Saturday, June 30, 2007


Your are Joe Torre for a minute. Coming off a 1-7 road trip, desparately holding on for dear life in the playoff race, clinging to a one run lead in the eighth inning with two runners on. Do you stick with an unreliable, inconsistent, proven failure in Kyle Farnsworth, or bring in a rested Mariano Rivera? If you thought about it for more than a second, there is a problem.

Farnsworth is a microcosm of everything wrong with this edition of the Yankees. He is overpaid and underperforming, erratic on his best days, downright awful in other outings. Worse, Farnsworth comes off as selfish. The antithesis of the late 1990's squads. The only Yankee player to publicly speak out against the Clemens arrangement. Last night he shows up Torre on the mound, walking off before Joe could even get there, before proceeding to slam his glove into the dugout wall while his teammates and coaches waited to pat him on the butt. Did I mention the Yanks actually led 2-1 at that time.

Farnsworth does not get it. The old Bull Durham quote applies here, he has a million dollar arm and a 10-cent head. Now we see why he has failed to harness his talent. Also, why he cannot stick with a team. Holding that lead was immensely important to the team, yet Farnsworth put his personal feelings for being replaced in mid inning ahead of the team. Perhaps Fransworth should be as concorerned about improving his 4.88 ERA and 1.66 WHIP, or take notice that the greatest reliever in baseball history replaced him.

Torre put it best when asked if he spoke to Fransworth, "You can talk to him if you want." That's right, only Fransworth can explain Friday night. Cashman needs to make one move, jettison Farnsworth. Get a bag of balls, quarters for the parking meter, a gift certificate to Steinbrenner's favorite Tampa restaurant, just get him out of here. Addition by subtraction.

Friday, June 29, 2007


Paul LoDuca should know better. As a veteran, team leader, LoDuca is the one that diffuses controversy, not create it. He knows the media will take any semi-controversial quote and run with it. Twisting and turning it in anyway possible to stir the pot. Yet LoDuca not only touched on a sensitive topic, he did not choose his words wisely.

The Mets backstop briefly ranted about being the only person the media came to in the locker room, and specifically called out his Latino teammates for failing to speak up. Expressing his point by saying they all speak English, they can answer questions too, is probably not the smoothest way to handle the situation.

A day later, stories emanated about clubhouse dissension, LoDuca being racist, and anything else talk radio and callers could muster up. Clearly, that was not LoDuca’s intent. I believe he attempted to say that other veteran players also need to step up in the clubhouse. His off-handed line about Latino players speaking English, implying they dodge reporters, while possibly accurate, was absolutely unnecessary. It should have been intimated mych differently. The poor choice of words probably stems from frustration of constant questioning from the media. Apparently its an injustice to ask Paul too many questions.

I am almost certain LoDuca meant no ill will with these comments, and that he has no problems with his teammates. But LoDuca is the unofficial team spokesman, with right hand men Billy Wagner and David Wright, so he cannot complain or show frustration about answering questions. Its his job. Part of his value to the Mets is being that clubhouse guy, the veteran team spokesman that takes the heat during the losing streak and publicly defends teammates when problems arise. Instead, LoDuca firmly took foot and planted into mouth.

Usually players leave it to the media to misinterpret quotes. This time LoDuca made everyone’s job easy, delivering incriminating, newsworthy quotes, without any fabrication needed. Nothing likely comes from this. At least the Mets hope.

A Cooperstown Day

I love the way Tim Kirkjian puts it, what makes baseball so great is that you may see something you have never seen before. Thursday, June 28, 2007, is one of those days, no matter how long you have watched baseball. It is the first time in baseball history that a player reached each of baseball’s offensive career milestones, 3000 hits and 500 homeruns, on the same day. These clubs are so exclusive, it is rare to see two players achieve either milestone in the same season, never mind the same day. With the modern era power surge leaving no less than three players in reach of 500 homeruns this season, the milestone may lose some of its exclusivity, but seeing both achievements within hours of each other is unlikely.

Seeing a glut of milestones occur synchronously is not unprecedented. Back in 1999, Mark McGwire reached 500 homeruns, then Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs 3000 hits, on three consecutive days.

If you still are not excited, and feeling history reverberate through your body, each player added a unique twist to the milestone. Biggio lined his 3000th hit to center, his third of the night, but was gunned down trying to stretch it to a double. How many players’ 3000th hits were outs? Think about it, having to celebrate on the field, and not even getting to go back to the base. It is only fitting though, a tribute to the all-out hustling style that marks Biggio’s career. And if that was not enough, Biggio stormed right by 3000, collecting two more hits, tying a career high with five hits. Five hits the night you reach 3000 for the career, talk about unforgettable.

Then there is Frank Thomas. Can you reach 500 homeruns in more anonymity that a Thursday afternoon game in Minnesota? The Big Hurt, who was the most dominant offensive player in baseball for a period during the 1990’s, solidified his spot in Cooperstown. But just to make sure nobody forgot his big day, Thomas was ejected later in the game, the first player ever ejected in the game he joined the exclusive club.

The Cooperstown talk, or argument, can start now. Both of these players are no brainers in my book. 3000 hits is still an amazing feat, while 500 homeruns is losing some of its glitter in the steroid era, but Thomas accumulated a significant portion of stats before Bonds’ head grew three inches, not to mention he is an MVP and the best hitter in baseball for a time. Biggio was the consummate do whatever it takes player. His offensive stats compare favorably to all second basemen from his generation, he has started, and excelled, at three different defensive positions, stole bases, hit homers, and went to the playoffs every year. No, he was never the best player, but he was the best at his position for a long time. That is my hall of fame litmus test.

