radar, no steroid talk, no recognition as the best player in the game, but Vlad Guerrero continues to quietly dominate AL pitching. He punishes the ball every at bat, no cheap hits. One of my favorite road players to watch.

The lineup continued to show signs of life from top to bottom, with Abreu drawing two walks, Cano collecting a pair of hits and 3 RBI, and a few hits from Giambi. In the end, it was another loss when scoring six or more runs. A problem the lineup cannot fix.

The Boston series is long forgotten. Fate turns often in the course of the long baseball season. The key is consistency over a long stretch of games, something that continues to elude the Yanks. They showed signs this week, but need to avoid these clunkers if they want to dig out of this hole.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Juggling Act

Three different struggling players, three different teams, three different situations. Andruw Jones, Bobby Abreu, and Carlos Delgado are all struggling at the plate, hurting their teams offenses to different extents, and each was dropped in the lineup this week.

Give credit to Cox, Torre, and Randolph, for not blindly continuing to run the same lineup out every night waiting for each to turn it around. Particularly Torre, who historically is loyal to a fault, however his decision was the easiest since Abreu has the least track record of the group, the Yankees have the most replacement weapons, and the Yanks were most in need of a shake-up. Still too many times managers are afraid to sit an underperforming star player, or skip a starter, based on their past track record, and egos, which eventually hurts the team. Let’s look at these three situations.

Jones and Abreu are in contract years , and Jones especially appears to be pressing. Reports from Atlanta are that he is swinging for a homerun every at bat, and the numbers concur. Jones has 54 strikeouts in 46 games, record pace, and is hitting a paltry .213. Cox has never shied away from sending a message to Jones, once pulling him off the field mid-inning for lackadaisically chasing ball. Hopefully Jones gets the message here, and starts to think hitting, not homeruns and money. He has a world of talent and it’s a shame watching it waste away every year.

Abreu, on the other hand, has declined the last year and half. First he stopped hitting homers, but his many staunch defenders pointed to the walks and OBP, along with a .300 average. Torre stuck him right into the middle of the juggernaut lineup, a move that initially surprised me last year. This year the power is still missing, but the hitting has disappeared and pitchers stopped walking him, going half of May without a walk, and toting a journeyman middle infielder like .316 OBP. Barring a major turnaround, Abreu will be looking for a new team next off-season. Until then, Torre needs to get him going. Maybe hitting lower in the lineup takes some of the pressure off and helps Abreu capture his stroke. At a minimum, it takes a major albatross out of the middle of the lineup.

Delgado’s demise may be the beginning of the natural downward career progression. Far from old at 35 (next month) and a 48-year-old teammate, power hitters can often turn for the worse quick. Rarely will a player with 10 consecutive 30-homer seasons fall so far so quickly, though. Nagging injuries may play a factor, age could contribute, good pitching, or simply a prolonged slump. In any case, with a deep bench and plethora of young players, Randolph needs to start considering right-handed platoon options against good left pitchers if Delgado does not turn it around.

It is too early to measure the impact of the lineup changes. Statistically, none of the teams is hurting offensively, but stats do not always tell the story. Delgado’s struggles began to have an impact on the pitches Beltran was seeing and subsequently swinging at, while both the Yanks and Braves have struggled to score at times this season, and a middle of the lineup rally killer does not help. With the state of the Yankees, and Matsui heating up, its likely Abreu remains down in the lineup most of the year. While Atlanta’s young lineup needs Jones’ power and experience to make a run at the Mets, expect him to turn it around and move back to the customary fourth slot in the next month. Delgado is anyone’s guess, but I suspect if he can string a few good games together Willie moves him back up in the lineup.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Take Him, Please

Earlier this week, George King reported in the NY Post that the Angels are interested in Jason Giambi, obviously pending his whole steroid/amphetamine investigation. If the Angels, or any team this side of Boston, want Giambi, the Yanks should help pack his backs and offer to pay for the moving trucks. This is one case where picking up a big portion of the salary will not bother me.

Since his deflation sometime between 2004 and 2005, Giambi is a shell of his former self. The ability to hit for average is gone, the home run power comes and goes in streaks, but Giambi is essentially an all or nothing homerun hitter that will punish weak pitching or a mistake pitch. He is a liability on defense, a debacle on the bases, and an unnecessary burden in the clubhouse.

Giambi’s on field performance makes him enough of an albatross, but the stirring drug investigation is a distraction this Yankees clubhouse does not need, particularly during these trying times. Baseball was not going after Giambi either, he brought all this on himself by running his mouth, and there is no doubt he would do it again.
My other gripe is his cryptic statements. If you are going to comment on the situation willingly, then come out with the truth. Using “that stuff” just opens Pandora’s box, and will make Giambi’s life difficult. While on this subject, the part about “that stuff” not helping him hit homeruns is preposterous. Why did Giambi take them then? Was steroids and amphetamines part of his long-term health plan?

Giambi looks worse than Bonds, since he is seeking sympathy while Bonds, and give him credit, puts his head down, plays, and plays just as good as he did pre-steroid testing, something Giambi has not done. If the Yankees can get Chone Figgins, nothing more than a serviceable outfielder, and rid themselves of some of Giambi’s albatross contract and headache drug problems, they should not think twice.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Disaster Averted

Its amazing that with the countless superstars and well-known veterans that have played under Joe Torre, two rookies may have saved his job this year. Three weeks after Kei Igawa shutdown the Red Sox to avoid a sweep, unheralded rookie Tyler Clippard did the same against the Mets, helping diffuse the Joe must go rumors….for now, at least.

