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Monthly Archives: August 2009

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News of the Day – 8/26/09

Today’s news is powered by some vintage Neil Young:

. . . Jorge Posada, 37, Johnny Damon, 35, Hideki Matsui, 35, and Derek Jeter, 35, all have better OPS marks this year than last. (Alex Rodriguez, 35, has only a slight decline). Andy Pettitte, 37, and Mariano Rivera, 39, are almost as good as ever. . . .

Perhaps least surprisingly, Jeter, whose body and game have changed almost not at all over the years, is having a prime Jeter season, including a .332 batting average.

“He’s always been good at getting those [bloop] hits here and there,” hitting coach Kevin Long said, “but this is a hard .330. It seems everything he has hit has been hit hard. All year long. And that’s because he’s swinging at a lot of strikes. Everything he’s swinging at is a good pitch. To me, it’s been about his strike zone recognition.

“He’s been much better at deciding which pitches to swing at. He’s more disciplined than I’ve ever seen him at waiting for pitches to be in the zone. And when you wait for good pitches to hit, you’re going to hit better.”

Jeter is striking out at a career-low rate. He said his improved plate discipline is due more to consistent good health than to a change in his approach.

Injured Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner tested his left thumb for the first time in nearly a month on Tuesday afternoon, and if all goes well, he could be activated in the next week.

Gardner took swings and threw at what he estimated to be 50-60 percent prior to the Yankees game against the Rangers.

“Everything felt pretty good,” said Gardner, who is confident he can at least serve as a pinch-runner in the coming weeks.

The key in determining whether Gardner will be used for more than his legs is how his thumb holds up at the plate.

“He needs to get some at-bats,” manager Joe Girardi said. “How many at-bats he needs, I can’t tell you. But I think a lot of [his timetable] depends on how these first few days go.”


Not Awesome


The Yanks scored four runs with two men out in the top of the first inning against Kevin Millwood and it looked like it was going to be an enjoyable evening.

But Joba Chamberlain was not impressive. He could not locate his fastball and gave back two runs in the second as the Rangers staged a two out rally of their own. Millwood righted himself and worked a four pitch third. Chamberlain responded and got the first two men out in the fourth on seven pitches. Then he went to a full count on Pudge Rodriguez and walked him on a fastball off the outside corner. It was the kind of pitch that drives me crazy about Chamberlain. It’s as if he’s trying to be Mike Mussina, too fine. With Pudge up, why mince around–just go after him, baby. This is Pudge Rodriguez after all, a man who is allergic to the base on balls.

That was the start of the ending for Chamberlain as the Rangers hit five singles and took a three-run lead. Most of the hits were bloopers and bleeders–some bad luck for Chamberlain, but still, his propensity for two giving up two strike, two out hits continues. Chad Gaudin relieved Chamberlain, worked out of one bases loaded jam, but gave up two dingers, as the Rangers built a 10-5 lead.

The Yanks did make it interesting in the ninth, loading the bases and then scoring four runs to draw the score to 10-9 win nobody out. Crowd going nuts and smelling a comeback win. First and second, and Nick Swisher was asked to bunt. My wife didn’t think it was a smart move and said as much before Swisher popped out to Michael Young at third. Then Melky Cabrera lined into a double play and the Yanks lost

Heart racing, blood-pumping—a blow-out turned into a heart-breaker. The game designed to bust your hump.

The lead is now six, as the Red Sox beat the White Sox again in Boston.

Texas Rangers III: 2 Legit 2 Quit

When the Yankees first played the Rangers in late May, I took a look at Texas and saw Toronto, at hot team with a strong defense that had yet to be tested by its schedule and thus seemed headed for a fall. The Blue Jays fulfilled that prophecy by going 10-24 (.294) against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays and playing at a .429 overall clip after going 15-9 in April. The Rangers, however, have proven me wrong.

Against the Red Sox, Angels, Rays, and White Sox this season, the Rangers have gone 24-9 (.727), and they nearly matched their 20-9 May with a 17-8 July. As a result, Texas enters this week’s three-game series in the Bronx just 1.5 games behind Boston in the Wild Card race, and 11.5 games ahead of the seventh-place Blue Jays.

How have they done it? That great defense, led by rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus and break-out right-field slugger Nelson Cruz, has played a large part, as it has helped the Texas pitching staff (brace yourself) allow the fewest runs per game in the American League. Yes, the Texas Rangers‘ pitching staff.