Maybe they are not first ballot guys, depending on the incoming class, but get the plaques ready. And remember the day, it’s a first. Two guys with very little in common, two completely different types of players, from two different leagues, are now forever linked in baseball lore.

Pray for Rain

The Yanks miserable 9 game road trip finally ended on a positive note. It is a sad state of affairs when a rain suspended game ends is a good thing. After going 1-7 against three lesser opponents, two of which are among the worst teams in baseball, not losing is a step forward.

Reminiscent of their early season woes, the very moment the Yanks start to hit, the pitching gives out. Staked to an early lead, Chien-Ming Wang gave it away twice, hitting a wall in the seventh, similar to Clemens in the sixth a night earlier. Thankfully, after a long rain delay, the captain came threw as the rain continued to come down, with a two-run single, en route to a four-run eight, before the game was suspended with two outs with the Yanks up 8-6.

First off, NY is lucky. Thanks to a rule change this season, the game will be continued from the current 8-6 score on July 27th, when the Yanks return the Baltimore. Under the old system, the game ends, reverting to the last completed inning, and the Orioles win 6-4. Thanks to the rules committee.

Last night’s late inning spurt has to carryover to this weekend. There is no choice. The Yanks are in such a deep hole, they can not afford any more prolonged losing streaks. There is no room for error. It is a lot to ask for another 9 out of 10 spurt right now, but they need to get the ship righted and move in the right direction. Just like we said three or four weeks ago, start with a win, then focus on winning series. At some point I think they need to reel off another prolonged win streak to catch the Central teams in the wild card. First, a win would be nice.

Off the field, the pot is stirring again. Cashman is quoted as saying nobody is safe, in regards to Torre’s job status. Do not look too deep into these comments. Cashman, who knows better than anyone, is stating the obvious, if the team fails, everyone is on the hot seat. Nobody is will be fired during the season. It would have happened in May. Besides, Cashman should and will be the first to go. Torre has no choice but to play Abreu and Damon, cards that Cashman dealt him, and the lack of replacements he provided.

Almost one month to the day after starting what appeared to be a season turnaround, the Yanks need to do it again, then work on sustaining it. This time, don’t look for Bobby Abreu to hit .400 for any prolonged period of time.

...Imagine, the Red Sox got swept in Seattle, yet nobody noticed. It did not even matter, the Yankees are so dead right now.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


In the midst of manhandling a soft spot on their schedule, watching Boston finally bead up with a little sweat, the Yankees reverted back to their hapless April and May ways. Five years after dismantling Colorado pitching enroute to a 3-game Coors Field record for run, not an easy feat given the offensive history of the ballpark, the Yanks posted a less than stellar .216 batting average in the latest Coors journey, and when they really needed the pitching most, it dispapeared.

Complain all you want about the hitting, and it was essentially non-existenent, but the outcomes may have been different in the starting pitching did not falter in critical moments. Tuesday night, Mike Mussina surrendering a homerun to the eight place hitter, with the pitcher on deck, then stating after the game that he forgot and kicked himself after realizing it while the ball sailed into the seats, is inexcusably. Lauded for his scholarly approach to the game, Mussina should be scolded for even admitting that he forgot the pitcher was due up. The Yanks offense did not muster any more runs, stranding runners on in the eighth inning, but Mussina's brain lapse allowed Colorado to extend their lead and change the game.

One night later, Andy Pettitte cruising through another solid outing, looking like one run would be enough, hit a brick wall in the sixth. The problem, he walked the pitcher. How do you walk the pitcher? I cannnot even venture an excuse for a veteran like Andy. I absolutely hate overused baseball mantra's, but as annoying and repetitive as it sounds, how many times a leadoff walk come back to bite the pitcher? Unfortunatlely this was not a one run mistake, Pettitte made a mistake to Matt Holliday that was deposited deep into the Colorado evening, then inexplicably lost it. Less than two innings and six runs after entering the sixth with a 1-0 lead the game was over. Similar to Mussina's post-game commentary a night earlier, Pettitte said he quit pitching after the homerun. Ever the competitor, Andy did not stop giving full effort, but he stopped throwing his slider and change-up. In other words, he pitched afraid. He pitched like one of the rookies the Yanks shuttled up earlier in the year, not a savvy 12-year veteran with playoff success. We expect more.

A day later it all few apart. Bad baserunning, another poor offensive showing, and a million dollars of pitching in less than five innings. Unlike the first few games, Matsui put the Yanks ahead by two with an early homer, but Roger Clemens could not hold the lead. He immediately gave both runs back, surrendering solo shots to Garrett Atkins and Troy Tulowitski. More comically though, an inning after covering first base on a grounder, then barely making it to first base on single, Clemens exited after only 4 2/3 inning, apparently gassed from extraneous effort. Clemens stoically told Torre he could kep going, but admitted he had nothing left in the tank. Are you kidding me? I do not care that it was 90 degrees in the thin air of Colorado, every other pitcher that takes the hill at Coors deals with the same conditions. Clemens is supposedly in superior shape, no matter his age. This goes back to my rants of weeks past, he is not worth the money. Two game losing streak, staked to an early lead, just when the Yankees need Rocket to be the stopper and get the team on track, he runs out of gas in the fifth inning. Needless to say it was an overall team effort to lose this game, with plenty of blame to go around, but ace pitchers are supposed to pick up their teams in times of need. Clemens felt more comfortable watching from the bench, eschewing the police, since he just stole almost a million dollars from the Yanks for showing up.

