Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Loved hearing those boos tonight, and the cheers after the game. I think it's time we mention KC fans in the same breath as Boston fans, St. Louis fans, and the other great baseball fans in this country. Was it great hearing those guys give it to Derek Jeter! KC was once a great franchise, led by the likes of Brett, White, Saberhagen, and Quisenberry. Great, that is, until the Yankees and the age of the $200 million payroll came along. Now, the Royals can't compete, and the fans are pissed. And rightfully so. The Yankees have ruined their team.
And John Sterling kept referring to his boss's team as the "hated Yankees." Made it sound like his team was like a nerdy kid victimized by some bullies- "look, everyone hates us!" I thought I was gonna hear the guy cry on the air. Dude, this team deserves to be hated. They've ruined teams like the Royals. Heck, when the Royals try to make a splash and sign a Mike Sweeney long-term, if that doesn't pan out, the team is strapped. They can't just go out and sign someone else. But when the Yanks keep screwing up by getting guys like Giambi, Contreras, Brown, and the scores of mistakes they've made the past few years, then, no problem! Just get A-Rod and Randy Johnson. Explain to me how that's fair. And to expect every team to be able to roll out major-league ready prospects every time they lose a free-agent is ridiculous.
And the Yanks are in a league of their own here. If they spent only as much as teams like Boston, both LA clubs, the Schmets, and the rest of the big-market teams, they wouldn't have received as frosty a reception as they did. But fans know the difference, the $80 million-plus (approximately twice the Royals' payroll) that separates the Yanks from the rest of the league. The Yanks are therefore justifiably hated. I've never been to a KC-Angels game, but I doubt that the big-market Halos of Vlad, Finley, and Colon get booed nearly as much as the Junkees.
Of course, we know what will happen in the end. The Yanks will probably win 90 this year, and KC will lose 90, maybe 100. But for one night, KC is on top. In their moment in the sun, I applaud them.
But when you think about it, George is right. The Yanks won against the M's and A's, which haven't both been so putrid since the late '70's. The Mets handed them a couple of wins. And beating up on Wil Ledezma is nothing to write home about. This is still a team full of issues. Shemp Matsui's bat has had less pop than Kaz Matsui, and he refuses to sit for a day. After being red-hot for a little while, Cano has crash-landed back to earth, finding himself in a 2-for-24 slump. And for all the money spent on starting pitching this past winter, the Yankees' most consistent starter this year has been Chieng-Ming Wang. And while Rivera and Gordon seem to have recovered from their early-season struggles, the rest of the pen (except maybe Sturtze) is horrible.
If the Yanks only take 2 of 3 from the Royals, the series will be a big disappointment. After that, the Yanks face another real test in the Minnesota Twins. Then, on to a surprising Milwaukee team and another huge test, the St. Louis Cardinals. Pretty soon, we just might see why George is freaking out.
Monday, May 30, 2005
Millar, however, did leave out the fact that Renteria comes for half the price.
Sunday, May 29, 2005
After Friday night, it seemed like this would be just another typical Yankee-dominated series, like the one last year at the end of June (where Ortiz pulled off a Buckner and Jeter made that catch in the stands). But two Boston wins later, there is a glimmer of hope. Perhaps the Yanks will have more games like the last two games, games where their starting pitching does absolutely nothing and the bats can't come out and rescue them. Games where they look more like the April '05 Junkees than the May '05 Junkees. Games where you wonder how the Yanks will do when they won't be able to feast off of the M's, A's, Mets, and Tigers for a good two weeks.
And maybe Renteria is finally heating up in a Sox uniform. Maybe Wells has something left. Maybe Manny Ramirez can get his average back where it used to be. And maybe a healthy Curt Schilling at the stretch run of summer is just what the Sox need to leave the Yankees in the dust.
But the Yanks get a reprieve, facing the woeful Royals next, while Boston takes on a struggling-but-still-threatening Orioles team. And since the end of their struggles, the Junkees have yet to prove that they can beat a good team like Boston, Texas, LA, or Baltimore. Till they start winning those series, there's still a glimmer of hope. In years past, Yankee-haters have had to do a lot of dreaming. But sometimes, like last year, those dreams just might become reality.
Friday, May 27, 2005
It was fun while it lasted, seeing the Junkees out of it and watching Baltimore fight off Boston, the White Sox and Twins going at in in the Central, and the Angels and Rangers in the West, but it looks like the Junkees are going to get back in it, which means we have to root for the Angels, White Sox, or whomever to knock them out of the ALDS.
Of course, they're still 4.5 games back in the AL East, and for this huge hot streak of theirs, they're still only five games over .500. Still, in trying to keep it real....
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Seattle, Oakland, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh, Cincinatti, Houston, and Colorado.
That's 13 teams, or roughly 43 percent of the teams.
Before the season, Peter Gammons predicted that 25 teams would be in it by the time September rolls around. Hard to believe there'll be more than seven or eight. Which leads me to the point I've been making for a long time and that is, we need a salary cap. Granted, a few of the aforementioned teams are mid- to upper-market teams, but most are not, and without equal footing, they have little chance to compete.
Again, you can make the argument that the Phillies and Mariners are poorly constructed, and that's fair. You could argue that the Cubbies had bad luck with injuries. Fine. But what about Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, who have good management, but lack to resources to put them over the top?
The CBA expires in 2006. I don't want to hear Bid Selig whine about parity and how successful revenue sharing is, and the brilliance of the luxury tax. Spare us, please.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
But like Lilly and Halsey before him, will Wang soon be enjoying success in a different uniform? I think it depends upon the Yankees' performance the next two months, and how desparate George gets. Let's say the bullpen goes south again. You can bet George will gladly give Wang to the Phillies to get Billy Wagner. And if the Rocket becomes available, Wang will be an Astro.
On the other hand, you would think the Yanks' recent success would imply that putting in youngsters like Wang and Cano is a good thing. But unless the Yankees reel off a few more huge win streaks, there will still be noticeable flaws on that team come the trading deadline. And when there are flaws, players like Wang and Cano become expendable.