The Rangers have needed pitching since they arrived from Washington. Even two of their three playoff entries allowed more than the league average of runs per game. This year, however, that’s all changed. Leading the charge has been veteran Kevin Millwood, who starts tonight. Millwood has benefited tremendously from the improved defense behind him. In his first three seasons as a Ranger, Millwood’s BABIPs were .310, .340, and .358. This year, opposing batters are hitting just .274 on balls in play, and Millwood’s ERA has dropped a full run and a half as a result.

Behind Millwood, 26-year-old sophomore starter Scott Feldman has paired a similarly low BABIP with improved peripherals to shave a run and a half off of his own ERA. Toss aside his three ugly relief outings in April and he has gone 13-4 with a 3.46 ERA in his 23 starts. More recently, 22-year-old rookie Tommy Hunter has gone 6-2 with a 2.66 ERA in ten starts since joining the rotation at the end of June, thanks in part to a still-lower BABIP.

One Ranger starter who is not just a product of his team’s defense is 22-year-old rookie Derek Holland. Holland, who starts tomorrow night, has thrived since his mid-July return to the rotation, going 4-2 with a 2.95 ERA over seven starts and 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 3.5 K/BB over his last five. He’s a legitimate prospect who could pair with recently promoted 21-year-old Neftali Feliz (part of the Mark Teixeira booty) to give the Rangers a legitimate rotation in the years to come. Feliz is working out of the major league pen for now and has struck out 19 men in 14 2/3 innings against just one walk and four hits. Be afraid.

The Rangers’ bullpen has been a large part of their success this year. First-year closer Frank Francisco has been on and off the DL, but has struck out 41 in 35 innings against just 8 walks (10.5 K/9, 5.13 K/BB). Deposed closer and current lefty set-up man C.J. Wilson has done admirably both setting up and closing for Francisco, striking out 61 in 56 innings and allowing just three home runs. Righty Darren O’Day, a mid-season waiver claim from the Mets, has posted a 1.87 ERA with similarly sharp peripherals in 50 games since arriving in Texas and leads the team in the win-expectancy-based WXRL.

The Rangers have pitched so well, in fact, that it’s easy to overlook the fact that they’re not hitting as much as they used to. Josh Hamilton has been hurt and only recently found his stroke (.373/.425/.513 since August 3, .657 OPS before that). Chris Davis struck out 114 times in 77 games and was demoted in early July. Hank Blalock has taken Davis’s place by getting on base at a .274 clip and doing little other than hitting homers. Andrus is hitting (and running) just enough to make his glove valuable, but no more. Prior to his current arm injury, fellow Teixeira-trade product Jarrod Saltalamacchia wasn’t doing that. Ian Kinsler is not repeating his production from last year and was hurt for a while himself. All of that has counteracted Cruz’s breakout, Andruw Jones ultimately half-hearted comeback, and Michael Young’s MVP-quality performance (if not for his stone glove and that Joe Mauer guy, of course). As a result the Rangers are actually a tick below league average in runs scored per game at 4.85. As usual, that gets worse on the road, where they’ve scored just 4.2 runs per game on the season.

Could this Yankees-Rangers series in the hitting-friendly Yankee Stadium yield a series of pitchers’ duels? Don’t be surprised if it does.

Joba Chamberlain goes against Millwood tonight on eight-day’s rest. He had nine days off around the All-Star break and came back looking like and ace, allowing two runs on eight hits over his next three starts. He then had seven days off before facing the Red Sox at the beginning of the month and came back looking like the nibbler we saw in the first half of the season, walking seven in five innings. Which Joba takes the mound tonight is anyone’s guess. It was the nibbler who faced Texas in Arlington back in late May (4 IP, 4 BB).




What is the best book about being a sports fanatic? Frederick Exley’s “A Fan’s Notes” is at the top of the list. I thought of Exley’s cult classic today when I read about a new movie starring the gifted stand-up comedian, Patton Oswalt.

Yankee Panky: VORP for MVP

The word “value” has numerous definitions and interpretations. The noun form, per dictionary.com, has 15 listed meanings. The first several apply to some kind of monetary distinction.

But if we’re looking at value in terms of a baseball player and a certain annual regular season award that’s handed out in November, we need to looking at the adjective, or maybe even the verb. The best definition of the three verb lines that apply here: “to consider with respect to worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance.”

Because of the way the MVP vote is constructed, the discussion surrounding the debate comes down to a subjective analysis of who should be considered the most worthy, excellent, useful, and/or important player in the league. The miracle of modern technology has made taken the level of debate to new heights. Please to enjoy, for example, Tyler Kepner’s tweet on August 14, moments after Mark Teixeira’s tiebreaking home run at Safeco Field:

“By the way, this is probably obvious by now, but Teixeira’s the AL MVP. ‘No question,’ as Joe Torre would say.”