Now its on to San Fran, and the inevitable Bonds circus. By the way, maybe that homerun Barry smashed off Ted Lilly in 2002 at the Stadium will finally land. And who better to stop the bleeding than Kei Igawa. Allegedly a new pitcher after correcting some mechanical flaws in his delivery and rediscovering his changeup while at AAA, where he averaged a strikeout an inning in his last three starts en route to a 1.80 ERA. Outside of Barry, the Giants are not a bad team to comeback against, hitting under .250 as team.

ESPN's Tim Kirkjian did a great piece on how this weekend may forever be remembered in baseball lore years down the road. With Bonds about to pass Aaron, and A-Rod on pace and fully capable of shattering whatever number Bonds posts, this series will showcase the two greatest homerun hitters in baseball history on the same field. Great observation to point that out, and put a positive spin on the series. But, as Ken Griffey can attest, there is a long way to go for A-Rod and anything can happen.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Who Makes the Call?

Another week passes, and the gap between Barry Bonds and the Top 3 National League All-Star vote-getters widens. With less than two weeks left, barring an unlikely last minute surge, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and MLB will have a tough decision to make on Barry Bonds for the All-Star game. It is almost as if the fans want to see what Selig will do, rather than take the pressure off by voting him in.

Can baseball really leave Bonds out of the All-Star game in his hometown, the year is going to break the homerun record? Recent precedents say no, with baseball putting both Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn on the team during their respective swan songs. We all remember the batting practice fastball Chan Ho Park grooved to Ripken that night in Seattle. Bonds is arguably just as legendary as those two players, from a baseball perspective at least, home run record or not, and San Francisco is his ballpark. Bonds helped build this stadium by single-handedly increasing the Giants revenue the past 14 years.

Unlike with Gwynn and Ripken, there is the whole other story. BALCO, the investigation, the potentially tainted record, “that stuff” as Giambi refers to it. The only reason this becomes a dilemma is Bonds’ 2007 on-field performance, while representative, is not All-Star worthy. Bonds’ offensive numbers are right in line with the likes of Brad Hawpe and Jason Bay, on-base percentage and walks notwithstanding.

Do not feel bad for Tony LaRussa. There is no chance MLB will put this decision in his hands. I guarantee that higher authorities will make this call. My gut tells me they put him on the team. If I am Selig I put him on the team, but if Bud plans to make a point and use Bonds as an example what better stage. While ESPN is probably hoping to host the big announcement when they unveil the All Star lineups on Sunday night in a few weeks, Selig will provide a hint to his intentions with his handling of the Giambi situation this week. Heavy handed, or afraid to stir the pot?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Age Old Questions

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Excuse the lathering Detroit laid on the Mets, and the sweep by the Phillies where the Mets had trouble reaching 3 on the scoreboard. Chalk it up to a makeshift lineup about to be reinforced. Well, better check on those reinforcements. Off season acquisition Moises Alou, initially scheduled to return against Detroit, is back on the shelf. The 40-year-old outfielder is heading back to Port St. Lucie and square one of his recovery. The Mets only say he is nowhere close to returning. As good a hitter as Alou is, injuries, particularly with his track record, are part of the risk with older free agents, and its haunting the Mets.

Alou's rightfield counterpart did return Monday. The next question is if Shawn Green can continue his early season resurgence. The Mets almost need him to do, with the lineup struggling to put runs on the board. If Green reverts to his declining numbers of the past few seasons, Minaya may be forced to make a move.

Endy Chavez and Lastings Milledge are not scheduled to return anytime soon.

...El Duque is almost always the type of pitcher you want on your team. Guts, good stuff, finds his way out of trouble, and keeps his team in the game...most of the time. Over the years I have noticed, like former teammate David Wells, if El Duque does not have his best stuff, or gets a few bad calls, or simply loses it one inning, he cashes the chips in. These two guys are usually the epitome of competitor, but if things are not going well, each has the propensity to give up. The fourth inning in LA Monday might not be the best example, but watch for that if Hernandez hits a rough stretch. Then wait for his next injury and 3-4 week break. My current projection is mid-July through early September.

1978?...Not Quite

Tuesday June 12, 2007

The Yankees are too good to play like the Royals for an entire season. It was inevitable the Bombers would make a run, and so I present you the recent six-game win streak. Throw a few Red Sox losses into the mix, and all of a sudden, it is 1978 redeux. Without another win, or heralded hall of fame debut, to write about, the NY Daily News used the 1978 comeback as the cover story. Hold on folks, not so fast.

It is still June, there are roughly 100 games left, plenty of time. Before tracking the Red Sox deficit on a daily basis, the Yanks need to reach .500. Just reaching .500 is not enough, NY needs to pass right by, not stop, not collect $200, and keep going. One big difference between the current underachieving version of the Yanks and ’78, is on field performance. The defending champs of 29 years ago played good baseball (about .550 winning percentage) much of the season, while the Sox were off the charts. This season the Yanks have played poor, and the Red Sox performed as expected. .500 is the first step, and continuing to win every series is required.

Anything can happen on any day in baseball making it tough to win six straight games, but the Yanks completed the feat against a demoralized White Sox team and inexperienced Pirate squad. Teams they need to beat.