Ultimately, it seems like Cashman, who was partly behind bringing in Cano, wants some youth on this team. But if George wants to get rid of the young kids, that's what'll happen. When Stick Michael was GM, he was able to dissuade George from trading away Bernie, Pettitte, and Rivera. But Cashman hasn't been able to do that. That's part of the reason the Yankees just get older and older. And that's why the question isn't "if" the Yankees will trade Wang, but "when." Because with George in charge, you know that this is inevitable. And even the success of former Yankees Vazquez, Halsey, and Lilly (who beat the Sox tonight) won't mean a thing to George.
I don't blame him for throwing the first pitch behind Smith. You want to send a message, fine. Then move on. But to come back and nail the guy was uncalled for. Quantrill, you made your point. And if your location sucks so much that you couldn't hit him with your first pitch, too friggin bad. Maybe you should just hang it up. Trammell ripped Quantrill on this one, and he's absolutely right. Don't go after the guy twice.
And then for Quantrill to stand there and wave at the Tigers' dugout: very similar to what Benitez did in '98. And very unprofessional. Once you make your point, that's enough. But to tell them to come out and fight, come on.
And Dmitri Young was right on calling Quantrill on drilling near the head. You want to throw on someone's thigh, I can live with that. But why go for the head?
The only saving grace was Snorre not defending the pitch as being unintentional. But heck, even Snorre's not that stupid.
This stuff's happened before, with Clemens, especially. But to do it the way Quantrill did it was especially low.
-- Rest of the series seems uneventful. Former 20-game loser Maroth goes up against Wang, who has done pretty well and shouldn't have a hard time with the Tigers lineup. The game after is more interesting, when the Tigers trot out Jeremy Bonderman. There's always been hype about this guy, and this year may be the year he finally lives up to it. Then comes the Boston series. Rough night again last night. The Sox lose (though of course that means the Jays won), and even though the O's win, Javy Lopez is out for six weeks. Here we go again.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
From '97-'00, there was no reason for the Junkees to go out and get someone. Nelson, Stanton, and Rivera was the formula. In '01, the Junkees panicked, especially after Carlos Almanzar blew a big lead against the Mets. George had to get someone, and ended up with Jay Witasick and Mark Wohlers. Having no legitimate righty reliever likely cost the Yankees the World Series. Aside from the possibility that Rivera may have been worn out from too many two-inning saves, Witasick's awful Game 6 performance helped put the game out of reach and let RJ exit early.
In '02, a healthy Steve Karsay filled the void. He did a good job, but the Yankees' starters imploded in the ALDS.
In '03, Karsay's injury put Cashman in crisis mode once again. The revolving door of relievers included Al Reyes, Antonio Osuna, Juan Acevedo, Jason Anderson, Dan Miceli, Armando Benitez, Jesse Orosco, Gabe White, Jeff Nelson redux, and Felix Heredia. Only the latter 2 were aroudn for the popstseason, and did really badly. In Game 7 of the ALCS, it was Mike Mussina whom the Yankees relied upon to keep the Sox at bay; they were staying far away from the pen.
In '04, Cashman made his best mid-season relief move: Tanyon Sturtze. But even there, you still wonder when this guy will have his Esteban Loaiza moment and suddenly crash back down to earth. And getting a hold against the Devil Rays is not a tough job and doesn't have much of an impact. And even Sturtze couldn't prevent the Yanks' collapse. And like '02, the starters were a big part of the problem. The best relief corps in the world won't save you if your starters can't put in a decent effort.
And the Yanks had no decent lefty in the pen. Heredia was a disaster, and CJ Nitkowski was a joke. A solid lefty is vital for postseason success. In '96, Graeme Lloyd got Ryan Klesko out in some big spots. Without a lefty specialist there, maybe the Yanks come home empty.
After last october, the Yanks want someone, not just Gordon, to put out there in a big spot. But even if the Yanks manage to get someone for the pen, it's hard to get excited about him.
George now is a shell of Boss
Tuesday, May 24th, 2005
Near the end of an interview presented Sunday by the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network, George Steinbrenner was asked to name his favorite song.
"Anything (Frank) Sinatra does," Steinbrenner said.
Considering what had transpired during the interview, the Sinatra reference was more than symbolic. At the end of his legendary career, Sinatra's voice was shot. He could not remember lines to songs and he was only getting by because of who he was.
During his lengthy chat with Michael Kay, Steinbrenner too was a shell of himself. The steely stare has given way to hollow eyes. Arrogance and bluster replaced by the tinny-toned voice of a grandfather suddenly awakened from a nap.
Steinbrenner was not registering. He seemed incapable of getting in-depth or offering details. This was a session of stock answers and repetition.
In Sinatra's case, the people who paid to see him in the end could not have cared less about the performance they were witnessing. Memories of those nights of virtuosity were too powerful. And just as was the case with Ol' Blue Eyes, there are many reasons to believe the people who love Steinbrenner for what he has done for the Yankees - spending freely to provide them with winner after winner - won't care how he projected himself in this interview.
It did not matter what Steinbrenner was asked. Just hearing him answer the questions and seeing how he looked while answering made this interview eerie and, in a bizarre sense, compelling. This is a man who clearly has lost his fastball.
The interview was revealing, all right.
A revelation in sadness.
It became obvious that Steinbrenner had problems remembering how he had answered Kay's questions. During the 90 minutes he used the exact same words - "a great competitor" - to describe Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry, Joe Torre, Bob Lemon, Billy Martin, Tino Martinez and Len Dawson (whom he coached at Purdue).
Throughout the interview, Steinbrenner, like a robot, would answer a Kay question by simply repeating part of it.
Kay: "Was it overwhelming (to realize) you own the Yankees?"
Steinbrenner: "It was overwhelming."
Kay: "When you win a World Series do you enjoy it or do you think about the next season right away?"
Steinbrenner: "I think about the next season right away."
Then, there were moments Steinbrenner has elaborated on before but, in this interview, could not even provide a speck of detail or depth about. Like the infamous dugout confrontation between Martin and Reggie Jackson in Boston.
Kay: "What were you thinking when he (Martin) and Reggie went at each other on national TV?"
Steinbrenner: "I didn't like that at all."
Kay: "Were you watching on TV?"
Steinbrenner: "I was watching on TV."
