Talk about blind homerism....or just stupidity by MLB headline writers. I don't know whose sick mind came up with this optimistic line, but "Mientkiewicz leading Yankee offense vs. Sox" is about as bad as it gets when the bombers have 3 runs and 4 hits over 7 innings, and Boston is killing us again at 7-3. I think it's a warning sign, as much as a headline. Like, "Hey idiots. Wake up. Mientkiewicz is leading your offense."
Friday, April 27, 2007
I'm trying to be optimistic about this team right now. It would be easy to join the chorus of Yankee fans screaming for Torre's head, and all manner of other drastic changes. In my gut, as a passionate fan, I want Torre gone, Guidry gone, and Mientkiewicz' head on a stick. As a reasonable person, I look at it this way. The Yankees have lost 7 games in a row. Is it the offense?
7 Game Losing Streak Runs Scored: 33 (4.71/game)
It's a bit deceptive with the shutout against the Blue Jays factored in, but it's there. Damon and Abreu are cold as ice and Mientkiewicz is a black hole in the lineup. Add Melky Cabrera in for a peppering of suckitude from the bench and you have a hard situation. The thing is, the team has scored more than 5 runs in half those games, which should buy you at least a win or two. Let's look at the cause of the length of this streak.
7 Game Losing Streak Runs Allowed: 54 (7.71/game)
When you look at those numbers, you see that the Yankees staff is turning every team into....well......the Yankees. The Pythagorean Win Projection in this RS/RA situation gives the Yankees a 1-7 record, so there you have it. You can't win when you give up almost 8 runs a game. What happens now? I can't see Torre being fired. Guidry is another story. I idolized Guidry when I was a boy, and you can't argue with his success as a player and a Yankee legend, but this team is putrid for some reason. These players, including Mariano, just don't turn into mush collectively for no reason. I say Guidry must go. Even if it's not his fault, you can't allow these results to go unpunished.
The other change that must happen from tomorrow is Phelps has to play everyday. If the offense has gone cold over the last few games, you have to remove to black hole. Mientkiewicz is now hitting .140 after his 0 for 4 today. His full line is .140/.218/.220 for an OPS of .438 over 50 at bats. Isn't that enough to tell you he is finished? Didn't we all see this coming into the season. Even a platoon is a ridiculous proposition at this point. Phelps could close his eyes and hold his bat upside down against righties and still hit them better than Mientkiewicz. That's a move that is not only overdue, but MUST come tomorrow without fail. The only reason you might wait another day is to throw Minky as a sacrificial lamb to the knuckleball Gods, before making the move.
6.5 games back in April is not unsurmountable. If we can get good pitching over a two week period we could easily put a huge dent in that number. Good pitching in front of the typical Yankees offense should be good for an 8-2 record, and even a 15-5 mark over the next several weeks. Doing that might buy us 3 of 4 games if the Red Sox slow down a bit. One thing you have to do at this point in the season is take your hat off to Theo Epstein. At least for now, his offseason moves are looking very good. We've yet to see Pineiro lose a game, and J.D. Drew is healthy at the moment. Lugo is fair, and while Pedroia has been largely awful at the plate, it hasn't hurt them. The pitching has been very good, especially the bullpen. I think you'll see a bit of regression among some of the players who have played over their heads, but Manny Ramirez and Ortiz also have some fireworks yet to come from their bats.
If the Yankees don't turn this around over the next 3 weeks, they might find themselves buried 10+ games behind 1st and perhaps in serious danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in more than 10 years. That's one reason for all of us to eat humble pie when we celebrated the Sox 3rd place finish last year. We might be staring that in the face this year.....Keep the faith.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
I haven't posted in a few games, because frankly I have nothing positive to say about this frightfully hideous turn of events to start the season. I know there are kernels of positive points to the Bombers' daily proceedings, but they are greatly overshadowed by the garbage that we've witnessed.
The starting pitching is an absolute joke. Okay, Moose is out. Wang has been out and was pretty good today. Pettitte has been great. Pavano is out. We've had to make patchwork of Karstens, Rasner, and Wright with a sprinkle of a largely awful Kei Igawa. The bullpen is overworked. The bright side is that the starters will be lined up and ready soon. Phil Hughes is getting the call and could be here to stay. It still doesn't change the fact that we can't buy a win. Something has to give soon.
This may or may not be a knee-jerk reaction to my frustration as a fan, but I am also a person with experience in the professional world. I've been held responsible for million dollar budgets, and I've had the eyes of an industry turned on projects I've handled. The companies that have employed me over the years have paid for results. I've delivered with bright shining gold stars on almost every occasion, but I would be lying if I said there haven't been times that I've made mistakes or bungled something important. It happens, and we earn our reputations based as much on how we turn lemons into lemonade as we do for the fireworks and champagne that come with a job well done.
That's what I'm looking for with the Yankees. Accountability. The team was great last season, and fell through the floor in the playoffs thanks to a combination of poor hitting and a poorly constructed rotation. This season we are seeing great hitting and simply dismal pitching. Who should be accountable for the mess that is walking around in Yankee uniforms. The offense is amazing again. The bullpen was great until it was overworked. The starters have all been injured at some point. Is it in game management that is killing us? A bit. Some of this lands on Torre's shoulders. Is it poor conditioning? In part. The new trainer has been loudly criticized for his methods. Have we made the wrong roster moves? You could point to the BUC situation and the Mientkiewicz platoon as poor, but neither of those things is an issue with the current woes. What's most to blame for this poor start? I propose the following:
The starting pitchers have had an inordinate amount of small nagging strains and aches. This is not an isolated issue to be pegged on aging starters. This is clearly a residual effect of the stupid training routine brought to the club by the new workout guru. Fire him. Pavano's problems are beyond help. Cut him. Seriously, just cut him. Even if he comes back I dont' want to see him wearing our uniform again. He's a fraud and a bum. It's time for him to go.
2. The Pen
The starters lack of endurance and effectiveness has had these relievers going virtually everyday. Some of that can't be helped. Torre is a very bad bullpen commander and it needs to be taken out of his hands. I see part of this problem with Ron Guidry. Gator is a legend and a hero, but he has no pitching coach experience whatsoever. How does that happen on the Yankees? Why didn't we get another man with a bit more experience and a stronger reputation for managing a staff? I think the point is not that Guidry is incompetent or unqualified, but rather that a big name guy would be able to take charge in the dugout and relieve Torre of some of the flaws in his own managing style.
We all have weak points that should be complimented by someone better able than ourselves. The pen is Torre's albatross and therefore we need a stronger voice in the dugout. I actually have no knowledge of what's said in there, but I don't believe that a stronger, more experienced pitching coach would allow the pen to be misused as it is. Just an opinion. (Taking Wang out when he did today was an example to me. The guy was at 81 pitches and is known for creating ground balls. Let him get out of his own mess with a double play. It would be much better than watching our pen shit the bed yet again.)
3. The Personnel
Cash Money is alright in my book. I like the direction he's taking our team. I don't like the pussyfooting around that we see with call ups. We have the talent and we need to pull the trigger. Melky is clearly playing poorly, and we've given him a month to show something. He hasn't. Send him down. Thompson? Tabata? I don't care who you give the roster spot to, but it has to be someone who will produce. Tabata seems crazy, but why not? He was nutso in Spring Training, and he might just be able to handle the job. If he can, he stays. Problem solved. If he can't, he's too good to be crushed. These are not all fragile psychological creatures that can't handle a little adversity. They are either mentally tough, competitive, and driven, or we probably would be better off without them on the Yankees. See my point? Hughes is the same thing. Either he can take it, or he can't. Either he's fragile or he's tough. If he's tough, bring him up, plug him in, and let him adjust. If he's fragile, he'll never survive New York.