The statements themselves seemed innocuous. They were an impulse reaction to a great moment among many that Tex, ye of the 8-year, $180 million contract, has provided in Year 1 of the megadeal. That was until you followed the thread to catch the jibes about Tex’s negative Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and the running joke it’s become, and scoured the Net to read criticisms from Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski, and my esteemed former colleague Steven Goldman – although Goldman’s retort wasn’t immediately directed at Kepner.

The criticisms of Kepner, save for broader strokes from Goldman and JoePos in SI, read like they traded in the horses that were driving the Joe Mauer Bandwagon for rocket fuel.

Put bluntly, it was an all-out Internet war with Neyer wielding a sabermetric sword (yes, pun intended), Pos casting spells with his wizarding words, and Kepner responding with a gun that instead of bullets, fired the stick with the flag that reads, “BANG!”

From Neyer:

What inspired this particular post? An essentially meaningless home run, hit well after midnight (back in New York). I mean, I’m sorry, but the Yankees aren’t exactly in the middle of a pennant race anymore. They’ve got a huge lead over the second-place Red Sox. And if the Red Sox should somehow mount a late charge, the Yankees have a huger lead over the Rangers for that other postseason berth. … Joe Mauer currently leads the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. I don’t suppose anyone’s forgotten this yet, but he’s a catcher. Teixeira’s a first baseman. Are we really supposed to go for a power-hitting first baseman again, even when there’s a better-hitting catcher playing for a competitive team?” Neyer went on to say that he’s worried the writers are conspiring to rob Mauer of what should be a third MVP award for him.

He continued his fact-based rant 48 hours later, saying, “You know what? Let’s just be honest. The argument for Teixeira is an argument for doing it the way it’s always been done. Teixeira is just another big RBI guy on a team with a great record. If he were a Twin and Mauer were a Yankee, Teixeira would hardly be an afterthought. Some of you are OK with that. I’m not.”

Six days later, Neyer felt compelled to write about convincing Pete Abe on Super Joe. The goal, apparently, is to not only campaign for Mauer for MVP, but to have him win unanimously.

OK … now to Mr. Pos:

Look, could you make a case for Mark Teixeira over Joe Mauer? Well, you could make a case for anything. You could say that Mauer missed the first month of the season — so Teixeira has about 120 more plate appearances. You could say that the Yankees are going to the playoffs and the Twins are not unless they make a late season rush that looks more and more unlikely. But it sure seems to me that we need to start jabbing holes in this Teixeira MVP thing before it becomes a fait accompli.

Joe Mauer is having a much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much better season than Mark Teixeira. I’m not sure I put enough muches in there. Mauer is on pace to win his THIRD batting title as a catcher — and no other American League catcher has ever won even one. He leads the league in on-base percentage AND slugging percentage, the two most important stats going, and the only catcher to ever do that in baseball history was … oh, wait, nobody. He throws out base runners and hits .395 with runners in scoring position (hits .457 with runners in scoring position and two outs) and even runs the bases well.

And three days later, JoePos had this to offer: “Not to slam this MVP thing again, but we do realize that even forgetting all those kooky ‘advanced stats’ that seem to annoy people, even with Mauer missing a month of the season with injury — Mauer has now scored as many runs at Teixeira and he’s only 13 RBIs behind, and his batting average is 95 points higher. We do realize that the last seven days, while the Twins have been in desperate need of victories (and not getting many), Mauer is hitting .552 with three home runs and a .931 slugging percentage. And he’s probably the Gold Glove catcher.”

And finally, Goldman:

Unless Teixeira leads the league in home runs by a significant margin, or Mauer cools dramatically, it’s hard to see him emerging from the pack when his season is unremarkable by the standards of his position. Of the last 60 awards (both leagues), first basemen won only 11 times. No first baseman won without hitting .300 (I am treating the 1979 Keith Hernandez/Willie Stargell split like an honorary Academy Award for Pops). All but one, Mo Vaughn in 1995, were well over the .300 mark. An average of those 11 seasons comes to roughly .333/.428/.624, and many of them, like Don Mattingly and Keith Hernandez, both included in the 11, were fine defenders as well. Teixeira’s not having that kind of season.

Some harsh words in there. Kepner, following Posnanski’s initial commentary, issued a rebuttal at Bats, noting that “obvious” was a poor choice of words in his Tweet. In a way, he invited the storm and I thought he handled himself admirably among some respected, admired and talented industry heavyweights. I thought the degree to which he was made to be the piñata for “traditional baseball opinions” was a bit extreme. He’s entitled to his opinion, and opinions are subjective, just like the MVP vote.