Kay: ". . . Did you go, 'Oh my God?' "
Steinbrenner: "I said he (Martin) lost it. He did momentarily."
Kay: "Was it hard?"
Steinbrenner: "It was a very hard moment."
Obviously, Kay did not realize the impact that playing human teleprompter for The Boss would have. Last week, Kay expressed concern over how critics would perceive his performance in this Steinbrenner interview. Of course he would throw softballs. After all, Kay is Al Yankzeera's face man.
Still, could it be Kay was oblivious to what he was sitting on? Did he not realize what impact seeing a declining Steinbrenner would have?
So, those Twinkies Kay threw at Steinbrenner really did not matter. ("Describe your feeling that night (Chris Chambliss' homer won the AL pennant)." "What did (winning the 1977 World Series) mean to you?" "Was he (Thurman Munson) more than a player to you?").
It was all about Steinbrenner's feeble reactions - especially when contrasted to the old clips YES aired showing Steinbrenner at his swaggering-bully best. As this melancholy session was winding down Kay (was he wearing knee pads under his pants?) went into full gush mode.
"You're like a rock star," Kay said. "You are a superstar, famous person."
On Sunday, Steinbrenner's demeanor and performace did not fit that description. There, on the big screen, sitting in a large leather chair fiddling with his glasses, trying to remember moments and answer questions, Steinbrenner just looked small.
Monday, May 23, 2005
Randy Johnson is a creature of habit. He freely admits that his between-starts routine is one of the most important parts of his success, and believes that the fluctuating number of days between outings - five days of rest instead of the usual four - has contributed to his inconsistency this year.
"Is it a big deal? Absolutely, to me," Johnson said yesterday.
The problem is, there isn't much Joe Torre and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre can do about it. Stottlemyre said he would try to accommodate the Big Unit in the future, but short of skipping rookie Chien-Ming Wang - which is what the Yanks did this last time through the rotation - he has few options with a veteran pitching staff that is difficult to manipulate.
Johnson has pitched with five days' rest three times this season and will get an extra day his next outing, too, since the Bombers had an off day last Thursday and another one today. But given a choice of slotting Johnson in for the final game of the Tigers series or the opener against Boston on Friday night, Stottlemyre said there was little consideration to keeping the Unit on the usual routine; the Yanks want him starting against the rival Red Sox.
"What would you do?" Stottlemyre said.
Stottlemyre said he understands Johnson's sentiments, but hopes the Unit will not let the extra day become a mental block. Although Johnson said the routine is important to him, he pitched with six days between starts eight times last season and allowed just 10 earned runs and 33 hits over 59-1/3 innings; one of those outings was his May 18 perfect game against the Braves (he pitched with a seven-day gap once, allowing one earned run and eight hits over seven innings).
"If it was later in the year and I needed some rest, then OK, but it's not like I've gotten that much work and I'm tired or something," Johnson said. "I don't need that now."
Torre knows he could try to convince Johnson that an extra day is actually a good thing. Johnson is 41 years old, worked through a calf strain in spring training and a tweaked groin earlier this season (that cost him one start), in addition to having a surgically repaired knee and back. Considering that history, one might think the Yanks would prefer to give their lefty ace more rest whenever possible.
But Torre doesn't think that sort of speech will work on Johnson.
"He's not 41 in his mind," Torre said. "That's on his back, not in his mind. What he expects of himself, age is not a consideration. He still feels he's a dominant pitcher, and so do we."
Baseball players usually are careful not to point fingers at their teammates, particularly their superstar ones.
But Jorge Posada singled out Randy Johnson for not covering home on Dae-Sung Koo's wild romp down the third base line in the seventh inning, a key and embarrassing microcosm of the Yankees' 7-1 loss yesterday to the Mets at Shea.
"Obviously, Randy has got to be at the plate," Posada said. "When I looked back and saw he wasn't there, I tried to get back as fast as I could."
Johnson remained on the mound while Posada's momentum carried him to first base after he threw out Jose Reyes on a sacrifice bunt attempt, with second baseman Robinson Cano at the bag. With no one covering the plate, Koo - who'd just roped a double off Johnson for his first major-league hit - scored all the way from second with a belly-flop slide for a 3-0 lead. The Korean reliever was called safe at home despite television replays showing a diving Posada tagging him out before Koo's hand touched the plate.
"I still thought he was out," Posada said. "But that's Randy's play. I had to rush just to get back there."
First baseman Tino Martinez attempted to deflect blame from Johnson, suggesting "it should've been my play" to cover home after charging the bunt. Johnson's only response was that he was "in that area" and that "it all happened so quickly," before praising Posada for doing "the best he could."
But Posada's remarks seemed to be indicative of the evolving - but not entirely smooth - pitcher-catcher relationship between the two All-Stars. In addition to his comments regarding that specific play, Posada also repeatedly offered vague responses such as "go ask him" and "I have no idea" to questions about Johnson's inconsistent performance (3.94 ERA) this season.
"I don't know, I'm making suggestions out there," Posada said. "I'm just trying to get him through the game, but it seems like his location just is not there right now."
Posada also said he "didn't notice any difference" in velocity or in Johnson's release point, which Joe Torre cited as a possible reason for the Mets stroking 12 hits off the Big Unit in his 6 2/3 innings of work.
Posada, who said he was cleated in the armpit after tagging Koo at the plate, received treatment for an injury to his right shoulder after the game.
Sunday, May 22, 2005
But hating the Mets wouldn't be the same. First off, the Despiser would likely cut off all ties with me. Also, the Mets never pulled off an embarrassing choke like the Yankees last October. And the Mets don't have that aura of arrogance that the Yankees do; to me, they're kind of like the Cubs- a bunch of lovable losers. So for now, I've got no regrets hating the Yankees. Then again, if the Schmets' payroll hits $200 million...
That said, this weekend reeked. It's one thing to play the game right and simply get beat. It's understandable - heck, you can't win 'em all. But to make errors and give away a game is just inexcusable. But that's the Mets for you.
And the annoying thing is, the Yankees did what they do when they're on - they take advantage of the other team's screw-ups. Sometimes, if you give the Yanks an opening, they'll take full advantage. As usual, Shemp got the big hit.