Clippard showed a lot of moxie holding the Mets at bay in the second. Following another David Wright homer, they had the bases loaded with the extremely dangerous Jose Reyes up. A spot where some other Yankee rookies have folded like a beach chair, Clippard stepped up, struck out Reyes, and blanked the Mets for four more innings, seemingly getting stronger as the game went on.

Offensively, it was the old guard coming through. After Damon broke the tie with a bloop double, Jeter homered to bust the game open. Posada and A-Rod each hit mammoth shots in the subsequent innings. The Yanks were up against it, and they responded.

One night later, another strong start from Chien-Ming Wang, another A-Rod blast, more signs of life from the entire lineup, and suddenly there is hope. You can almost see the sun behind all those dark clouds.

More than just a win, the team played loose and had some spunk. Torre put runners in motion, something he should of done in the Game Five of the fateful 2004 ALCS when Wakefield came in relief, but I digress, and struggling hitters, notably Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, looked closer to their former All-Star status.

I admit my statements after Saturday were extreme. The Yanks are not out of the division yet. I am reconsidering not because they won a few games, its how they won. Not to mention I overreacted by how they were losing. They played listless recently, but things can sure change quick in baseball.

By no means is the Sox lead insurmountable given the Yankee deficit and number of games remaining, see the 1995 Mariners and 1978 Yankees, two teams New York knows well, for different reasons. With five more head-to-head games in the next few weeks, the Yanks need to go for four out of five. If they lose these matchups, it sure might be over.

One other interesting note from last was Wang’s pitch sequence. He threw a high percentage of sliders four-seam fastballs, rather than his signature sinking fastball. Wang was far from sharp, but the new look kept Boston just enough off balance to shut them down. I am interested to see if this was a special game plan for Boston, who has hit Wang well in the past, he did not have the feel for the sinker last night, or if he is expandin his repertoire beyond the two-seamer. Something to keep an eye on.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Family Plan

Verizon wireless advertises cost savings when you sign up for the family plan. Roger Clemens does not, as the Yanks found out. Two weeks after the signing, and the Clemens family arrangement, where he can essentially come and go as he pleases, continues to draw attention and controversy. Former manager Phil Garner, players on other teams like David Wells, and even the new Yankee team spokesperson Kyle Farnsworth.

Let’s end it. I am on the record as being staunchly against this arrangement, and the whole Clemens signing. But enough of the criticism from his peers. If Phil Garner has such a problem, where was he the last two years when Clemens carried his team? What about Wells, did he take the Yankees getting involved for him to finally recognize Clemens had the same contract clause for his tenure with Houston.

As for Farnsworth, I am torn. I like him standing up and telling the truth about a teammate, but at the same time, I think he should keep his mouth shut and start to perform. Farnsworth has bigger problems than if Roger Clemens hops a flight to drive his kid to day camp, such as getting some outs in a big spot for a change. Outside of coming from the wrong source, and thus being pushed aside, Farnsworth’s comments may give a deeper glimpse into the pulse of the Yankee locker room in regards to Clemens. That whole “everyone bought in and has no problem with the arrangement” is a front put up by management. I feel those Cashman and Torre put those words into the players mouths.

More than the negative thoughts about the “Clemens Clause”, as we will call it, the Yanks should be more concerned about being out of the pennant race before Clemens debuts, rendering their $28 million investment as meaningless as Kei Igawa.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Can You Count to Ten?

The Yankees sure can. Some media folk tagged Friday night a proverbial “must win” game since Pettitte was the only formidable pitcher the Yanks were throwing this weekend, and losing any more ground in the standings would be deadly. Well, two days later they are closer to AL East death.

The numbers are all there. Biggest deficit under Torre, a 2-7 record in the midst of a critical stretch, seven rookie starters after Tyler Clippard toes the rubber tonight, Cano and Abreu hitting closer to .200 than .300, and so on. Bottom line, I am not ready to proclaim them dead in the division race, but if they do not turn the corner over the next four games then I will be ready.

The subway series rarely lacks story lines, but the 2007 version is especially chock full. The Yankees problems contribute the stories, both on and off the field, but this series may also mark the official changing of the guard in NY that has been building up the past two seasons. Here is a smattering of commentary on the last few games:

Tough to find a place to start, but how about Robinson Cano. Cano finally broke through at the plate with two hits and a homer. Then he broke down in the field with three egregious errors and a fourth misplay. Despite Derek Jeter’s reasoning for each Cano error, the miscues reeked of laziness and nonchalant play, similar to his efforts at the plate all season. Somewhere on his way to becoming the next great homegrown Yankee and a modern day Rod Carew at the plate, Cano has sidetracked. ESPN did a feature article before the season touting Cano as the third place hitter and 3B replacement for A-Rod. One theory says the publicity, plus the accolades following last season, may have gone to his head. He is certainly playing like it. Maybe a few days on the bench would help clean up his slop.

Speaking of defensive problems, Johnny Damon made sure to contribute. Damon looks old out there, the poster child for how the whole Yankee team looks. Two deep flies to centerfield yesterday, one bounced off his glove for a homer, the other landed over his head. All this one night after Damon was pegged at second after a leadoff hit, not exactly a great way to build momentum. If he is hurt, please put him on the DL.

The Subway Series story, and the story of the Yankee season, is not complete without mentioning injuries. At first it was the new conditioning coach, then it was a series of coincidences, but after Darrell Rasner took a line drive off the hand in the first inning, exactly three weeks after a first inning line drive broke Jeff Karstens leg, the injury problems seem downright devilish. Watching Rasner try to throw warm-ups after the injury was painful. Needless to say, the Yanks needed nine full innings from the bullpen. Not what the doctor ordered.