While the national focus remained on the Red Sox lead over the Yankees, there were two other teams ahead of New York in the division, and three or four teams leading them in the wild card race. The Yanks are chasing more than Boston. Keeping the focus on winning and taking care of their on business is paramount.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cut Some Slack

The New York papers need to leave A-Rod alone outside the ballpark. The Post and Daily News writers are paid to cover the Yankees baseball team, not the personal lives of the players. Yes, some things are fair game, especially if they affect the team or players performance. Who someone goes to dinner with, or what stores a player shops in, should not be front page news.
The Daily News following Rodriguez around with his wife and child breaks unwritten journalism rules for invasion of privacy. These two tabloids continue to one up each other, following the Post's front page picture of A-Rod with another woman, in the process the newspapers are starting to look more like People Magazine.

A-Rod has all the right in the world to publicly rip these newspapers, though he will not. Maybe a teammate or front office person will step in to comment. In the midst of this personal scrutiny, give A-Rod all the credit in the world for his performance. As if delivering a big "Take That" to the world, A-Rod hit three ninth inning homers last week, including the game winner at Fenway.

As the stats continue piling up, and the press continues its personal scrutiny, the likelihood A-Rod opts out and heads West grows.

All Systems Go, But Not Great

Six Innings, Five Hits, Three Runs. A quality start in the modern day offensive era, but hardly dominating. Certainly not worthy of the effusive praise from the likes of Orel Hershiser on Baseball Tonight, who called it a brilliant outing, or the many other media members describing the performance as if it was utterly dominant.

Roger Clemens was good, not great, not $17 million good, just good. The most important stat of the day, one win. In his first Stadium appearance since the unforgettable ALCS Game Seven in 2003, better known as the Aaron Boone game, Clemens looked vulnerable at times, labored through most of his six innings, and exhibited an above average splitter and slider to complement a modest 90 mph fastball en route to his 349th win.

The Rocket delivered the pitching line most of us predicted. The big difference is everyone’s reaction. I do not know how anyone qualifies this as a great outing, its average. If you took the name away from the stats, or the face away from the figure on the mound, I was watching a fourth starter keep his team in the game against a below average hitting team. Expecting a performance to commiserate with the outrageous salary is unrealistic, but we public evaluation of Clemens should remain realistic. CC Sabathia is pitching brilliant, Dan Haren looks unhittable at times, Roger Clemens is an average fourth starter at this point.

The argument that Clemens really fired up and sparked the Yankees is only half-true. The Bombers are 8-2 over the last 10 games, and are hitting the cover off the ball. The team showed fire in Boston last weekend, followed by a solid performance against Chicago. Maybe Clemens’ impending arrival helped fuel the recent surge, and there is no disputing the team had an extra hop in their yesterday, but Clemens is not solely responsible. Besides, Cashman probably expects to get more than a spark plug for $17 million (the pro-rated salary).

Only reaching 90-91 mph on the gun, Clemens needs to spot the fastball. Each time he left one over the plate or up in the zone, Pirate hitters made solid contact. The splitter and slider both remain effective, but the locating the fastball will be the key to setting up those pitches. Good teams will lay off the splitter if Clemens fails to get ahead in the count with the fastball.

Along with his fastball, gone is the intimidation factor. Clemens labored through the first few innings, frequently calling Posada to the mound to discuss pitch selection, almost afraid to throw the fastball at times. Good teams will smell blood.

That brings me to another point, the Pirates stink. Jason Bay is the only hitter in the lineup that strikes any fear in pitchers. The Bucs are young, lack pop, and are last in the NL in runs scored. Pittsburgh is not significantly better than the AAA teams Clemens pitched against in preparing for the majors. Friday is the first real test for Rocket, against a strong Mets lineup. That next start will be telling, the Mets have a big-time lineup with hitters that can punish mistakes, and to see how the 44-year-old fatigued groin bounces back from his first outing.

Everyone forgets Clemens handed away a two-run lead in the fifth before the offense kicked things into high gear, or the story may be very different. The entire lineup has hit stride and is not looking back. Another good sign, five stolen bases. The Yankees are more effective when showing patience at the plate, stringing together base hits, pressuring the defense by putting runners in motion, hallmarks of the late ‘90’s teams. After two months of relying on the home run, and waiting for Jeter, Posada, and A-Rod to save the day, the Bombers are back to their old ways, patiently beating pitchers into submission, and the wins have followed.

…One day after his misplaying a line drive into a game tying inside the park home run, Melky Cabrera was back in centerfield, and made a nice leaping catch at the centerfield wall. Important that Cabrera shook off Friday’s misstep without any loss in confidence. The Melky Man was also 1-3 at the plate, continuing to raise his average, now up to .251.

…Yankee games are getting painful to sit through. Partially thanks to Clemens slow pace and constant mound visits, partially the bullpen visits and the Yanks 9-run 11-hit performance, the game took a boring three hours 17 minutes. Most nights require high tolerance to sit through.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Ultimate Utility Man

First base, second base, short stop, outfield, maybe catcher, no problem. Miguel Cairo is the prototypical veteran do everything player. Filling in at first base for the injured Doug Mientkiewicz, with a glove still new and shiny, played like a 10-year Gold Glover at first. Without any practice at first, Cairo put Josh Phelps and Jason Giambi to shame with the way they play the field.