And the Schmets have no middle relief. Nothing. Nada, zip, zilch. If I'm a Met fan, I can not expect this team to win with the current crop of relievers. Does anyone really trust Hernandez or Bell or DeJean in a big spot? I know I can't.
And Baltimore lost 2 of 3 to the floundering Phillies over the weekend, with both Cabrera and Ponson stinking it up. At least Sammy is coming back soon. And at least the BoSox recovered from that awful AL West stretch to beat the Braves 2 of 3. Miller had another good start, Clement had a better day than Pavano, and they got good news on Schilling. As long as they keep the Yanks at bay.
Minnesota is a team worth watching. If Boston or Baltimore get a solid grip on first place, the Yanks will have to settle for the wild card. And it won't necessarily be an AL East cakewalk like in years past. The Al Central has 2 very good teams in Chicago and Minny. One of those guys can potentially knock the Yanks out of the playoffs. In a surprising development, El Duque went on the DL with a shoulder injury. But the Sox should be able to get by without him, especially if ther trio of Garland, Buehrle, and Garcia keep it up.
On weekends like this, you gotta focus on the bright side.
Friday, May 20, 2005
(a) Opposing hitters are batting .284, WORST IN THE AL.
(b) Similarly, they've given up 409 hits, most in the AL.
(c) Opposing hitters are slugging .425 - only three teams in the AL have allowed a higher slugging percentage.
(d) The Junkees have blown 6 saves, tied for 5th in the AL.
(e) Junkee pitchers have allowed 38 stolen bases, most in the AL.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
As the Despiser noted, the Junkees crashed back down to earth in last night's game. Moose couldn't hold a lead, and Flush Gordon gave away a game again, with a little help from No-mack. And then Jason Giambaby left his bat on his shoulder for strike 3 with the bases juiced. I guess Reggie could only help so much. And these Yanks looked like the pre-win streak Yanks: just plain ugly.
In a way, these Mets look a little like the Yankees of old: a mix of good veterans and some home-grown talent. The big difference: the Junkees had a bullpen and better starting pitching. The Mets are still a few players short of becoming contenders. They're not going anywhere if they keep putting guys like Koo and Aybar out there.
Between Zambrano and Brown, I think Game 1 will be a slugfest. Both bullpens will blow leads cough up runs. Home field means the Mets should pull off a walk-off win.
RJ and Benson go in game 2. While the Unit is the better pitcher, the Mets have seen him in the past and have hit him hard. And that's when he was still Cy Young material. Plus, the Junkees have never faced Benson. Gotta like the Schmets' chances in this one.
Game 3 is gonna be a real fun one to watch, Pedro vs. Pavano. The big question is, will being in a Schmets uniform help Pedro's luck in beating the Yankees? And Pavano has seen the Mets before, beating them twice last year. But that was without Beltran and a healthy Clifford Floyd. Should be a good one.
I don't expect a Schmet sweep here, though that would incredible, especially after the Junkees' streak. But if the Mets take two of three, I'll be very happy.
Mussina becomes spotty. The Grand Tanyon surrenders the lead. Gordon gives up a double, the guy moves to third as Womack misplays the ball in left field. Single. Mariners take a 7-6 lead.
Ninth inning. Yankees load the bases. Here we go again. So much for having the lead.
Jason Giambi looks at three strikes. Game over.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Torre and Stot are not responsible for this streak. Torre held meeting after meeting for the first 6 weeks of the year, but to no avail. And Stot's pitchers shutting out the .230 A's is meaningless. And hot streak and all, Pavano and the Unit still have numbers that are worse than last year. So why are the Yankees winning every night?
Aside from the fact that the Yanks are playing against awful teams, which I've mentioned time and time again, the fact is that almost every single Yankee is on a hot streak. We've all heard about Tino's resurgence, but over the last 7 days, the Yanks as a team are batting at an incredible .342 clip. Jeter is showing some tangibles, batting at a .414 clip. Robinson Cano is playing like Jackie Robinson right now. Shemp and Womack are back, both at .296 clips over the week, and the only cold Yankee in the last week is A-Schmuck, batting .190 during this span. Heck, even Bambi and Giambaby have had big hits this week. Last week, everyone was waiting for Ruben Sierra to come off the DL. Now, everyone's forgotten about him. That's what happens when everyone gets hot.
Any team that has all of its players on hot streaks will do well. Okay, maybe not the Royals. But all hot streaks come to pass, after a while. The Yanks will not hit .342 the rest of the year. What separates the great teams from good teams is the ability to win when not everyone is hot. When you have to rely on big hits in big spots. Think about last year's ALCS. The Yanks were on a hot streak for the first 3 games, but once they lost their rhythm, they fell apart. Perhaps a little more lineup depth (Tony Clark? Not gonna cut it) and some better bats on the bench would've saved the Yankees.
With a lineup full of hot hitters, anyone can manage the team. The question is, can the Yanks win when they have more than just one cold hitter in the lineup? We'll find out.
Monday, May 16, 2005
It's really amazing to me how things have changed in this town. In 1999, the Yanks were off to a bit of a rocky start. They were a few games over .500 and in first, but the Sox were knocking on the door and everyone was freaking out. Torre was sick that year, and everyone was waiting for him to take over for Zim and set things right.
The Yanks would love to be back in '99 now. But the fact that Yankee fans are thrilled about hitting .500 shows that the expectations for this $200 Million juggernaut have fallen. In '99, one year after winning 114 games, everyone was worried when the Yanks weren't 10 games up in May. Now, everyone is thrilled even with the Yanks 6 games back in May.
The fact is, after that series in Tampa, Yankee fans were scared. Scared their run was over. Scared that they were going back to '65 or '82 or '89 or whatever. Now, they're relieved.
And with 3 games against the M's, the Yanks have a chance to get a few more wins. But after that, it's back to the majors for this club. And after that, maybe Yankee fans won't be so excited or relieved anymore.
And let's see how close the Yanks get to first. Baltimore just finished a 4-3 stretch against the White Sox and Twins. Bedard and Cabrera are hot, and Bruce Chen held his own against the game's hottest pitcher, Jon Garland. The Sox had a rough weekend against Seattle, but hey, even Miguel Olivo is good for a big hit every once in a while. Plus, Wells is on his way back.