I have no patience for a team that is struggling and turns to AA Wright, Karstens, and Rasner when Phil Hughes is at SWB. Just call him up. If Melky can't hit and you insist on playing Mientkiewicz every day, give the job to another player. This is the Yankees.
I don't mean to sound impatient, but there is a time to wait and see, and there is a time for action. Fortunately, I think the Yankees have moved quickly to call up Hughes. That's action. Firing the conditioning guy, replacing Guidry, and calling up a different outfielder would be a good series of follow up actions if things don't get handled better soon. Again, just my opinion.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
I've been having a lot of fun watching the SWB box scores every day, anticipating the performances of our great young pitching staff. There was a mixed bag today, and a little business to talk about.
First, Humberto Sanchez underwent successful ligament replacement surgery. He's out until next year. Cashman knew this was a possibility when he made the Sheffield deal, and it happened. All I can say is, you win some and you lose some. The thing is, I'm not yet willing to concede this as a loss. Sanchez has had problems every year. If this surgery "fixes" him, then it worked out. I actually think it lends a bit of momentum to the plan to convert him to a reliever. If he can harness his excellent stuff and be a reliable 8th inning man or closer for 10 years, then we still win. He may actually make it back as a very good starter, but we'll have to wait and see.
Ross Ohlendorf pitched a very nice game yesterday, going 6 innings on 87 pitches. He gave up 2 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 4. Despite only giving up a single run in the outing and lowering his ERA to a more respectable 3.60, the SWB Yanks couldn't score against Syracuse and eventually lost in the bottom of the 14th inning. The absolute killer in this game was Ron Villone's 3 hits and a walk, giving up 2 runs in the 7th inning. His SWB ERA is now 5.40 with a .333 BAA to his name. By the way, anyone remember that SWB is a AAA club? If he had been in the game against Cleveland instead of Henn, A-Rod would have had to hit an 8 run homer to walk off victorious. Thank goodness he's down there and not with the MLB club.
Last note on SWB. When do we write off Eric Duncan? How many more at bats before his time is up? He is now hitting .211/.326/.395 in 11 games. In 4 minor league seasons he now sports a .253/.343/.438 line, not including 2007, and I don't know why anyone ever thought he was any good based on the numbers I see. His OBP has never been outstanding. He has never slugged over .500 either, and his average is awful. Which part of his batting skill set turns people on? I know he's still a baby. He's still 21, I believe. That said, if he doesn't do something by the end of this year, I don't know why anyone would continue to talk about him in the Top 20 of Yankees prospects. Correct me if I'm wrong please.
Pitching to Alex Rodriguez these days spells Doom. I woke up at around 5am Japan time for a bathroom visit and decided to check the Gameday that I left running on my laptop for just such an occasion. It was 5-2 Indians late in the game, and I stayed to "watch" Sean Henn give up a run on THE THIRD BASEMAN!!!'s error. 6-2 Indians going to the bottom of the ninth. It would be Cano, Phelps, and Posada. I thought to myself, "Well, if they could get a rally going I suppose it could make it back to Damon. Jeter, and Abreu, but it would take a minor miracle to see the Yankees reach A-Rod."
With that silly little mistake, I went back to bed. I just arrived a few hours later, ready to leave for work, and saw what happened. Unreal. That you God for making Alex Rodriguez a Yankee. 10 home runs so far is amazing, but 25 RBIs is one fifth of a season's work for A-Rod in basically 3 weeks. What lies ahead will be interesting to watch. Beware the wrath of Doom.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
It's time for "How Ya Like Me Now?", the quiz program that Yankee fans around the world have come to know and love. Tonight we have three mystery guests for your reading pleasure. Mystery guests, please say hello to the COH readers:
Stumped are you? Well your not alone. Let's play the game. Our first mystery guest threw 6 shutout innings allowing only 2 hits and no walks against 10 strikeouts against the AAA club from Syracuse on Wednesday. Recently, people have called him "not ready" for the Big Leagues, and the Yankees manager even noted that he will not be joining the Yankees anytime soon, despite some unfortunate injury problems early on. The young man in question is considered the premier pitching prospect in all of baseball. Can you guess who he is? If you said, "Homer Bailey" you'd be.....wrong. The anwser is......Phil "dont call me Philip" Hughes. (Partial credit given for 'Tim Lincecum' considering his inhuman start to the year in the minors.)
Moving along, guest number two has been called a purple-lipped choker by some neolithic types over in Red Sox Nation. He was once caught slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove and mocked severely in a series of doctored photographs featuring the player with a purse on his arm. Still having difficulty placing him? This player has been chastised by drunkards and pea brains for his lack of clutchitosity, while winning the 2005 AL MVP and opening this season with 9 home runs and 23 RBIs in only 13 games. What? David Ortiz you say? Uh...no. He was close in 2005, but he doesn't own a glove. We're talking about Alex Emmanuel Rodriguez. Thanks for playing.
Our last guest was brought to the Yankees from a far away place with magical unicorns, beautiful maidens, rotten soy bean breakfasts, and wooden eating utensils. (Except for the unicorns.) He loves to play games of all sorts and often says bizarre tangential things that leave his audience chuckling and confused. This guest just pitched 6 solid innings of 2 run baseball against the Cleveland Indians, and continues to improve on questionable control that saw him give up 7 runs in his first go round the rotation. His oddball behavior is often attributed to his O blood type by his fellow countrymen, although no hard evidence has ever conclusively made a connection between blood type and personality. Any guesses? Ajackassayswhat? Just kidding. It's Kei (pronounced Kay) Igawa of Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.
There you have this week's "How Ya Like Me Now?" panel of guests. Each will receive a special gift of one way tickets to a division title, and the "How Ya Like Me Now?" home game. (Mike Plugh's wardrobe provided by Modell's Sporting Goods and Victoria's Secret) (Except for Modell's).
It appears as though the Bombers have added Wright to the rotation in 2007 after all. Chase, not Jaret. The results weren't all that different actually, which is kind of eerie and interesting. Think about it. Jaret used to go about 5 innings, giving up a few walks and 3-5 runs. We won a bunch of games for him with good run support and he left town looking a tad bit better than he probably was in reality. In exchange we took back Chris Britton, who ended today's game with a perfect inning. Talk about eerie.
The difference in Wright v.2006 and Wright v.2007 is that the price for v.2007 is about 4% of the v.2006 model. Chase Wright had never pitched above A ball until this year, and even now he's only had two AA starts. Jaret Wright is on the Major League DL now with more physical problems.
I'm liking the Cashman plan already. Wang out? Mussina out? Pavano out? Karstens out? Bring up Rasner and Wright to fill in. Bullpen getting overworked? Chris Britton is free on Tuesday. Call him. Rasner was very good. Wright did what he had to do. Britton wasn't scratched. Now, I think this is a seriously bad formula for a division championship, but it works in a pinch, and that's where the Yankees strength lies in 2007, compared to the last couple of years when we tried guys like Ponson, Erickson, Small, Chacon, Leiter, Redding, and May. If we have more trouble you can bet that Ohlendorf, Sanchez, Clippard, and Hughes will come up and make a fair account of themselves. At least they won't be caught by the tabloids eating one of everything on the menu at Katz' like Ponson. (I made that up.)(Maybe.)