Cairo is not A-Rod with the bat, but he can handle the stick, execute hit and runs, bunt, run the bases well, and get the clutch hit. Cairo has already scooped more throws to first out of the dirt than Giambi did the last year. The first base problem is solved, for now. Remember, Cairo is a utility player for a reason, just like Endy Chavez across town. They are stop gaps, not permanent solutions. Cairo may be a long term stop gap with Mientkiewicz on the shelf for six weeks, but if the rest of the lineup picks up the slack, I can see a nice lefty-righty platoon at first with Cairo and Mientkiewicz heading down the stretch.

For now, I'll take Cairo, and so will the rest of the infield and their fielding percentages.

Week of Sox

When a team plays as bad as the Yankees have, progress is measured in baby steps. Start with a win, then win a series, a small winning streak, and go from there. The Yankees followed the simple formula this week, and finally look to be crawling out of the tremendous hole they spent two months digging.

Playing a team with more problems, and almost as much controversy, as the Yankees, certainly helps. The series did not start promising. After a dramatic ninth inning win over the Red Sox on national television Sunday night, Matt DeSalvo failed to get out of the second inning, and the lineup once again blew early scoring chances on their way to another silent performance and an uninspired loss. The story of their season to this point. Seeing Ron Villone pitching in the 2nd inning is never a good sight for Yankee fans. My one negative thought after Sunday’s win was not getting innings out of Pettitte, and of course, losing him to injury. After a short, lackluster Mussina effort on Saturday, and injury shortened Pettitte outing on Sunday, the bullpen needed a break. DeSalvo did everything to prevent that, killing the bullpen further, realizing my fears.

Unlike earlier this season, the Yankees showed resiliency and responded. Finally the Bombers put good hitting and good pitching together for a string of games. Tyler Clippard pitched solid, though Torre inexplicably pulled him after 5 innings. Clippard is here to stay. Far from dominant, he keeps the team in the game every outing, shows no fear in pitching out of tough jams, has major league stuff with a solid breaking pitch, and shows some fire on the mound. I like the fist pumping, the yelling, the comments about being yanked early in games. The Yankees need that.

Remembering to hit also helps. Somewhere on the short flight from Toronto to Boston a few Yanks finally found their bats, most notably Bobby Abreu. Maybe the Jermaine Dye trade rumors woke him up. Over the last seven games, Abreu is hitting .423 with seven walks, a key measuring stick for Abreu. He even remembered how to hit for power, with a homer, and three doubles. Abreu chastised the White Sox, coming up with big hit after big hit. Besides driving the ball, Abreu is taking outside pitches to left, and hitting the ball into gaps more, his strength as a hitter.

Forgive the White Sox if they ignore Abreu’s performance, since A-Rod was their true nemesis. After a comparatively slow May after his record-setting April, Rodriguez hit three homers and drove in eleven runs over the past week, with all three homers in the ninth inning. Is this the same player who we crucified for failing in clutch situations? A-Rod’s ninth inning stats are staggering, and he is the first Yankee to hit two grand slams in the ninth inning or later since Strawberry in 1998.

Complementing Abreu and A-Rod, Cano and Cabrera are showing serious signs of life. The Yankee lineup looks to finally be hitting their stride, and just in the nick of time.

The White Sox series is not complete with mention of Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina. Wang was solid, not brilliant, but very good on Wednesday. Efficient and effective, reminiscent of the 19-game winner of a year ago. With two rookies in the rotation for now, the Yanks really need the big guns to pitch well and go deep into games every time out. Wang did that and more, going the distance. Mussina followed up Wang with a bounce back performance of his own, stifling Chicago for six plus innings before getting the early hook from Joe Torre. I kill Torre for having a quick hook, and love seeing managers let starting pitchers stretch deep into games, but I give Joe the benefit of the doubt here. This season Mussina’s shown a propensity to give games away in a hurry, case in point last week at Fenway, and until he strings together a few good starts I am alright watching Torre pull him if the game is at risk.
However, I have major problems when Torre pulls anyone in favor of Kyle Farnsworth. The outspoken, underperforming reliever is terrible. Every game is an adventure. Since April I have plead to see anyone else in the eight inning setting up for Mo, but for some reason, unbeknownst to most, Torre keeps going to Farnsworth, and he keeps failing. This week was no different. My guess is the Yanks trade Farnsworth in the next two to three weeks. Proctor and Bruney are more effective, especially when not overused.

The operative word is baby steps. Two series wins, and a three-game winning streak. A few Red Sox losses have fans talking about the division race again, but before any playoff discussion, the Yanks need to get back to .500. With six home games against weaker NL opponents, Pittsburgh and Arizona, that the Yanks should handle, now is the opportune time to rattle off the winning streak everyone has waited for. And if they needed any extra motivation, you know who is pitching Saturday.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Bullpen Strikes Out

All three games played out in similar fashion for the Mets. It exposed a potential Met weakness, the bullpen, and then the Phillies made sure to reinforce the weakness repeatedly, leading to a 3-game sweep at Shea. Even the previously untouchable Billy Wagner saw his 31 consecutive save streak broken.

The recipe was simple, yet disconcerting. Great starting pitching shutting the Phillies down for six or seven innings, a decimated lineup struggling to scratch out two or three runs, then the bullpen handing the game away in the late innings. With a season-high four-game losing streak, and both Atlanta and Philadelphia now in the division race, the Mets are showing chinks in the armor.

