All hail Helen!!

All hail Helen!!
Helen Carmona and your humble blogger

Monday, May 12, 2008

Disappointment at its worst

Is there a more depressing image in baseball than the tarp?

If so, enlighten me, because I don't think there is.

You wait all night, as I did Sunday night in Taiwan, thinking over the first inning, getting your pencils sharpened and your scorecard prepped. You mix the coffee because the one a.m. start means staying up until four-thirty (at least); you go over the notes from the previous two Tigers games, turn on the TV and.... there's Michael Kay saying, "...dreadful weather and no real window for it to improve today...."

Ugh! I got the Charlie Browns, those feelings that things are just going to go south and there isn't a single thing you can do about it.

Utterly, completely, hopelessly depressing...

I've never been left at the alter, but I can't imagine it feels any worse than a rainout. I often compare baseball to a marriage -- it's long, and not every day is worth getting out of bed for, but there are enough good days -- and just enough great ones -- to remind you of why you agreed to spend your life with this person next to you. You hang in there after the (many) small defeats, and even after the few crushing big ones. There are times when you wonder if you can come back for another season, but when February rolls around, you're there. It's a commitment, and it's life-long, so you roll with it, knowing there are always better days ahead.

The rainout isn't like an argument with your wife; it's more like dealing with a wife who's going through really horrible PMS. It's not really her fault, but you're stuck with the fallout, regardless. So you suck it up and wait until she feels better. No hard feelings. Tomorrow's another day.

So here we are at tomorrow already. And yesterday, what was that? It's good times again!

On to Tampa...

Not so fast

Before we dive headlong into the week upcoming, let's look back at the week that was.

Rounding into form

Even though Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano still occupy the bottom two positions on the America League batting table, both of them are just a few games away from being out of the cellar.

Giambi carried the Yankee offense, in spurts, last week, driving in six runs while collecting five hits, all for extra bases. His .385 batting average and .539 on-base percentage signal an awakening that the Yankees sorely need with their bottom-of-the-order hitters fading fast. (Morgan Ensberg, Jose Molina, and Chad Moeller were a combined 3-for-19 last week, and a heating-up Wilson Betemit went down with a hamstring injury.)

Cano joined Giambi's hit parade, posting a .389/.444 week on the strength of seven hits in 18 at-bats, including a home run and two doubles. But beyond the numbers, Cano finally looked like a confident hitter. It may well have been the better numbers that boosted his confidence, but the body language and the hand speed seemed much better than they did during the first five weeks of the season.

Combined, Cano (3) and Giambi (6) drove in nearly half of the 19 runs the Yankees scored in their five games last week. With Alex Rodriguez set to rejoin the lineup, with Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui combining for a red-hot week (18-for-58/.328/.448), and a rejuvenated Cano and Giambi, the Yankee offensive slump over these first 38 games may be at an end.


All hail Hideki!

His hitting streak may not have made it through the week, but Matsui's bat was as hot as any other in the Yankee order last week. He tied Cano with seven hits for the week, and tied Abreu by getting on base nine times in the five games the Yankees played.

Matsui's .331 batting average allows him to begin the week as the American League's number two hitter behind Cleveland's Victor Martinez (.346), and his .414 on-base percentage has him in fourth place in the league.

Other Yankees climbing the league batting charts are Jeter (8th place, .308) and Abreu (14th, .303). Jeter, however, is struggling trying to earn more walks. His on-base percentage sits at a modest .340 (his career OBP is .388) largely due to his paltry total of just five walks earned so far this season.

That figure puts Jeter on pace for only 26 walks the entire season, far below his previous career worst of 43 walks, in his injury-shortened 2003 season. But Jeter is also on pace for his lowest strikeout total of his career. The future Hall-of-Famer averages about 107 whiffs per season, but is on pace this year for around 60, far below his previous low of 88, also in 2003.

Raz-zle, daz-zle!

Fans of the Bill Murray classic Stripes will recall that abbreviated lyric from Murray's army graduation scene. But it just as aptly describes the feelings Yankee fans have after watching Class AAA call-up Darrell Rasner post two victories in two starts after replacing Ian 'Kry-baby' Kennedy in the starting rotation. Simply put, Rasner was all that Kennedy never even appeared to be.

Rasner looked confident, threw strikes (a razzle-dazzling 3.5-to-1 strikes-to-balls ratio in his second start), and made it through the fourth inning -- all things Kennedy was failing to do on an increasingly more frequent basis. Predicting success in baseball is such an inexact science that it's never really fair to say a mistake was made in trusting a young player; Yankee general manager Brian Cashman saw something he liked in Kennedy and promoted him. That it didn't work out this time just means that a new direction was needed. Thank goodness Cashman and Yankee manager Joe Girardi made the call they did.

With Rasner up and thriving -- so far; a dangerous Tampa lineup awaits later this week --Yankee fans feel a lot better about the fourth spot in the rotation.

On the other hand...

The Kei Igawa experiment just isn't working, and can anyone who has watched this guy pitch at the major league level say they see any positive signs when he's on the mound?

On Friday night, Detroit batters teed off on Igawa's pitches with such scary regularity that I actually feared for Igawa's safety as I watched. I was sure one of those shots was going to split Igawa in two right there on the mound. The guy has triple-A talent, and even down in Scranton he was only 3-3. With a one-game line of 3.0/11/6/6/0/0, 18.00 ERA and 3.67 WHIP, Igawa's future seems sealed. If he has any major league potential left at all, he has to go to the bullpen now and forget starting... forever.

For the bargain-basement price of $34 million, the Yankees got themselves a spotty, unreliable, situational reliever.


Season to date

The Yankees went 2-3 last week, finishing their nine-game homestand with a 4-5 mark after a win over Cleveland on Thursday before splitting two games on the road in Detroit. Sunday's rainout will be made up on either July 24 or September 1, two scheduled off-days for both the Yankees and the Tigers.

The Yankees are 19-19 on the season and tied for third place with the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East, four games behind the division-leading Red Sox, and two and a half games behind second-place Tampa. Tonight, the Yankees begin an important four-game series in Tampa.

Projected starting pitchers

Yankees: Andy Pettitte, LHP (3-3, 3.77 ERA)
Last start: In his 400th career start, Pettitte got a no-decision after throwing 6 and 2/3 innings against Cleveland last Tuesday. He struck out a season-high six batters but also surrendered another home run to Jhonny Peralta, this one a two-run blast.

Rays: Matt Garza, RHP (1-1, 4.91 ERA)
Last start: Garza took a tough loss from the Blue Jays, giving up just six hits and one run in 6 and 2/3 innings, but the Rays went scoreless, handing Garza his first defeat of 2008.

Yankees: Chien-Ming Wang, RHP (6-1, 3.12 ERA)
Last start: Facing his third ace in a row, Wang finally came up short. After defeating Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia and Seattle's Erik Bedard in successive starts, Wang pitched well -- striking out four and allowing only five hits and three walks in seven innings -- but lost 3-0 to Cleveland's unbeaten Cliff Lee. Back on April 6, Wang threw six innings of four-hit ball, walking two and striking out six and holding Tampa scoreless for his second win of the season. Wang is 5-2 with a 4.11 ERA in seven career starts at Tropicana Field.

Rays: Edwin Jackson, RHP (2-3, 4.04 ERA)
Last start: Jackson got a no-decision despite throwing eight shutout innings against the Blue Jays last Thursday. He is 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in nine career appearances against the Yankees.

Yankees: Mike Mussina, RHP (5-3, 4.36 ERA)
Last start: The Moose won his fourth consecutive start, throwing five innings, allowing three runs and four hits while striking out three against no walks. Earlier this season at Yankee Stadium, Mussina faced Tampa and gave up one run on two hits over six innings in getting his first win of 2008. He's 7-5 in 16 career starts at Tropicana Field.

Rays: James Shields, RHP (4-2, 3.14 ERA)
Last start: Shields threw a gem at the L.A. Angels, tossing nine innings and getting a one-hit shutout. In his previous home start, Shields also threw nine shutout innings, giving up just three hits to get the win. He has not fared well against the Yankees, however, going 0-5 with a 7.83 ERA in six career starts.

Yankees: Darrell Rasner, RHP (2-0, 3.00 ERA)
Last start: Rasner got the win in Detroit last Saturday, throwing six-plus innings and giving up just two runs. This is his first career start against the Rays.

Rays: Scott Kazmir, LHP, (1-1, 2.70 ERA)
Last start: Kazmir sat out April with inflammation in his left elbow, but he won his first game last Saturday night against the Angels when he pitched six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out six. Last season's American League strikeout leader is 2-3 with a 3.00 ERA in nine career appearances against the Yankees.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Indians 5, Yankees 3

Go figure baseball.

On a night when lights-out reliever Joba Chamberlain can't find the strike zone (or figure out which pitches to throw), demoted starter Ian Kennedy throws a gem (in Class AAA Scranton) that makes him look like the second coming of a mature Greg Maddux.

Ya gotta love this game!

I don't have much to say about Kennedy, except Do it when it counts, rookie! If Kennedy wants to bitch and moan about a demotion, then go down to Scranton and throw like he actually cares about his career, then let him repeat the performance when he gets back to New York, or else let the hype machine stop right now. A minor league outing means nothing, not after the remarks Kennedy made on his way out of town, and he needs to be handed a copy of No Medals for Trying, Jerry Izenberg's book on the Giants under head coach Bill Parcells.

And he needs to read it. Twice.

But enough about who's not here. Let's talk about who is, and let's talk about what the hell Chamberlain was doing on Tuesday night.

Maybe he knew in the bullpen that the slider wasn't there tonight, or that he couldn't locate the fastball where he wanted it. Whatever was going on in his head, he looked like a rookie, unable to shake what ailed him and get the job done. The one knock on Kennedy (last time his name appears in this post, I promise) was that he seemed to wallow too long in his own muck. Joba, except on rare occasions, has been able to bounce back from a walk or a hit or a wild pitch. Not on Tuesday night. Let's hope that fiasco was a one-off, and Chamberlain gets back to the hill soon and makes this disaster a distant memory.

(And for the record: Joba wasn't done in by the pitch David Dellucci hit for the home run; Chamberlain was undone by his own inability to throw strikes. If you don't have control, why not just throw gas -- 97-m.p.h. gas -- and make guys hit it somewhere? Not every batter is going to go yard as Dellucci did. Walking the two batters who were on base before Dellucci came up... that's what killed Chamberlain and the Yankees.

Just throw strikes, kid!)

And one more thing on the pitching... Tough luck, Andy Pettitte! Your six-strikeout, one-walk performance deserved better than a no-decision.

Oh yes they call him the streak!

