Friday, August 26, 2005

Nothing Much

Not much to say today. Worked in the morning, hence no real posting for the day.

I'm headed to the Stadium to see Randy tonight, so I'm sure I'll have a word or two about that on Monday.

He says he's working on his mechanics; he noticed something with his motion in his right shoulder when he delivers. Don't know how much I buy that one, unless his shoddy mechanics are due to his head being in 13,000 different directions. Such are the pressures of New York.

Two bad innings this week, and it cost us two games. So things are sort of looking up. Let's just hope the team's immune system fought off of Last Place Syndrome after the D-Rays series.

Back on Monday. Cheerio.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

At The Crossroads

Here’s a lil somethin’ somethin’ about Mike Mussina. This is a story of a pitcher, a pitcher who began his career in the least humble of fashions, hurling at Stanford and graduating one of our nation’s most prestigious universities in a mere three years.

He can mop up in Scrabble, run the table in Trivial Pursuit, and still have enough left over to make Major League hitters look foolish with a knucklecurve so bitter you’d think the baseball gods themselves crafted it and handed it down.

But there is a metamorphosis going on in front of our eyes that proves that Kafka wasn’t a Yankees fan. It doesn’t happen every game, and the effects seem to reverse themselves once Moose hits the showers.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mike Mussina is aging before our eyes. He goes into his games like he’s in the prime of his career, fastball getting up to 90, curveball biting and knucklecurve safely tucked away in his back pocket, ready to break out and devastate hitters standing opposite him. But come the fifth inning, he’s mixing his Metamucil and popping a Viagra.

Of course, I wouldn’t be saying this if last night was the first time it happened. Remember back on August 3rd when he pulled the same aging stunt against the Indians?

There are other explanations for this phenomenon. Mussina, like Willie Brown in Crossroads (not the Britney Spears movie, the 1986 one with the Karate Kid), he could have struck a deal with the Devil, his soul for a nasty knucklecurve. And now Beelzebub is beginning to collect slowly, proving that he as well is not a Yankees fan.

Whatever the reason may be, I think Mikey has a task at hand: figuring out how he can enter the Second Season (so frequently mentioned it now warrants caps) like he entered the 2001 season. Because until he finds “it”, he’s of no use to Joe Torre or the team. (What an asshole. What an incredible asshole).

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How we long for Mike Mussina circa 2001 – or 1996. Hell, as long as he’s not pitching like he did in the first half of ’04, I think we’d be content. Alas, he’s beginning to regain that form, and it’s starting to scare us Yankees Faithful. This is emboldened by my next paragraph.

How we long for Randy Johnson circa 2004 – or 2002, or any other year he won the Cy Young. Hell, as long as he’s not pitching like he did in ’03, I think we’d be content. Alas, he’s been looking like that guy, injures (though not as serious) and all.

And how about Moose and Unit both committing their latest gaffes in a single inning? If I have any words of praise for Randy, it’s that at least he not only finished the inning, but the game. Moose, on the other hand, couldn’t pitch himself out of a jam, and it cost him eight runs. Eight. This is getting to be ri-goddamn-diculous.

As I have said as recently as this week, it’s theirs for the taking, but nothing is going to come of this recent surge if 1) Randy and Moose can’t hold down their spots and 2) they can’t recover from losses like last night.

I’ll be intently watching on GameCast. Stupid employment.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Ups and Downs Of A Win

Every time I want to type, “wow, great game last night,” I keep thinking about how events transpired, and it comes out something like, “wow, we won in spite of ourselves last night.”

I guess that makes it a quality win, though. So many things went wrong, and the Yanks were able to overcome them and win in dramatic fashion. And I think that – the dramatic manner in which we won – is the reason to get excited over the win. I was elated, sure, but not like my buddy Andy, who sent this text message following Escalona’s game winning single:

What a win!!! Where (sic) going all the way BABY!

Okay, so he had a few in him. And I have to say, had I been a few Yuenglings deep, I might have been spewing similar messages to various cell phones. When you spend a season losing games like this, coming out on top just feels so good, no matter how rotten it felt during the first eight innings.

Which brings me back to one of my initial points: so many things going wrong. How about our 3-4 punch going 0-8, including A-Rod whiffing with runners on first and second with the score tied in the 8th and Sheff grounding into a double-play with the bases loaded in the 6th. Or Mo giving up two ill-timed hits. Or Sturtze, although not giving up a run of his own, allowing one of Leiter’s guys to cross the plate.

But we still won. Still got some clutch hitting, still displayed the discipline at the plate that we’re famed for. It all came together in the ninth, when we pulled off a comeback win that was a signature of past teams. Yet there’s something not quite right about this team.

It seems that the Yanks have found an apt rotation, especially with Leiter finding the strike zone lately. But what about Aaron Small? How is he still being ignored after stepping into a huge spot and delivering throughout August?

