Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Dream of the Blue Turtles

That loss is going to sting for a little while. I feel surprisingly calm about it, however. Pettitte was brilliant, the hitting came through when it had to, and Proctor was great. It's days like this that Mariano Rivera reminds us that he's human. I don't recall how many scoreless innings he had been stringing together, including last season, Spring Training, and the 2007 campaign, but it's over.

Most of the team's woes, as a club out to a 5-6 start, can be directly attributed to horrible starting pitching and equally horrible defense. The pitching, at least for one day, took care of itself. Jeter made his 6th(!) error of the season, and while he looks like himself at the plate he is starting to look less lithe and more like a 30-something year old player that is no longer really a great option at short. He won't be moved off that spot until he retires, or volunteers, and I don't think either of those things is going to happen for some time. We should get used to seeing Jeter at shortstop for the next 5 years, booting some balls, failing to reach others, and occasionally doing something spectacular to remind us why we love watching him play.

The bullpen had also been one of the strong points of the team. That bodes well for the long run, as the starting pitching should get itself together eventually, when everyone is healhty and the weather is warmer. If we can put together a combination of offense, starting pitching, and lights out relief (at the same time) there's no reason that we won't be looking back at this sluggish open as a blip on the radar. (It's not all that much fun though, is it?)

Of all the minor complaints I have about the 5-6 start, the two that drive me up a wall are Mientkiewicz (which is going to be an ongoing headache) and Carl Pavano. It may or may not be his fault, but there is nothing about the guy to like. He's always hurt with minor things (never surgery or broken bones), so you can't really give him the benefit of the doubt. If he were a hockey player or a US Marine, he'd be given a Code Red with pillow cases full of Ivory soap like Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. Ow! Ow! Oooooooooow!

The Oakland A's are such a good franchise. It's not news to those people who admire Billy Beane, but he is smart. I put it in those ridiculously simplistic terms because it actually is that simple. He's freakin' smart. People like to rain on his parade and say, "I told you so" when the A's lose in the playoffs, but just consider that a team in Oakland that plays in a football stadium and has a payroll the size of a roll of nickels always has his team there at the end. Again, this is not news, but it's worth looking at for a second after we lost 2 out of 3 to his squad of mediocre, league average players. The team once had Zito, Hudson, Mulder, Damon, Giambi, Tejada, Jermaine Dye and Jason Isringhausen to name a few. Beane refused to sign them to big money, long term deals and instead found gaps in the market to fill his empty positions. Gone are the superstars, but what remains is an intricately designed puzzle of statistical balancing that replaces Giambi's home runs and OBP with a combination of players that produce the same end result. Well, maybe the end result is not quite the same, but it's close enough to keep the team competitive every single night. That's more than you can say for 80% of the league and most of the clubs that spend bigger money on their franchises while missing the post season.

We could easily have taken the series 2-1, if Mo had held up, but the comments would be the same. All three games were low scoring affairs. In fact, they were all decided by one run, either in extra innings or on the latest bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, 2 strikes, walk off. Players like Marco Scutaro, Bobby Kielty, Mark Ellis, and Jason Kendall are combined with up an comers like Nick Swisher and Travis Buck to form a tough franchise of everyday players. They play good defense, and hit just enough to stay in it. The pitching is young and I think the key to Beane's recent "Moneyball" strategy is his acquisition of pitchers that may not necessarily "Wow" the scouts with high ceiling tools, but are good, solid pitchers with control of their offspeed stuff. Watching Blanton and some of the bullpen guys made me realize that the Yankees couldn't connect on fastballs because there weren't many. The A's strategy was to keep the Yankees on their front foot by throwing a variety of offspeed pitches.

The gap in the market that Beane is using now, may just be that model pitcher. Just a theory, but whatever he's doing, it's very smart. See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!


Nick said...

The rotation has been pretty strong the second time around, and for whatever reason I'm oddly fine with Chase Wright making a few starts. What bothers me is the people that say "Well, Randy Johnson and Jaret Wright aren't there this year, so it's time to worry." I'd much rather take a chance on rookies like Karstens, Rasner, or Wright than have Jaret Wright or Johnson on the mound KNOWING they'll let up at least 3 runs.

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