It looks like marriage to a cartoon drawing has done wonders for Hideki Matsui's... wood. The Yankee designated hitter was still stroking it on Tuesday, collecting three more hits to run his hitting streak to 15 games. I know, I know... Joe DiMaggio is not grumbling in his grave just yet, but Matsui's streak is worth noting, just the same.

After an April drought for the Yankees, any sign of extended life from the offense is a welcome sight. No one expected Saturday and Sunday's explosion to continue -- and it didn't. Matsui, Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and Bobby Abreu combined to go 21-for-37 over the weekend, with a billion RBI, but were just 4-for-17 with three strikeouts on Tuesday, and three of the hits came off Matsui's bat.

Hopefully, Matsui's streak will become contagious, and maybe it already has. Robinson Cano, ensconced at the bottom of the American League batting race, has had a hit in each of the last two games. That hasn't happened since... well, the box scores are too depressing to review, but with only 18 hits on the season, it's safe to say Cano's two-game hitting streak is a rare thing in 2008 and reason for (cautious) optimism.

Run on this!

You can mark this down and put it in the vault: There will not be many throws this season, by any player on any team, prettier than the one Jose Molina used to gun down Ben Francisco on a stolen base attempt in the third inning.

It is rare that the word perfect can be used accurately to describe anything done by mankind, but I defy anyone to find a single fault with the way that play unfolded. Molina's rifle shot from his knees landed in Robinson Cano's glove at the exact fraction of a second that Francisco's thigh slid into that samew glove for the tag and the out.

It would take a computer recreation to make that play look any more precise. Defense is so often underappreciated, and that's too bad, because few things in baseball excite the sense more than a bang-bang play at any bag other than first base. (Remember Mel Allen narrating those outfield assists on This Week In Baseball all those years ago? I sure do...)

Thanks to Jose Molina for a play that really cannot be topped.

Season to date

The Yankees are 17-17 and in third place in the American League East, four and a half games behind division-leading Boston, and one game behind second-place Tampa Bay. Tuesday's loss was the team's first since sweeping a three-game series from the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees dropped the first game of the three-game series with Cleveland and are now 3-4 on the current nine-game homestand.

Wednesday's starting pitchers

Yankees: Chien-Ming Wang, RHP (6-0, 3.00 ERA)
Last start: Wang threw six innings, allowed a run, three hits, and issued two walks while striking out five in a 5-1 Yankee win over Seattle, a victory that broke a three-game Yankee losing streak. Wang is 3-1 in his career against the Tribe.

Indians: Cliff Lee, LHP (5-0, 0.96 ERA)
Last start: Lee is the surprise pitcher in the majors so far this season. He has yet to allow a single run on the road. In his last start, at home against the Mariners, Lee tossed six-plus innings, allowed three runs on eights hits, walked none and struck out three.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Yankees 8, Mariners 2

After Saturday's game, when the first four hitters in the Yankee lineup -- Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, and Hideki Matsui -- went 10-for-19 with four extra-base hits and five RBI, I wrote that they couldn't do that every day.

And I was right. They could do even better.

That four-man combination that chased Seattle ace Felix Hernandez from Saturday's start did the same to Sunday's unbeaten starter, Carlos Silva. Led by Jeter's 4-for-5 afternoon, the top of the Yankee lineup went 11-for-18 on Sunday, scored six times and drove in four of the team's eight runs. Toss in Melky Cabrera's team-leading sixth home run of the season, a two-run shot, and Robinson Cano's solo homer (Cabrera and Cano went back-to-back in the third inning), and it's easy to see why starting pitcher Darrell Rasner's first outing of the season was overshadowed somewhat.

Finally, the Yankees are hitting the way they did last season, and the way everyone knew they could this season.

In 2007, the Yankees scored five or more runs in one inning over thirty times. Sunday's six-run third inning was the first time the Yankees have scored five or more runs in an inning this season, and it came in the 33rd game of the year. As Jeter said in an interview after the game, it's almost a shame there's a day off on Monday. Who wouldn't want to see more of this weekend's fireworks?

One up, one down

Hello, Darrell Rasner. Hit the road, Ian Kennedy.

Rasner, who was the Class AAA International League's Pitcher of the Month for April, was everything Ian Kennedy was not during Kennedy's dismal month in the Bronx. Rasner was confident, quick, and most importantly, in control. In notching his first major league win of the year, Rasner threw only 76 pitches in six innings, 48 for strikes. He struck out four Mariner batters and walked none, giving up just five hits.

Rasner's one mistake pitch resulted in Adrian Beltre's two-run first-inning home run, and it was a genuine 'Uh-oh, here we go...' moment for Yankee fans. But Rasner settled down as the Yankee offense got fired up, and once Rasner was handed the lead, he looked like the mature pitcher that Kennedy needs to become.

It's entirely possible that Rasner will get blown up in his next start; or he could toss a no-hitter. Who knows? But with the Yankee offense soaring, the team needed a game where it didn't have to produce hit after hit just to bail out a floundering starting pitcher. Rasner gave the team a break, and allowed the hitters to relax after a month of watching Kennedy and fellow rookie Phil Hughes give up big inning after big inning.

There was just too much offense on Sunday to say that Rasner was the player of the game, but he was certainly in the conversation, and that's all Yankee fans have wanted out of their other young pitchers this season.

Whose bullpen is this?

The Yankee bullpen, maligned throughout the month of April, had a bounce-back week over the last seven days. Ten pitchers combined to hurl 22 and 2/3 innings in relief, giving up just five earned runs all week, and four of those were surrendered by Jonathon Albaladejo in one outing against the Detroit Tigers. That gives the entire relief staff a remarkable 1.99 ERA for the week, and leads to the question, is this really the Yankee bullpen, or a group of imposters in pinstripes?

The impressive numbers don't stop at the stellar ERA. The bullpen staff cut its walks down considerably, giving up just eight for the week, for a 3.18 walks per nine innings average. But when balanced against the collective strikeout numbers -- 21 strikeouts, for an 8.34 strikeouts per nine innings average -- Yankee fans will live with the bases on balls number.

And the WHIP wasn't bad, either. With 16 hits added to the eight walks, the relief crew registered a 1.06 WHIP number, which is just outstanding.

Taken as a whole, the bullpen finally rounded into shape last week, but if one reliever must be singled out -- besides Mariano Rivera, who is in MVP/Cy Young form -- it's Ross Ohlendorff, who continues to look more and more like a long reliever who can spell Mussina or Rasner should either exit before the seventh inning.

Ohlendorff tossed 4 and 1/3 innings of relief last week, and registered a 0.00 ERA and a 0.69 WHIP in giving up just two hits, a walk, and no runs while striking out five. As Yankee fans continue to wonder who will replace Joba Chamberlain once he's placed in the starting rotation, Ohlendorff seems to be making his case to fill Joba's shoes.

Season to date

The Yankees swept all three games from the Mariners, outscoring Seattle 19-4 overall. The Bombers are 17-16 and tied for second place in the American League East, one percentage point behind Baltimore and Tampa Bay (both 16-15), and three games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Yankees have won three straight and are an even 3-3 on their current nine-game homestand. The Yankees have the day off Monday and will open a three-game series with the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

Tuesday's starting pitchers

Yankees: Andy Pettitte, LHP (3-3, 3.93 ERA)
Last start: Pettitte was roughed up by the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, giving up seven hits, including a home run to Marcus Thames, and five earned runs in just six innings of a 6-2 Yankee loss. It was Pettitte's second consecutive loss after a 3-1 start to the season. Pettitte had good control -- tossing 63 strikes out of 90 pitches thrown -- but the Tigers were in a hitting mood. Against the Indians, Pettitte has never done well at Yankee Stadium, posting a career 1-4 record and a 5.48 ERA in seven starts.

Indians: Fausto Carmona, RHP (3-1, 2.60 ERA)
Last start: In 6 and 2/3 innings last Tuesday against the Mariners, Carmona gave up two runs (one earned) on eight hits and four walks, against just two strikeouts. In three career starts at Yankee Stadium, Carmona is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Yankees 6, Mariners 1

Like most high schools, mine played all of it's home football games on Friday nights. During my senior season, we had one away game scheduled for ten-thirty on a Saturday morning, and some of the guys were grumbling about it. Friday nights were special; you played, you showered, and by nine-thirty or ten o'clock you were at one of the local pizza places hanging out until midnight or so.

In our youthful way, we didn't want to give up even a single Friday night. But as we were grumbling in the locker room after post-practice showers, a gravelly voice came out of the equipment locker. "Ahhh, be quiet," it said. "The game was meant to be played in the daytime."

That was our equipment manager, an old guy in his late-sixties who had played and coached before there were lights installed at most fields. None of us in that locker room said anything to contradict him, mostly because he was tougher than any of us were, and also because he was right. We just didn't know that then.

I recall this story here only because I was reminded of it while watching Mike Mussina pitch a whale of a game on Saturday, under the mid-afternoon Bronx sun. There were a few moments in that game when (corny, sentimental atmosphere reference alert!) the pale-blue May sky hung over Yankee Stadium, and it was comforting to see that picture.

Ever since television took over command of American sports, the amount of day games has dwindled to about two per week, and afternoon start times are all but extinct when it comes to the postseason. And the Yankees have had such crappy weather this spring that even their day games have looked drab, even melancholy. Saturday may not have been a totally azure day in New York City, but the few moments of sunshine that came through on the broadcast made the game a little more enjoyable.

Like football, baseball, too, is meant to be played in the daytime.

Another good Moose sighting

You have to hand it Mike Mussina. In the face of brutal criticism after two disastrous outings against the Red Sox, he has responded with some terrific pitching. He's a proud guy and would never admit that Hank Steinbrenner's tirade -- "Mussina should pitch more like Jamie Moyer" -- inspired him to dig deeper, but if Steinbrenner really was no catalyst, then the timing is awfully coincidental. (Actually, Yankee fans probably hope it's coincidental; otherwise Hank will think he really knew what he was talking about, then we're all in for it...)

It would be unrealistic to expect Saturday's performance to become the norm for Mussina -- not just unfair to Mussina, but unfair to most pitchers -- because Mussina was nothing short of brilliant. He opened the game with two perfect innings, gave up a run in the third but got a double play to end a threat, got another double play to end the fourth, stranded two baserunners in the fifth, then saved his best for last, in the sixth.

I don't know if Mussina knew it was going to be his final inning -- I suspect not, since he came into the sixth having thrown only 71 pitches -- but he sure pitched as if he were trying to leave with a flourish. Mariner third baseman Adrian Beltre reached first base on a one-out throwing error by Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, but no matter. Mussina was not in the mood to mind very much if his defense betrayed him slightly.