Before anyone jumps off the Williamsburg Bridge, the entire Mets outfield is mash unit. The replacements are even injured. Carlos Beltran returned this week, though still slowed by the knee injury, Shawn Green and Moises Alou, both hitting well earlier in the season, remain out, and Endy Chavez popped a hamstring on Wednesday night. When the Mets starting lineup has the likes of David Newhan, Carlos Gomez, Ben Johnson, and a rotating door at 2B, I would not worry if they struggle to score for a few days. Worry when Beltran, Alou, and Green are at full strength.

Beneath the losses and problems is exceptional starting pitching. El Duque continues to wiggle out of trouble and put zeroes on the board, John Maine has bounced back from a few bad outings, Glavine remains solid, and Perez and Sosa lead the early Comeback Player voting. Good starting pitching day in and day out wins out in the long run.

The bullpen, on the other hand, is cause for concern. Willie does not have a reliable setup formula yet, with Heilman failing in the eighth, Schoenweis sporting an ERA close to 6, and the formerly unhittable combo of Joe Smith and Pedro Feliciano coming back to earth. Someone needs to step up and take over the eighth inning role, and quick.

Whether Aaron Heilman wants to be a starter or not, he is in the bullpen and better start pitching up to his ability. Those claiming his desire to start is the cause of his poor bullpen performance are crazy. I doubt that Heilman is thinking about starting when he takes the mound late in the game. Another theory I heard advanced this week by SNY’s Ron Darling, that Heilman may still be haunted after serving up the game winning homer in the NLCS last season, makes a little more sense.

The baseball season is a long and winding road. With the second best record in the league, and a 3 ½ game division lead over another injury riddled team, even with half the starting lineup injured, and slow starts by two of their star hitters, the Mets are fine. And if the bullpen continues to fail, Omar will address it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sheff Cooks Up Controversy

Gary Sheffield is not known for mincing words. His commentary on why African-American representation in baseball continues to decline is no exception. Sheffield is not a moron, though the issue is interesting, his defending argument is rash and indefensible.

Most baseball executives, and Latino players, the target of Sheffield's comments, have astutely declined comment, after evaluating the source and the sensitivity of the issue. Sheffield is a loose cannon, baseball's answer to Terrell Owens. A border line hall of fame player that is better remembered for public stating that he purposely made errors to force a trade from his first team, and has since talked his way out of team after team. MLB and the Tigers probably have no grounds for discplinary action, but the biggest punishment is the continued loss of respect amongst his peers, and the public. Someday interviews like this may keep Sheffield out of the hall of fame.

Looking deeper, underneath his thoughtless argument, is the reality, there are less African-American baseball players than anytime in the past twenty years, while the number of Latinos continues to increase. Young African Americans do not play baseball. Children find baseball boring, and have more distractions to divert them today, whether its other sports, or activities like video games. The paucity of African American role models in baseball does not help. Everyone knows, and wants to be like, Tiger Woods and LeBron James. Advertisers plaster their faces all over the place to reinforce the point. Ten or fifteen years ago, golf was a foreign language to inner-city youth, now there are golf clinics and programs all over the country catering to inner city children. Football popularity has skyrocketed, and basketball remains the hallmark in African-American communities. Meanwhile, baseball has stood in place and been passed by. To dispel Sheffield’s argument, I would venture to review the percentage of African-Americans playing professional golf, football, basketball, and even soccer, compared to twenty years ago. I believe the increases in those numbers offset the decrease in baseball. Throw in the increase in African Americans graduating college and pursuing white-collar careers, and its not that Latinos are stealing spots from African Americans, the reality is that African Americans are choosing to pursue other careers.

Latin America is the complete opposite. You come out of the womb with a shortstop glove. Many of the countries feeding Latinos to the big leagues are third world, stricken with poverty, and in some cases political unrest. Baseball is one of the few meal tickets out, both for young men and their families. Unlike the US, major league teams have setup baseball academies in these countries to cultivate the talent from a young age, and capitalize on signing players at a young age. As popular as basketball and football are, the Latin population participating in those professional leagues is negligible. Young Latinos have the role models that African Americans lack. Being a role model is more than playing at a high level and staying out of trouble, a role model needs to reach out to the community, be accessible, and donate time. Most Latinos return home during the off-season, many play in Winter Leagues, and donate time and money to help the next generation of Latino ballplayers.

Outside of the cultural differences that drive this disparity, I believe two other factors have a major impact, the weather and the draft. Most of the United States can only play baseball for half the year thanks to frigid winters and snow, forcing children to have other interests and play other sports, plus being unable to play all year can prevent kids from fully realizing their talent. Latin America has no such problem, with warm conditions year round. If anything, it prevents young Latinos from playing other sports. How many Latin players are in the NHL? The draft and process to make the majors is another deterrent to US and African American players. Unlike the NBA, NFL, and individual sports, turning pro in baseball and getting drafted far from guarantees making the majors thanks to the highly competitive minor league system. In other words, there is no guarantee of a major league contract and major league money. Latinos are free agents from day one, with the best players garnering tremendous signing bonuses. What about the signing bonuses that first round draft picks get? Well, $1 million, or even the $50k that low-end prospects receive, can rescue an entire family in areas of Latin America, but hardly pays for college in the US. It means more to the Latin players. For them its survival and supporting the family, as well as baseball, while in the US, more times than not its about the game not the money.

Back to Sheffield, in typical fashion, Gary’s statement was not well thought out, and he struggled to express his point in rational manner. In fact, by saying that African Americans are tougher to control than Latinos, he indicted his own race, implying they are difficult and potential trouble makers. Before indicting baseball, Sheffield should evaluate the other sports. Lets see what percentage of the NBA and NFL are African American. Does that mean those leagues exhibit reverse discrimination? No, we all know the best players are playing despite race. Gary Sheffield may not agree though.