And let's see if Tino will be doing this in September. Let's see how long it will be till Giambi's next RBI. Let's see how long this streak lasts.
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Kruk had a good point about the A's troubles - the team doesn't run enough. They don't manufacture runs. And with nobody a home run threat in that lineup, they just wait and wait. Moneyball is a sham. This team can't win a lick without the big 3, and without any decent bats in the lineup.
At least we don't have to hear from the Yankee fans about how the A's prove that you can win without money. Moneyball has turned into Lack-of-moneyball, and I'm sure Beane would be able to do a lot better with Cashman's cash. But at least Beane got the last laugh on Jason Giambi.
Friday, May 13, 2005
In years past, the championship teams, with the exception of the 2002 Angels, have had strikeout guys to lead them:
In 2004, the World Champion Boston Red Sox were second in the AL in strikeouts.
In 2003, the Marlins were fifth in the NL in K's, sixth in the majors overall.
In 2001, Arizona was second in the NL in strikeouts.
The Angels are the exception because they didn't face really good pitching in the postseason, thanks of course to the Yankees in the ALDS. The Twins were so-so in the ALCS, and the Giants were lousy in the WS.
The 2000 Yankees, by the way? Fourth in the AL in K's.
This year, the Yankees are ninth in the AL. Below them are KC, Texas, Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Seattle. The top four teams are Baltimore, Anaheim, Oakland (whose anemic offense prevents them from winning games), and Chicago. Boston is fifth.
Now Randy is okay, he's second in the league in K's. After him, the next Yankee is Carl Pavano, who is tied for 28th. Mussina is tied 41st. Brown is tied for 63rd.
Now this might not be an issue facing the Seattles and Oaklands of the world, but the good teams will make them pay, as we've already seen.
Oh, did I mention that Pavano is tied for most home runs given up by an AL pitcher?
Thursday, May 12, 2005
As Randy Johnson still struggles to get back to full-strength and tries to stop handing out 400-foot dingers each game, Javy Vazquez is starting to get it together down in Arizona. And unlike RJ, he might have more than 2-3 years left in the tank. Here's Eric Neel's piece.
With apologies to my friend Rob Neyer, let me kick it off like this …
Consider Pitcher X.
Through the first three starts of the season, Pitcher X was ugly – couldn't get out of the sixth, couldn't help but give up five or more runs a night.
In those three starts (in two of which he took the loss), he was exactly what you had come to believe he was: finished, a one-time stopper turned reckless fire starter, a gaping hole on a sinking ship. You weren't thinking of him. Nobody was.
But then came the next five starts, between April 20 and Wednesday night, in which Pitcher X has flipped the script completely, putting up the following gaudy numbers: four wins over 38 innings, 34 strikeouts, four walks and just five earned runs.
In those five starts, he's been riding in the way-back machine, becoming the pitcher he once was, rediscovering his command, velocity, confidence and general wickedness.
So here's the question: Any idea who he is?
I'll give you a hint: Brian Cashman knows who he is. In fact, you can bet Cashman is thinking about him even as we speak.
That's right, Pitcher X is Javier Vazquez.
You ought to be.
Because not only are we talking about the Javier Vazquez who started the season giving out hits and runs like they were candy, but we're also talking about the same Javier Vazquez who posted a 6.92 ERA after the All-Star break last year. We're talking about the same Javier Vazquez who seemed to wilt like warm spinach under the glare of the Yankee Stadium sun. We're talking about the same Javier Vazquez who was so rattled and ineffective that Joe Torre decided he wasn't worthy of even one ALCS start last fall, relegating him instead to mopping up after messes Kevin Brown made in Games 3 and 7.
Except, if the last three weeks are any indication, we're not talking about that Javier Vazquez at all. We're talking about version 1.0, the guy Cashman and The Boss went after in the winter of '03 in the first place. The guy good for 230-plus innings and 240-plus strikeouts for the woeful Expos the season before that. The guy who was once quietly one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
That guy just might be back, and if he is, forget Brian Roberts and never mind about Ozzie and "SmartBall," this is the big news of the season so far.
The D-Backs are 20-15 right now. You can credit Troy Glaus' 10 home runs and 27 RBI, and you can credit Brandon Lyon's 13 saves and 1.56 ERA, but you also have to give a lot of credit to Vazquez and his surprising return to form.
Who'da thunk it?
The Yankees were so sure he was done they were willing to pay Arizona $9 million of his current salary (as part of the Randy Johnson deal) to take him off their hands. Arizona was so concerned that he might never be back that it insisted on that money and on Brad Halsey's (currently 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA) being part of the deal for the Unit.
Expectations were low. Vazquez was a long-shot bet.
And now it looks like he's going to pay off, maybe pay off big, for a team that looked ace-less just a couple months ago.
What's been the difference? Was he hurting last year? He's said no. Had some glitch developed in his mechanics that he's now straightened out? Could be. But maybe the most intriguing possibility is that he's simply comfortable again.
Thanks to Sinatra ("If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere"), we tend to think of New York as the be-all and end-all. The fans are tough, the media is relentless. If you succeed there, you're legit. If you don't succeed there, you're somehow incomplete.
It's bunk, really. It's an idea New York made up about New York.
We don't know why Vazquez has turned it around, but we know he was a terrific pitcher in Montreal, a mightily struggling pitcher in the second half of last year in New York, and now what looks like a pretty terrific pitcher again in Phoenix.
There could be a dozen reasons for that, but if, if, he's a guy who took a shot at the big city and figured out he likes it better in a smaller, more laid-back market, what's wrong with that? In fact, isn't there a whole lot right with that? Isn't there something nice about a guy's finding the sweet spot, the ideal combination of opportunity and environment, such that he can perform at his very best?
In New York now, Vazquez is a bum who couldn't hack it, a punch line, a closed chapter in the sad story of the Yankees late-season '04 collapse.
But forget New York for a minute. Think instead about Arizona. Because in Arizona, he's not dead, he's resurrected, he's just getting started. And if you're a fan of the Diamondbacks … heck, if you're a fan of baseball at all, that's a much better story.
Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.