Moose had already gotten the first out of the inning on a four-pitch, swinging strikeout of Raul Ibanez. With Beltre on first, Mussina went after Seattle designated hitter Jeff Clement and first baseman Richie Sexson. He got Clement to strikeout with a swing and a miss on the third pitch, and took just five pitches to dispatch Sexson in the same manner. As Moose walked off the mound with three swinging strikeouts in his pocket -- something he hadn't done in one inning since the 2005 season -- it was easy to forget that Beltre had even been on base.

Mussina never made it out to the hill in the seventh. Manager Joe Girardi turned the game over to the Yankees' suddenly stellar bullpen. LaTroy Hawkins, Edwar Ramirez, and Jose Veras cleaned up the final three innings, and Mussina went to 4-3 on the season. Watching the game, and knowing Mussina had thrown only 84 pitches, I wanted to see more of him, but that was just a fan's selfishness. I'll take what Mussina gave us today and look forward to his next start in Detroit. where the Yankees will need more of what we saw on Saturday.

It was a Moose sighting. A Moose sighting of the best kind.

Alex who?

Here are the numbers: 10-for-19, a home run, three doubles, five runs scored, five RBIs. That's the stat line laid down by the first four hitters in Saturday's Yankee lineup -- Johnny Damon, Jeter, Bobby Abreu, and Hideki Matsui. With big bangers Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada out of action for a while, Yankee fans have wondered where the team's offense was going to come from. Certainly, there won't be this level of production every game -- especially against ace pitchers like Felix Hernandez, who just didn't have his best stuff on Saturday -- but maybe May was the antidote the Yankees needed for their April offensive woes.

Whatever prompted that outburst yesterday, let's hope it's contagious throughout the clubhouse. Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano are still anchored to the bottom of the American League's list of batting stats, while Morgan Ensberg and Jose Molina are slowly headed in that direction. (Slowly only because neither runs very well, but their numbers are headed south in a big hurry.)

The Yankees will probably need a different guy to be the big bopper each game, because the top four will not bat .526 with four extra-base hits every time out. But even though we know it can't happen every day, it sure as hell was fun to watch on Saturday, and against King Felix, no less!

The king is dead! Long live the.... Yankees!

Season to date

The Yankees are 16-16 and in fourth place in the AL East, three games behind the division-leading Red Sox and one game behind Baltimore and Tampa Bay, both tied for second. The Yankees have won two in a row over the Mariners and are 2-3 in their current nine-game homestand. Sunday's game will be the last with the Mariners in this series. Game time is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. at the Stadium.

Sunday's starting pitchers

Yankees: Darrell Rasner, RHP (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Last start: Rasner was called up to replace Phil Hughes after Hughes was placed on the disabled list last week. This is Rasner's first major league start this season. Last year, he earned a victory over the Mariners at the Stadium on May 6, the day Roger Clemens announced he was returning to the Yankees for one more season. At Class AAA Scranton this season, Rasner started five games and had a 4-0 record with an 0.87 ERA.

Mariners: Carlos Silva, RHP (3-0, 2.79 ERA)
Last start: Silva got a no-decision in Cleveland, giving up two runs on seven hits and striking out three while walking one in seven strong innings. Silva will go deep into games, averaging seven innings in six starts this season.

Yankees 5, Mariners 1

Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring. Besides that, they're fascist. -- Crash Davis, speaking to Nuke LaLoosh, in Bull Durham.

Strikeouts may very well be vestiges of a far right-wing regime, but I'll take them any day. Thank goodness the Seattle defense was asleep behind starter Erik Bedard early in last night's game, because once Bedard got rolling in the middle innings, blowing the ball by Yankee hitters, he was fun to watch -- fun only because the Yankees were already up 3-1 thanks to four Mariner errors, and the Yankees' own starter, Chien-Ming Wang, was keeping the Mariner lineup off the bases.

After Bobby Abreu grounded out to second base in the bottom of the fifth, for the second Yankee out, Bedard struck out four of the next six Yankee batters. That's never fun for a Yankee fan to see, but for a baseball fan who has been bombarded by the increase in run-scoring in the Bud Selig era, watching a pitcher dominate brings a little tingle of excitement, even when that pitcher is wearing enemy colors.

But when Yankee reliever Kyle Farnsworth stepped to the mound in the seventh inning, and started throwing an unhittable fastball from the very first pitch, the tinge of guilt was gone, and it was simply fun to just sit back and enjoy a pitcher going for broke. Farnsworth netted ten strikes out of his economical 14 pitches thrown, and notched two strikeouts in his one inning of work, but it wasn't the strikeouts themselves that were so fun to see; it was the way Farnsworth completely overwhelmed Jeff Clement and especially Wladimir Balantien.

It looked unfair to the hitters, which is the way baseball is supposed to look when a pitcher is on his game. We don't see it much anymore, and when it comes around, it reminds us how much fun baseball can be when the game isn't taking three and a half hours as managers change pitchers after every late-inning home run.

Is Wang the new Pettitte?

Now that he's 6-0 in 2008, there's no longer any debate about whether Chien-Ming Wang belongs in the conversation with baseball's other top aces. The questions now are how high canhis win total go this season, and how much more important he's been to the Yankees than just a pitcher with a solid won-loss record.

Wang's 44 wins since 2006 place him four ahead of Brandon Webb for the most in the majors for any starting pitcher. But look at these numbers: 27-7, 22-6, 11-0. Those are the numbers related to Wang's starts the game after a Yankee loss.

Wang has taken the hill 34 times in his career the day after the Yankees lost the previous game. In thos games the Yankees are 27-7 overall; Wang's personal record is 22-6; and after last night's win, Wang is 11-0 in the last 11 starts after a Yankee loss.

For years, starter Andy Pettitte was known as the streak stopper, the one Yankee starter who was so competitive that he took Yankee losses personally and went to the mound the day after a loss and stopped the other teams in their tracks. Time and again, Pettitte got the Yankees back onthe winning track. Now, apparently, that's Wang's job.

For all Wang's success over the last three years, Yankee fans have never been sure whether or not he was a successor to a David Cone or a Pettitte as a knife-in-the-heart pitcher who could stare down an opposing batting order like a front-end ace should be able to do. But Wang's new pitch, the slider, looks more and more like an out pitch every time he throws it. he only had four strikeouts last night, as opposed to his nine last Sunday in Cleveland, but Wang is clearly now a top-level major league ace. It's still hard to believe, after last year's 19-win season, that Wang wasn't even in the top five of the Cy Young voting. That doesn't look like a problem this season.

And Cy Young voters wil have to take into account not only Wang's record, but who he's beaten, head-to-head. I know pitchers always insist that they're not facing the other pitcher, but the other lineup, but when Wang has two wins already against a lights-out C.C. Sabathia and a hard-charging Bedard, that can't hurt his credentials when it comes time for the awards to be handed out.

And why stop at Cy Young? With the way the Yankees have needed wins, and with the way Wang has kept this team from being a lot worse than 15-16, has there been another player in baseball who has exemplified the word 'valuable' the way Wang has? To heck with Cy Young; bring on the MYP!

How offensive?

Last night's win wasn't all about the pitching, but when was the last time we looked down a Yankee lineup and saw only one .300 or better batting average?

Last night's lineup had exactly one .300 hitter: Hideki Matsui at .313 (and a juicy .409 on-base percentage). All season, a chorus of Yankee fans and bloggers, including me, have wanted to blame the shoddy pitching for the lackluster record, and when it came to offense I've always pointed to the poor team average with runners in scoring position as a main culprit. But the Yankees don't just hit poorly with runners on base; they hit poorly all the way around.

Among hitters elegible for the batting title (3.1 at-bats per game the team has played), Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi are the two worst hitters in the American League. Shelley Duncan, who doesn't have that many at-bats, is hitting .190. Jose Molina has seen his hot start cool to a .218 clip. Morgan Ensberg is at .235, and even Derek Jeter and Melky Cabrera, at .284 each, aren't tearing up the baselines with their cleats. (Although any Yankee fans will take .284 from Cabrera, whose all-around-player stock is rising every week.)

Tha Yankees were handed their lead last night from a lackluster Mariner defense that committed four errors in the first three innings. Against Seattle starter Felix Hernandez today, the Yankees may need similar generosity. (Ironically, the Yankee with the best career numbers against Hernandez is Cano, at .571. Cano got a rest last night, and replacement Alberto Gonzalez went 1-for-3 with a run scored.)

Season to date

The Yankees are 15-16 and infourth place in the AL East, three games behind the first-place Red Sox and two games behind Baltimore and Tampa Bay, both tied for second place. The Yankee win last night ended a three-game losing streak. The Yankees are 1-3 on their current nine-game homestand.

Saturday's starting pitchers

Yankees: Mike Mussina, RHP (3-3, 4.73 ERA)
Last start: Mussina pitched five innings in Cleveland, holding the Indians to two runs, giving up four straight hits in the fifth inning. Seattle leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki has made a living off Mussina, hitting .409 off the Moose in his career.

Mariners: Felix Hernandez, RHP (2-1, 2.22 ERA)
Last start: Hernandez was on his way to a 3-0 record, pitching seven shutout innings against Oakland, but the A's touched him for four runs in the eighth and chased Hernandez. Despite striking out ten batters, Hernandez took his first loss of the season. Hernandez is 1-0 against the Yankees, allowing one run and five hits in a seven-inning start last season.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Ode to Whitey Ford

The song I will be singing for the rest of this season, to the tune of Country Roads, by John Denver.

Almost fed up, with these rookies
One named Phil Hughes, the other Ian Kennedy
I’ve grown old now, older than my years
Counting all their earned runs, screaming through my tears

Whitey Ford, come back home
To the place, where you belong
We need a pitcher, before it’s too late
Come back home, Whitey Ford

Eleven games now, they have started
How much more crap, do we have to take?
Brian Cashman, he’s the one to blame
For the way we… are losing every game

Whitey Ford, come back home
To the place, where you belong
We need a pitcher, before it’s too late
Come back home, Whitey Ford

I hear your voice, in the first and second innings
Rememberin’ how you won all those games for us
And watching these two, I always get the feeling
That things were better yesterday…. Yesterday….

Whitey Ford, come back home
To the place, where you belong
We need a pitcher, before it’s too late
Come back home, Whitey Ford

Tigers 8, Yankees 4

Forget, for the moment, just how easily the Tigers swept the Yankees at the Stadium for the first time since 1966. At hand, for the moment, are bigger issues than a three-game home losing streak or being another step closer to the American League East division basement.

For at this moment, someone needs to remind Brian Cashman of the John Maynard Keynes line, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?"