How 'bout A-Rod? What's not to like about 8 homers and 21 RBIs in 12 games? Need 284 RBIs this season? Call A-Rod. Need 108 round trippers? A-Rod's got you covered. You know he won't keep it up all year long, but has there ever been a player in the history of God's green earth that needed this kind of start to keep it positive? If 2006 was a nightmare, this is a dream come true. It's almost like he steps to the plate and you say to yourself, "He's gonna do it again, isn't he?" That's a far cry from last year when even his supporters (yours truly included) were often found on their knees looking at the TV with one eye praying, "Just make good contact. Take a walk. Anything but a strikeout. Move the runner over, brother."
Mientkiewicz bought himself another month of plate appearances with that home run. Ugh. You know Joe was sitting there next to Mattingly and turned to him to say, "He's been getting good looks, and the swing was there. It was only a matter of time." As if, he was talking about Albert Pujols in an 6-27 stretch or something. (Mike's imaginary Yankees' dugout brought to you by Bigelow's.)
Iggy up next. Give 'em hell Iggy. See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!
Sunday, April 15, 2007
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!
What a game. The Yanks and A's are putting together quite a string of dramatic innings aren't they? Some thoughts on the last game beginning with John Flaherty.
John Flaherty isn't very good in my opinion. I don't know how other people feel about this, but I think he's bad. First, he has absolutely no chemistry with Ken Singleton in the two man booth. The broadcast is quite stiff. Kenny Singleton is a fairly able broadcaster and a very good on air personality. I like him with Kitty or Bobby Murcer, as a duo especially, the last few years. Flaherty is a zero in the booth. No personality. Cliche delivery. Very little thoughtful analysis. I disagree with a lot of the old baseball cliches he keeps in his little novice color commentary kit. We've moved past some of the old myths about the game as fans, but "Flash" hasn't figured that out himself.
One such instance that got my goat, was his statement that the A's had some sort of momentum from their extra inning win the night before. I don't remember the inning, or the exact context, but he mentioned that the A's were looking to capitalize on momentum from their 11th inning walk off victory in Game One. Is this serious? Haven't we all moved beyond the idea that some kind of metaphysical momentum propels a team to a winning streak from a "dramatic win"? The very idea of it annoys me. Nevermind that Scutaro and Stewart played in Game Two instead of Ellis and Kielty. Forget that the starting pitchers were completely different people. Disregard the fact that one game was played on a Friday and the next on a Saturday (two totally different days, if you're not keeping track). Momentum is a factor. Ugh.
The other thing he said that bugged me was something about Tanyon Sturtze giving the Yankees quality middle relief for a good period of time. Huh? John, didn't you catch the guy? Didn't you see the crap he was tossing around up there? Remarkably, Sturtze managed an 11+ year Major League career with a 5.21 ERA and a 1.531 WHIP, primarily out of the bullpen. For the Yankees his ERA was 5.26 and his WHIP was 1.410, so he basically stunk up the joint.
Anyway, Flaherty is neither here nor there. The game was played on the field, and you have to be pleased at the work that Rasner did. He was unlucky to have the garbage defense the Yankees seem intent on putting out there every night, but he picked up the team and shut down the A's after the rocky 1st inning. Flaherty said something about Rasner not being a guy that the scouts like, but his catcher does. Whatever. If the scouts didn't like him, he wouldn't have been competing for a spot in the rotation this season. Flaherty's reasoning was that scouts only like guys who throw hard. Maybe some of the guys stuck in the Stone Age, but the Yankees spend a lot of money on scouts that will tell them who can pitch and who can't. (I seem to be fixated on Flaherty).
Can someone please get Melky out of there. I love the kid, but he looks like he's in awful condition this season (+10 pounds by my eye) and he hasn't hit a lick. Kevin Thompson could hardly do worse, and he's just sitting on the bench. Give him a shot at the job for a few days. Cano is on fire, as is Jorge. The bottom part of the lineup is solid as a rock, as long as those two are hitting down there. Giambi finally contributed with the bat. Remarkable. I was beginning to think his hitting went to the same place as Carl Pavano's balls. Finally, A-Rod is a beast. He looked bad in his at bats late in the game, but 7 home runs at the midway point of April is one of the main reasons we're not in the cellar of the AL East. Give 'em hell A-boogie.
See you tomorrow. Go Yankees.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
As I was watching the loss to the A's, I turned to my wife when the Yankees had the bases loaded and Alan Embree on the ropes and said, "If Torre doesn't pinch hit Phelps for Mientkiewicz here, we are going to lose this game. Watch." I had visions of the NoMaas "Torre Losses" counter ticking to "1", but I thought we'd probably see Phelps. It made too much sense.
Sure enough, clunky and useless as always, Mientkiewicz strolled to the plate destined to destroy the scoring outburst that could have been with his double play. Why on God's green earth would a manager, still breathing air, allow such a worthless and inept batter a plate appearance in this situation, against a lefty, with a very good right handed option staring him in the face. Is that not the definition of a platoon? That's the way you work a left/right platoon in baseball. Bases loaded, chance to break the game open, left hander on the mound, another lefty warming by himself in the pen...you have your moment to affect the outcome of the game as a manager by putting your powerful right handed pinch hitter in the box.
I must confess that I checked both Peter Abraham's blog and NoMaas before I came here to post. Sure enough, even Peter, who has been fairly supportive of the Mientkiewicz signing is starting to write about Minky's time running out with an 0-20 stretch in the works. NoMaas, right on schedule, chalked up the loss to the Torre counter. Last season, Joe's dangerous toys were Tanyon Sturtze and Bernie Williams. Sturtze's injury saved Yankee fans from Joe's stubborn use of the "just plain awful" reliever, and Brian Cashman's stand in Spring Training saved us from Bernie's dead arm and dying bat in 2007. The new toys that Torre seems destined to kill Yankee fans with are Mientkiewicz and perhaps Farnsworth, he of the bespectacled wildness.
Hideous. Hideous. Hideous. Oh, and by the way, Pavano is hurt. Phil Hughes ain't walkin' through that door anytime soon. Mussina is hurt and shaky. Igawa is improved, but far from trustworthy. Melky Cabrera is ice cold. Aside from that we're great. Frustrating.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Only Mike Schmidt hit more home runs over the first 7 games of a season (7) than A-Rod has to begin the 2007 campaign (6). All I could think of was Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall, carrying that gigantic club, dispensing justice the country way. I noticed that there's a remake with The Rock, which couldn't possibly be as good as the original, but made for a good poster mock up here at COH. Just imagine A-Rod carrying that club and metaphorically bludgeoning the boo-birds back into their seats. Metaphorically of course.
Andy Pettitte did his thing. It's too bad that his return to the Yankees had to come in -700 degree weather, or we might have had the pleasure of this kind of outing in our home ballpark. It came at a very good time, as we now have a chance to string together a few good games to put us atop the division. Matsuzaka vs. Ichiro will be the big story tomorrow, and I'll probably be spending most of my time and energy on that game, but a Yankee victory and another A-Rod home run would be most welcome and I'll find the time to put some thoughts together one way or the other. See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!!!!
Monday, April 09, 2007
There's no better sight in the entire universe than Sidney Ponson standing on the mound, playing for the opposition. The Aurora Borealis, the Majestic Sombrero Galaxy, Gas Pillars in the Eagle Nebulae, and Sir Sidney Ponson. Of course, the opposite is true if he happens to be wearing your team's colors, as we all know from firsthand experience. That is more like Clockwork Orange aversion therapy.