News of the Day – 8/25/09

Today’s news is powered by…The Doobie Brothers:

The lasting effect of eight days off should charge through Joba Chamberlain when he takes the mound on Tuesday against the Rangers. At least, the hard-throwing right-hander expects it will.

“Strong like bull,” Chamberlain said, grinning.

. . . “It still feels like it’s about a month in between each start, but that’s just because you’re used to going out every five days and doing it. This one felt a lot better than the last one did.”

  • Girardi opines on the Posada/Burnett troubles:

“This (Jorge Posada) is a guy who’s played in [five] World Series — he’s doing something right,” said Girardi, a former big league backstop himself. “The true onus falls on the pitcher, what they’re going to throw.

“I would never want a pitcher to throw what I want if he didn’t believe in it, ever. Conviction, for me, is extremely important for pitchers. We’re suggestion boxes.”

(A.J.) Burnett gave new life to one of the Yankees’ most recent hot-button issues on Saturday, when he threw a fastball to David Ortiz that he admitted he did not completely want to throw.

The Yankees admire Matsui’s professionalism and are thrilled that he has overcome two knee surgeries in the last two seasons to remain productive. But as reliable as Matsui has been while hitting 23 homers and driving in 68 runs as a designated hitter, the Yankees may not offer him a contract for 2010.

The Yankees have high-priced veterans like Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira who need rest from playing defense, so they would rather use the D.H. as a flexible spot. General Manager Brian Cashman, who considers Matsui, 35, a full-time D.H., said there were too many unknown variables to speculate about Matsui’s future.

“Obviously, he’s a pro,” Cashman said. “He can swing the bat, there’s no doubt about that. Where it goes from here, who knows?”

. . . Matsui was noncommittal about his future, saying that he was “not looking at anything beyond the season right now.”

When pressed on whether he would rather stay with the Yankees, Matsui eventually said: “I like New York, I like being with the Yankees, I like the New York fans. So it’s a place that I feel very comfortable.”


What are the Chances?

Our man Jay Jaffe has a guest spot at New York magazine this week and looks to see if the 2009 Yanks have a shot at success in the playoffs

It’s all about the secret sauce, don’t ya know.


News of the Day – 8/24/09

Today’s news is powered by . . . rockin’ ukes!:

According to The Associated Press, Jim Rice told Little Leaguers, “You see a Manny Ramirez, you see an A-Rod, you see Jeter. Guys that I played against and with, these guys you’re talking about cannot compare.

“We didn’t have the baggy uniforms. We didn’t have the dreadlocks. It was a clean game, and now they’re setting a bad example for the young guys.”

I cast a vote for Jim Rice to enter the Hall of Fame because he was one of the best players of his time. I don’t know, however, whether he’s the wisest judge of the players of this era or even his own. It’s not entirely clear whether Rice was talking about the differences between the generations in their respective standards of play, or in collective character, or in style, or maybe all of the above.

. . .  Rice owes Jeter a public apology for the way he spoke about him, because after 15 years of playing in the majors, there are three indisputable truths about Jeter.

  1. He plays hard.
  2. He plays well.
  3. He represents the sport well.


Cold Chillin’

When Josh Beckett allowed seven runs in his last start I thought, Drag: he got the egg out of his system. Beckett pitched eight innings against the Yankees on Sunday night, usually a sign that things are going right for the Red Sox. But he also allowed eight runs. The Yanks scored in the first five innings and smacked five home runs off Boston’s ace (Jeter, Matsui, Cano, Rodriguez, Matsui), the most Beckett has ever allowed in a game. 

Derek Jeter swung at the first pitch he saw in the top of the first and deposited it into the bleachers in right-centerfield. It was the 2,700th hit of Jeter’s career (and, as Tom Boorstein noted, things are going well for the Yankee captain these days). Jeter should break Lou Gehrig’s mark for the most hits in Yankee history before the end of the season. If he remains healthy, he should reach 3,000 in 2011.

CC Sabathia wasn’t dominating but he delivered what is commonly known around these parts as a “gritty, gutty” performance. He gave up eight hits but only three earned runs (Robinson Cano made two errors), pitching until two men were out in the seventh inning. He also whiffed eight without walking a batter (Beckett didn’t issue a base on balls either). Phil Hughes relieved Sabathia, got out of the seventh, and worked around a lead-off single by Victor Martinez to toss a scoreless eighth.