The Yankees, and their struggles dominate the headlines, but the Mets deserve some accolades. Oliver Perez continued his renaissance under pitching magician Rick Peterson with another dominant effort on Friday. It appears his head and pitching prowess are catching up with his ability. After the one debacle in Philly, his walk totals are way down and his consistency is picking up with every start. If Perez continues on this path he is capable of 250 strikeout, 20 win seasons. Offensively and defensively, Endy Chavez owns the Yankees. Chavez bring to the table all the attributes that the Yanks used to possess, defense, clutch hitting, a spark off the bench, and the ability to make something happen. Forced into the starting lineup due to injuries, Chavez has responded with the game winning homer, a four-hit game, good base running, and the peg out of Damon from RF. Every time Chavez makes a play, it reminds me of the Yankee depth from the championship teams with playmakers like Raines and Strawberry, and painfully reminds me of the lack of depth on the current Yankee squad.

The last ten years, the Yankees win these types of games. A nip and tuck one-run game, and the wild, high scoring affair, full of mistakes. The Met bullpen tried to give the game away in the eight and ninth inning yesterday with Scott Schoenweis first letting the Yanks back in the game, then putting the tying runs on base, before getting Mr. Clutch himself to end the threat. In the ninth, after Wagner’s terrible decision to throw home on the play in from of the plate, the Yanks would typically capitalize, but yesterday Wagner bounced back and made Cano and Phelps look feeble to end the game. Not to mention the team spokesperson, Kyle Farnsworth, failed to hold the Mets in check in the eight, allowing them to extend the cushion and make Wagner’s mistake a moot point. Its hard to say the team lacked effort, but a certain swagger and sense of the moment was clearly missing.

By the way, shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but Tom Glavine won number 295 on his way to 300.

When ESPN picked the nationally televised games, do you think they envisioning Chase Wright and Tyler Clippard starting in the Yankees first two appearances on Sunday Night Baseball? Local radio personalities have already dubbed Clippard the new Yankee Clipper.

The Yankee problems are endless. The hitting, the injuries, the bullpen, Giambi and the steroid conversation, but it all comes back to Torre and Cashman’s job status. A few weeks ago when Torre was on the hot seat I said the team probably needed a change to shake things up, but did not know if it doing it in mid-season would help. Now, I am convinced that if the Yankees stumble against Boston this week, heads will roll. It may be Cashman, it may be Torre, could be both. I have no problem canning either one at this time. The sloppy play on the field puts and uninspired effort puts Torre on the chopping block, and the numerous poor player moves that have put the Yanks in this situation help make the case against Cashman. However, if Torre goes I do not think putting Mattingly or Girardi in charge of a sinking ship is the right solution. The Yankees should use a Larry Bowa, or bring back a Lee Mazilli, as the interim solution, then start anew next year with the long term replacement. Reports are rampant that Big Stein will comment come Thursday. The countdown is on.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Growing Pains

Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen, and Bill Pulsipher received as much hype as any recent young pitchers. Ten years later, Izzy is the only one who sort of lived up to the hype, except he wound up in the bullpen. Patience everyone. Mike Pelfrey is struggling, he is not ready to be a major league pitcher. Pelfrey gets frazzled early in games, does not throw any of his pitches consistently, makes too many mistakes that get hit, and struggles with the strike zone at time. A bad month and half does not mean he is less of a prospect, just give him more time. The Mets made a good move today sending him down to AAA after another rough outing. The move allows Pelfrey to work out his problems in a less stressful environment, and get regular work every five days, not to mention that Jorge Sosa is pitching better and El Duque is about to come back.

Baseball is great because you never know what you will say. Case in point, the Mets turned a double play on a pop out yesterday, but gave up two runs to a heads-up Brewers team. The Amazins were sloppy in the field and the pitching added to the problems. Smith and Feliciano both gave up their first runs of the season, not just one run, but the Brewers tagged Smith for a grand slam. Over 162 games, there are days like this, at least the Mets got it all out of their system at once. The only worrisome part was Moises Alou hobbling off the field with an injury.

Check out Mike Lupica in the Daily News, he sums up New York baseball for you, the Yanks get the headlines while the Mets just fly under the radar and keep winning.

Across town, or across the country this weekend, Matt DeSalvo continued to pitch like Matt DeSaviour for the Yanks. The offense snapped out of the doldrums, the bullpen held up, and DeSalvo notched career win #1. For one day all was right with the Yankees, the hitters hit, the pitchers pitched, and they sucked the life out of their opponent like the old days. One nice move by Torre, he announced DeSalvo will start again Thursday before he took the mound last night. Smart move by Joe, great way to build confidence for the young guy. Old Joe still has it.

Aging Behind the Mic

Ralph Kiner was a great player and is a Met broadcast icon. Listening to Ralph in 2007 is downright painful. I only caught him for a few innings over the weekend on SNY, and it was manageable since Darling and Cohen were anchoring things, but Kiner has not ben able to speak well for well over five years. He has earned the utmost respect, and deserves to be treated as such, but the Mets have let him hang on too long. It takes away from the broadcast to the point where its not worth watching. Hopefully he is relegated to one inning guest appearances this season. There is no doubt Kiner has great stories to impart on us. If he wants to continue in the booth, treat him more as the interview subject instead of the interviewer, the guest instead of the broadcaster. Let us get the stories, get the knowledge, enjoy the reminiscing, and still watch the game.