Both have made 8 starts so far this year:
Pavano - 4.80
Clement - 3.06
Pavano - .316
Clement - .267
this one's an eye-opener:
Pavano - 10 (on pace to give up 40)
Pavano - 10
Clement - 18
Pavano - 1.56
Clement - 1.40
I know, I know, it's still early. And for all I know, the Junkees may have the last laugh. But right now, I'll laugh as much as I want to.
-- When did the A's and M's get so awful? Right now the Schmets can't regret giving up on Octavio Dotel a few years back. And neither can the Astros. When did Dotel turn into Billy Koch? Somewhere out there, Steve Phillips and Gerry Hunsicker are laughing.
-- Seeing the O's rough up Johan Santana yesterday and win sans Sosa and Matos made my day (and made up for the Junkees' win). I can't wait for the 4-game set between the O's and Chi-Sox.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Now we all know that the Junkees care only about winning in October, so these games are meaningless. Although we would love for them to miss the playoffs, let's say they make it. Do Junkee fans honestly think that those games will be as easy as the past few have been? Forget it - you won't see the Oakland Z's or Seattle in the postseason. Instead, you'll face either Baltimore, Anaheim, Texas, Boston, Minny, or Chicago. Beat the pulp out of those teams first, then I'll be impressed.
And now there's talk of sending him to the minors. What would that make him, the highest-paid player ever to be in the minors (for non-injury reasons)? Unbelievable.
So it's clear that the Yankees have to deal with the worst contract ever. Kevin Brown, you can breathe easier. At least when Brown was healthy with LA, he could still throw lights-out. Giambi is finally healthy and hasn't done anything.
And even in '02-'03, the guy did nothing in a big spot. I don't care about beating the Twins in May. He couldn't help them beat the Angels in '02, and granted, he had 2 HR in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. But if not for Grady Little, those homers would be meaningless. And of course, in the World Series that year, he had to miss a game, which was a sign of things to come.
Juice-on is still on the hook for over $80 million. And you wonder if the Yankees will want to backload contracts so much after this debacle. But as long as they have the spend now, ask questions later policy (which has be oh-so successful since '01), they'll keep making these mistakes (anyone who didn't think Giambi was on something when the Junkees signed him was probably on something himself). And as a Yankee-hater, I've got absolutely no problem with that.
--- Keep in mind, people. The Yankees are still 15-19. Even after this 4-game win streak. Just comes to show you what a hole they had dug for themselves. And you can't get too excited about beating Aaron Sele.
Plus, they're still just 2 games out of last place, ahead of Tampa Bay, who have just beaten the red-hot White Sox twice in a row (does that tell you more about the Rays or the Sox? unsure.)
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
The Yanks have no reason to get excited yet. Let's wait till after they hit the West Coast, where they always struggle, and come back to me after the Subway Series.
And if the O's come out at least 4-2 after facing the Twins and White Sox, that earns 'em another shred of legitimacy.
Monday, May 09, 2005
- Tino hit another one tonight. Hey, better now than October.
- And on the bright side of things, the Sox and O's won tonight. Great start for Danny Cabrera, hope he can turn it on.
If I had bought a copy of "Moneyball" instead of getting it from the library, I would throw it out or maybe burn it. The A's look awful now, and I don't see them getting much better. Nobody in that lineup scares you. Nobody. They're by far the worst offensive team in that division. Even the D-Rays have a better offense than these guys. They've come a long way down since the '01 ALDS, when they had the best squad of their playoff run - including Giambi, Tejada, Dye. Billy Beane deserves credit for getting something for Hudson and Mulder, but has done a lousy job constructing this offense. Simply put, the A's are no longer a contender.
So it's hard for me to give Brown or Mussina credit. Let's see them beat Texas, Boston, or Baltimore, teams with great lineups.
- And the Yanks are still 8 games out of first. And granted, it's still May, but the Birds and the Sox don't look like they're going anywhere. Baltimore lost yesterday, but if their starters keep them in the game, they're not going to collapse anytime soon. And Boston has done very well so far despite losing their top two starters. Clement and Arroyo are as good if not better than anyone on the Junkees' staff, and if Wade Miller has more great outings like yesterday, they'll really be a force when Wells and Schilling are healthy.
- And the Yanks won't see much more of the A's this year, just 3 more games. Thanks to the unbalanced schedule, the Yanks face a whole lot of Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore. While the Yanks steamrolled these teams in years past, this year all those teams have given them a hard time.
- Only thing I take from this series? Tino's heating up. Let's see how long that lasts. But if he stays hot and gets 30 HR this year (slim chance), then maybe hitting coach Don Mattingly is more than just a PR factor for the Junkees.
As for next series: Seattle's another team in the AL West that's struggling. Any team with Aaron Sele in the rotation is in trouble. Unlike the A's, they have a good offense, though Beltran and Sexson have been struggling. This would be a great time for them to snap out of it.
-- An intriguing series this week is Baltimore vs. Minnesota. The Birds then face the red-hot White Sox over the weekend. Any Yankee or Red Sox fan should check these series out; it'll be a huge test for these O's to prove they are for real.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
Saturday, May 07, 2005
It's usually difficult to judge pitching coaches. After all, if you have great pitchers, anyone can coach them. And conversely, the greatest pitching coach can only do so much with a crappy set of arms.
One test is usually to see a difference in a pitcher's performance under one pitching coach as opposed to someone else. With that in mind, I think Leo Mazzone and Dave Duncan are two of the best in the game today. Mazzone has brought out the best of perennial scrubs like John Burkett and Jaret Wright, while Duncan has turned retreads like Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan into pretty solid pitchers. And both teams have usually had well-stocked bullpens, often with no-names who do pretty well, like Atlanta's Chris Reitsma and the Cards' Julian Tavarez. And in Oakland, Duncan took a couple of mediocre pitchers and turned them into superstars - Dennis Eckersley and Dave Stewart (not to mention Bob Welch).
Other great coaches include Orel Hersheiser in Texas, who got the most out of guys like Ryan Drese in last year's improbable run. Ray Miller turned around the O's pitching staff when he took over in middle of last year, and may be able to get that team back into contention (Erik Bedard had 12 Ks the other night).
