Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Keepin' The Pace

There are just so many things to talk about, considering the happenings of last night. I was going to take one of two routes on this: pick one and fully elaborate or make a quick bullet list of all the points I wanted to make. Proving that I’m a charmer with the ladies, I’m going to compromise and pick a couple of points from last night and elaborate for a paragraph or two. Warning: there will be football involved here.

- Actually starting with football. Last night I realized something: it’s near impossible for someone who has no organized football experience to provide consistent commentary on the NFL. I can pick out trends, notice when someone’s consistently effing up, and pick up on generalities, but I’ll never know the intricacies of play calling and route running, no matter how much of a Madden stud I am. This is why I give credit to Bill Simmons for doing a football gambling column on Fridays. He makes his picks, but uses a fan’s perspective to ascertain his reasons. And yes, I’ve kinda ripped that idea off, but seriously, it’s the best idea for die-hards that have little on-field experience.

Anyway, a pat on the back to the Giants for their convincing win last night. I’d rather elaborate on the ‘Boys-‘Skins game, but I will say that after being at Giants Stadium for the opener and watching most of last night’s game, Eli to Plaxico is going to be one of “those” QB-WR connections. Maybe not a Montana-to-Rice combo, but a Peyton-to-Marvin combo at the very least.

If you watched only the first half of last night’s Dallas-Washington game, it would have seemed like the ‘Boys had all the momentum, and would surely expand on their 3-0 lead. They moved the ball better than the ‘Skins, and their D was looking rock solid. Combine the fact that the Redskins had a guy who peaked six years ago under center, and it’s a recipe for a Cowboys victory.

This notion is furthered because of Joe Gibbs’s reputation since rejoining the league of not stretching the field. Problem is, the Cowboy’s secondary is the shakiest part of their otherwise solid D. Sure, they have All-Pro Safety Roy Williams, but he can’t cover four guys himself. Newly acquired CB Anthony Henry was a quality free-agent signing, but he’s no No. 1 corner, nor is the actual No. 1 corner, Terrance Newman. Up front, however, the ‘Boys sport guys like La’Roi Glover, Greg Ellis, rookie DeMarcus Ware, the serviceable Dat Nguyen, Bradie James, and Al Singleton, all guys who can stop the run and run an effective short yardage cover scheme.

Finally, feeling the dregs of desperation late in the fourth quarter, Gibbs’s guys finally decided to go deep to their new target, former Jet Santana Moss. And lookee what happens when you exploit the Dallas secondary! The first pass was just a perfect lob into the end zone, but the second was the one worth noting. Brunell put the ball in a perfect spot, to a streaking speedy Moss, who got a world of help from Aaron Glenn, anther former Jet, who for some reason lined up on Moss on the play. Glenn frantically dove for the ball, but whiffed, allowing Moss to snatch it in stride and leave a trail of dust to the end zone.

So maybe, just maybe the ‘Skins will start going deep more often, especially against weaker secondaries, something they really didn’t do any of last year, prompting Lavernaeus Coles to force a trade back to the Jets. It just seems that this is where Moss thrives, and Brunell can supply the juice. Hey, you stick with what works, right?

- Finally, the D-Rays stick their thorn in someone else’s side. In a see-saw of a game, the Rays ended out on top of Boston, which combined with Bubba Crosby’s heroics, put us a mere half game behind those blasted Sox for the AL East, and we’re actually tied in the loss column. This would be a much more fulfilling feeling if we hadn’t shared first place for a day back in July (as I frantically swept through an airport in Hawaii searching for a sports bar).

This, of course, means that all the Yanks have to do is win when Boston wins, lose when they lose, and make sure they win Thursday’s game against Baltimore, which is Boston’s last day off of the season. That would bring us into the final series tied, metamorphosing it into a best of three preliminary playoff series. True, there is still a decent shot that both the Yankees and the Red Sox will make the playoffs, considering the stinker the Other Sox are pulling in the AL Central. Not that anything like that would demean the value of the final series.