On the other hand, Vin Scully and Harry Kalas still have it. One of the great bonuses of the MLB package (I’m an online subscriber), is the ability to hear the great out of town broadcasters. Going to bed to with the soothing voice of Scully in the background is priceless. They do not break the game down like some other broadcasts, but the old school crew describes the on the field action, without any excess shenanigans, better than anyone. Young broadcasters, bring your notebooks.

Clipped Wings

It is shaping up for a bad year for the birds. The defending champion Cardinals and aspiring Blue Jays are both wrought with injuries, bad off-season decisions and under achievement. It is only May, but its time to close the door on these teams for 2007.

The Cards were not the best team in baseball, or the NL, last season. The team hit its stride at the right time, and had a handful of players all play over their head at the same time. A few clutch hits here and big pitching performances there, and wholla, World Champs. Not sure if they rested on their laurels, or thought they were better than they really were, but St. Louis made some risky decisions in the off-season. They counted on Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper to move from the pen to the rotation, expected a rookie with a few decent postseason starts, in Anthony Reyes, to step up, and brought in Kip Wells, while letting Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, and Jeff Weaver all walk. Well, Marquis is having a renaissance and is second in the NL in ERA, Suppan has continued his playoff success with the Brewers, and Wells, Reyes, and Wainwright all sport ERAs over five. Yes, letting Weaver walk looks smart, and Looper has emerged as the staff ace, but the failures far outweigh the successes. Oh yeah, they counted on Mark Mulder coming back. Do not hold your breath.

Bashing the pitching staff is not fair without mentioning Chris Carpenter. A bad season takes some bad luck, and losing the best pitcher in the NL qualifies as bad luck. Carpenter is likely out for the season, and there is a chance he will never be the same after having major arm surgery for the second time. Everyone lauded the Cards for that hometown-discounted contract Carpenter signed, now, all of a sudden, it looks like another bad front office. This injury really exposed the pitching woes, and lack of starting depth, outlined above.

It is hard to win with bad pitching when the team cannot score runs. Last in baseball in Runs Scored, last in home runs, and bottom five in almost every other major offensive category. Pujols is struggling at .250 and six homers, but you expect him to emerge at some point. However, the rest of the lineup I am not sure about. Rolen and Edmonds are both old, have battled injuries, and may be breaking down, while Eckstein, Kennedy, and Wilson are not great hitters to begin with. No team is going to win games when everyone in the heart of the lineup is hovering around the Mendoza line and has shown no evidence of power. When the two leading hitters on the team are starting pitchers, Wainwright and Reyes, you know there is a major problem. The problem is worse when those starters have not pitched well.

The division is weak, the league is weak, but this team is flat out bad. Without Carpenter, or any help for Pujols, they may not finish last, but will battle for a spot in the middle of the pack in the Central, barring a miracle.

The Blue Jays plight is a bit different. They have not had the same recent success, but had high expectations after opening the purse the past two off seasons. Two months ago everyone said they were ready to challenge the Yankees and Red Sox, I was skeptical but no arguing the team was solid on paper. Now, assuming the Yanks do turn things around, everyone is talking about Toronto preparing for 2008 and battling Tampa for last in the division.

More so than St. Louis, the Jays biggest problem is injuries. BJ Ryan is done for the year, Roy Halladay is out for 4-6 weeks, Troy Glaus has been in and out of the lineup all season, Gustavo Chacin is out now, and their biggest off-season pitching acquisition, John Thomson, has yet to toe the rubber this season. Ryan, Halladay, and Glaus, all appeared to play hurt before sitting down, which did not help the team. The Yankees and A’s can complain about being decimated by injuries, but how can any team survive losing their ace starter, closer, cleanup hitter, and two other starting pitchers. That is absurdly bad luck. Competing with NY and Boston takes some luck due to the payroll disparity, with these injuries, preparing for 2008 is not a bad idea.

They are hitting decent, middle of the league in the major categories, but the big guns, Wells, Thomas, and particularly Overbay, have underperformed thus far. They have not been terrible, but nobody has stepped up to carry the team, and that is what Toronto needed with all the pitching problems. The pitching has been a disaster. With Ryan out the bullpen has collapsed. Jason Frasor failed in the closer role, AJ Burnett continues to be Jekyll and Hyde, going from shutting out the Yankees to being torched by Cleveland, and the rest of the starters have struggled. I do no think Toronto planned to count on Tomo Ohka or Victor Zambrano, a former Met favorite (read sarcasm), and they have shown why they should not be counted on, while Josh Towers and Gustavo Cachin have each been unable to make the next step up.

This team needs to revisit the rebuilding plan. JP Ricciardi is on the hot seat with 2007 shaping up as another losing season, and his lying about the BJ Ryan injury on the front pages. He should shop some of the older vets he signed, Thomas and Glaus, to playoff contenders around the trade deadline and look for pitching reinforcements and youth. I wish Halladay could stay healthy one year. He is a great pitcher with terrible injury luck.

Toronto fans have experienced it often, St. Louis fans not as much, but it is going to be a long summer for these teams. I hope the weather is nice.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Peach Fuzz Power

Make it three in a row the Mets clubhouse converted into a barber shop. Maybe the excess shrubbery was weighing on David Wright early this season. Game winning double on Wednesday, a home run last night, and it appears the rough April is a past memory. More proof that hair is overrated, Wright’s cohort in the middle of the lineup and on the underperformer list, Carlos Delgado, homered as well.