It is obvious, to anyone who has been watching, and to anyone who has been reading just the box scores, that the experiment with rookie pitchers Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes has failed in its present form. There is no telling what will become of either of these two young hurlers, but right now, the Yankees, who are suffering for a host of reasons, are suffering most because Hughes and Kennedy combined cannot put together a complete game a week.

After Kennedy's latest bomb last night (in which he again, luckily, avoided a loss), and the placing of Hughes on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, the experiment, which was insisted upon in the face of an opportunity to get Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins, has bottomed out, especially in light of the revelation that Hughes may be out for as long as 30 days, perhaps even longer.

Crying about the failure to get Santana is a fool's errand -- not only is it 20/20 hindsight, but it would be commenting without knowing all that went on in the discussions. Whatever the price for the Twins ace, it may have been ultimately too high, and nixing the trade may well have been the right thing to do.

But now that the two rookies have had eleven starts to prove their value, the plug has to be pulled. The 2008 Yankees are blessed in one respect: No other AL East team has made a move away from the pack, but how long before one does? Boston just got three terrific pitching performances in a row. God help the Yankees if the Red Sox start pitching like the Arizona Diamondbacks.

And what about the Tampa Bay Rays, or the Baltimore Orioles, two teams who have no business being ahead of the Yankees, except that they’re good and the Yankees are pathetic. Historically, May is the time when good teams have shaken off their April shivers and start rolling towards October. Pennants are never won in the spring, but they sure as hell can be lost there.

And that’s what lies in wait for the Yankees, who cannot possibly hope to put together another run like they did to escape last season’s opening 9-19 hole. That magical feat was accomplished with one MVP offensive year, another near-MVP offensive year, and consistent pitching that, if it wasn’t quite World Series worthy, at least it didn’t put up numbers like these: 4.1 innings per start, 8.67 ERA, 2.10 WHIP, 6.5 walks per nine innings. That’s part of the combined stat line of Hughes and Kennedy. If it looks ugly in print, try watching it every night.

What’s the answer to the Yankees pitching woes? There may not be a good one, but the worst one, right now, seems to be letting these two rookies get away, any longer, with masquerading as major league pitchers. They may still be prospects, but they’re nothing more than that. And how much more prospecting can the Yankees afford to do, as postseason gold slips away with every loss?

Say it with me: A one, a two, a three…

Bench Robinson Cano!!!

Oh, yeah...

I almost forgot. Bobby Abreu hit a first-inning, three-run home run last night. Yay, Yankees! (And oh yeah, I almost forgot this... Abreu looked like Fred Sanford in right field trying to field a fly ball near the wall. He's a DH waiting to happen next year.)

Season to date

The Yankees are 14-16 and in fourth place in the AL East, three games behind Boston and Tampa Bay, and two games behind third-place Baltimore. The Yankees have lost three consecutive games, all at home, and are 0-3 on the current nine-game homestand.

The Yankees open a three-game series tonight with the visiting Seattle Mariners. The Mariners have lost two in a row and are 13-16 and in third place in the AL West, four and a half games behind the L.A. Angels and Oakland A’s.

Friday’s starting pitchers

Yankees: Chien-Ming Wang, RHP (5-0, 3.23 ERA)
Last start: Wang pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out nine in last Sunday’s classic, 1-0 pitcher’s duel against Indians starter C.C. Sabathia in Cleveland. Wang allowed four hits while walking two.

Mariners: Erik Bedard, LHP (2-0, 2.04 ERA)
Last start: Bedard came off the disabled list to throw six and 2/3 scoreless innings and allowing only two hits in a 5-3 Mariner victory over the Oakland A’s last Sunday. Last season, with the Baltimore Orioles, Bedard was 2-0 against the Yankees with a 1.29 ERA in three starts.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tigers 6, Yankees 2

Right after Derek Jeter grounded out to Edgar Renteria to end the fifth inning, I scribbled this note at the bottom of my scorecard: Was that too fast? Pettitte just threw 20 pitches and looks gassed. Uh-oh....

On the second pitch of the sixth inning, Placido Polanco took Pettitte deep. Looking again at the question I had just scribbled, I wrote next to it, Yes.

Obviously, I'm not normally so prescient. If I were, I'd be living in a house outside Vegas and collecting my winnings every night. But will someone please explain this to me: When the Yankees are facing a pitcher who has a 1-3 record and who walked seven batters his last time out, and when that pitcher goes to a three-ball count on four of the first nine batters he faces and surrenders two runs in the first inning, why does this Yankee lineup decide that swinging early in the count is the rigth way to set about winning a game?

The Yankees had a rope around Jeremy Bonderman's neck in the first inning, forcing him to throw 27 pitches, only 14 of which found the plate. but after the first inning Bonderman's pitch counts looked like this: 15, 11, 9, 5, 11, 7, 15. And that would be fine if Bonderman had been dealing strikes and being generally unhittable. But from the second to the eighth innings Bonderman threw only 45 strikes out of 73 pitches (not a terrible ration, but not Hall of Fame stuff, either), and the Yankees swung and missed at exactly two pitches. Two.

The point is that they could have put wood on Bonderman's balls any time they wanted to, so why do it with a 1-1 count, or an 0-1 count? Why not let this guy run the counts deep and see if his tendency to walk hitters was still a problem? I simply do not understand a lineup that fails, nightly, to protect its pitching staff.

What is Joe Girardi preaching in that clubhouse before games? And for that matter, where the hell is Kevin Long? Do these guys ever take a look at how this team approaches at-bats and wonder if a different approach might be in order? Isn't Long paid to do more than just chit-chat with Giambi after Giambi gets back to the dugout?

It is infuriating to watch, game after game, when a lineup of veteran hitters like Damon, Jeter, Abreu, Matsui, and Giambi let struggling pitchers like Bonderman get away clean. In 32 trips to the plate in Wednesday's game, 11 Yankee batters put the ball in play on the first or second pitch. In those at-bats, the Yankees were 1-for-11. And the captain, Derek Jeter, pulled this stunt twice, going 0-for-2.

In a long baseball season, fans accept the inevitable 60-70 losses; that's what makes baseball such a different sporting experience. But losing games to average pitchers who are just begging to get beat gets old the first time. In two consecutive games now, the Yankee have faced struggling Tigers pitchers who were ripe to go down, and the Yankee batters have failed to earn their money.

It's enough to make me want to eat this damned scorecard.

They're kidding, right?

So now the Yankee front office, too proud to admit it was a little rash in insisting that Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were ready for prime time, is inventing injuries and enabling Hughes' skittishness? An oblique strain that Hughes showed absolutely no signs of having while he was on the mound on Tuesday? Tell us another one, Brian Cashman, because this one's a real knee-slapper.

Hughes is no more injured than Joe Girardi is. Whatever problems Hughes has had on the mound this season, they do not stem from any abdominal injury. The only place Hughes might be hurting is in his pride. He was just too highly touted this early in his career. None of what has happened to Hughes is his fault, but be that as it may, he is still the guy collecting the paycheck, and it is still his ass on the line. He just has to perform better.

Call it a much-needed break from the stress of being in the rotation. Call it a trip down to the minors to work on some stuff -- like confidence. But to call it an injury is insulting. Girardi is creating a bunker-like mentality around his team when it comes to decisions and injuries and anything that might possibly lead to an advantage being gained by Yankee opponents. Okay, fair enough. Teams have to guard against leaking too much information in a highly-competitive league. But Girardi is dangerously close to the Bill Belichick model of how to appear the most paranoid in public. There's a fine line being secretive and being deceptive.

This Phil Hughes 'injury' seems very close to the latter.

Sit Cano, now!

Why is Robinson Cano still starting? Could the Yankee lineup be any less potent with Alberto Gonzalez and Morgan Ensberg at second and third base, respectively? Maybe Cano has more potential in his bat than either of those two, but potential is just French for "ain't done shit yet," and that about sums up Cano's season to date.

Bench him tonight, Joe G., and spare us all the pain of watching him slump his shoulders after popping up to short centerfield. If there's anything worse than watching a young player struggle, it's watching a young player sulk while he struggles.

Do us all a favor and let us get through a game (or two) without screaming at Cano through the television screen.

Season to date

The Yankees are 14-15, finishing their first month under Girardi with a sub-.500 record and in fourth place in the American League East, three games behind division leader Boston and one game behind Baltimore and Tampa Bay, whop are tied for second. The Yankees are now 0-2 on their nine game home stand.

Thursday's starting pitchers

Yankees: Ian Kennedy, RHP, (0-2, 8.53 ERA)
Last start: Kennedy threw 105 pitches in a five-inning start at Cleveland, allowing three runs, seven hits, walking one (with the bases-loaded) and striking out three.

Tigers: Nate Robertson, LHP, (0-3, 6.91 ERA)
Last start: Threw just 89 pitches in a seven-inning start against the Angels, but gave up four runs, including a two-run home run to Vladimir Guerrero.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tigers 6, Yankees 4

After one of the embarrassing losses that opened their season, the Detroit Tigers were reemed out by manager Jim Leyland in a post-game, clubhouse tirade. Before that tongue lashing, the Tigers were averaging fewer than 2.5 runs per game. Since then, that average has risen to a robust 6.4, and Detroit's season has turned around from a dismal 0-7 start to the 12-15 record they sport after defeating the Yankees 6-4 Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

The point: When is Joe Girardi going to get sick of seeing his batting order let opposing pitchers off the hook, and administer the same kind of accountability speech that Leyland used so effectively?

The Tigers are baseball's second- or third-highest paid team, which is why Leyland got sick of them playing like a bunch of Class AA rejects. Well, Girardi skippers the highest paid team in baseball, a team whose bench, during one game last week -- whose bench! -- was three times the payroll of the entire Florida Marlins roster.

When is Girardi going to put the screws to this bunch and unleash that famous temper of his? I think Tuesday night would be a good time.

Blame Phil Hughes all you want -- he threw a first-pitch ball to 11 of the 20 batters he faced, and he managed to get to two strikes on only nine of those batters. He looked scared -- and even for a 21-year-old, it's time to look the part or get sent down to Scranton to grow up a little -- and he failed to respond when his offense did offer him some support. (In fairness to Hughes, new catcher Chris Stewart looked like he should be headed down the ladder of the minors, not up it.)

But what support Hughes did get from the Yankee lineup was minimal compared to what it could have been. As bad as Hughes was, Detroit starter Kenny Rogers was no better, at least not until the Yankee batters went to sleep in the fourth inning and allowed Rogers -- who at 42 years old brought a 7.66 ERA into this game -- to escape his last three innings by throwing only 26 total pitches. Absolutely inexcusable, and it doesn't matter who is on the DL.