And, in all reality, the loser of the Central will take the Wild Card. There is less than two weeks remaining, and the top two teams in the Central have less losses (Sox at 59, Injuns at 62) than the two guys atop the East (Boston and the Yanks both have 63). At this point in the season, it’s downright unhealthy to bank on help from anyone else, which is exactly what the Yanks (or Sox) will need to attain the Wild Card. AL East or bust, baby!

I do have a ton of thoughts on the whole Yanks-Sox chase down the stretch, but I think I’m going to save a lot of it for tomorrow. I’m about 50 pages from finishing Bill Simmons’s book, and I have a critique of it that I’m going to need an entire column to articulate. All I will say is yes, I’m nervous about the stretch, but in a confident way if that makes any sense.

Last 20 Game Mark: 6-1.

- I’m trying my hardest to not be hypocritical here, but I’m going to question one or two managerial decisions in the past 24 hours. Yes, I know I said just a day or so ago that I was sick of bashing the manager for his decisions, but I’m not exactly bashing Torre. I’m not going out on a message board and slamming him for making these moves, I’m just rationally stating that I don’t necessarily agree with him.

The first was in last night’s game when he brought Mo in for the top of the ninth in a tie game. I just can’t agree with using Mo in this situation. He’s going to be called upon plenty in the last two weeks of the season, and while he had two days off prior to last night, a third never hurt anyone. Plus, (and I don’t have a ton of statistical evidence to back this one up, but it’s just an observation) he’s not great coming into a tie game. I’ll throw quick evidence out with a game two weeks ago against the D-Rays, where he came into a 3-3 game, and a few minutes later it was 4-3 ‘Rays.

For a few more, I’ll throw in an August 10th game against the White Sox when he came into a 1-1 game in the ninth and gave up the winning run in the 10th, and an August 23rd game against the Blue Jays where he game in1 to a tie game, gave up a run to squander the lead, only to be bailed out in the bottom of the inning for a 5-4 win.

My argument isn’t quite based around that, however, though I thought it noteworthy to mention it. I’m actually a little miffed that Sturtze wasn’t brought in for this situation. When he begins an inning, the first batter is hitting .226 against him. I wish I could find his complete stats for when he comes in to start off an inning, but this is the best I could do. Point is, I don’t think Sturtze would be a terrible option in this situation. His worst outings are when he inherits runners. Combine this with the fact that Baltimore’s lineup looked awfully flat since the first inning, and you have a tailor-made Sturtze situation.

Once again, I’m not bashing Torre for the decision, since his intentions were obvious. And Bubba vindicated him with his lead-off walk-off, so all ended well. I’m just saying, he didn’t NEED to go to Mo in that spot. Yeah, I think that’s the best way to put it.

The second move I’m troubled by is the announcement that Leiter will be a lefty specialist for the remainder of the season. Well, I’m troubled if it means he’s only going to face lefties from here on out and no longer provide long relief. Then again, I guess the motive behind the move is also to state that Torre doesn’t think, with this crop of starters, that we’ll really need any more long relief. This is emphasized by Moose’s return on Thursday, pushing someone (i.e. Wang, though he did pitch good/great game last night) into the ‘pen, ostensibly for long relief work.

Considering Leiter’s splits against lefties (.247/.307/.333, .297/.430/.457 against righties), it makes a bit of sense. I guess I’m just not in favor of defining Leiter’s role as one batter lefty specialist, since he can bring more to the team out of the bullpen than facing just one batter.

Actually, the more I write about this, the more I’m warming up to it, especially if Proctor is used in the same manner against righties. This would round out our bullpen nicely, with Wang in there for long relief, Leiter for lefties, Proctor for righties, and Sturtze, Gordon, and Mo to lock up. I just have this sinking feeling that Proctor won’t be on the postseason roster because Joe will want to carry only 10 pitchers, and the second odd man out of the rotation (Small/Chacon) will take his spot in the bullpen. I urge Torre, however, to carry 11 pitchers if that’s the only way Proctor gets into the game. Come on, folks, wouldn’t you want a guy who’s .191/.258/.292 in 89 ABs against righties in your pen?

Until tomorrow.

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1 – I am hereby substituting the phrase “came into the game” with the abbreviated “game in.” So when Mo came into the game, he game in. Kinda like college kids like to say chillaxin to say that they’re chillin’ and relaxin’.