Mariano Rivera, making his first appearance of the series, came on in the ninth and walked pinch-hitter JD Drew on four pitches. Catcher Jose Molina went to the mound. Drew took second on the first pitch–a called strike–to Jason Varitek. The next pitch was a cutter inside for a ball and Molina went to speak with his pitcher again. Rivera located a strike and then got a generous call on a back-door cutter for the strike out. Varitek waved his hand in disgust at Sam Holbrook, the home plate umpire and returned to the dugout (Holbrook had a wide strike zone). Casey Kotchman was next, also pinch-hitting, and after fouling off four pitches, he grounded out to Mark Teixeira. Rivera carved-up Jacoby Ellsbury on three pitches and the Yanks had the series, as well as a 7.5 game game lead over Boston.

Final Score: Yanks 8, Red Sox 4.

Let’s all applaud again, let’s all applaud again.

King of the Hill

Sabathia v Beckett.  


Should be a good one.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees.

A Jaxed

My mother and step-father were over for a cup of tea late yesteray afternoon. When they left, I checked the score (okay, I checked the score before they left too), turned the TV off and took my wife into Manhattan. So I missed the whole damned mess. AJ Burnett got bombed by the Red Sox for the third time this season and this was the worst beatin’ yet as Boston rolled, 14-1.


According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:

“I didn’t have a lot of conviction behind some pitches today,” Burnett said. “I threw a lot of balls that I didn’t want to throw.”

Burnett stressed that he did not blame Posada, holding himself responsible for choosing each pitch. That is the job of the pitcher, he said.

“We throw what we want to throw; he’s there to aid,” Burnett said. “It’s definitely not him. I had a good hook today and I feel like I should have used it more.”

Burnett added: “He calls it fine back there. It’s just a matter of me throwing what I want to throw. You don’t throw a pitch unless you’re 100 percent behind it.”

Posada said the hitters seemed ready for Burnett’s curveball early, so he called different pitches to keep them off it. His signals are suggestions, Posada said, and it is up to Burnett to accept them or not.

“He was shaking me,” Posada said. “I tried to get on the same page. It seems like at times we were, and then we weren’t at times. It’s frustrating because obviously he wants to throw a certain pitch and I want to throw another one. When they hit them like that, it’s tough to get on the same page.”

So the Yanks and Sox have split the first two games with tonight hopefully giving us a real pitcher’s match-up. Andy Pettitte and AJ Burnett were awful this weekend. Time for CC to make like an Ace, wouldn’t ya say?

One And Done?

I said in my series preview yesterday that I thought taking two of three in Boston this weekend would ice the AL East title for the Yankees. All they need to do to reach that goal is beat 23-year-old Japanese rookie Junichi Tazawa in this afternoon’s FOX game.

Tazawa made his major league debut in the 14th inning of that 15-inning scoreless marathon between the Yanks and Sox at the new Yankee Stadium two weeks ago. The Yanks hit him hard in that inning, with both Eric Hinske and Melky Cabrera just missing game-winning hits down the right-field line with runners on first and second, but ultimately came up empty, only to finally tally off Tazawa in the bottom of the 15th via a Derek Jeter single and an Alex Rodriguez walk-off homer.

Tazawa pitched well at Fenway against the Tigers in his first major league start four days later, striking out six in five innings and allowing just one earned run on four hits and two walks, but his last outing, in Texas, was shakier as he failed to strike out a batter and gave up four runs on ten hits, two of them homers, in another five frames.

Today, he takes on A.J. Burnett, who was the Yankee starter in that 15-inning marathon. Burnett was awful in his first two starts against Boston this year, but came up huge in that game, pitching 7 2/3 innings of scoreless, one-hit baseball despite six walks. He’s turned in two more quality starts since then, giving him 11 in his last 12 outings dating back to his last start at Fenway, in which he failed to survive the third inning.

Jason Varitek, who homered of Sergio Mitre in then ninth inning last night, returns to the Red Sox lineup to face Burnett while Mike Lowell sits. Johnny Damon, who fouled a ball of his knee in the top of the first on Friday night, sits today in favor of Eric Hinske. Hinske plays left and bats eighth. Nick Swisher takes Damon’s spot in the two-hole. The Red Sox have reloaded their bullpen, demoting Michael Bowden, who threw 63 pitches in two innings while allowing seven runs Friday night, in favor of Enrique Gonzalez. Given Tazawa’s brief track record, the Yankees will likely bring the underside of the Boston pullpen into play today as well, which bodes well for the Bombers, as do most things these days.

It Don’t Gotta Be Pretty

Hideki Matsui scores 5 percent of the Yankees runs (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)Andy Pettitte had his worst start of the second half on Friday night. Not that it mattered. By the time he got the hook with two on and none out in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees had scored 15 runs and were well on their way to a 20-11 win. The Yankees scored six runs in four innings off Boston starter Brad Penny without the benefit of a home run, added six more in the fifth off Penny and just-recalled rookie Michael Bowden, and boasted a 12-1 lead before the Red Sox picked up their second hit of the game in the bottom of the fifth.