I didn't write after the finale of the Orioles series. I had it in mind to write something about how Giambi and A-Rod's 8th and 9th inning fireworks were the only thing standing in the way of a 1-4 record, but I didn't really have anything else to add to that sentiment. Darrell Rasner was no better and no worse than what we've seen so far from Mussina, Pettitte, and Igawa. It didn't seem fair to lay it on him, when the entire staff was falling apart at the seams. I left it alone.
You have to know that the Yankees will eventually string together a bunch of strong pitching performances to go with their insane offense. Pavano doesn't strike anyone out, which may be a problem on some days, but he pitched as well as you could ask against the Twins. Seriously, he deserves a ton of credit for that performance. Ponson, on the other hand, not so much. Why do people keep giving him a contract? One day, just for fun, I'd like to see some floundering franchise say, "Screw it." I'd like to see that franchise sign Sidney Ponson, Jose Lima, Scott Erickson, Joel Pineiro, and Jeff Weaver as the starting 5. Why not?
As I look at the boxscore of that game, I notice that the lineup has the following batting averages to this point in 2007:
Now, you have to factor in Matsui's absence when you talk about the lineup, but he's only at .250 after 4 games. The Bombers offense has scored 44 runs in 6 games, which is a shade over 7 per contest. There is no reason why this team can't score at this pace all season in my opinion, although that would set some kind of record. 7 runs a game over 162 equals 1,134, and the all time mark is 1,221 by the 1894 Boston Beaneaters in 132 games(9.2 runs per game). The AL mark is 1,067 by the 1931 Yankees over 154(6.9 runs per game). It may be super optimistic, early season, Yankee-colored glasses perspective on this roster, but I'll lay it out there in early April on the off chance I'm right and we're closing in on the AL record in September.
Last thing today. A-Rod is laying the foundation for another MVP season. I'm not saying that with any sense of inevitability, as we're only 6 games in and there's a lot of baseball left to be played. It's still snowing in the midwest. If there's anything that baseball teaches you over the years it's the fact that over a long season you might see a lot of things that aren't what they appear. Chris Shelton's start last season is perfect evidence of that. Players regress to the mean, almost without fail. A-Rod's mean is very high. If he ends with the numbers he put up last season, he will have been a major success by any reasonable evaluation of his performance. The thing is, if last year was somehow his current mean, and he's playing that much higher than his 50th percentile output, it stands to reason that one of the best players in the game may be looking at a season in the upper tier of his performance expectations. A hot start for A-Rod would go a long way to laying a solid foundation for an MVP run. If he plays this hot for April and into May, he can regress to the mean and still end up with 50 home runs and a boatload of RBIs.
I'm being optimistic, but a lot of people saw this coming, I think, and it's been a fun start to a season for THE THIRD BASEMAN!!! Albert Pujols started 2006 like this and it was only a series of nagging injuries that robbed him of a historic season. If A-Rod can go another month on fire, we'll be anticipating something similar...
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Since we're between starts, I thought I'd take a second to plug one of my other projects, Darvish Watch. Some of you may have visited the Darvish Watch blog already, but in case you haven't it's a project exactly the same as Matsuzaka Watch dedicated to the 20-year old ace of the Nippon Ham Fighters, and perhaps the heir apparent to Daisuke as Japan's ace.
He's got a ways to go before he can be discussed in the same breath as Daisuke, but he did lead the Fighters to their first championship last season and subsequently led the same club to the championship at the Asia Games. His manager, Trey Hillman, recently said that he believes Darvish will be a better pitcher than Fenway's new monster. That may or may not be true, but he will be one of the best pitchers in the world sometime down the road. It's not clear whether he'll ever play in the Major Leagues. Part of me believes he won't, as he's quite comfortable in Japan, but he's already on his way to accomplishing everything possible in the NPB while still in his early 20's. All that remains really is a Sawamura Award. If he manages to secure that honor over the next year or two, you may hear rumblings about a posting. Just stay tuned.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
First of all, that game belongs to the bullpen. Our pen has been absolutely lights out since Day One, and by my estimation should shake out as one of the best in the game. Bruney, Myers, Vizcaino, Rivera. 4 IP, 1 hit, 1 walk, 5 Ks, no runs.
My prediction on Igawa was off. The 7 Ks should have been 7 runs. The numbers I guessed at weren't all that off actually. He just couldn't keep all those runners from crossing home. The bloop single that scored 3 was hard luck, but the rest were Igawa sucking lemons.
Giambi and A-Rod led the charge. What can you say? I predicted an 11-5 game and we got 10-7. That's close enough. This offense will not be denied and you have to wonder how anyone is going to win a series from the Yankees if the pitching ever comes around. I'm thrilled to death that I stayed up after we fell behind 7-3. With the Yankees you always have to believe. They're always there in the end. Alex Rodriguez got his big moment, and has been the best player on the team since Opening Day. THE THIRD BASEMAN!!!!
I'm too excited to type anymore. See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Friday, April 06, 2007
Time to panic. The sky is falling. The seas are boiling and the statue of Babe Ruth in Monument Park is weeping blood.
I just wanted to show you that I'm a "Real Yankee Fan" and that I have as much irrational 162-game mania in my DNA as everyone else. I must admit that there were times during the latest affair that I thought to myself, "This team is bad. This season is starting off on the wrong foot. They can't play defense, the pitching is bad, and the hitting with runners in scoring position is weak or non-existent. It looks like 2006 all over again. Where's Phil Hughes?" Then, I calmed down and remembered that for all the problems we saw in 2006, the Yankees finished the year with the best record in the sport. I also remembered that we've played exactly 3 games. Last, I remembered that the Red Sox are 2-2, losing to the Royals in the opener, and being shut out by the Texas Rangers today. It's early.
Looking at a few small points from the game:
He was bad. Just awful actually. The alarming part of his performance was the lack of velocity on his pitches. 85 mph fastballs get you a one way ticket out of the game unless you are a knuckleballer or Greg Maddux. Mussina needs that fastball to clock around 92-93 to be effective with the curve, which was also bad today. His nose was red the whole game, which is either a sign that he was freezing cold out there, sampling a bit of the hooch in the clubhouse, or both. Whatever we saw out there today should go away. I hope it goes away in his next start.
Melky is not playing very well. He was fairly ineffective in the Spring games and he's carried over that poor plate presence to the regular games as well. I think he's now 0-7 or 0-8 on the year, and Johnny Damon can't get back soon enough. I like Melky. I cheer for Melky. Eventually, he'll get it together, but you have to wonder what will happen with an injury to one of the regulars if the Melk Man stays cold. Remember, he is still very raw at his age.
Talk about having a flair for picking the worst moments to strike out. A-Rod has been very strong so far this year. He's done everything you could ask him to do as a hitter, and he was again in the spotlight with runners in scoring position and nobody out. The crowd rose. They applauded. He struck out on 3 pitches. It was the very tough to pick up Chad Bradford, but y'know Alex, you're making it awfully hard on those of us bent on defending you. Just get that game winning grand slam out of the way early this year and put a few of those boo birds back in their seats. Then you can get back to being mortal again.
I can't figure out why Giambi gets such a free pass from fans, as compared to A-Rod. Giambi followed Alex's untimely whiff with one of his own against another tough reliever. Baltimore is collecting those this year. He got a little buzz of boos, but I wanted to see fair and balanced booing. You know like the Fox Network. I think I wonder the same thing at various points of every year, but where did the Jason Giambi of Oakland A's fame go?