But can you name me one pitcher in recent vintage who has done better as a Yankee than when he was elsewhere? Mussina's tailed off quite a bit since leaving Baltimore, Clemens, Pettitte, and Lieber haven't skipped a beat since leaving NY, and even David Cone followed up his horrible '00 with a decent year in Boston.
Back in '96, everyone made a big deal about how Mel rejuvinated Doc Gooden's career. Big deal. He had a few decent starts, threw a no-hitter, but was so tired by the end of they year he wasn't even on the playoff roster.
Can you credit Stottelmyre with teaching Rivera the cut fastball? Nope. In an interview with the Sporting News, Mo said, "That pitch I call my "bless pitch" because it just happened. It just came out of nowhere. I was throwing the ball with Ramiro Mendoza, and the ball was moving. I never threw it in a game. 1 was a four-seam fastball pitcher; that's all I did in '95 and '96. In '97, the hall started doing a dance, moving and moving. One day, I thought I'd put it in practice; let's see what happens. And since that day, the ball was moving like crazy--going into the lefties and away from the righties. The rotation was like my fastball rotation, so they couldn't pick up the speed. They thought it was a fastball, but when they were swinging, the ball was in on their hands. Now, I just throw it anytime. Now I've mastered it."
One day, we'll look back at the best pitching coaches of this era and talk about Leo Mazzone, Dave Duncan, maybe even Ray Miller. But Mel Stottelmyre doesn't deserve even a footnote in that conversation.
Friday, May 06, 2005
One of the many things that have been proven about this Yankee team over the last few weeks is that Joe Snorre can only do so much, if anything at all.
And don't point to his previous success in '96-'00. Back then, he had players who were motivated, gamers like Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius who cared less about their personal numbers than winning one for the team. Competitors like that can play for Art Howe and go out there hungry to win.
There are too few fighters left on this team. Jeter, Shemp, maybe Sheff. Even Shemp can't be sat down while he's slumping, due to his personal games-played streak. But after that, there is no fight in this team. They look tired, play tired, lose tired. Losing 3 of 4 to the AAA-Rays is pathetic. How will the Yanks fare against major league teams like the A's and Mariners? Against Zito, Harden, and Blanton?
The D-Rays play the game with so much energy. I never thought I'd say they're fun to watch. But every time Crawford, Lugo, or Sanchez get on base, you feel like something exciting is going to happen. I can't name a single Yankee that I can say that about. For a Devil Ray, a guy who knows his team isn't going anywhere, to still play the game with passion, that deserves my respect.
Joe Snorre cannot get this team to play with the passion of those hapless losers. He holds team meetings, and they prove useless. He has $200 million worth of talent, and they prove useless. Bobby Cox has a team cutting payroll but still has a team playing hard, sitting on top of the division for the umpteenth year in a row.
If you want to blame this funk on the players, and say it's not Torre's fault, then you have to say that '96-'00, too, was thanks to the players, not Torre. And that those teams could've won with Art Howe or Stump Merrill or even Grady Little in the dugout. Because if now it's all about the players, then back then, too, it was all about the players.
What it comes down to is this: Joe Snorre is now facing his biggest challenge as a Yankee manager, and is failng miserably.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
2001 - When Chuck Knoblauch kept throwing the ball into the stands, they got him out of second base and put in the likes of Luis Sojo and Jose Vizcaino. And they still won it all! Then, when they decided that Soriano would start at second in 2001, I said uh-oh. The hot shot almost became a 40-40 guy, but couldn't hit a home run in the last seven games or so (thankfully), but it scared the heck out of me. Also, when they signed Mike Mussina, I got scared. David Cone was gone, and to put in the Moose with Pettitte and El Duque, I thought they'd win for sure. And as we all know, I was almost right. But they lost, thanks to Mariano Rivera's unraveling.
2002 - So then they got Jason Giambi, a season removed from being AL MVP with a .342 batting average and a ton of home runs, and I thought, okay, now they're going to win, no question about it. Then, when Enrique Wilson miplayed the fly ball against the Schmets, they went out and got Raul Mondesi. Not to mention David Wells screwing the Diamondbacks and going back to the Yankees. At the time, I was shivering. But come the 2002 ALDS I was thanking my lucky stars that they had Wells.
2003 - Now they go out and import Shemp Matsui. So now, left field, which had always been for the number nine hitters, the Ricky Ledees and Shane Spencers of the world (Spencer's strong September 1998 notwithstanding), my blood was boiling. Of course the late-season pickup of Aaron Boone frightened me, because Robin Ventura was an old man by then. But, Joe Snorre had the good sense to have Jeff Weaver pitch to Alex Gonzalez in the World Series, and the Junkees couldn't figure out Josh Beckett in Game 6, and so....
2004 - George pulls off the mother of all deals, acquiring Alex Rodriguez from the Rangers. Ask Manny how much I freaked out. And Sheffield. No way they could lose now. But, they did.
2005 - Randy Johnson. Carl Pavano. For some reason, I was still paranoid, and I thought, my goodness. This is the year they break their string of four no-ring years. On May 5, at 11 wins and 17 losses, my fretting may have been for naught.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
I actually went to nyyfans.com, and I relished what I saw. Yankee fans saying the year is over, they're not going to make the playoffs, etc. Hey, I was once a Yankee fan, and I when I knew the team was spending tons and yet heading south, I switched sides. Now, everyone's starting to realize the cracks in the Yankees. It's nice to be ahead of the curve every once in a while.
--- You gotta love the Yankees/Mets contrast last night. The Mets have three starters on the shelf and can still get a quality arm out there, as Jae Seo pitched a great game against Met-killer Pat Burrell and the Phils. The Yanks are throwing AA kids out there when their pitchers get hurt. Even the Sox have got decent outings from Jeremi Gonzalez and John Halama this week. It's called depth, Mr. Cashman. Ever heard of it?
If not for Wright and RJ (supposedly?) nursing injuries, I think Brown would be gone by now. If it were the 80's, Brown would've gotten the Bobby Meacham treatment and get sent to AA.
Hey, who knows, if the Yanks keep losing, George might just totally revert to his '80's ways. Now that would be something!
-- And with 2 rookies pitching the next two games, the Rays just might be able to take this series from the Junkees.