Before we anoint this a statement game, or a potential NLCS match-up, lets remember its only May, and the Brewers still have to prove themselves. Milwaukee, some experts chick pick in the NL Central, has a young, hungry team, with good pitching, and comes in with the best record in baseball. A few games in May will not make or break either teams season. Sorry to downplay the significance, its just a fun series between two very good teams trying to be great.

Not only did the Mets take Round One, they beat Jeff Suppan. Some may remember him from last October, though Met fans try to forget as much as possible. The buzz-cut boys did what they could not do for a week in October, score runs off Suppan. In baseball, teams do not gain satisfaction for October failures with May successes. I think its more bittersweet. Met fans wanted this last season.

Two underlying story lines, Jorge Sosa and Damion Easley. Sosa was strong again, stifling the Brewers, before handing it over to the dominant Met bullpen, which slammed the door again. With Sosa looking more like the 13-win pitcher of two seasons ago, the pressure is on Mike Pelfrey to perform better right now, or pack his bags for AAA when El Duque comes back. Sosa is another pitcher who has the stuff, but struggled to become a pitcher. If Rick Peterson can do what Leo Mazzone did a few years back, the Mets have a nice back of the rotation find.

As for Easley, where did this come form. He hammered his fourth home run last night, and they have all been meaningful. If Shawn Green is playing like its 1999, of course before the buzzer started a 0-12 stretch, Easley is playing like its 1995 at the old Tiger Stadium. With the big guns coming around, the role players continuing to step up, and the pitching exceeding expectations, the Mets are in great shape. But, in baseball, as in life, anything can happen.

Sleeping Bats

Jarrod Washburn will not contend for Cy Young awards anytime soon, but the Yankees hitters may have fooled you into thinking that. They lead the league in runs scored, but last night marked the third game in a week they scored two runs or less and lost. The .500 mark seems to be a hot flame, every time they put their record close to it they immediately pull back.

This week shows why Clemens is not the answer to all the problems, or even the biggest ones for that matter. They received good starts every day, outside of Wang on Thursday, but the bullpen blew a game on Monday, and lack of hitting lost a game last night. We all know the Yankees will score a ton of runs this year, but its evident they have more holes than most people admit. Call it coincidental, call it an aberration, the reality is more than half the lineup has gone stone cold at the same time, and most of these players have been sub-par the entire season. Starting with Bobby Abreu, who there are not enough negative adjectives to describe the play of, to Hideki Matsui, who seemed to get it going in Texas last week but has slumped again, to the next superstar Robinson Cano and his under the radar poor offensive start. Outside of Posada, Jeter, and A-Rod, no Yankee has hit consistently well this season, and Doug Mientkiewicz is the only other Yank to hit the ball well this week.

Of course, Torre sat the hot-hitting Dougie last night, and like most of his moves this season, it backfired. The offense needed the spark that Mientkiewicz has provided of late, and his replacement, Josh Phelps, looked worse than Jason Giambi on two different plays at first, one contributing to a run. Joe, just stick with the hot hand, please. The reverse applies to Abreu. Bench him. Maybe its just a day or two, but he looks lost at the plate, and by the way that would be zero walks in the last twelve games, so his eye is not keeping him in the lineup. Continuing to bat Abreu third, and now second, is not doing the team any favors. Torre needs to cut his losses, drop him in the lineup, and let him work this out.

Unfortunately, this week the Yanks do not have Jeff Weaver to bail them out after a tough loss. Seattle mysteriously jettisoned the $8 million man to the DL after another disastrous start on Thursday, a move probably more to do with performance than injury. That’s 0-5 with a 14.32 ERA for those scoring at home.

On another note, baseball needs to revisit this scheduling. Teams should not play each other twice in a week. Repeat pitching matchups, seeing the same players for one week and not again for another year, and traveling west three or four times a year, is not fun for the fans and players. I can go on about this, the fact the Yanks and Sox play 2/3 of their games by the first week of June, that we do not see some teams after mid-May, or until July, and the terribly imbalanced interleague schedule, but lets leave it at the fact that the scheduling is poor.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bean Balls and Blogs

I love hard-nosed play. I respect the brush back pitch. I am a Yankee fan. Everything that unfolded in Sunday’s game leading to ejections and the benches clearing was the Yankees fault, and it was wrong. There is a fine line between hard-nosed plays and dirty plays, brush back pitches and purpose pitches. Phelps and Proctor crossed that line. They jumped right over it, totally disregarded it.

Phelps was out of line knocking the catcher out on that play. Collisions at the plate are part of the game, and the Yankees unfortunately seem to avoid them when they are necessary, this was not. Phelps clearly deserved to get thrown at. He took his medicine and went to first base. End of story.

Then Scott Proctor, he of the many blown games this year, and the home run balls to David Ortiz last year, and the lack of desire to throw inside at any of the Red Sox hitters who take longer to tour the bases after home runs than paraplegics would, decides to throw behind someone and take on all comers. I was a big Proctor proponent, thought he had the stuff to be the eighth inning pitcher, and that warrior mentality that we love. My respect went down the drain with that pitch, and the subsequent antics.

MLB suspended Proctor for four-games, and Torre the obligatory one. He deserves more than four, and has no grounds on which to appeal since he is the sole propriater of the benches clearing. Instead of acting tough with a five run lead against Seattle, how about acting when it matters against Boston. Get some outs when they matter, or throw up and in to David Ortiz, who seems to be hugging the plate.