His batting averages in Oakland: .291, .293, .295, .315, .333, .342
His batting averages in New York: .314, .250, .208, .271, .253 and counting
How does something like that happen? Despite the poor averages, he's always on the leaderboard for OPS, which is more important. He will probably put up his typical 150ish OPS+ again in 2007, but I wonder how a guy went from putting up .950-1.100 OPS averages WITH a .300+ batting average, to the OPS only player that wears pinstripes. He used to get the walks and hit for power, plus tally 175 hits and 30+ doubles yearly. Now he'll get about 115 hits and 20-25 doubles. In the end, he's still too good to complain much, but it would be nice to see him post an average over .280 to go along with the other numbers. If he'd managed a hit behind A-Rod's strikeout, the game may have played out differently. I'm just sayin'.
I think I'm going to like this platoon. Phelps has looked good so far, save the over aggressive strikeout he had late in the ballgame. He has shown good patience and a quick bat. Minky is a good pinch hitter to face right handed relievers, and he ought to be in there for defense as well. He may not have much left as a hitter on an everyday basis, but it looks like he has enough of a clue at the plate that he shouldn't be an automatic out. That said, Phelps needs to be in there 75% of the time.
The lefty was great. Anyone out there who was longing for Villone's veteranosity rating still on that bandwagon? I know there weren't many of you, but you know who you are. Henn was exactly what the Yankees needed in this game, and the only complaint I had was that he wasn't called on an inning earlier. I could see that Moose didn't have it, and I wish Joe had as well. You can't kill Torre for sticking with a guy with as much history and as many brains as Moose, but in retrospect he had no business on the mound after showing nothing on the fastball. One funny note on Henn. The NHK broadcast puts up MLB player names in Japanese "katakana" characters. That writing system is almost exclusively used as a pronunciation guide for foreign words. The name "Henn" is spelled out in Japanese and is exactly the same characters as the word for "odd". The Yankees have a pitcher in the bullpen who's name is the Japanese word for "odd". Sweet.
I'll be up at 2am to catch the Igawa start. I was spot on with my Matsuzaka prediction, if you go to MW to check that out. I'll take a stab at Kei Igawa for Saturday as well. I'm betting that I'll be wrong 90% of the time on my predictions for the pair of Japanese pitchers, but I'm off to a good start, so what the Hell.
The Yankees will get him his first big league win by putting up a huge number tomorrow. I'm predicting a 10+ run outburst for New York in the game. Igawa may get rocked, as he doesn't appear as comfortable in day games, but I'll stick with the prediction. Something like an 11-5 final. See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!
Thursday, April 05, 2007
I was up at 3am to watch the debut of Daisuke Matsuzaka on NHK. It was a lot of fun, I must admit. Everything I've been saying about him was in evidence against the lowly Royals, and Red Sox Nation, not to mention Japan, are jubilant at his performance. I intensely dislike the Red Sox, but I've come to accept that my favorite player is now their ace. I'll live with it, and enjoy each of his starts, as long as the Red Sox lose the rest of their games. You can read my recap of that game at it's usual location.
I haven't seen the Yankees game yet, although I was secretly watching it at my desk via Gameday. The new look Gameday this year is very cool, but much harder to hide than it's predecessor. I didn't see the crowd reaction to Pettitte's return yet, and won't for many hours. I have it on my HDD recorder at home, but I doubt that I'll be going back to watch the whole game, knowing the hideous unspeakable outcome. Pettitte was horrible. 84 pitches through 4 innings of work is just bad. Proctor was bad. What do you expect from one guy who is coming back from a truncated Spring and another who should pitch every day?
The Yankees still had a chance in this game despite the poor start, but Luis Vizcaino managed to give the whole thing away. Not an auspicious start to the season, but the aim is always to win each series and we should be able to put the D-Rays away in Mussina's start to shore that up. The offense was good again, and it looks like we are going to be able to score the 1000 runs we've been narrowly missing the last few years. Just give me the pitching fellas. Give me Clemens and give me Phil Hughes by June, and all will be well. I kid when I'm sleepy.
Let's get 'em tomorrow. Go Yankees.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Another hack job has been added to the Alex Rodriguez annals. Wallace Matthews of Newsday decided that Opening Day was the best opportunity to write a piece stirring the A-Rod pot. The title of the piece is "For comedy, drama, go right to Alex". When I read that headline, I expected to hear our third baseman embarrassing himself with some stupid quote to the beat guys. I'm an Alex Rodriguez supporter, but I know he can make himself sound like a fool in the press on occasion by talking too much.
Was there an embarrassing quote driving this piece? No. Here's the best of A-Rod from Newsday:
"That's a good win for us," he said, seemingly oblivious to the role he had played in it. "We all just want to get off to a good start."
He waited, of course, to be asked about his home run, which prompted the curtain call, and about his seventh-inning single, which could have been a groundout had the Devil Rays' young shortstop, Ben Zobrist, handled the in-between hop, and his stolen base, which led to the go-ahead run when Jason Giambi singled him home.
What part of that quote made Matthews want to stir the pot? "He waited, OF COURSE, to be asked about his home run......" Yes, Wallace. He waited to be asked, because he is the interviewee and you are the interviewer. That's how it works. If he'd just started blabbing about how great his home run was, you'd write something about what great drama A-Rod's prima donna act is in the Bronx. There's more:
"You know, I'm so into the game, I'm so focused in, and I'm enjoying the game so much that I don't even notice," he said. But a few moments later, he observed that the crowd response to him "changed so much in five at-bats, like the stock market," and he clearly was not so locked in that he failed to immediately respond to the crowd's demand for a bow after his home run. "I'll tell you what, that curtain call made me feel really good," he said. "It's something positive, you know?"
He may not be everything you want in a cleanup hitter or a third baseman or a teammate, but Alex Rodriguez is everything you could hope for in a lead character. He is aloof but vulnerable, calculated and yet revealing, mostly guarded but often funny, sometimes even intentionally. He doesn't need strangers to love him but cares very much if they do. Best of all, he'll be here all year, 162 games, 162 couch sessions. And even if at the end of his run he comes up as empty as Al Capone's vaults and The A-Rod Show turns out to have been a long road to nowhere, you can bet it still will be worth taking the ride.
So A-Rod talks about being focused and into the game, and he talks about appreciating the curtain call, and that is cause for Wallace Matthews to write a story about his role in some fictitious Yankees soap opera that simultaneously serves as "162 couch sessions" for the "vulnerable" future Hall of Famer. This is a classic example of an article designed to sell papers by turning a sport that we enjoy into a melodrama that we fuel with our most prurient sensibilities. Yesterday Alex Rodriguez went 2-5 with a home run, a stolen base, 2 runs scored, and 2 RBIs. Those 2 RBIs came with 2 outs. Somehow, equally important in this article is his strikeout, dropped foul ball, and emotional tenderness. I encourage anyone who cares about combatting hack journalism to head to this article and post a comment in the comments section. Join me in the Canyon of Heroes Holy War against Tabloid Hacks 2007.
ADDENDUM: I just went back to read this again, and found one more thing that burns me. It's the lead sentence of the last paragraph I quoted from Matthews:
"He may not be everything you want in a cleanup hitter or a third baseman or a teammate..."
What is "everything you want in a cleanup hitter"? A-Rod has produced a batting line of .299/.396/.549 for an OPS of .945 over three years. He is one hit shy of turning that .299 into the magic .300 and a couple of hot weeks away from making that .396 into a .400 OBP. During his Yankee career he has averaged 26 doubles, 1 triple, 39 home runs, 119 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases. His stealing percentage is .781 for the Bombers. I suppose we should be looking for a .325/.425/.600 batting line with 50 homers and 150 RBIs every year. Plus, Alex has only won 1 MVP for the Yankees in that 3 year span, which generally sucks.
"Everything you want in a third baseman" must mean his defense is bad. Yes, he has posted a 4, -5, and -19 FRAA adjusted for all time. His skill set at third is not getting better. The thing is, Alex Rodriguez switched positions to come to the Yankees. He did so in deference to the Almight Derek Jeter, who is an inferior fielder at that spot. Before sacrificing his spot to Jeter, he was one of the finest shortstops in the game. He is still one HR shy of being the all time leader in that category for shortstops.
"Everything you want in a teammate"? He doesn't give enough back rubs? His Christmas gifts are of cheap quality and in bad taste? What doesn't he do? Is this a place that deserves criticism? It's not like the guy is Albert Belle or Carl Everett. He's not belittling anyone in public, or calling people out on the carpet in the clubhouse. I don't think Alex is pulling a Vince Coleman and smashing pitchers in the arm with golf clubs. I just see hack journalism....
From the SWB Yankees homepage:
"The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees have announced the five man starting rotation that will begin the season. Starting opening night April 5 vs. Norfolk will be RHP Tyler Clippard, followed by RHP Phil Hughes on Friday, RHP Ross Ohlendorf, RHP Matt DeSalvo and RHP Steven Jackson."
Our boy Tyler Clip gets the Opening Day nod over Phil Franchise. That rotation may be better than the Pirates, Devil Rays, Royals, Nationals, Rockies, and Mariners. Maybe. Anyway, it's got to be the best rotation at any level below the Major Leagues. Should be fun to keep up with SWB this season. Great pen to go with the starting pitching (Bean, Beam, Britton). Nice infielders (Cannizaro, Basak, Gonzalez, Juan Miranda, Andy Phillips). Speed in the outfield (The Kevins and Bronson Sardinha). Stay tuned. (Scroll down for my take on Opening Day).
Monday, April 02, 2007
On a normal day, it’s a virtual impossibility to imagine myself climbing out of bed at 2 or 3am for any reason, let alone to watch television. This was not a normal day. Opening Day is a ritual. It’s a tradition. There is no way I could miss Opening Day at the Stadium, no matter the time. So, there I was, on my couch, covered in a blanket. I was neither sleepy, nor regretful about my decision to spend those early morning hours with the Bronx Bombers.
This was a more subdued Opening Day, with the Lidle ceremony and the knowledge that Bobby Murcer would be in the booth, still very much fighting for his health. Carl Pavano was on the mound against Scott Kazmir, which never makes for a comfortable outing, let alone on the big day of celebration. There were errors. There was a mediocre Pavano. There was A-Rod booing. Still, there was enough of that fresh Yankee lifeblood in the atmosphere to keep things interesting, and eventually celebratory. A 9-5 victory in this situation was about as much as anyone could ask for, given the circumstances. It was a comeback win that shouldn’t have had to be, but it was a good win. Some of my thoughts on the game:
* This is Pavano
Carl Pavano is a mediocre pitcher. He looks like that. The problem with Pavano has nothing to do with his lack of interest, but rather his lack of an out pitch. He gets the ground ball, which is good. He can’t get the punch out when a guy is on 2nd with nobody out. That runner will score on Pavano more often than not. It may be true that the runner on 2nd with nobody out will score on most pitchers, but with Pavano it seems like a run surrendered before it scores. It’s all the more reason to marvel at Wang’s success last year. For the record, I think Wang will strike out more batters in 2007. He has that kind of ability.
* Alex Rodriguez is a Beast
The reason people are morons for booing A-Rod has nothing to do with the touchy-feely magical power of positivism that will drive the Yankees to a championship. It has everything to do with the fact that this player is one of the 5 best in the entire sport and even after an error he can line a hit, steal a base, and score a run on a follow-up single. He can drive a pitch into the black of dead center field on a swing that looks as effortless as swatting a fly. Booing him is an exercise in stupidity of great proportion. He is a marvel to behold, whatever the perceived failings of his personality may be.
* Bunting Good vs. Bunting Bad
I hate sac bunting. I think the whole practice of giving up an out to move runners is silly. There should be an asterisk on “silly” in that sentence because I think there is an argument to be made for the 6th inning bunt that Mientkiewicz put down against Sean Camp. The run expectancy goes down with that bunt, but you must consider the batter. Torre had a choice. Hit Josh Phelps against Camp, and go for the big inning. Pinch hit Mientikiewicz for the lefty/righty matchup and let him hit for the big inning. Pinch hit Minky and sac bunt to move the runners for Melky. In the first scenario, you are banking on Phelps hitting it in the air, or at least grounding out to right side to move the runners. The track record on Josh is not such that we know he will do either at this point. He may hit into a double play. Minky isn’t a great hitter either, whatever handedness he possesses. He also can’t run. If he hits into a double play, Torre looks like a big fat goat for allowing him an at bat there. If they bunt the runners over, play for the tie, they probably give away a more robust scoring opportunity, while assuring themselves of a couple shots at the 2 RBI hit. I’ll take it. It worked, so we can’t complain too much, but I was also not throwing things at my TV when it all went down.
The Melky bunt later on was useless. That was Torre playing small ball unnecessarily. With Mientkiewicz on first and no one out, Melky has the chance to put a pitch in play and move the runner on a hit. This is the Devil Rays bullpen we’re talking about. This is a bullpen so bad that last year it participated in blowing more than 60 games the D-Rays led. Melky should be putting good wood on the ball there. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
* The Pen was Stellar
I like this bullpen. Bruney to Henn to Vizcaino to Farnsworth to Mo. We didn’t even need EDSP. What’s up with that? On days when Pavano starts, or even Igawa, we can expect to see that pattern. Throw in EDSP in Farnsworth’s place on some days and you have a bullpen of interchangeable parts that could be one of the strengths of the club. You have Myers in reserve and at this point Rasner for the long relief opportunities. I like it.
* Mariano is a Cyborg
Don’t worry Yankee fans. Mo will retire with us, in the new Stadium. In fact, he’s still so good it’s hard to imagine when he will finally decline. After a perfect Spring, Mo comes into a 4 run game and strikes out all three Rays. The best one was Elijah Dukes. He was so amped to have hit his first Major League homer that he pumped his fist rounding first. Good for him. I thought it was kind of cool to see how excited he was. I was equally amused by the look on his face as he was dominated by Rivera in his final at bat. He was so overmatched it was almost like watching a grown man throwing hard to a 10 year old in the backyard. “C’mon Dad. Really throw it!” Whiff! HUH?!!
Mariano is in frighteningly good shape, and has such an easy motion that I could see him closing games in the Bronx until he’s over 40. Why not? Is there any sign that he’s in a declining pattern so severe that he isn’t one of the best 3 or 4 closers in the game? Francisco Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman, B.J. Ryan, Papelbon, Nathan, Rivera…. He’s near the top of that list, if not still the King. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the idea that Mariano will be the Yankees closer for at least the next 5 years.
That was a lot of fun. Good to have the games back. I’m really looking forward to getting up early for the return of Andy Pettitte. To quote Nas, “I never sleep ‘cause sleep is the cousin of death.” See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!!!
Last season I made an AL East prediction here at COH. For what predictions are worth, I don’t think I did too badly. Of course, I picked the Yankees to finish first, which they did. I never expected the huge post-All Star collapse of the Red Sox in finishing second, but I believe I posted a picture of Big Papi pointing to the sky and captioned it, “Big Papi knows where to look for the Yankees in the standings this year.” If you have any interest in what I said about last season, you can follow the link to that post. This is about this year and the Canyon of Heroes pre-season prognostications on the American League East. Full predictions of the Awards and Playoff results will follow this team by team analysis, in addition to a quick look at what I thought this time last year.
New York Yankees
Manager: Joe Torre
2006 Record: 97-65 (.599) Finished 1st
2006 Pythagorean Win-Loss: 95-67 (.586)
2007 Predicted Win-Loss: 104-58 (.642)
The Yankees are still the team to beat in the AL East. Actually, the Yankees are still the team to beat in the entire sport. People who are down on the Bombers and their playoffs wilt often forget that the team posted the best record in baseball last year despite losing Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield for most of the year, and starting guys like Jaret Wright, Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson, to name a few. This season I expect the team to produce runs at a clip similar to that of September 2006, when the team ran up 6.2 per game. The new look pitching gives me hope that we'll also see a lowering of the runs allowed to the tune of about 4.6 per game, or so. If that happens, the Yankees will win 100+ and run away with the division. I'll go with a 104-58 record and another AL East Division crown.
Player to Watch: Robinson Cano
I’m very high on Robby Cano. I was tempted to use this space to talk about A-Rod or Hideki Matsui, who I think will both challenge for the MVP this year A-Rod is still one of the game’s best 5 players, and will show it this year. Matsui is due for a huge season. I think a lot of Yankee pundits feel the same way, but there’s good reason. Matsui has shown 30+ home run power in the past, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t pound out that many in a comeback season in 2007. The time off probably helped to rejuvenate his body after the silly consecutive games streak was snapped. (I guess I did talk about A-Rod and Matsui in this space.) Cano’s 2006 was unreal. Last season I projected his pace out to 162 games and found some startling numbers. The pace he set after coming back from his injury was enough to duplicate some of Don Mattingly’s finest work. I am going to come out before the season starts and say that Robinson Cano will post the same kind of numbers for the Yankees that Donny Baseball famously produced (at 2nd base!). The home runs may not be there, but Cano is a doubles machine and could challenge the 50 mark in 2007.
Pitcher to Watch: Roger Clemens
I’m cheating a bit here, but I think Roger Clemens is the Yankees ace in the hole. There are plenty of doubters out there who feel that Clemens is both old and on his way to another team. The AL East will get to Clemens in those people’s books, and he’ll probably stay in Houston where he gets that cushy deal. I am not one of those people. I think Clemens will be one of the best 10 pitchers in the AL when he comes back, and I think he’ll pitch for the Yankees. I’ve been wrong in this space before with Clemens, but I’m banking on getting it right this time. If Rocket comes back to pitch for the Yankees in June, the AL East is as good as ours. We may not even need him, but he’d be the padlock on the top spot. Honorable mention goes to Phil Hughes who could have a big impact on the division race before all is said and done, Rocket or no.
Boston Red Sox
Manager: Terry Francona
2006 Record: 86-76 (.531) Finished 3rd
2006 Pythagorean Win-Loss: 81-81 (.500)
2007 Predicted Win-Loss: 93-69 (.574)
The Red Sox spent big in the offseason to acquire talent, both foreign and domestic. In the end, they had no choice. After a 3rd place finish in 2006, the big money New England club had a choice to make. Spend more money and buy a much talent as possible, or stick with the lip service that Theo Epstein provided the media at the trade deadline last year. Become the Yankees, or stick to your principles and die another slow painful death. Red Sox fans get incredibly irritated to hear that they’ve become the Yankees, but there no way to deny it. As a Yankee fan, I think it’s smart. If you have the money, spend it. For the perpetual underdog fan base in Boston, that idea is like kryptonite to their psyche. Nonetheless, the Blue Jays are on their way back to the playoff hunt and the Red Sox were in danger of heading back to the second division of the AL East. With their new additions, they have at least plugged the leaks, and at best pushed them over the top to win the division finally. I will split that one down the middle and say that the Red Sox bold moves were the first step back in an upward direction and they will finish second to the Yankees in 2007. Wild Card? Keep reading…..
Player to Watch: J. D. Drew
The Sox gambled HUGE on Drew. He is a spectacular talent with a long history of injury problems. His supporters will tell you that those injuries were the result of some freak accidents and misfortunes, and that there’s nothing in his history to suggest that he has chronic physical issues. His detractors will point out that whatever the cause of his injuries, they have been frequent and have kept him from playing a full season over the course of his career. The reasons behind his apparent fragility are not important. If Red Sox Nation gets a full season of J.D. Drew at his best, they will embrace him and celebrate his every move. As soon as he misses a few games he’ll be public enemy #1, and the Trot Nixon talk will begin in earnest. For what it’s worth, I expect him to miss some games, but I also expect him to be a very nice upgrade in the outfield for the Red Sox, and a much needed one at that.
Pitcher to Watch: Daisuke Matsuzaka
If you’ve come here to read this and expected to see another name here, you don’t know me very well. Matsuzaka is as close to being my favorite player as anyone can be. The Red Sox victory in the posting war has put my Matsuzaka fandom in a kind of strange acid trip of ambiguity, but my belief that he is one of the world’s top 5 pitchers is never in doubt. In Spring Training he flashed his ability on occasion, but was disappointed in his high walk totals, particularly over his last 2 starts. That said, he still baffled hitters and posted similar stats to his Japan ratios. I expect him to be on the Cy Young leader board this year, and I also expect that he’ll win one before his contract is up. Matsuzaka can’t save the Sox rotation on his own with a fat and aging Schilling unable to hold up in the second half, a talented but incomplete Josh Beckett, perfectly league average Tim Wakefield, and a host of question marks at the end of the list. He’ll do enough, however, to boost the team into the second place position in the AL East, if only by the thinnest of margins.
Toronto Blue Jays
Manager: John Gibbons
2006 Record: 87-75 (.537) Finished 2nd
2006 Pythagorean Win-Loss: 86-76 (.531)
2007 Predicted Win-Loss: 86-76 (.531)
The Jays are essentially the same team they were last year. The addition of Frank Thomas should help to provide a little more power in the middle of the lineup, and a healthy Alex Rios could build on his breakout campaign of a season earlier. You have to like the offense the Blue Jays are building. I’m afraid that beyond Roy Halladay there isn’t much pitching though. A.J. Burnett was a big money acquisition a year ago, but he isn’t the answer as a #2 guy, when the Yankees and Red Sox are throwing Mussina/Pettitte and Matsuzaka out there in that spot. The Jays will need to add an arm or two to the rotation to be in the class of their division rivals, but could easily do so in the near future. Whether they have enough to get to the Yankees is a tough bet, but the Red Sox have already been victimized once, and a wild card berth could be in the cards in the next couple of years.