The difference in this game was the three hits Tiger batters got with runners in scoring position, and the zero hits the Yankee batters recorded in their first five trips to the plate with runners ready to score. By the time Jason Giambi singled in Hideki Matsui from second base in the ninth inning, it was far too little, far too late.

The Yankees had Rogers on the hook early, and let him get away with surrendering only two runs, and those were on a Yankee Stadium home run off the toothpick that Robinson Cano has been swinging lately. In any other stadium, that ball is no more than a double off the wall, and maybe Magglio Ordonez runs it down in the gap for a long flyball out.

But that's neither here nor there. What matters is Giambi's pop-up with two outs and runners on second and third in the first inning, and Cano's flyout with the bases loaded and two outs in the third (not to mention Cano's game-ending strikeout with runners on first and second in the ninth). There is just no excuse, with a pitcher as shaky as Rogers, to let those chances go by, especially with a struggling Hughes on the mound. Hughes may be his own worst enemy right now, but he deserves some run support against a beatable target like Rogers.

But even worse is the way the Yankees folded after the third inning. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, Rogers had two outs under his belt before Yankee fans could settle back into their chairs. The guy was clearly laboring into the third inning, then poof!... the Yankee bats might as well have been made of cinders rather than ash (or maple, or oak, or whatever the hell...) Rogers coasted through his final nine outs like Hank Steinbrenner through a carton of Camels.

No one minds getting shut down by a C.C. Sabathia on top of his game, as the Yankees were on Sunday, and Hughes didn't really deserve more than he got. But when a 21-year-old rookie is struggling, the least his veteran teammates can do is help him out by stretching a pitcher who is clearly well off his best form.

This loss was tough to watch, tougher than most. And with the Yankees now batting .236 (54-for-229) with runners in scoring position this season, who can expect things to improve anytime soon?

Go figure Girardi

On Tuesday night's television broadcast, the YES Network's Michael Kay made what I think is a good point in reference to Girardi's decision to give Melky Cabrera a rest. Cabrera is 25 years old, and while his bat is not the most potent, he's been a semi-consistent performer in the lineup, and a terrific, if not an All-Star caliber, centerfielder. So why then rest Cabrera when Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are already out of the lineup, and especially when there is another everyday player who clearly needs some time off?

Robinson Cano's home run was not a mammoth shot that suddenly caused his dormant bat to awaken, any more than his game-winning home run in Tampa two weeks ago awakened it. (All one need do is look at the other at-bats Cano had on Tuesday.) And with the left-handed Rogers on the hill, why not sit the struggling Cano and allow Alberto Gonzalez to hit?

Gonzalez has proven to be a valuable asset while he's been up with the big club, but he is wasting away on the bench. Girardi said, the day Gonzalez was called up to replace Wilson Betemit, that "(Gonzalez) didn't come up here to sit down." So why then is he sitting against lefties while Cano continues to struggle against everyone?

Resting Cabrera weakened, at least defensively, a team already suffering through debilitating injuries. The Yankee outfield is strongest when Cabrera is out there. And the Yankee lineup, at least this month, is weakest with Cano in it. Girardi can do what he wants, but the thinking here is that it's Cano, not Cabrera, who needs a rest.

Season to date

Tha Yankees are 14-14 and in fourth place in the American League East, two games behind Baltimore and Boston, and one game behind Tampa Bay. Tuesday's loss came in the first game of this nine-game home stand.

Wednesday's starting pitchers

Yankees: Andy Pettitte, LHP (3-2, 3.23 ERA)
Last start: Pettitte was cruising along in Cleveland until back-to-back home runs from Jhonny Perralta and Franklin Guttierez derailed him. Pettitte struck out three and walked three in picking up his second loss of the season. His last start against the Tigers was August 1, 2007, when he pitched eight innings and gave up just one run.

Tigers: Jeremy Bonderman, RHP (1-2, 4.28 ERA)
Last start: Although he allowed only two hits and two runs, Bonderman walked sevenTexas Rangers batters last Friday. In his career, Bonderman is just 2-6 against the Yankees (1-3 at Yankee Stadium) with a 5.58 ERA. Yankee left fielder Johnny Damon is .438 (14-for-32) in his career against Bonderman.

Yankees 5, Indians 2

How much stranger can this season get, at least offensively?

The Yankees entered the final game in Cleveland batting 2-for-24 with runners in scoring position – nothing new, since a lack of situational hitting has been the main reason the Yankees were 13-13 coming into Monday’s game.

So what happens on Monday? Indian starter Aaron Laffey, just up from Class AAA Buffalo, gets a 2-0 lead and throws five no-hit innings at the Yankees. How do the Yankees respond? By producing one of the strangest innings they’ll likely have all season.

Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter dribbled back-to-back infield singles to start the sixth. Then Bobby Abreu followed with a solid line-drive single to left centerfield (yet another Yankee hit with runners in scoring position that failed to plate any runs). Alex Rodriguez then got plunked by Laffey, forcing in Cabrera with the first Yankee run.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s two improbable dribblers for singles, a single that doesn’t score anyone, and a wayward pitch from a steady Laffey, all cutting the Yankee deficit to 2-1. From there, it got even better. Or stranger.

Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui followed A-Rod with two groundball outs – nothing new for the Yankees, as they’ve consistently failed to get hits with runners on base this season, and this time the bases were loaded. But wait just a moment: both groundballs were right at Indian first baseman Ryan Garkos, who was playing deep for the double play. Because Garkos failed to charge either ball, the runners moved up on each play.

So again, if you’re scoring at home, the Yankees take a 3-2 lead when two batters fail to get hits with runners on base. What’s going on here?

But yet, there’s more.

With two outs and A-Rod still on third, and reliever Jensen Lewis on for Laffey, Morgan Ensberg hits a pitch for – you guessed it – another infield single, scoring A-Rod for a 4-2 Yankee lead.

So here’s the total for that whacky inning: three infield hits, a hit batter, two potentially harmless groundouts, and one major league caliber single. Oh, and four runs for the Yankees.

That’s not strange. That’s stranger than strange. That’s bizarro-baseball.

So after 26 games when the Yankees can’t get a meaningful hit to save their lives, they win a game by going 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position, and two of those five hitless at-bats produce the tying and go-ahead runs.

I give up on trying to figure out this game…

Rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated

Mike Mussina? Back-to-back victories? Getting out of April with three wins on his record? Show me the Yankee fan who had that figured coming out of spring training, because I sure didn’t.

We’re way past the stage in Mussina’s career when we’ll ever again use the term “vintage Moose” in the present tense (and I had him pegged for a 1-4 April), but with the Yankees getting subpar pitching at least half the time, and with a new team injury seemingly every day, Mussina’s two wins in the last stages of this road trip are huge for the Yankees. Chien-Ming Wang has deservedly gotten all the accolades this month, but Mussina has rebounded nicely from his previous fiasco with Boston. His last two outings won’t make anyone forget that Mussina should pretend to have the flu the next time he’s due to start against the Red Sox, but wins are wins, especially when the team is struggling.

Hats off to Moose for five fine innings on Monday.

Cano can’t do

At what point does manager Joe Girardi sit Robinson Cano for more than just a single game?

Three horrendous at-bats on Monday show that Cano is nowhere near breaking out of his offensive slump (.153/.217/.214), and with his body language after every piss-poor swing, it looks as if Cano’s hitting woes are now embedded in his psyche.

With Alberto Gonzalez on the bench, and the Yankees facing left-handed starters in three of their next four games, maybe it’s time to sit Cano for a few games and let him avoid the rain of boos that is likely on its way every time he jogs back to the Yankee dugout after another pop-fly out at the Stadium this week.

Looking ahead

It will be nice to play, finally, a team that’s having an even more disappointing season than the Yankees are having. Welcome to the Bronx, Detroit Tigers!

With a legion of baseball pundits touting the Tigers for this season’s World Series, the Motor City kitties got off to an 0-7 start (with the first six losses coming at home!). They’ve rebounded since then, and will come into Yankee Stadium on Tuesday with an 11-15 record but still mired in last place in the American League Central Division.

Let’s hope they leave that way.

Season to date

The Yankees are 14-13 and one game behind Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa Bay, all tied atop the AL East standings. The Yankees won the final two games in Cleveland to even the series at 2-2. Tuesday’s game with Detroit opens a nine-game home span with the Tigers, Seattle Mariners, and Cleveland.

Tuesday’s starters

Yankees: Phil Hughes, RHP, (0-3, 7.85 ERA)
Last start: Hughes was off to one of his best starts of the season after two innings in Chicago, throwing two innings and allowing just one hit. But a 50-minute rain delay led to a short night for the rookie pitcher, as manager Joe Girardi did not send Hughes back out in the third inning. The last time Hughes faced Detroit, last August 26, the Tigers scored five runs in six innings.

Tigers: Kenny Rogers, LHP, (1-3, 7.66 ERA)
Last start: The 42-year-old Rogers allowed six runs, three walks, and nine hits, and walked in a run with the bases loaded, in just 3 and 1/3 innings against the light-hitting Texas Rangers. Lifetime against the Yankees, Rogers is 5-7 with a 6.45 ERA.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yankees 1, Indians 0

I don’t have total recall of all 86 games Chien-Ming Wang has started for the Yankees, but if he has pitched a better game than today’s 1-0 win over the Indians, someone will have to show me the tape in order to convince me.

He may have given up only two hits in Boston two weeks ago, but that was far from vintage Wang. He served up a smorgasboard of flyball outs, and he was lucky J.D. Drew’s solo home run was the only ball that left Fenway Park. Sunday’s duel with Cleveland starter C.C. Sabathia showed an infinitely better Wang.

Nine strikeouts is the stat that immediately jumps off the scorecard. That’s three more than Wang’s previous season high this year. But Wang was even better than his strikeout total. Only one Indian baserunner made it as far as third, and that was due to a wild pitch.

But even more impressive than that was the way Wang never let himself become rattled. His difficulty pitching from the stretch is well-known to Yankee fans, yet on Sunday, after allowing the leadoff batter to reach base in four of the first five innings, Wang had no trouble settling in to his stretch move and getting the next three batters out. Only in the first inning did the Indians put two runners on base.

By the fourth inning, Wang was cruising. Over his final four innings, seven of the 12 outs came via the strikeout. Any Yankee fan can be forgiven for wanting to see Wang come back out for the eighth inning. With that two-hit, complete-game gem in Boston, Wang proved he is durable enough to go nine innings. But Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera are paid to perform in the late innings of tight games, and with the Yankees nursing a skinny 1-0 lead, manager Joe Girardi had seen enough of Wang.

But only for today. Wang is now the American League’s only pitcher with five wins on the season (he’s 5-0 with one no-decision in six starts), and anyone associated with the Yankees will be looking forward to seeing as much Wang as possible over the next five months.