Sure, with the return of Jaret Wright someone had to be sent to the ‘pen. And, the way things were going, the options were Small and Leiter, one of whom was throwing strikes at the time. As much as I loved Small starting games, having Leiter in the ‘pen would have been disastrous.

So if he’s in the bullpen, why aren’t we using him? He hasn’t pitched since last Wednesday, when he came on in relief of Leiter. True, he didn’t have the best of games, but that’s no reason to not pitch the guy. Hey, I’d rather have him in facing a lefty than Embree at this point, at the very least.

I’ve been talking a lot about the second season in this space, and the more the Yanks win in August, the more tense the second season becomes. This is amplified by Boston’s comparable hot streak, making the six games in September all the juicer.

In fact, they may be a season in and of themselves. Two teams whose rivalry has transcended the game, six games down the home stretch, with division and playoff implications. They may be the six most intense days of a Red Sox or Yankees fan’s season.

As they should be. That’s the whole point of having them play each other down the stretch. In fact, I’d rather knock out one of the series in April and stick it in August, so there’s kind of a prelude to the madness that is September.

September baseball, only eight days away.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Notes and Ramblings

A few notes on last night:

It may have taken a bases loaded (on free passes) in the first, but I think Jaret Wright has finally realized the importance of hurling strikes. He ended up with 99 pitches, 60 strikes, which isn’t horrible by any means. Especially considering he nearly 20 out of the strike zone in the first.

Thanks to A-Rod for getting a hit with Bernie on second, which allowed me to mock my dad, who will never fail to mention A-Rod’s currently slump with runners in scoring position. A flip of the bird to Bernie, who after getting a terrible jump heading to second (and saved only by Gregg Zaun’s lack of vision), got another slow start and failed to score on said A-Rod hit.

No thanks to A-Rod as well for doubling in a run in a meaningless run in the 8th, backing up my dad’s claim that he can’t hit in the clutch.

Womack got an extra base hit?

Way to break out of your slump, Jason Giambi. Oh-for-thirty-something, Giambi walked, slapped two singles, and drove in a run to end the day 2-3.

I still like Cano batting nine, at least until he finds his groove again. The big story with him is his lack of discipline at the plate, and I don’t think hitting two helps that at all. When the guys behind you are Sheff, A-Rod, Matsui and Giambi, you’re more than likely standing in the batter’s box thinking you’ll get something to hit. Batting him seven, say, he won’t get as much to hit, and maybe that will help teach him to lay off crappy pitches. Either that, or it will lead to him leading the league in strikeouts.

Is anyone else getting excited about the recent string of quality starting pitching?

Does anyone think Leiter might throw a strike or two tonight?

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I heard an interesting sentiment from a fellow Bombers fan last night: we might be better off winning the Wild Card than the division. The reasoning is that we’d face Chicago in the Divisional Series, and we’d be better off facing them in a five-game series than a seven-game series, and we would avoid potentially facing Los Angeles first round.

The idea with facing Chicago in a five-game set isn’t a terrible one. With their solid pitching and small ball mentality, they could be a daunting task during the seven-game ALCS. While this may be interesting, I pose this counter argument.

As I’ve said at least six thousand times in this space, September is the second season. Now, I don’t in any way expect Boston to collapse, but we do face them six times. Those six times may be enough for us to overtake them for the AL East lead. And once you’re out of the division lead, it truly is a wild card shot of getting in the playoffs. Hell, there’s a three-way tie right now, and these WC teams could be deadlocked for the bulk of the remaining season.

So knock a team out of the division lead, and they have to fend off at least two others to make the playoffs. This is just another reason we shouldn’t be content with the Wild Card: as the name implies, it is in no way guaranteed. Yes, in years past, the Red Sox or the Angels would have it wrapped up in a neat package by mid-September. But we actually have a race this year, and two of those three teams – three of four if you’re counting the Twins – are going to be scratching their balls in front of the TV in October.

And as I said yesterday, it’s the Yanks for the taking. We may not control our own destiny – yet – but for the first time this season since the now infamous May win streak, things are actually looking up.

Now don’t eff it up.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Theirs For The Taking

When you really think about it, the Yanks had one bad inning over the weekend. True, that inning precluded us from sweeping the AL-best White Sox, but I think even Meatloaf would be impressed with the outing as a whole.

Yesterday’s loss becomes a bit bitter when it is realized that a win would have catapulted us into the Wild Card lead. Not that it matters at this point; the second season hasn’t begun yet. It also helps keep things in perspective. The Yanks aren’t going to hit another 10-game win streak in all likelihood. But as long as they hang in there and take series after series, they’re in quite good shape to make the playoffs.

If they had just done that all year, they wouldn’t be in this stinkin’ mess, now would they? It just seems this whole season is a bunch of “what ifs.” What if the pitching staff stayed healthy? What if we hadn’t dropped all those games to Kansas City and Tampa Bay? What if we actually put the ball in the outfield with runners in scoring position?