-- Amazing how Toronto has taken the hottest team in the game and beaten them twice. I think they have less potential than the O's, but if they get great pitching from Halladay, Chacin, and the occasional good start from Towers or Lilly, they will keep causing problems for the other teams in the division.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Putting a kid at 2B won't bring the Yanks back to that magical year. '96 was a time when the Yanks had youth all over, in the rotation with Pettitte and the pen with Rivera, which are now areas full of wash-ups and injury risks. '96 was a time when the Yanks got the most out of bargains like Mariano Duncan, not the least out of rip-offs like Jason Giambi. '96 was when the Yanks didn't have to spend the most in baseball to win it all. Now, they spend the most by $80 million and are the laughingstock of the game. Tony Womack will go down with other legendary NY leftfielders like Chuck Knoblauch and Todd Hundley, not to mention my favorite Yankee RF of all-time, Enrique Wilson.
Someone tell George '96 was a long, long time ago. And years of trading prospects for bad fits and making awful signings will not bring the magic of '96 back. Neither will bringing up a few kids from a barren farm system help much, either.
And after three horrific starts to open the year, Vazquez is starting to revert to old (pre-Junkees) form. Two nights ago, he threw a complete game and allowed only two runs. He had 9 Ks (to go with 2 ER in 8 IP) in his start before that, and threw 7 shutout innings in the start before that one.
Not to mention yet another quality outing by Jon Leiber last night against the Shmets (6 innings, 1 ER).
Well done, Cashman!
I guess George has had a midlife crisis or something, because the lineup is getting young again. Perhaps seeing the latest injuries to his ancient #1 Starter and CF freaked him out. Perhaps George is so desperate to win against his arch-rival Naimoli in Tampa Bay (talk about a one-sided rivalry) that he's going to these extremes to try to get this team to score. Or conversely, maybe he thinks breaking these kids in against a AAA team will help them make him look good. ("You see, Cano got two hits off Waechter! I must be a genius!")
My take: George is looking at his cross-town rivals, as usual. The Mets aren't doing great this year, hovering around the .500 mark most of the time, but they've become a fun team to watch, and heck, they're doing better than the Yanks! Their team is a mix of established veterans like Pedro, Glavine, and Clifford Floyd (who's off to a sizzling start) along with energetic youth in Reyes (who makes Alfonso Soriano look like a patient hitter), David Wright, and Victor Diaz. And the spike in attendance this year shows that the Mets aren't just New York's glorified AAA team anymore. (And even though veterans like Beltran and Pedro are mostly responsible for that, the younger players are definitely a factor.)
Seeing the energetic kids help put fannies in the seats, George has gotta be worrying about an exciting team right nearby. So, in come Phillips and now Cano. Difference is, Wright and Reyes were touted as being future stars, and so far have looked promising. But as for Cano and Phillips, most fans must be wondering, "who are these guys?"
So far, Phillips had one good game and is currently batting .160. He tied Bernie Williams' record with 5 K's last night. Not a great start for this kid.
Even when the Yanks stink, they sure are interesting.
After getting beat by Mussina last night, the D-Rays should be excited over the next 3 guys they'll be facing: Brown, Henn, and Wang. Heck, I'm excited too.
Monday, May 02, 2005
Come on. Inasmuch as I want this to be 1965 all over again for the Junkees, I still fear that they will get back into the race. I'm not that delusional. Just let me see them pull of a string of wins against some decent teams, then I'll be impressed.
Flush Gordon has picked up where he left off in the ALCS, and at 37, he may be finished. Junkee fans hold their breath each time the guy gets in the game, and he's been so bad the Yanks can hardly ever get to Rivera this year.
Cashman screwed up bigtime in bringing back Mike Stanton. What the hell was the moron thinking? I thought the Yanks would go for Steve Kline, a lefty with something to offer, who ended up signing with Baltimore. You know things are pathetic when even a Yankee-hater gives the Yanks too much credit.
And the rest of the gang? Karsay is looking like one of the worst signings in recent Yankee history. The guy had one good year, and has been in rehab for a ridiculous amount of time. And clearly, Torre has no faith in Quantrill anymore. Yesterday was his first appearance in 9 games, and the guy didn't do much to help the cause. And with 5 walks already (or one fewer than Pavano's given up all year), Felix Rodriguez's only claim to fame will be ridding the Yankees of Kenny Lofton. Buddy Groom is 39 and a lefty specialist. And even before the Grand Tanyon hit the DL, his ERA was 6.10 and wasn't as solid as last year.
So the Yanks need to look elsewhere for help. But who can they trade? This team is lacking in depth and needs all the youth they can get. The way Junkee fans got all excited out of one good start by Wang shows you how much this team needs some youthful energy in it. And no small-market team out of the race by July wants the Yankees' big contracts. Teams like the Brewers and Pirates have no use for Giambi, Brown and others, no matter how much of the contract the Yankees are willing to eat.
And the Sox have bullpen issues of their own, but unlike Cashman, Theo Epstein has proven that he can make the trades in midseason to put together a solid bullpen. In '03, after starting off the year with Bill James' closer-by-committee debacle, the Sox came into the postseason with a lights-out bullpen featuring Williamson and Timlin, which Grady Little was apparently unaware of. When has Cashman gotten a good reliever in midseason when he needed one? Witasick? Wohlers? Benitez? Gabe White? Ha-ha. And even picking up Sturtze last year couldn't stop the biggest choke ever. Aside from David Justice and Luis Sojo in 2000 (thank Bobby V for that one), can you name me another midseason pickup the Yankees have made in the Cashman era that has had an impact in October? Anyone? Unlike Sabean and Ken Williams, who always seem to make the right move at the deadline, Cashman hasn't gotten it done. Looks like Snorre won't be relaxing after the 6th inning this year.
Interesting matchups in the Yanks-Rays series. Game 1 is Mussina-Kazmir, a fading star vs. a future star. Then we get two stinkers in Waechter-Brown. Game 3 is a rematch of last week, Nomo-Johnson, which the Rays won the first time. And Wang goes in game 4 against Hendrickson. Wang can't prove anything in this one; let's see how he does against a decent-hitting team before we get too excited about this kid.