And as a healthy, heterosexual male, I never thought I’d write a line like that……

Seen enough C.C.

Wang’s wasn’t the only brilliant performance from the mound on Sunday. Cleveland ace and returning American League Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia was in top form, holding the Yankees to a single run. For once, however, that was enough for the Yankees to pull out a victory.

Sabathia tossed 111 pitches (and a whopping 78 for strikes) through eight complete innings, striking out eight and walking only one. It was a tough-luck loss that dropped Sabathia to 1-4 for the season, but lowered his ERA by nearly three runs.

What kept Sabathia in the game was his ability to do what nearly every other pitcher has done to the Yankees this season – get outs when the Yankees had runners in scoring position. The Yankees were 0-for-5 on Sunday in that department, dropping them to a miserable 2-for-24 (.083) in this series with Cleveland.

Monday’s starter for the Indians, Class AAA call-up Aaron Laffey, will hopefully provide a few punchlines for the Yankees as they try to get a woeful offense back on track.

And your home run leader is…

Wait for it…… Melky Cabrera, ladies and gentlemen!

If there was an offensive hero for the Yankees on Sunday, it was Cabrera, who clubbed a one-out, fifth-inning solo home run that provided all the offense for either team. It was Cabrera’s team-leading fifth home run of the season. The Yankee centerfielder hit only eight all of last season.

And it is worth noting that Cabrera’s home run was thirty seconds from being a two-run blast, if not for the continued hard luck of Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano. After Cano legged out an infield single (to boost his .151 average), he was picked off and caught in a run down between first and second. One pitch after he made the out, Cabrera went deep.

And so it goes…

Hip, shoulder, Jorge!

For the first time in his career, Yankee catcher Jorge Posada is on the disabled list. The most durable of Yankees over the past 13 seasons, Posada will now watch as his shoulder problems heal and the Yankees try to turn around a 13-13 start without him.

The Yankees have been lucky this season in only a few departments, and back-up catcher is one of them. Jose Molina and Chad Moeller have been as good as can be expected. Now, the back-up label will be off Molina for the foreseeable future. With Moeller uncertain to return (he is still on the “designated for assignment” list, which means the Yankees cannot reclaim him until at least Tuesday, perhaps Wednesday, if no other team in the major leagues takes him first), the Yankees now will be scrambling to fill the back-up catcher position. Journeyman Chris Stewart has been called up from Scranton to join the team on Monday.

Get well soon, Jorge. The team won’t be the same without you.

Too early for MVP votes?

Of course it is, but if the Yankees have a player in early contention for MVP, or at the very least April Player of the Month, it has to be Mariano Rivera.

The aging closer has put last April’s swoon – and premature talk of retirement in the media – behind him and is now seven-for-seven in save chances in 2008. But that perfect save percentage is hardly River’as most impressive stat.

Rivera has allowed four baserunners (all hits) in 10 innings, and has 10 strikeouts to go along with his 0.00 ERA.

Just a year ago, we were wondering if Mariano was near the end, and six months ago we were wondering if he was worth another long-term deal from the Yankees.

After another brilliant outing on Sunday – Rivera followed Joba Chamberlain’s perfect, two-strikeout eighth inning with a perfect, two-strikeout ninth -- who’s wondering now?

Season to date

The Yankees are 13-13 and in fourth place, one and a half games behind Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa Bay, all tied atop of the AL East standings. Sunday’s win broke a three-game losing streak, the team’s second three-game losing streak of the season.

Monday’s pitchers

Yankees: Mike Mussina (2-3, 4.94 ERA)
Last start: Mussina won his 252nd career game with a solid performance in Chicago, giving up just two runs in seven innings. (Both runs came on solo home runs.) He is 4-3 lifetime at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field, with a 5.88 ERA.

Indians: Aaron Laffey (0-0, no major league starts this season)
Last start: Laffey is 3-1 with a 3.13 ERA for Class AAA Buffalo this season, with 20 strikeouts and six walks in 26 innings pitched. Last season, in nine starts for the Indians he went 4-2 with a 4.56 ERA, including 4 and 2/3 scoreless innings against the Red Sox in Game 6 of the ALCS.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Indians 4, Yankees 3

Some thoughts on Saturday's game...

Why the Yankees lost

Yes, another Yankee reliever blew it (and two others tried), but there's no way this game should have been tied at 3-3, not with a triple-A pitcher going for the Indians and the Yankees having 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

If it weren't for Jorge Posada's pinch-hit, bases-loaded, bases-clearing triple in the sixth inning, the Yankees would have had only a single hit to show for their dozen at-bats with runners on and ready to score. And to be honest, only David Dellucci's poor angle at Posada's line drive allowed that ball to scoot under his glove and get to the left-field wall. Properly played, that's probably a one-RBI single.

And you gotta hand it to the Yankees, for only they can invent so many unbelievable ways to screw up.

How often does Jason Giambi fly out to left field? Once a week? Twice? So why in the world, in the fourth inning, with men on first and second and no outs, would he decide that was the time to go the other way with a pitch? Giambi is ripping the ball these last few games, so why not just pull that thing to right, let Jeter advance to third, and let Duncan's flyball out to the left-field warning track (in the very next at-bat) become a sacrifice fly?

And what was that at-bat by Melky Cabrera after Johnny Damon's leadoff double in the seventh inning? (Kudos to a rejuvenated Damon for all-out hustle, by the way. But more on Damon later....) After Cabrera's first, little league-esque bunt attempt, why try another? And why then try to make up for both by swinging at an outside pitch outside that was above the visor of his batting helmet? Jeter followed with an infield single (a sign of recent Yankee bad luck: about a third of our hits with runners on second have been the infield hit variety, which fail to score a run), then A-Rod strikes out and Giambi pops to short. Sigh...........

Then, of course, there was Jeter's double play to end the ninth..... and so it goes.

The numbers remain ugly. With the team batting just .249 for the season with RISP, before this game started, a 2-for-12 night just seems par for the course. As I was marking my scorecard at home, I just kept shaking my head, not in anger but rather with a here-we-go-again sort of resignation. I know this was a strange Yankee lineup, with four starters -- Abreu, Cano, Matsui, and Posada -- sitting out, but these are still major league hitters, and 2-for-12 is just wrong.....

What was Girardi thinking?

And about those four starters on the bench.... I know it was a combination of things that led to the decision. A day game after a night game, with Abreu needing a rest and Posada still easing his way back into everyday catcher status. And with Cano looking like he never held a bat before, and a left-handed pitcher going, it made sense to sit him and Matsui. But look at the Yankee box score, and tell me what was accomplished by having all those right-handed hitters at the bottom of the order?

The first four batters -- Damon, Cabrera, Jeter, and A-Rod -- went 10-for-19 on Saturday. And how many of them scored? One, A-Rod, on Posada's pinch-hit triple. Of course, a manager never knows how a lineup is going to hit against a certain pitcher, but with a young guy on the mound, why not throw your most dominant batting order at him and make this kid sink or swim against real live sharks?

The doubleheader Cleveland played in Kansas City last Thursday really gave the Yankees a break in terms of the pitchers they were going to face, so why let the Indians off the hook by allowing Sowers to pitch to Duncan, Gonzalez, Ensberg, and Molina? Those are all big-leaguers, for certain, but the Yankees are going through a tough stretch, and it just seems odd to waste a chance to get back on the winning side by beating up on a young pitcher.

Sure, guys need rest and righties should hit better off of lefties, but I can't help but wonder how Abreu and Matsui might have helped score some of the runners the Yankees stranded on Saturday.

Kennedy turning a corner?

He looked terrible - surprise, surprise -- over the first three innings on Saturday -- seventy-six pitches, more walks issued than hits allowed, a still-horrendous strikes-to-balls ratio -- but after staking Cleveland to a 3-0 lead in the second inning, starter Ian Kennedy settled in, threw only 29 pitches over his final two innings, and didn't have that stunned look in his eyes that he's carried to the mound so often this season.

Best of all, Kennedy didn't get saddled with another confidence-crushing loss. He certainly did not pitch well enough to win, but after the way he settled down and got himself under control, he deserved that no-decision. For all the good the Yankee offense did not do on Saturday, one thing it did do was get Kenendy even in the score line.

Let's hope the young lad carries that middle-inning composure over to his next start against the Tigers in the Bronx.

As he goes, so go the Yankees....

If only that were true.

Earlier in the season when he was ice cold at the plate, Johnny Damon said, "As I go, so the team goes." That's true of just about every leadoff batter, so one would think that with Damon's recent surge of offensive production -- he was hot again on Saturday, going 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles -- the Yankees would be surging, as well.

Not so, as we all know. But despite the poor support Damon's getting from the rest of the lineup, he gives the Yankee fans hope that things will turn, and soon, and maybe the upcoming home stretch will see the Yankees put together a nice eight-wins-in-ten-days kind of run.

Of course, what's more likely, given the (hard) luck of this early season, is that Damon will go into an 0-for-18 slide as Jeter gets rolling.

Yankee baseball, 2008, ladies and gentlemen!

And finally...

You gotta hand it to the Yankee bullpen. It never disappoints.

LaTroy Hawkins threw 22 pitches over his two innings. Only eight of those pitches were for strikes. How Hawkins got away clean, without a run surrendered, is a mystery. (Actually, it isn't a mystery. Alberto Gonzalez's terrific unassisted double play to end the sixth inning saved Hawkins from giving up at least two runs.)

On comes Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth. At least Farnsworth bettered Hawkins, throwing 10 of his 21 pitches for strikes (Yay, Kyle!). And the two walks Farnsworth issued didn't hurt the Yankees. They only hurt the eyes of Yankee fans.

Not to be outdone, Ross Ohlendorf put four men on base, and the final one was Victor Martinez, whose bases-loaded single won the game for Cleveland. (And I'm guessing Joe Girardi was saving Mariano Rivera for today's game.... why? Why else wouldn't Rivera be in there last night in the ninth? He gets paid for those kinds of appearances, right?)

In April, Farnsworth, Hawkins, Ohlendorf and Billy Traber have pitched 49 and 2/3 innings and allowed 86 baserunners. That's a WHIP of 1.73. Incredibly, 24 of those baserunners have gotten on base via the walk.

How the piss is a bullpen supposed to hold or save games when it allows nearly two runners per inning, and a third of its runners allowed get on base without even swinging a bat?

Throughout the Yankee blogosphere, these guys (especially Ohlendorf and Traber) have their defenders, fans who think they just need time to get it going. But for shit's sake, are we supposed to wait until July before these guys start throwing strikes?

You know.... David Wells is available. Could he be worse coming out of the bullpen? (That's half a joke...... I think.)