To boot, he hurt a team desperately in need of relievers, and of course the one game he cost Torre happens to have the most controversial call of the season, which fill-in manager Don Mattingly forgot to come out and argue before watching the bullpen implode. Just to clarify, I know Torre managing does not change the call or the pitchers he used, but it helps to have the manager there. Hopefully Joe gives Proctor a stern, fatherly lecture, or maybe he needs it in simpler terms, the way Frank Robinson delivers messages

Curt Schilling has a reputation. His ability as a pitcher is indisputable. So is his inability to keep his mouth shut. It seems like every week he has something to say. First its I am retiring, then I want a new contract, which was sour grapes after the Dice-K signing, then the bloody sock controversy, and his verbal exchange with Dan Shaugnessy of the Boston Globe. Not only does he provide commentary on everything under the sun, he does it when nobody is asking, using his blog. He is preparing for a career in something after baseball, I’m just not sure what, since he tries to disparage everyone.

Now it is Barry Bonds and the steroids case. Two years after blowing his chance to speak up in front of Congress, Schilling decides to say the Bonds homerun chase is fruitless because he used steroids. To boot, he throws in that he cheated on his wife and his taxes. What?!? Where does he get off saying any of this. First off, he did not admit to taking steroids and, though all signs point to yes, there is no proof. Next, where does he get off talking about Bonds’ personal life, and why does is it anyone’s business?

Schilling is way off base here, and this time he moved past opinion to the realm of egregious slander. I have no doubt he will run his mouth again and cause a controversy within the month, whether its about the Yanks signing Clemens, the Bonds home run record, or something else. Teams should bear this in mind when he comes looking for that $15 million a year contract this winter.

Monday, May 07, 2007

T-Minus Four Weeks Until Launch

Roger Clemens always had a flair for the dramatic, and of course we know Big Stein loves the Big Moment. Announcing his comeback on the PA during the seventh inning stretch is more WWE than Yankee baseball, to borrow the comparison from some of my radio brethren. Its ridiculous enough we have to wait until completing a quarter of the season before he even decides if and where to play, why disrupt a game with these shenanigans. The introduction may be a ploy to mask all the other inherent issues with this signing.

I am on the record as stating I wanted no part of Clemens before the season started for a number of reasons. The soap opera he makes this into and the rules he wants to play by sicken me. Nobody else gets this treatment. I know he is an all-time great, but did Cal Ripken or Tony Gwynn ask for or get this special treatment? Does Greg Maddux? No, and the Astros and Yankees are just as culpable for allowing it.

On the field, this is high risk. At his age, a player is liable to lose it any time. They are expecting him to not pitch good, but pitch at an elite level, at least according to his paycheck. Sub-3 ERA’s in three seasons with Houston speak for itself, but the NL-AL switch is worth at least a half run to a full run on the ERA, just ask the Big Unit and Josh Beckett. Besides the performance risk, Rocket is only a 5-6 inning pitcher at this point, leaving the Yankees vulnerable to the bullpen every time he takes the mound. Hardly what I expect for my highest paid pitcher.

Speaking of the bullpen, this signing does nothing to help the bullpen or the bench. Arguably, with the emerging health of Wang and Mussina, the solid pitching of Pettitte, and some promise from a few rookies, the starting pitching is stabilizing. Bringing Clemens in does nothing to help the bullpen, and we need only ask his good pal Andy Pettitte how disastrous the bullpen has been, blowing three leads for Andy alone. If anything Clemens hurts the bullpen further by guaranteeing they pitch 3-4 innings each time he starts. Basically, I’m holding my breath. There are more chances for this signing to fail on the field than anyone ants to admit.

The criticism does not end there. Brian Cashman lied. Two months ago and all off-season he claimed the Yankees were fiscally responsible, cutting salaries back, and getting younger. No Zito, trade Sheffield, no Schmidt, no Dice-K, and so on. I agree with that strategy, but explain to me how paying the highest annual salary to the oldest player this side of Julio Franco fits this doctrine. Is Cashman acting in desperation to save his job, or is he just practicing double-talk in preparation for a political career? You simply cannot wax poetic about getting the payroll in line with other teams, and overhauling the roster, than make this signing. Not to mention, in typical recent Yankee style, pay millions of dollars more than any other team. Bottom line, his ass is on the line. Do not let that sly smile in the press conference fool you, Cashman knows it.

I hate to keep harping on it, but the Clemens special schedule just bothers me. What happened to Joe Torre not allowing the come and go as I please schedule. Last year it was not the Yankee way, this year, a few bad pitching performances, and all of a sudden we polled the players and its going to work out. Hypocrites. The Yankee way is the Yankee way, tradition, clean-cut, no special exceptions. This diminishes the Yankee way in big way. To boot, they are not even making the exception for a real Yankee. Its not Bernie, or Jeter, or Mattingly, it’s another free agent that passed through for a few years. Where was this undying love for the Yankees and Steinbrenner a decade ago when Clemens ran to Toronto, or when he came out of retirement to Houston without so much as giving the Yanks a call. How soon we forget.

Lost in all the hysteria, the Yanks have won 5 of 6 after the Boston disaster. Not counting the Kei Igawa Softball Classic on Friday night, opponents only posted 7 runs in that span. Might the starting pitching be making the turn. One no-hitter into the seventh, one perfect game into the eighth, and a shutout. Is Clemens solving any of the real problems?

I save the biggest shock for last. How did this slip past the media?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Kings of NY

The Mets do not receive enough attention. Not in this column, not from the NY media, not in the national media. But Willie Randolph is just fine with that, so long as they keep winning.