Monday, June 04, 2007

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

At some point Joe Torre, and the rest of the Yankee brass, have to think that perhaps the baseball gods have it in for them this year. String together two wins, show some fight and an inkling of crawling out of the doldrums, then boom…disastrous seventh inning marred by two Jeter errors to blow the game at Fenway, lose the starting first-baseman for six weeks, and cancel Roger Clemens return. All within a few hours, Friday night’s optimism was squashed. Did I mention the report in today’s Daily News that Philip Hughes may miss the entire season.

…With Doug Mientkiewicz shelved for two months, first base is now a major question. Johnny Damon is not the answer. We all saw the Gary Sheffield experiment erupt last season, and Damon, lacking the previous infield experience Sheffield bad, will be worse. Yankee fans will realize how good Mientkiewicz is defensively at first when they see the gaping hole it becomes. Without Giambi to fill the space, its either minor leagues, Josh Phelps, or the guy who cannot run or throw in centerfield anymore.

…Whatever they choose, Cashman should not overreact with a lopsided trade. Texeira is reportedly on the market. If the price is right, I consider it, but remember, there is a reason the Rangers want to unload this burden.

…The Clemens injury is a sign of things to come. I keep saying it, he is 44 going on 45, and has struggled to complete half seasons in recent years, succumbing to leg injuries each year. Rocket is not a lightweight, and the legs are important. Beware, this will fester the entire season.

…And, if Joel Sherman in the NY Post is correct, the Yankees should figure out how to extricate themselves of this mammoth contract. Sherman is a highly respected journalist, but I still do not know how this clause would make it into writing on a Clemens contract. It was a mistake from the time he poked his outside the owners box and Suzyn Waldman shrieked for ten minutes, after a setback it looks like more of a mistake. If they can get out, do it.

…Mike Mussina is finished. I did not advocate the two-year contract for Moose last winter, given his steep decline the past few years, and the fact he has never met the lofty expectations he brought with him. Maybe his surprising first half last season tricked enough front office members, but Mussina showed no evidence he could remain an effective pitcher for two years. His Saturday start in Boston reinforced what I witnessed during his last start against the Sox two weeks ago, Moose is throwing meatballs and asking to get walloped. Sure, he will have some games with impeccable location and a good breaking ball, but Mussina will never beat a good hitting team again.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

All Fired Up

Behold, the Yankees may have some life after all. After slumbering through a five-game losing streak, and watching the division lead swell to 14 ½ games, the Yankees have rallied for two straight wins, and showed the charisma and fight in the process that was missing all season.

The Bombers responded to consecutive offensive blackouts in Toronto by skipping batting practice and putting five runs on the board in the first. However, the signature moment came in the ninth inning when A-Rod broke one of those unwritten baseball rules, by distracting the Toronto third baseman as he ran by forcing Howie Clark to drop the ball. Tempers flared, A-Rod and exchanged words with the Jays infield, and then Giambi engaged in an animated discussion with the catcher during the next at bat.

While A-Rod’s play is clearly bush league, assuming the varying accounts of the incident are correct, the aftermath is what the Yanks needed. Controversy that sparks the team, not an injury, or a speech from the absentee owner, but an on-field spark unites the team.

Torre is doing his part. Forget the team meeting last week. The usually reserved Torre blindly defends his players through thick and thin, but this time he threw A-Rod under the bus, admitting his actions belonged more in a schoolyard than a major league ball field. A small statement showing Torre is not going to fade into the night.

Last night, with the Yankees well in front, the umpires ran Torre after he argued the blown safe call on Bobby Abreu’s stolen base attempt twice. When has Torre ever argued a call twice? I am convinced someone spiked his green tea with caffeine, or perhaps amphetamines. Torre showed an animated side rarely displayed in his mostly benign 11-year tenure. Does a manager ejection always spark a team? No, but Torre’s display this week shows if the Yanks go down, they will go down swinging, led by Torre.

Fast-forward to the ninth inning, and intentional or not, kudos to Scott Proctor for finally putting a Red Sox hitter on the ground. I do not condone head-hunting, and it certainly appears Proctor saw a bullseye on Youklis’ helmet, but how long have New York fans and media called for a Yankee pitcher to throw inside against Boston.

The Yankees have failed to capitalize on momentum swings the last few times they strung wins together. These wins were different. They showed heart and emotion. You could feel Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez type intensity for a change. The key is bringing it to the park everyday, and displaying it on the field without requiring an ejection or brush back pitch to incite emotions.

Emotional outbursts aside, remembering how to hit also helps. Boston throws the best they, and the league, has to offer the next two days, in Schilling and Beckett. Where the Yanks stand Monday, heading to Chicago for Clemens’ debut, after two more big tilts with Boston, will be telling.