Pettitte struggled from there on out, giving up three in the fifth (all of which the Yanks got back off Bowden in the top of the sixth), and one more in the sixth before getting pulled with men on first and second and none out. Brian Bruney came on and walked in a run and let another in on a double-play before finally getting out of the inning. The Yankees got one of those runs back off Manny Delcarmen in the top of the seventh. Bruney worked into another jam in seventh, loading the bases on two walks and a hit batter, but Damaso Marte, fresh of the disabled list, emerged from the bullpen and got David Ortiz to fly out and struck out Mike Lowell, hitting 94 on the radar gun in the process. Marte started a string of eight straight outs that was snapped when the two teams combined for eight more runs in the ninth, with Ramon Ramirez and Sergio Mitre, who had pitched a perfect eighth, taking the beating.

The specifics of how the runs scored were unimportant. Nearly every Yankee starter got a hit and both scored and drove in at least one run. The exception was Johnny Damon, who struck out in his first at-bat after fouling a pitch off the inside of his right knee and never took the field in the bottom of the first due to the resulting bruise (it was nothing more). Erik Hinske took Damon’s place and in his first at-bat he hit an RBI ground rule double down the right field line, then came around to score. Hideki Matsui hit the only Yankee home runs, both of them three-run shots, contributing to his seven-RBI night, though one came with the Yanks leading 16-7 in the ninth inning.

Eric Hinske never touched this hit by Dustin Pedroia (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)So the Yankees finally won a game at Fenway this year, but hidden behind all the scoring was a poorly played game, even by the victors. Pettitte needed 105 pitches to get through five-plus innings and gave up seven runs on seven hits. Just five of those runs were earned because the sixth inning began with a throwing error by Robinson Cano that pulled Mark Teixeira off first base on a ground ball by Casey Kotchman. That wasn’t the worst play of the night however. In the third, Eric Hinske misplayed a ball off the Monster into a would-be triple, only to have Derek Jeter range out to shallow left and gun out Dustin Pedroia at third; Hinske never touched the ball. The “hit” that drove Pettitte from the game was a pop up to the triangle in shallow left center by David Ortiz that Melky Cabrera should have had, but let drop expecting Hinske to move in. That drove in a run. Bruney’s inning and a third was flat-out dreadful. He faced eight batters, walked three of them, hit a fourth, and gave up a single to a fifth. He threw 37 pitches to get four outs (two on a double play), and just 14 of those tosses were strikes. After a 1-2-3 eighth, Sergio Mitre got torched in the ninth, retiring just three of eight batters, hitting one and giving up a pair of homers and four runs, putting him even further behind Chad Guadin in the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Still, it was a good time for Joe Girardi and Dave Eiland to get a look at the inconsistent Bruney, the newly activated Marte, and the relief version of Sergio Mitre. It also kept the Yankee boot on the Red Sox’s neck. The Yankees have now won the last five head-to-head meetings, hold a 7.5-game lead in the AL East, and have A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia starting the final two games of the series.

Boston Red Sox IV: Everything Old is New Again

In the good old Curse of the Bambino days, it seemed the Red Sox always led the AL East on Memorial Day, and the Yankees always caught and passed them by Labor Day. The Sox broke the Curse in 2004, but the Yankees still won the division that year and the next two, with the Red Sox failing to reach the postseason at all in 2006. It seemed 2004 was a fluke. Then the Sox stormed to both the division title and another world championship in 2007 and it was the Yankees who found themselves watching the postseason on television in 2008.

The Yankees, flush with the new stadium revenue, spent wildly this past winter, but I still thought they’d have to settle for the Wild Card given the strength and depth of the Red Sox’s roster. Indeed, the Red Sox held a slim one-game lead over the Bombers on Memorial Day having already won the first five head-to-head games between the two teams to that point. Two weeks later, the Sox would take three more from the Yankees in Fenway Park, suggesting that, no matter how well the Yankees played against everyone else, the Red Sox were still the better team.

Then came the four-game set in the Bronx two weeks ago, when the Yankees not only got of the schnide against their division rivals, but beat them in every way possible (13-6 laugher; 15-inning scoreless duel; clean, well-pitched 5-0 win; and dramatic late-inning comeback). When the dust cleared, the Yankees held a convincing 6.5 game lead, a lead they’ve maintained heading into this weekend’s three-game set in Boston.

Both teams have gone 7-3 in the interim. The Yankees won series against the second-division Blue Jays and A’s as well as the should-be second-division Mariners. The Red Sox took a four-game set from the AL Central-leading Tigers, but dropped two of three to the Wild Card rival Rangers, only to rebound by sweeping the Jays, outscoring them 14-2 in their last two games.