Lets spend some time on these Mets. The biggest question mark heading into the season, has become their biggest strength, pitching. John Maine is 5-0 with a miniscule ERA. Glavine shows no signs of slowing down on his march to 300 wins. El Duque was off to a solid start, looking dominant at times with that darting breaking ball, until the inevitable injury bug hit. But you had to plan for the old man to take off about 6-8 weeks throughout the long regular season. He is one of those semi-retired employees working part time before moving down to the retirement community in Florida. As long as he is there October 1, you accept it. As for Oliver Perez, he is either great or terrible. I am still not sold, but when he keeps the walks down he is dominant, ask Florida and Washington, his last two victims. Still inconsistent, but overall he is closer to the 250 K pitcher of 2004, than the 6+ ERA thrower of last season. How did the Pirates, not exactly a team trying to win now, give up on a lefty pitcher with immense talent? If there is any team, outside of KC, that can afford to sacrifice wins for giving young players chance after chance, its Pittsburgh. I think this will burn them. It could be like the Dodgers ditching Pedro.

The story is clearly Maine. Baltimore must be kicking themselves. Their pitching staff is missing the ace that Maine is becoming. Will he keep a sub-2 ERA and go unbeaten, no chance. But he is showing the make-up and stuff to be a top flight pitcher. Maybe the playoff run last season built the confidence he needed, or the magic wand of Rick Peterson uncovered his talents, or a little of a both. Watching him pitch against Arizona the other night, without his best stuff, relying mostly on his fastball, and still shutdown the D-Backs proves this is no fluke. I did not see this coming.

Another potential sore spot, the bullpen, has also stepped up. You expected Wagner to be Wagner, but the emergence of rookie Joe Smith, and the effectiveness of Pedro Felciano and Scott Schoenweis is surprising. Randolph has used the pen effectively, putting each into spots where they can succeed, and the starters have helped by going deep into games, taking the pressure off the pen. Maybe they teach the Yankees a thing or two.

The scary part, is the Mets are in first place, playing great, but they have yet to hit their stride. David Wright is just starting to emerge from a season-long slump with a few homers this week, while Delgado continues to struggle around the Mendoza line and show no power. With the middle of the lineup ineffective, the Mets offense has relied on Reyes, who is a legitimate MVP candidate now. Reyes is better than I thought. He is the Carl Crawford of the NL, the proverbial 5-tool superstar. If you start a team today, he is one of the first three players in the discussion.

Besides Reyes, and the expected contribution from Beltran, Shawn Green is playing like its 1999, Moises Alou continues his steady production, though he is on the El Duque injury time off program, and new role players seem to step up everyday. Drag bunts from Endy Chavez, ninth inning homers from Damion Easley. The formula reeks of late ‘90’s Yankee success.

And lets not be so quick to bury Mike Pelfrey. As I warned with Phil Hughes, Pelfrey is only 23 and less than ten starts into his career. A few rough starts, and all of a sudden people question if his stuff is really top flight, how good is he really going to be, and are ready to send him down. Come on people. Maybe he is not as good as the hype, but he is better than Chan Ho Park, and he is still destined to become a top of the rotation starter. Live with the rookie pains, let him learn, and be patient. Don’t pull a Pittsburgh and jettison his talent out of town before he has a chance to develop.

The Mets are playing great, and I think will make the playoffs. But, Met fans, temper the enthusiasm a bit, they still have flaws, and the Atlanta Braves are for real. Too many people scoff at Atlanta, as if last season erased fourteen years of success. The Braves are for real. Their starting pitching, led by Hudson and Smoltz, both of whom are better than anyone the Mets trot out to the mound, the bullpen is solid after adding the righty-lefty combo of Soriano and Gonzalez in the off-season, and the lineup is anchored by two All-Star sluggers named Jones. I think the Braves and Mets will battle, and both be standing in the end, since the other two divisions are extremely weak. So do not get too cocky yet Met fans, remember, you still have not beat the Braves at their peak.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Injuries, Injuries

Ten different stating pitchers in thirty games. The Yanks will reach that plateau Monday when Matt DeSalvo takes the mound, the latest delivery from the Scranton Shuttle. Rookie Darrell Rasner starts Sunday, though he pitched earlier this season, its still another rookie starter for a team full of superstars. I think we have reached the point where it’s a moral victory to just get through each start healthy, pitching well is a bonus. DeSalvo’s AAA numbers are dominant in 2007, and Rasner has already proven he can hold his own in the majors with his solid spring, and brief stints late last year and earlier this season.

For those still holding out hope, its time to mark the Carl Pavano signing down as an F on the scorecard, and throw on the list of biggest free-agent busts in Yankee history. Ironically he missed his flight and scheduled appointment with Dr. Andrews. Another chapter of infamy in his Yankee career. All indications are Tommy John surgery, and 12-18 months of rehab will end his Yankee career. I don’t think he is lying about the injuries, as many have alluded to, since there is medical evidence for each of his ailments, sans the buttocks problem. But whether its coincidence, bad luck, or Pavano is just more susceptible to injury, and has missed more starts than any pitcher I can remember, this side of Wood and Prior. We can’t kill Cashman on this, since I, like many, favored the Pavano signing. Sometimes you are just flat wrong. This is one case.

It looks like Johnny Damon is catching Pavano-itis. He was in pain after his last swing of the night, and it was not the same pain those that watched the game had to endure. Damon already endured calf and back problems this month, and struggled through the end of last year. This is another example of why its not smart to sign aging to superstars to big contracts. Though my idea of starting last season with Bubba Crosby in center was probably not a great idea, Damon’s contract may look bad if he can’t stay on the field. The team needs to cut its losses and DL Damon to see if rest can heal him, or start making contingency plans.