…Jason Giambi heads to the 15-day DL, and the rumblings around baseball make the DL stay sound much longer term. The foot injury has hampered Giambi much of the season, slowing him down on the bases, if that was possible given his pathetic natural foot speed, hurting his numbers at the plate, and all but eliminating him from the field. With the steroid investigation looming, and Giambi mired in a month-long slump, the Yanks are better of without him. As I previously mentioned, Giambi is useless against good pitching, and brings nothing to the table, except as a threat. Clearing the albatross from the lineup, and the distraction from the clubhouse, should help the Yanks. If Melky Cabrera, who indirectly becomes an everyday player, can recapture his 2006 form, and Torre continues his trend of putting runners in motion more often, the Yankees stand to improve offensively and defensively, resembling the teams from the late 90’s more than with Giambi

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Titanic Is Sinking

Wednesday, May 30, 2007
At first it was a slow start, chalk that up to injuries. Then it was a slump, still too early to count them out, a few wins and they are right back in it. A statement from the owner and a team meeting led by the untouchable manager, surely the Yanks would rally. Now its become a full fledged four-alarm fire, responding to the owner and manager pep talks with five straight losses, the last two at the mercy of unheralded Blue Jay starters who absolutely handcuffed the Yanks fierce lineup. The team is playing each game waiting for a bad break, expecting to lose. The fans are starting to expect it too.

Over the past week or two, we have all debated whether Boston’s lead was insurmountable, and if the Yanks should fire Torre, Cashman, or both. At ten and a half games, the division race was an argument. Now at fourteen and half games, it is a moot point. After dropping the first two games at Shea I kissed the division goodbye, not because the ten game lead was too much, but the team showed no signs of life, and the Red Sox are too good to give it away. The last week solidified that. The Yanks keep losing, the Sox keep winning. This is not 1978. That is once in a lifetime, and that Yankee team was above .500 when they started the comeback.

Forget first place, the team formerly known as the Bombers should be concerned with avoiding last place. They are further out of first place than any team in baseball, including the hapless Royals and Pirates. In the immortal words of Jim Mora, how can they even talk about the playoffs? Forget playoffs, try starting with a win.

The problems read like a 300-pound lineman’s shopping list. When the team hits, the pitching fails, when they pitch well, nobody, not even the Captain, can get a hit with runners on base. The latter has victimized the team the last four games. Cano, A-Rod, Giambi, Abreu, Damon, Melky, you can point the finer to any or all of them on a given night. The problem, and the fix for that matter, is not one player, it’s the whole lineup top to bottom. Each night the stats get worse, middle of the lineup is 0-16 one day, another day is no hits with runners on second or third. Any way you slice it, they are not performing.

The fundamentals have also deserted the Yanks. Giving up a straight steal of home, dropping cutover throws, and Cano’s string of careless errors, are not hallmarks of the good Yankee teams. It actually sounds more like the Royals. Even worse, the players look defeated, shoulders slumped when they run on and off the field, playing scared, as evidenced by Derek Jeter trying to bunt a runner over in the first inning against Toronto, and the somber looks in the dugout. This is what the great Yankees used to do to other teams.

Firing Torre is not the answer, Clemens is not the answer, jettisoning Abreu, as if anyone would actually take him, will not help. The only answer is for the guys they have to start playing better, and soon. Thanks to long-term, big money contracts there will not be significant changes during the season, outside of maybe a Kyle Farnsworth trade, or bringing in a decent reliever or bench player here or there, so its time for the players to put up or shut up. Another two weeks of this effort, and the Yanks could well be out of the wild card race.

When to Launch the Rocket

Wed. May 30, 2007
Three minor league starts is all the refueling The Rocket needed before launching. After two average outings, Clemens was dominant at AAA Scranton this Monday, setting the stage for his return against….the White Sox. Huh? What happened to the dramatic Fenway Park debut?

Throughout his tenure with the Yanks, Joe Torre has always attempted to diffuse hysteria, as much as that is possible with the Yanks. It is usually the smart move, attempt to avoid distractions that could deter the team. 2007 is different. This edition of the Yanks is not flying high, not carrying any sort of winning streak, there is no flow to avoid disrupting. While the Bombers have no shortage of distractions, thanks to Jason Giambi, the owner, A-Rod’s contract, and their lackluster performance, the Yanks do need a spark.

Starting Clemens at Fenway is a guaranteed media and fan circus. Maybe that spotlight will cause the rest of the team to focus and play like they are capable. One thing is for sure, they can not play worse.

Torre has already made his mind up, Clemens will start against Chicago. Some New York media feel Clemens should pitch in Boston because they are paying him an outrageous salary to beat Boston, not Chicago. We need to get over the salary, and be realistic about the situation. Just because Cashman gave Clemens an egregious contract does not mean he is suddenly Sandy Koufax, or the Roger Clemens of 1986. Rocket is a five or six inning pitcher, who will compete like a bulldog, something the Yanks are really lacking right now, and he will keep the team in the game. The Yanks need him to pitch in Boston, not because its more important to beat the Red Sox than any other team, they need the wake-up call that only a Clemens start at Fenway can provide. It’s a last ditch effort to get the train moving in the right direction.

Realistically I expect an ERA approaching 4, and about six innings, five to seven strikeouts, and a few walks, per outing. Not exactly a threat to the Cy Young candidate, but he is 44-years old. Clemens is not the savior everyone expects him to be. Starting pitchers only throw once every five days. For the Yanks to turn this around, they need to win more than once or twice a week, meaning Clemens biggest impact may be invoking a team-wide attitude adjustment through his presence in the clubhouse and by example.

One thought to ponder, if the Yanks losing continue to snow ball, and they hit mid-June with a double-digit wild card deficit, only two starts into the Clemens season, where will this contract rank on the list of biggest busts of all-time. Even if Clemens pitches well, signing a pitcher for a million dollars a start when your team is already playing for draft position, and does not need a box office draw, is a major mistake. Come September will we be debating if it’s the worst contract ever, or the signing the awoke the sleeping giants? The next few weeks will be telling.