Let's end on a high note

Alberto Gonzalez. Really..... how much longer can it be until he's full-time at short? Derek Jeter (whom I love....) has to go to first base next season. Can anyone give me a real, solid, baseball reason as to why we should wait on this?

You could make the argument, and I'm going to right now, that the Yankees win Friday night's game if Gonzalez is at short, because those two groundball hits in the fifth inning, Gonzalez gets one of those. As sure as I'm typing this, Gonzalez gets one, and Pettitte is out of the inning.

The time has come. Girardi needs to make the move after the season. Tell me I'm wrong.

Season to date

The Yankees have lost three in a row and are 12-13, two and a half games behind the Orioles and Red Sox.

Today's pitchers

Yankees: Chien-Ming Wang (4-0, 3.94 ERA)
Last start: Got the win against Chicago. Six and 1/3 innings, 10 hits, three runs.

Indians: C.C. Sabathia (1-3, 10.13 ERA)
Last start: Got the win against Kansas City. Five innings, four hits, two walks, 11 strikeouts.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Real Yankee fans are not happy today

I'm not going to be naming any names, but certain people who leave certain posts on certain Yankee-based blog sites need to grow up. The corpse from last night's 7-6 loss to the White Sox in Chicago was still warm when apparently gleeful Yankee 'fans' were all over the Internet laughing over the dent in the armor of relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain.

What kind of fan takes an ounce of pleasure in his team's loss? A pretty shitty fan, if you ask me. We all know the motivation behind these posts, but it's worthwhile to spell it out just the same.

The debate over Joba's role with the team has splintered Yankee fans into two camps, one hostile -- the 'he must start, and the sooner the better' bunch; and one still chilled out -- the status quo, Joba-as-reliever supporters. But that second camp is getting increasingly hot under the collar as the first camp gets more and more incensed over the uncertain timetable of the Yankee plan to move Joba into a starting role... eventually. As the fans who favor Joba as a starter grow angrier, they start to needle the members of the other camp, and that's what is happening this morning.

"Oh look! Mr. 'Perfect for the Eighth Inning' isn't so perfect now, is he?" seems to be the tone of the day. The pro-starter crowd is tickled to finally have some 'evidence' that Joba might not be the god of the set-up. Yet none of them, or very few of them, are mentioning that ace starting pitchers, which they think Joba is destined to be, don't win all their games, either. Nor are they bothering to mention that that other god of relief pitching, Mariano Rivera, doesn't own a perfect resume. All ballplayers fail, eventually and fail often. Last night was Joba's time, and he dealt with it, as I'm sure all the Yankees and most of their fans are dealing with it, like the non-event that it is.

But Hank Steinbrenner's childish belly-aching last Sunday, and the fervor it stirred up, have given Joba's every pitch and every outing a value far exceeding it's actual worth. He's one cog in the 25-man Yankee wheel that is trying to win as many games as possible. He's a minimum salary employee who's role happens to place him in the spotlight whenever he takes the mound, and now Steinbrenner has made that spotlight seem hotter and heavier than it needed to be. Now, every Yankee fan who demands that Joba enter the starting rotation will be pointing fingers and blaming the other Yankee fans, those who see Joba's time as a reliever as a matter of helping the team while it shores up a better bullpen, for the 'disaster' that was -- a one-run loss in Chicago -- and the 'disaster' that looms -- Joba being wasted by denying him a spot in the starting five.

Not to make too much of baseball -- because at the end of the day, we all have other lives to live -- but for those who do cherish this game and who do spend a lot of time and money following it, this is a dangerous time for Yankee fans. This wedge that divides Yankee fans is unfortunate. Rather than pulling together and cheering the team after losses, fans are hurling nasty comments at one another regarding an issue that not a single fan can control. Whatever a fan's position on the Joba matter, I hope all fans will remember that this is one Yankee team and we are one, united group of Yankee fans.

Personally, I'm more in the Joba-as-starter role than I was before. I've been persuaded by some terrific arguments that make a lot of sense. Whenever the Yankees get around to doing it, I'll support it. Until then, I'm backng the boys, all the way. Joba is a reliever now, and I want his every outing to be as dominant as it can be. For the life of me, I can't see how a single "real" fan is delighted by anything that happened with Joba in last night's ninth inning.

Let's all remember who we are, and which team we root for: the greatest professional sports team in the world. Let's act like it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Now that's more like it!

"If you're gonna give him all the shit, you gotta give him all the credit."

That's the infamous Michael Irvin, live-on-television quote about Barry Switzer after the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC title game in 1996 and advanced to the Super Bowl, where they would defeat Pittsburgh. Switzer had been much-maligned during his first two seasons in Dallas, and Irvin was going to bat for his beleaguered head coach.

Fast forward to April 23, 2008, and the same comments could apply to a gem of a game pitched by beleaguered Yankee starter Mike Mussina, although I'm not sure Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada would be quoting Irvin.

Mussina's seven-inning, four-hitter was sparkling to watch. The two home runs he gave up were solo shots, which is all you can ask of a pitcher who has no real swing-and-miss potential anymore: Just don't fall to pieces with guys on base. Mussina didn't really have that problem last night, as he only had three other runners on base (minus the homer bashers) all evening.

Was it Hank Steinbrenner's calling out of Mussina in public? Was it the embarrassment of getting torched by Manny Ramirez in two straight appearances? Was it the steadying presence of Jorge Posada (who, ironically, has never been Mussina's favorite battery mate)?

Who knows? It may have been a little of all three, or maybe Moose just got tired of looking like he should have retired three years ago. Whatever the reason, Yankee fans had to be pleased to plop down in front of the TV for this one.

Hip, Hip.... you know the deal....

Welcome back, Jorge Posada. Not the Posada who came back behind the plate Tuesday night, but the Jorge Posada who was a legitimate challenger to A-Rod for the 2007 AL MVP award, and who was Wednesday's unquestioned star of another solid Yankee win on Chicago's south side.

Four-for-five at the plate? Doubles in three straight trips? A pair of RBI to break open a tight 3-1 game and give Mussina a 5-1 lead? Wow! Who needs A-Rod when Posada has the wood working like he did last night? (Just kidding about A-Rod...)

And Posada's influence in handling Mussina was just as important as were his at-bats. And it won't be forgotten that it was Posada who gave manager Joe Girardi a second thought when Girardi was signaling for LaTroy Hawkins in the seventh inning (Girardi should have a third thought, then a fourth, then a.... you know where I'm going with this...). Leaving Mussina in allowed Moose to get the final out of the inning, and a huge confidence boost for his next outing.

There has been some discussion around Yankee blog sites as to whether or not Posada is an all-time Yankee great and whether or not his number deserves retirement consideration someday. I've always been a huge Posada believer, and while one game isn't really a microcosm of an entire career, just ask Yankee fans how much better they feel about things when Posada is on the field.

Of all the great Yankees of the Joe Torre era, Posada is easily the most underappreciated. He may not have been the starting catcher for all those World Series-winning teams, but he's been as solid as anyone over the last nine seasons.

Wednesday night was fun to watch for all Jorge fans.

And then, there's this....

Into every life, a little rain must fall. And so it goes with the Yankees whenever the bullpen is given charge of a game.

LaTroy Hawkins just can't put a week of good relief work together. In a third of an inning Wednesday night, he put two more runners on base, and was followed by the totally ineffective (lately) Billy Traber, who surrendered a single to Jim Thome. On came Mariano Rivera, who got the final five outs to preserve the well-deserved win for Mussina (and Mo's sixth save in six tries).

I'm not a boo-bird (I have a personal policy against booing whenever I attend games), but Hawkins is getting close to forcing me to violate my own ethics. And he's way past the point of adding more white hairs to my beard.

How many more solid efforts from starters is Hawkins going to put in jeopardy before he becomes the garbage-garbage reliever, only coming in when the Yankees lead or trail by double-digit runs?

Or, more probably, how long before Hawkins is an ex-Yankee?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Finally hitting when it counts

A win's a win, and last night's 9-5 victory over the White Sox in Chicago was as good as any other.... but it may have been even better, since the Yankees, for the first time this season, came from behind late in a game to win it.

Bobby Abreu's grand slam may signal that the three-week lack of clutch hitting is over, at least for a while, and Yankee fans will take that. During the 10-10 stretch that ended with Monday's off day, Yankee fans were not so much upset at the record as they were pissed off at how the record was attained -- poor clutch hitting and terrible relief pitching (not to mention three-fifths of the starting rotation taking its time getting into gear).

The poor clutch hitting ended last night, at least for one game. Besides Abreu's slam, Johnny Damon rapped a three-run home run. Both himers came with two outs, and Abreu's erased a 3-2 Yankee deficit. Damon's padded a lead, something the Yankees have not been able to do all month.

And while Jason Giambi's solo shot to lead off the second inning may not have been clutch, it gave the big man something to smile about and a chance to take a deep breath. That Robinson Cano came on later with a double means all three struggling Yankees -- Cano, Damon, and Giambi -- had nights to remember.

Their bats were needed to bail out a less-than-stellar Chien-Ming Wang. Wang got the win, but hardly looked like a 4-0 pitcher. He was lucky to get out of last week's Boston game with a no-decision, and Abreu's timely slam last night got Wang off the hook for another potential loss. For more than a few games now, Wang has been abandoned by his signature ground-ball out. With Posada back full-time (hopefully), maybe Wang will re-discover what got him here.

But all's well that ends well, and the Yankees got it done at the plate last night against a decent pitching staff. As for the Yankees' poor relief pitching...... that's another story.

Nothing comes easy

That might be the unofficial motto of the Yankee bullpen this season. Even with a 9-3 lead, how many Yankee fans were resting easy watching this one get wrapped up? Not many.

Bring in Billy Traber to get a lefty out; Traber walks the lefty. Bring in Brian Bruney to get through the seventh, and Bruney walks his first batter. Bruney got a strikeout but gave up an infield hit to A.J. Pierzynski. Bring in Joba Chamberlain... and another walk to force in a run!


Chamberlain settled down and got through the seventh and the eighth with no further trouble. But in comes Kyle Farnsworth, in a non-save situation, and what happens? A solo home run to Pierzynski. That made it 9-5, and a collective groan must have risen up over New York City.

We're all going to age a decade before the end of this season's stress.

Mussina must be joking

Tyler Kepner doesn't give the exact quote in his piece on the New York Times website, but if Mike Mussina really said something to the effect that he isn't really upset about the way he's pitched this season, then he's either senile, in denial, or just plain careless about letting himself think out loud.