Derek Jeter’s 20-game hitting streak ended last night.


Supposedly momentum plays a huge role in sports. Someone should tell the Yanks. The Yanks were riding a three-game sweep in Texas, and a pitcher coming off a resurrecting performance against the hated rivals. Throw in home field and you figure the Yanks come out strong Friday night. Not so much. Kei Igawa quickly reverted to his early season form and the Yanks bullpen contributed another less than stellar effort. The Yankees score eleven runs and still lose!

Not only did they score 11 runs, but they put five up in the first inning, and also led 6-2 and 8-6. Each time Igawa handed it right back. The game was unwatchable. Seattle’s half of the fifth inning too longer than the third quarter of the Nets-Raptors game. Three pitchers, eight runs, thirteen batters, over thirty minutes, just terrible baseball. Colter Bean did not even get an out. Thankfully Mike Myers lasted the final four frames to save the bullpen for the rest of the weekend. There is nothing positive to say about this game, the Yanks erased all the good of the Texas series, at least for one night. Not to bring up bad memories, but this was eerily familiar to a few weeks ago, coming off a three game sweep of Cleveland after a walk-off homer by A-Rod, NY jumped out to a 6-2 lead over Boston. We know what happened after that.

Again, Torre has put himself in a corner thanks to poor bullpen use. Mussina and Pettitte each could have pitched another inning or more on Thursday, instead he went to the bullpen early in both games. Throw in a terrible start and early exit from Igawa last night, two rookies making their season debuts on Sunday and Monday, and the Yanks desperately need Wang to go deep into today’s game, and will probably still ware out the bullpen over the weekend.

Back to square one today. Alas, the Yanks can take solace, Seattle sends Jeff Weaver and his 18 ERA to the mound.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Between Game Banter

Finally, normalcy. It seems like eons since the game was the main story. Solid pitching from Pettitte, big hits from Giambi and Matsui, bullpen to Rivera, game over. For the first time in two weeks the Yankees have a winning streak, albeit two.

The formula for this win was for shakier than it sounds. The part with the bullpen getting to Rivera involved another terrible outing for Luiz Vizcaino. He blew the lead Pettitte handed over with a homer by Jerry Hairston. The same Jerry Hairston with no homers since July 2005. Then in the eighth, Bobby Abreu, our third hitter, a spot usually designated for the best hitter on the team, was squaring to bunt with the go ahead run on base, but eventually continued his slump without moving the runner over. Even the clutch, go-ahead hit by Matsui later in the inning was tainted by Giambi’s appalling base running. Giambi not scoring on that double is inexcusable.

However, not all is lost. Rivera was back to his old self, and Farnsworth surprisingly had an easy eighth, Giambi keeps hitting, and Matsui picked up a few hits.

Still, this game brings to light more burning questions. Why did Torre pull Pettitte after six? His last inning was his best, he was pitching good, did not have a particularly stressful outing, let him go seven. Then what is the pecking order in the bullpen before Rivera? He is obviously sticking with Farnsworth for now, but why Vizcaino over Bruney and Proctor?

Problems aside, New York got a miraculous win, given they were sans the glorified Strength and Conditioning Coach. Clearly they overcame a major hurdle there (insert sarcasm).

Lets play two!


The Yanks were finally getting over the injury hump. Wang returned last week, Mussina pitches next, the Jeff Karstens injury was the culmination, then snap. The future, the present, Snap. Not only does this injury further decimate a reeling pitching staff, it also disrupts a march toward history and a coming out party. Unfortunately, Phil Hughes will remember his first win more for his injured hamstring and missed opportunity for a no-hitter.

First, I stand corrected. Last week I waxed poetic on how Hughes is not the savior. Five innings per start and keeping the team in the game would suffice for the first few months. And his debut was exactly that, not spectacular, flashes of brilliance interweaved with youthful exuberance. But start two, unhittable, vintage, dominant. Even Kerry Wood waited until start four to twirl his twenty-strikeout one-hitter. Texas can attest Hughes is the real deal. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe great things can come immediately. Fernando-mania, a young Doc Gooden carrying the Mets. We will find out more, just not for another six weeks. Maybe losing the no-no is a blessing in disguise. According to Jayson Stark, through baseball-reference.com, Wilson Alvarez is the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his first win. Not exactly a hall of famer.

Lost in the Hughes mess, the Yanks dominated Texas. As we keep saying, maybe this game can turn it around. Thankfully, for the Yanks and my fantasy team, Robinson Cano remembered how to hit. Torre can breathe easy. Steinbrenner backed him before the game, then they win. No worries. Until the next loss.

Alas, The Boss was still busy. Marty Miller, the sole link between all of the Yankees injury, felt the wrath. I am surprised it took so long. This was a terrible hire, based on Marty’s background. He was simply not qualified to run strength and conditioning for a professional sports team, after running some resort in Florida. While he was at it, Cashman could have hired me as pitching coach, and Barry Bonds as the nutritionist. Then, once all the players voiced their concerns in the first month of the season, Cashman should have at least brought someone else in to help, or “advice”. But it took an entire pitching staff’s worth of injuries, and a few All-Star outfielders with bad hammy’s, for Cashman to admit his mistake.

The only one to benefit from the situation is Gene Monahan. The legendary trainer received more camera time than an over-hyped Hollywood star, and lost five pounds with his new regimen of daily sprints out to the mound. Only in New York can firing the Strength and Conditioning coach make the front page.