The Yankees now arrive at Fenway to do the one thing they haven’t managed to do all season: beat the Red Sox in Boston. The Sox are a .679 team at home, where they score 5.66 runs per game and allow just 4.05. The Yankees, however, are no chumps on the road. Coming off a 5-2 west coast swing, they’re playing .565 ball away from home, scoring 5.44 runs and allowing 4.58 away from their homer-happy home park. Only the Angels and Phillies have had more road success than the Yankees in all of baseball.

Once again, the mission for the Yankees is to prove it when it counts. Their four-game sweep of the Red Sox in the Bronx didn’t ice the division, but if they can take two of three from Boston this weekend, doing it to them in their own park and leaving town with a 7.5-game lead with just three head-to-head games in the Bronx remaining, that very well could do the trick.

The pitching matchups favor the Yankees as they’ll have their top three (Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, and CC Sabathia) going while avoiding Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, the latter of whom has turned in three straight quality starts dating back to his six innings of two-run ball against the Yankees on August 8. If the two teams split the first two games, Sunday night’s ESPN matchup of Josh Beckett and the red-hot CC Sabathia will be must-see TV for baseball fans of all stripes.

Brad Penny goes tonight. Relative to the performance of John Smoltz and the health of Rocco Baldelli, Penny has been a successful gamble. In a rotation that has been surprisingly thin due to Daisuke Matsuzaka’s disaster season, Tim Wakefield’s back injury, Smoltz’s failure, and the departure of Justin Masterson in the Victor Martinez deal, Penny hasn’t missed a turn, delivering 23 starts, 11 of them quality. Sure, his 5.22 ERA is ugly, but he was never supposed to be more than a fifth starter, and he’s been very much that. He’s been a bit too hitable (opponents hitting .291/.345/.482), but he gets out there and battles. He also shut out the Yankees at Fenway for six innings back on June 11.

Penny’s mound opponent tonight is Andy Pettitte, who has been flat awesome since the All-Star break with five quality starts in six tries, posting a 2.04 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 4.3 K/BB, 9.73 K/9, and allowing just one home run in 39 2/3 innings. That run includes seven shutout innings against the Red Sox in the Bronx on August 9.

Adding to that disadvantage, the Red Sox are without Jason Varitek tonight for the fifth straight game due to a sore neck and have now resorted to reacquiring Alex Gonzalez to play shortstop. Gonzalez is hitting .214/.258/.298 on the season and has never had another defensive season like he had for the Red Sox in 2006. He’s also just one year removed from knee surgery. The Sox might actually be better off without their captain in the lineup, but Gonzalez represents a hole in the Boston order that just doesn’t exist for the Bombers.

Damaso Marte has been activated and joins the Yankee bullpen tonight, bumping Ramiro Peña back to Triple-A. Marte has been on the disabled list for most of the season with shoulder problems, last appearing for the Yankees on April 25. He pitched 13 innings on his rehab assigment, 11 of them coming in Triple-A. In those 11, he struck out nine against four walks and gave up three runs on ten hits, two of them homers. That all works out to a 2.45 ERA and 1.27 WHIP with solid strikeout and walk rates, but the PawSox (whom he faced twice) and the Red Sox are two different monsters.


Observations From Cooperstown: Robertson, Pena, Fast Yankees, and Munson

When the Yankee bullpen struggled so badly during the first two months of the season, too many members of the mainstream media called for either Joba Chamberlain to be relieved of his starting duties or for Brian Cashman to pull off a trade that would reel in a veteran reliever. Well, those media members have grown silent over the last two months as the bullpen has achieved lofty status in the American League. Those writers and broadcasters turned out to be dead wrong in their assessments, largely for two reasons. First off, they forgot that the Yankees boasted one of the league’s most efficient bullpens just last year. And second, they didn’t stop to consider the depth of pitching in the organization, specifically the wealth of talent waiting at Triple-A in the form of Phil Hughes, Alfredo “Ace” Aceves, and David Robertson.