Mussina would be nuts to take any measure of satisfaction from the way he has pitched this season. Saying that he "must have figured something out" to still be in the big leagues after 18 seasons means Mike is looking at his legacy rather than worrying about how to help this team, this season.

Is it any wonder that rumors have never stopped circulating that Mussina is one of the least-popular players in the clubhouse? If Kepner's reporting is accurate, then Mussina's selfishness ought to give fans cause to worry if he has any hope of improving what has been a completely unsatisfactory performance in 2008.

Bad Moose.... Baaaaaaaaaad Moose!

Surprising Sox tough get for Yanks

Before the season, no one was giving the Chicago White Sox much of a chance to overtake Cleveland or Detroit for the AL Central title. Three weeks in, however, we all know how Detroit (7-13) has struggled this season, and Cleveland (7-12) has yet to get going. But the ChiSox are 11-7, in first place as the only AL Central team over .500.

Although it's only April 22 and things could change a ton by the All-Star break (Yankee fans can only hope so!), Chicago has to be taken seriously for their record to this point.

Here's a look at the home team as the Yankees settle in for a three-game series:

The Arms

Chicago's pitching staff is everything the Yankee staff wishes it were. In every major statistical category, the Sox are ahead of the American League averages. The Yankees... well, you know already.

Chicago is second in the league in staff ERA at 3.45 (AL avg.: 4.20). The Yankees: 4.60.

Chicago has surrendered only 61 earned runs, best in the league (AL avg.: 81). The Yankees: 89.

Opposing batters hit .248 against Chicago pitchers, good for second in the AL, tied with Boston (AL avg.: .262). The Yankees: .270.

Chicago pitchers have issued only 57 walks, good for a tie for second in the league with the Angels (AL avg.: 69). The Yankees: 62 (finally, a category where Yankee pitchers do better than the AL as a whole!)

Strikeouts is the one area where the Yankee arms outdo those of the Sox. The league average for total strikeouts is 117. Yankee hurlers have fanned 125 opposingbatters; the White Sox, 119.

And finally, the Chicago staff WHIP is a stellar 1.28 (AL avg.: 1.40). Yankees: 1.40.

What does all this mean for Yankee hitters? It means Yankee pitchers are going to have to be uncharacteristically stingy this week. The ChiSox don't give away anything from the mound, and the Yankees haven't been able to take much from other teams. The Yankees have scored an average of 4.25 runs per game this season. Fans should not look for that stat to get much higher over the next three nights.

And with A-Rod possibly out for the series with a quad strain and the imminent birth of his second child, the Yankees are staring at the loss of their most productive hitter to date this season.

The Bats

The Sox aren't just having success with their pitchers. Chicago is second in the AL in runs scored (98; Yankees: 85), but it's how those runs have scored that is the eye-opener, and it shows just how badly the Yankees have suffered because they can't hit with runners in scoring position.

Chicago has a terrible team batting average, .242, next to last in the AL, while the Yankees sit in fourth with a .264 average. But the Sox leapfrog the Yankees in on-base percentage, with a .336 OBP, good for sixth in the league (the Yankees sit in eighth at .334). And when total bases are factored in, the Yankees are 30 ahead of the ChiSox, 284 to 254.

So what does all that mean?

It means the ChiSox -- for the most part -- don't hit so well, but they get on base (four Sox batters are among the top 30 players in the AL in walks earned). And when they get on base, they score. The Yankees are putting guys on base, but they're leaving them there.

How are the ChiSox scoring so often when they're not hitting well as a team? Quality, versus quantity.

Four Chicago batters -- Joe Crede, Jim Thome, Carlos Quentin, and Paul Konerko -- are in the top 19 in the AL in RBI. The Yankees? Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez are tied for 37th in the league with 10 RBI each.

The Chicago lineup is patient, but it has its potent bats, too. Jermaine Dye (.344) and A.J. Pierzynski (.339) are among the league leaders in hitting. And Dye (.403) is second on the team in OBP (Nick Swisher is first at .421). Contrast that to the Yankees, where Hideki Matsui (.405) is the only regular -- aside from the soon-to-be-departed Chad Moeller -- who approaches those numbers.


Add it all up, and the series looks something like this: The White Sox are going force the Yankees to hit the ball, and the Yankees are going to have to string multiple hits together because the Sox are not going to walk guys around the bases.

And Yankee pitchers are going to have to throw strikes. Chicago batters walk, and walk a lot. If the Yankees can keep the ball in the strike zone, they can keep the score down against a White Sox lineup that has depended on the base on balls to help get runs across the plate.

Look for a series of low-scoring games, with the Yankees relying on pitching rather than hitting to get out of Chicago with a series win. That's not much of a stretch with Chien-Ming Wang on the mound tonight, but it means Mike Mussina (tomorrow) and Phil Hughes (on Thursday) are going to have to step up their games off their previous, disappointng starts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Taking stock on a day off

Twenty games into a season may be too early to panic and start shooting your mouth off, as a certain son of a certain owner might do, but it's not too early to take stock of what we've seen thus far. Plus, it's an off day, and I'm tired of thinking about Hank Steinbrenner.

Things to cheer about

1. Back-up catchers. First Jose Molina (that's his job, so no real surprise there), but then Chad Moeller...??!! It's not a stretch to say that the Yankee back-up catchers have been the two-headed MVP of this first segment of the season, and not necessarily for their offensive production, although Mo-Mo have combined to bat .339 (19-for-56) with nine doubles, a home run, and 5 RBI. What has been more important is their stabilizing influence at one of the most important positions on the field. One of the things Joe Girardi has not had to worry about is the quality of play at catcher.

2. Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang. They're a combined 6-1 with a 3.13 ERA. Only Wang's meltdown against the Red Sox has been a real black mark on their combined record. When the Yankees have needed a strong start, these two have provided them. Wang had the complete game two-hitter at Fenway, and Pettitte has gone seven sturdy innings in each of his last two outings. Besides the wins, they've provided the young starters with some terrific on-the-job training.

3. A-Rod. Yes, he's been as guilty as anyone for the dismal team average with runners in scoring position, but there's no way to ignore .308/.357/.551, four home runs, seven doubles, and 10 RBI. He's not having an MVP-level April as he did last season (and his 17 strikeouts leads the team), but he's been the best offensive player thus far.

4. Abreu, Jeter, and Matsui. They're batting a combined .313/.371/.469. They have 18 of the team's 63 extra-base hits and 30 of the team's 79 RBI. The problem hasn't been the hitting; it's been the timing.

5. Mo-Joba. A 5-for-5 save record (Mo). A 1-0 won-loss record (Joba). In 13.2 combined innings, they've given up a total of one run between them, for a 0.66 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. They've got 16 Ks (eight apiece) against just two walks (both Joba's). Joba may not be in the pen much longer (Google: Steinbrenner, Hank, hot air), but Mo's place there is as secure as ever, and whatever problems he had last April, there's no sign so far that he's anything but ready for another 40-plus save season. If only the starting rotation wil give him the chance.

Things to forget about

1. Clutch(less) hitting. The numbers with runners in scoring position have sunk so low they're undetectable on my radar, despite yesterday's 5-for-10 performance in Baltimore. The Yankees have scored 85 runs in 20 games, good for eighth in the American League. But consider these numbers: the Yanks are third in the league in total bases (284), and the power numbers are great (.759 SLG, also third in the AL), but stranding runners after doubles and triples is keeping the team at .500 in the standings.

2. 0-5/9.20/2.21. That's the combined won-loss record, ERA, and WHIP of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. Add in the 23 walks-to-23 strikeouts, and it's easy to see why Hank Steinbrenner's smoking habit is now costing him more money than his payroll. And the Hughes-Kennedy combined stat of 4.1 innings per start is largely responsible for item number 3, below...

3. 2-1/4.20/1.40. That's the combined won-loss record, ERA, and WHIP of the bullpen, minus Mo-Joba. Those numbers look great next to the numbers of Hughes and Kennedy, but 55 hits in 55.2 innings isn't what a team needs from its relievers. On the plus side, there are 49 strikeoutss against just 19 walks issued, but striking out a batter after giving up a run (or more) isn't very effective.

4. LaTroy Hawkins and Kyle Farnsworth. Subtract these two from the pitchers used to tally the stats above, and those stats improve to this: 1-0/2.84/1.26. In short, these two have been horrible, particularly Hawkins. A 9.64 ERA is just.... Little League-esque.

5. Mike Mussina. There's no way to make it look good, and for the life of me I can't understand the "he hasn't been that bad" crowd. A 1-3 won-loss record? A 5.75 ERA? A 1.53 WHIP? Absolutely no ability to get hitters out in clutch situations. Almost no swing-and-miss potential from opposing hitters. Inability to locate a sub-standard fastball. Unwilling to adapt his style to his 39-year-old stuff..... Maybe people are right. He hasn't been that bad. He's been worse.

6. Cano, Damon, Giambi. Forgettable? Try painful. They've got 32 hits in 188 at bats, leading to a .170/.314/.303. And the .314 OBP is thanks only to their 27 combined walks. Only Damon has shown any sustained life over a multi-game span, and those spans have been brief and infrequent. Cano is down in the eighth spot -- when Giambi isn't occupying it -- and Damon may be regretting talking himself out of retiring. Both he and Giambi look great after hard-working offseasons, but 90-year-old Jack LaLanne's in great shape, too, and no one's giving him a contract to play baseball.

Things to wonder about

1. Joe Girardi. A 10-10 record is no mean feat with a horrific April road schedule, a terrible run of minor injuries, substandard offensive output, triple-A pitching three-fourths of the time, and weather that makes Scotland look like Scottsdale. Joe has to get a B+ thus far. But the team hasn't looked very energized, and the young pitchers can't seem to shake the deer-in-the-headlights expressions on the mound. Girardi has had to manage 19 different lineups in 20 games. Once he gets a full-time lineup together for a month, we'll see just how he can inspire a team that might need some major pepping up after a sluggish start.

2. Joba, where and when? Brian Cashman responded to Hank Steinbrenner's rant by saying the team would remain in the same configuration as it's been in thus far. How long will that remain the case? Everything about Joba is speculation and wonder -- except the numbers he's put up as a back-end reliever. It's April 21 and he's in the bullpen. There's just no telling where he'll be May 21. Scranton? Starting in the Bronx? Setting up Mariano? Not a single person knows right now.

3. The Season of Hank? Are we in for a 1970s-era circus with an owner using the newspapers to make team announcements, or can Cashman and Girardi get Hank Steinbrenner to stay in Tampa and disconnect his phone? No Yankee fan wants the former. Living through one volatile Steinbrenner administration is enough for one lifetime. With all the question marks surrounding this season, another one involving the potential repeated disruptions by Little Stein isn't what the Yankees need.