Player to Watch: Alex Rios
Rios had the classic break out season in 2006 at the age of 25. Everything was there for this kid except consistent power, but he seemed to turn it on finally for the second place Jays. Will he do it again in 2007? The club’s position as defending second place holders may depend on Rios’ ability to show that he’s a legitimate talent rather than a flash in the pan kid with potential but no consistency. The rumor mill has had the Blue Jays shopping Rios for pitching this offseason, which could certainly materialize at some point before the deadline. Rios has enough value to bring back a quality arm in return, although to this point the Jays haven’t seen anything they like. Jon Lieber of the Phillies isn’t exactly what they had in mind.
Pitcher to Watch: Roy Halladay
This is a no brainer, and a bit of a cop out on my part. It’s no stretch to pick one of the best pitchers in the sport as a guy to watch, but there are question marks. Halladay is the make or break athlete for the Blue Jays, and a model for that label if there ever was one. The former Cy Young winner is the only legitimate starter in the Jays rotation, and must stay healthy all year for the club to have a chance. If he misses any time for the Toronto club, the season could be in jeopardy. He’s had injuries, and he’s missed time. There’s no reason to believe that it won’t happen again this year, hence my belief that Toronto will fall to third again this year, if only temporarily.
Manager: Sam Perlozzo
2006 Record: 70-92 (.432) Finished 4th
2006 Pythagorean Win-Loss: 69-93 (.426)
2007 Predicted Win-Loss: 73-89 (.451)
Do I even have to write this? It pains me to write about the Orioles. They’re bad. What’s more they’re barely relevant. Eric Bedard is good. Daniel Cabrera has some promise. Kris Benson is injured. Ramon Hernandez is a decent offensive catcher. Tejada is great. Mora is a pretty good hitter. Markakis is someone people are high on for some reason. Corey Patterson will never duplicate his 2006 season. Brian Roberts is strong for a middle infielder. Meh.
Player to Watch: Miguel Tejada
I’m looking for an MVP season out of Miguel Tejada. His motivation has to be in question in Baltimore, but the only chance he has of finding his way to a quality club is to show he still has it in him to win the big hardware. If there’s any question whether he is the same talent that won the award in Oakland, teams will try to lowball the O’s to get him. Angelos is too stubborn to be low-balled and somehow thinks this club can be competitive. For what it’s worth, I think that Miggy will have one of his finest seasons until after the trade deadline, when he’s still an Oriole, at which point he’ll catch a very lengthy cold.
Pitcher to Watch: Daniel Cabrera
Daniel Cabrera’s name is always on the tip of your tongue when you talk about the Baltimore Orioles. He’s a classic “upside” pitcher that only needs to do this or that to be successful. That’s the big catch. Those guys are always disappointing because they are “if only” players their whole careers. I think this is one of those guys. Cabrera has zero control. He can’t throw strikes consistently. No matter how hard Leo Mazzone works with Cabrera, there’s only so far he can go, in my opinion. I do think he’ll get better, and I think he’ll have one of the finest years he’ll ever put up. It still won’t be enough for Baltimore, and he won’t repeat it very often going forward. Fantasy keeper leagues beware. Enjoy the ride in 2007, but don’t hang on.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Manager: Joe Maddon
2006 Record: 61-101 (.377) Finished 5th
2006 Pythagorean Win-Loss: 65-97 (.401)
2007 Predicted Win-Loss: 70-92 (.432)
I picked the Rays to finish fourth last year. I thought the Orioles were so bad that the Tampa club could finally leapfrog them out of the basement. I was wrong, but not by much. This year I’m going less bold, but putting the Rays in the hunt for 4th. The Rays are even better in 2007 than they were in 2006, thanks to a stocked farm system that’s going to get a chance in the bigs this season. Delmon Young will be up full time, and we’ll get plenty of B.J. Upton. Scott Kazmir is set to join the elite pitchers of the sport this season as he turns 23. Carl Crawford may not be long for Tampa, but he will be around this year to make things exciting and push the floundering boys of Florida to a more promising future. There's an outside shot that they could catch the O's, but it would require more than the 9 game improvement that I'm already predicting and a worse record than 2006 by the O's as well. Could happen.
Player to Watch: Delmon Young
With the flip of a bat, Young’s season went from one of great promise to one of incredibly sour taste. People began to doubt that the kid who had flashed so much potential would be able to cast aside his anger (think Albert Belle) and reach the level of play that had him as the first pick of the amateur draft a few years ago. This year, Delmon Young is starting again. It looks like he’s going to be with the big boys for good, and he couldn’t be happier. Part of his attitude, at least, was attributed to frustration at toiling in the minors. Call it youthful lack of patience. There will be none of that in 2007, and we should begin to see the talent emerge that everyone has been anticipating for a few years. He should look to his brother’s example to understand how easy it is to waste a chance at The Show, and stay out of trouble at all costs. Watch him.
Pitcher to Watch: Scott Kazmir
Kazmir is a known quantity to everyone in the sport not named Steve Phillips. Every year that passes shows why Phillips is the dumbest man in the sport. We know this from watching and listening to him on ESPN, and we have proof of it from seeing Scott Kazmir become an elite pitcher on a club other than the one in Flushing. This season will be a year for Kazmir to prove that he can stay healthy. Should he be able to do that, he’ll be a perennial Cy Young candidate. The key to his success will be that enormous K-rate of 10+ that he features. Not many guys in the sport can maintain a 10+ K/9, but I think it’s safe to say that Kaz will make a run at it for several more years.
Central: White Sox
Wild Card: Red Sox
AL Champs: Yankees
AL MVP: Derek Jeter
AL Cy Young: Johan Santana
2006 AL East Predicted vs. Actual Order of Finish:
1. Yankees (97-65) vs. (97-65)
2. Red Sox (92-70) vs. (86-76)
3. Blue Jays (85-77) vs. (87-75)
4. Devil Rays (72-90) vs. (61-101)
5. Orioles (65-97) vs. (70-92)
Wild Card: Braves
NL Champs: Cardinals
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
NL Cy Young: Pedro Martinez
World Series: New York Yankees defeat St. Louis Cardinals
I was close on several things. Jeter as MVP was a very good prediction, as he should have won. I'll take credit for that one as well as predicting the exact Yankees record on the season. Santana's Cy Young, the Mets division crown, and Pujols and the Cards success were also good, but relatively easy to predict. I flopped on the White Sox division crown, and I really should have known better. Those pitchers all overachieved and it was unlikely that they would do it again a year later. I also flopped on predicting the D-Rays record, losing that one by 11 games. Pedro for Cy Young? Oof. How about this year?
East: NY Yankees
Central: Detroit Tigers
West: Los Angeles Angels of Orange County and Southern Cali-fornication
Wild Card: Cleveland Indians
AL Champs: Yankees
AL MVP: Manny Ramirez
AL Cy Young: Johan Santana
Wild Card: Cubs
NL Champs: Cardinals
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
NL Cy Young: Roy Oswalt
World Series: New York Yankees defeat St. Louis Cardinals
I'm going with the same World Series that I predicted last season. I'm a little worried about the Cardinals, actually. The Mets need pitching to get them in the playoffs, but may get Pedro back to make that run. I also picked the Padres to win the NL West, largely on the strength of pitching. I like the idea of Peavy and Young fronting a group of veterans. I could be way off. I have the Cubs as the wild card. I guess that has something to do with my belief in Carlos Zambrano and the guys falling in line behind him. If Prior ever comes back and is half as good as he once was.....just maybe. The AL is straight forward, except that I chose Manny Being Manny as my MVP. I think he's the best hitter in the AL and he'll show everyone in a big way this year.
Let's get ready to rumble. See you tomorrow!!!!! Go Yanks!