I do have to say – and I think everyone will agree with me – that the Yanks impressed me with this weekend series. After those two losses to the D-Rays should have crushed their spirits, the Yanks manned up, rode their pitching, and did their job on offense. This is the model for what a baseball team SHOULD do.

But I’m kinda tired about talking about the Yanks. It’s been the Great American Scream Machine all year, and with the second season rapidly approaching (just over a week away), I’m sure we’re going to add a few loops and corkscrews to that rollercoaster. Here’s what makes things worse.

It’s seeming more and more every day that he winner of the AL is going to win the World Series, to the point that it’s beginning to look like the NFC-dominated NFL in the late 80s through early 90s. Seriously, what NL team is going to overtake the Sox, Yanks, A’s, Angels, or Sox?

The Cardinals look like the frontrunners in the NL, but I just can’t take them seriously after last year. True, Chris Carpenter is having a career year, and Matt Morris is rebounding well from his worst year, but I don’t see that as being enough to bring them over the top. Maybe in the NL, where they should continue their reign as kings.

True, the Braves will attempt to stake their claim to the crown. And with their team experience in the postseason, they should have a legitimate shot. With their pitching staff as solid as any (Smoltz, Hudson, Ramirez, the returning John Thompson, Sosa/Davies) and a guy like Andruw Jones toe’n the line, the Braves could find themselves back in familiar territory – the World Series.

I do realize that I just said, in two consecutive paragraphs, that both the Cardinals and Braves have legitimate shots at an NL Pennant. But if you think about it, are there any other choices? Well, let’s look at the other choices. First, the Wild Card winner, which could be the Phils, ‘Stros, Nats, Marlins or Mets. It seems that none of these five teams can string together enough wins to gain some separation, and this race could go all the way to the last day of the season. Though, it should be needless to say that the Mets will kill themselves before the final stretch.

Oh, yeah, the Padres have a shot, too. I had a hard time typing that with a straight face. It’s not just that they’re leading their division at a game under .500. It’s that under this type of scheduling, you play teams in your division more than the rest of the teams in your league. So not only are the Pads not faring well against the rest of the NL, they’re not even getting the job done with the other horseshit teams in their division.

This notion is particularly scary because Boston looks like the frontrunner in the AL. They’re hitting the snot out of the ball, and their pitching is performing adequately. Boston’s frontrunner status is being highlighted by Chicago’s sudden signs of mortality, having been swept by division foes Minnesota and losing two of three – and having but one quality inning all weekend – to the Yankees.

Not that I’m counting out the A’s or the Angels. I just see too many flaws with them. The Angels look a bit scarier at this point because of their 7th-8th-9th combination of Donnelly, Shields and Rodriguez, but we all know what happens when you have three overworked guys in the ‘pen. See Yankees, 2004. And the A’s, well, I’m going to cop out right now and cough up my lack of faith in them to their inexperience. But hey, a strong run in Season Deux may change my mind about them.

Which brings us right back to the Yanks and why I am having trouble writing about them. This season is theirs for the taking. They have the talent. They just need the motivation and desire. Unfortunately, that’s not something you can instantly instill in a team. To rattle off a sports cliché, they have to WANT it, they have to feel it. They have to be hungry.

The pitching staff is slowly becoming solid. Chacon is leading the pack right now, leaving opponents in shock and awe with his rebirth in the Bronx. Moose is Moose is Moose, and he and Chacon at the top of the rotation could carry the team down the stretch.

That leave the three spot to Randy, a role which a 17-year vet making $16 mil should be able to fill. Jaret Wright should be at least capable of holding down the four spot in the rotation, though tonight will help us gauge him a bit more accurately. Finally, the five spot, a spot that is crucial in September but is obsolete come October. Of course, Yankees fans are crying for the spot to be handed to the surprise of the year, Aaron Small. And, in all likelihood, barring an Al Leiter resurgence, he’ll be in that role by September. Seriously, how much longer can the Yanks let him sit in the bullpen?

Small wins games. Period. Plain and simple. He has proven that he can come out and give us a quality start – at the very least – almost every time he takes the mound. This is exactly what the team needs in September, not a guy tossing 100 pitches in five innings and taking all the life out of the guys behind him. So Leiter, take heed: throw strikes or get out. I know that’s just one (unqualified) writer’s opinion, but it’s shared by almost all. I swear, if Leiter ruins this for us…

But he won’t. Because these are the New York effin’ Yankees. And when other teams let them hang around long enough, they’re going to pounce. It’s the way things work. You can’t explain it, nor can I. They could have been knocked out back in June, but they hung around. And now it’s going to come back and bite everyone in the ass. No, I’m not predicting World Series glory, especially after I hinted that the postseason may be out of reach as late as Friday.

But the Yanks showed some heart this weekend. They showed that the team might just have that passion, that drive for greatness. Of course, there are still 40 games left. But all it takes is some solid play mixed in with a hot streak or two. The AL is thiers for the taking. Why let that opportunity pass?