I had already counted myself as a believer in the talents of Hughes and Aceves, but I have to confess to knowing little about Robertson prior to 2009. Kudos should go to the Banter’s own Cliff Corcoran, who was one of the first analysts to sing the praises of Robertson. Cliff turned out to be absolutely right about the 24-year-old right-hander. With a consistent 93 to 94 mile-per-hour fastball and a terrific overhand curveball (reminiscent of Neil Allen in his hey day), Robertson has the stuff to be a reliable reliever for the foreseeable future. If he can improve his control sufficiently, he could be the much-celebrated eighth-inning bridge by 2010. For now, the Yankees have four different relievers (Robertson, Hughes, Aceves, and lefty Phil Coke) that they can feel good about in the seventh and eighth innings…

The Yankees have assembled one of their best benches in years, and it figures to get better whenever Brett “The Jet” Gardner returns from the broken hand that landed him on the disabled list. Gardner will not only give Melky Cabrera the competition that he seems to thrive on, but also one of the most explosive pinch-runners in the game. So here’s the question: whose roster spot will Gardner take? I’d vote for sinkerballing Sergio Mitre, who is still building arm strength after major surgery, but the Yankees have become as married to the 12-man pitching staff as they once were to left-handed hitting DHs. So that means that Ramiro Pena will become the odd man out once Brett the Jet returns. Pena has done well in spot duty this year, but he lacks the experience and versatility of Jerry Hairston, Jr., the power of Eric Hinske, and the ability to catch (the role filled by Jose Molina). When and if the Yankees send Pena down, they should give him as many at-bats as possible during the Triple-A postseason, with the idea of letting him compete for the utility role in 2010. Pena might not hit enough to play everyday at shortstop, but his glove, speed, and ability to work the count should merit consideration for a backup job…

Speaking of Gardner, I’m trying to figure out if he’s the fastest Yankee I’ve ever seen. Prior to Gardner’s arrival last year, I would have voted for Mickey Rivers, followed by Rickey Henderson and Alfonso Soriano. (Rickey was obviously the best basestealer of the three, but at his peak “Mick the Quick” was slightly faster.) Perhaps I’m missing someone else from the last 40 years, but I believe Gardner has to at least move into the top three of this list, bumping Soriano to honorable mention…

The staying power of the late Thurman Munson is eye-opening. Thirty years after his death, the story of the tragic Yankee captain remains a compelling and popular read. Marty Appel’s new book, Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain, has been the nation’s best-selling sports book for the last four weeks. That’s quite an achievement, considering that Munson is not a Hall of Famer and is generally not considered an all-time great. Furthermore, most Yankee fans 35 and under don’t remember seeing him play, except for the occasional replay of the Bucky Dent Game and the 1978 World Series. In an era when the Yankee dynasty of the 1996 to 2001 has overshadowed the accomplishments of the Bronx Zoo years, Thurman Munson’s story still manages to capture the sincere interest of so many lifelong Yankee fans.

Bruce Markusen, a resident of Cooperstown, writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.

Ain’t it Grand?


There is a wonderful article about the Grand Concourse by Constance Rosenblum in the Times today:

You have to exercise your imagination to conjure the past; this part of the Bronx is in many respects a diamond in the rough. Many of the lustrous structures that defined life in these precincts have been irrevocably transformed, and even those that haven’t are Potemkin villages, their fine facades masking troubled lives: the Bronx, after all, is still a borough in which one of every three families lives below the poverty line.

But a trip down this particular memory lane has much to recommend it beyond pure nostalgia. As the boulevard nears its centennial in November, a journey offers a vision of its past, present and future — a chewy slice of urban history festooned with murals, mosaics and other Art Deco touches.

While you are at it, dig the nifty multi-media tour too.


News of the Day – 8/21/09

Today’s news is powered by the (Yankees’) quest for the Holy Grail:

  • More of Jeter’s own perception of his future:

Jeter joked to Joe Girardi the other day that he could see himself being a designated hitter for five more years after he stops playing short, saying that DH duties are “easier” because “you only have to worry about one thing.” A handful of reporters were talking with Jeter on Wednesday when one asked him if he could see himself being a DH at age 41 – six years from now.

“You’ll see me at short still,” Jeter said without a hint of humor in his voice.

After riding Jeter’s defensive ability for years, the stat-heads have decided this season that he’s actually a pretty good shortstop. I asked Jeter if he felt like he was playing any better in the field this year than he ever has, and his answer was typical Jeter: “I don’t know. It’s not over yet.”

Then, he added, “I just try to be consistent. I don’t sit around and rate my seasons. That’s your job, right? I feel good. That’s pretty much all I can say.”

Because (Joba) Chamberlain threw only 100 innings last season, the Yankees intend to limit his innings to guard against injury. Chamberlain has thrown 126 innings so far. Six more starts would likely put him around 165.

“We sat down and figured out a plan that works for both of us as far as keeping it as regular as possible,” Chamberlain said. “It gives my arm the rest that this whole thing is for, so it all worked out great. Mentally, for me to know that this is the plan for the rest of the year, it’s definitely calming.”

. . . Come the postseason, Chamberlain will be used as a starter with no limitations.


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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver