Friday, September 15, 2006

Beckett Tonight

Josh Beckett's ERA vs. the Yankees this year: 12.21. It's shitty AND palindromic.

Thanks to Baseball Musings for the heads up.

The Rasner Bandwagon

Everyone, gather ‘round. We have a new student in class today, and I’d like to introduce him. He goes by the name Darrell Rasner, and no, we haven’t thought of an appropriate nickname yet. But when we do, you’ll certainly be the first to know.

See, Rasner was picked up as a castoff from the Nationals over the off-season. Jim Bowden apparently thought that he had no use for a promising 25-year-old pitcher, and cut bait. Cashman, being the astute executive he is, quickly nabbed Rasner, knowing that at age 25, he’s quite young for a pitcher. Additionally, the Yankees now own his services for at least four more years, and it could be five depending on his exact MLB service time.

The main question we should all be asking now is, “why? Why did Bowden let Rasner go?” It must have been his minor-league track record, right? He was a second round pick, after all, so a decidedly subpar minor league performance could get him the pink slip. His numbers from AA Harrisburg, a National’s affiliate, in 2005:

150.1 3.59 5.75 1.74 0.60 3.31 1.19

Are you kidding me? That’s the kid Bowden let go? How did this one slip under the radar? He’s only 25, and those are, by all means, very impressive numbers for a youngster. He may not blow people away, but he has control (1.74 BB/9? Freakin’ excellent, my friend) and, most importantly, keeps the ball in the park. His 0.60 HR/9 is no aberration; he’s kept a similarly low rate throughout his minor league career.

He’s ours now, and Joe would be wise to give him a few starts down the stretch. He’s relatively unknown, unscouted, and unseen by the AL playoff hopefuls, giving him the K-Rod and Jenks edge (an edge also in Bruney’s favor). But most importantly, he throws strikes, which can’t be said of Cory Lidle or Jaret Wright. Why would you trot out either of them when you know that the game hinges on their suspect control? Wouldn’t you rather have a guy who 1) your opponent hasn’t seen and 2) actually puts the ball over the plate and won’t “clog the basepaths” via walks? And, as it is integral in the playoffs, keep the ball in the park (though in Wright’s defense, he does a stellar job of this)?

The only way to see if he’s capable is to give him more starts. I know Chien-Ming Wang is going for 20 wins this season, but what’s more important, attaining 20 wins, or being well rested come playoff time? If the Yanks are close or have home field advantage locked up by the last week and a half of the season, I see no reason to not give Rasner two starts. He’s got the tools, he’s got an edge, and he has a potential void to fill.

This all comes on the hells of his lights out performance last night, allowing just one hit over four innings of relief work. You can discount it all you want, considering it was the Devil Rays, but they sure didn’t look like a crappy team against Jeff Karstens over the first five innings. Some other highlights of Rasner’s evening: he tossed a mere 45 pitches over those four innings (a stellar 11.25 per inning), 36 of which were strikes. Eighty percent. That’s downright sick. He also posted five strikeouts, mostly courtesy of his honed hook, and added to that an impressive 5-2 ground ball to fly ball ratio.

I know it’s early to be jumping on the bandwagon, but seriously, what Yankees starting pitcher not named Wang, Johnson, or Mussina is better than Rasner right now? With him and Bruney on the postseason roster, the Yanks will be that much stronger. Now it’s just a matter of convincing Torre that his “Reliable Veterans” aren’t quite as reliable as a 25-year-old Nationals castoff.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Yank 8, Rays 4

It looks like the initial rush of adrenaline has worn off and Cory Lidle has reverted to the below average pitcher we knew for so many years in Toronto and Philadelphia – though Oakland did squeeze a couple good years out of him. Even just a week ago, it was pretty much assumed that Lidle would be the fourth starter in the playoffs, taking the place of the largely ineffective Jaret Wright. Now, though, it will take at least two more strong performances from Lidle for his name to come back into the conversation.

Right from the get-go, things looked ugly. Not only did Rocco Baldelli (honestly, is there a tougher sounding name than Rocco?) hit a leadoff home run, but, uh, I guess I'll let the image do the talking.

Rocco fall down, go boom

Seeing an egregiously fat pitch, Baldelli swung so hard that he lost balance and fell over. He wouldn't be able to do that on a sharp breaking pitch; he surely would have swung right through it. But he recognized “hanging curveball” right from the get-go, reached back, and swung with all his might. John Sterling had me believing there was a shot it would stay in the yard, but once I got home and watched the archive, yeah, that was a sure thing the second it hit the bat.

I ran into a 7-11 immediately afterwards, and upon my return was greeted by Sterling saying something about Carl Crawford and the short porch in right. Wonderful. I wondered if he would make it out of the first inning.

The Yanks answered and took the lead in the first, which left me at least a little at ease. Sure, Lidle was still coming out for the second, but he's not THAT bad, is he? The short answer is no, since he did pitch into the fifth. But you surely have to expect more from your No. 4 starter than 80 pitches over 4-plus innings. Hell, Jaret Wright has done better than that plenty of times this season. Though, it's usually just slightly better.

Let's check in with the rest of the pitching staff:

Bruney, 2.0 IP, 26 pitches, 0 ER
Myers, 0.2 IP, 7 pitches, 0 ER
Proctor, 1.1 IP, 15 pitches, 0 ER
Farnsworth, 1.0 IP, 11 pitches, 0 ER

It appears that we saw the full crew of Mo's setup men last night, and they all gave us reason to breathe a sigh of relief. Of course, everything that happens over the course of this series has to be taken in perspective. These are, after all, the freakin' Devil Rays. They may not be a good barometer, but these are still Major League games, and to see this crew emphatically slam the door eases some of the concern I have about the playoffs.

In essence, except for Lidle, the Yanks looked like a team ready to mow down some playoff opponents. Can we just end the season now and begin postseason play? Is anyone as ready as I am?

If I find video of this segment, I'll surely post it, but today I'll leave you with a quote from Jeff Brantley from last night's edition of Baseball Tonight. Please note that inconsequential words like “a” and “the” may not be 100 percent accurate, but the important words are all there.

“I'll tell you what, though. The only way to beat the Yankees is to outscore them.”
Jeff Brantley, commenting on the Yankees playoff status.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nothing Boring About This 12-4 Win

Mike Mussina had been feeling what he described as a “twinge” in his shoulder following his 86-pitch start last week, fresh off the disabled list. Originally scheduled for a Sunday start, he was pushed back for precautionary reasons. Still not 100 percent – though most players aren't at this time of year – Mussina took the mound last night against the fledgling Devil Rays, hoping to make progress towards a return to form by playoff time. His teammates had his back.

Fueled by El Comedulce's six RBI, Mussina's task transformed from the arduousness of pitching a Major League game to the ease of spinning batting practice. An additional three runs in the third really let Mussina relax and test his arsenal. Think of it as a glorified rehab start, though you can be more optimistic about the results since they came against (supposedly) Major League hitters. His next assignment will be a better indicator of where he stands, as he's scheduled to face the Red Sox on Sunday.

For the most part, I liked what I saw from Mussina. He had a few control issues here and there, but in the long run, his 87 pitches over six and a third is quite impressive. It sets him up nicely for Sunday, when he'll likely extend his workload to near 100 pitches. With two starts to follow that, he should be in fine shape for the playoffs, joining Wang and Randy as a formidable 1-2-3 punch.

The spotlight was spread out at Yankee Stadium last night. Even the stellar performances of Moose and Abreu couldn't steal all the attention from the Yankees Faithful, as Hideki Matsui returned to action emphatically. Following a bloop RBI single in the first, Matsui hammered a single to right to lead off the third. His swing was as beautiful as you'll find in baseball, graciously sweeping through the zone. Of course, one game isn't indicative of future success, but you have to feel good about a guy who goes 4-4 in his first game after nearly five baseball-free months. I'd say dormant months, but as we saw and read all summer, Hideki was everything but.

A little bit of envy flowed around the clubhouse yesterday, as Gary Sheffield preened on about his probable return this weekend. His mood swings make a pregnant woman seem tame, but you still have to be excited about the prospect of adding his killer bat to this lineup. It would be, just – I have to use the word here – unconscionable. My jaw dropped at the sight of last night's lineup, and to add Sheffield to the mix would be not only to further strengthen the lineup, but to make it deeper and more suited for a playoff run. Not that it's ill-suited at this point, or at any point this season. Hell, with a reliable pitching staff, the Yanks could have done it like they did in June and July.

With the Yanks up 12-0 after the third, I figured that Moose would toss five or six innings, dependent upon his pitch count. It was quite a surprise to see him come out for the seventh, though his low pitch count gave Torre good reason to give him the okay. T.J. Beam got some work in, and actually looked impressive this time around, recording five outs with only 13 pitches. However, he did come into the game with a runner on first, enabling him to induce the double play on two pitches. After hitting B.J. Upton to start the eighth, he plowed through the remaining Devil Rays.

The same can't be said for Octavio Dotel. There is simply no justification for allowing four freakin' runs in the ninth inning of a 12-0 game. Little to no chance exists at this point for his making the postseason roster. Further complicating matters is the Torre bullpen system, which will surely shut Dotel out of any games with a less than eight run difference. Maybe he can find a groove if the Yanks clinch home field, but judging by the hard evidence presented by his performance, I'm not at all convinced that's a real possibility. What it does, however, is further solidify Brian Bruney's spot.

I'd be a heathen if I didn't mention that Jeter's hit streak does, in fact, stay in tact. You have to record an official at bat in a game for a streak to be broken, and neither a walk nor a hit by pitch, Jeter's only results from last night, count. This would put an odd twist on any kind of extended streak, especially considering it would have to wrap over to next year.

Tonight, Cory Lidle gets a chance to redeem himself after a pitiful outing last Friday in Baltimore. I like Lidle, though I can't say I'd trust him pitching in a playoff series. Actually, should Jeff Karstens fare well against the Red Sox on Saturday, I might even be more trusting of him. Judging by his stuff, Karstens shouldn't be an overly reliable Major League starter, but he's young and basically unseen by most of the American League. Toss him against the A's and the Tigers (the Twins have seen him), and you might be able to catch lightning in a bottle.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tonight's Mind-Blowing Lineup

Johnny Damon - CF
Derek Jeter - SS
Bobby Abreu - RF
Alex Rodriguez - 3B
Jason Giambi - 1B
Jorge Posada - C
Robinson Cano - 2B
Hideki Matsui - DH
Melky Cabrera - LF

Do I even need to comment on the sheer potential for dominance from this crew?

Can't Complain

If this is the worst we'll see of Randy from here on out, consider me a happy camper. Nearly every pitcher (with the possible exception of Johan “Shoe In” Santana) is susceptible to inadequate performances, and that factor is magnified once you're over the age of oh, say, 43. I don't mind this right now, but as Randy said following the game, that performance won't hold up in a playoff game, and – like last year – could be detrimental in a 5-game series.

Two things in baseball piss me off more than anything: losing winnable games, and failing to score runs off a pitcher with a 5+ ERA, particularly ones who lead the AL in losses. The Yanks nearly did both last night, but thanks to some late-innings heroics by Robinson Cano, the Yanks were able to salvage this one, despite Proctor insistence on allowing Ramon Hernandez to jack one.

And while we tout Cano for driving in the go-ahead run, let's not forget Brian Bruney. Some of us, myself included, have jumped to some serious conclusions about this kid and what he can do for the Yanks postseason run. It would be nice to have him step in like a Bobby Jenks or Francisco Rodriguez, but the difference is that the Yanks have a closer – or at least should have a closer. This makes Bruney more like what Kelvim Escobar was for the Angels last year, which, if you paid any attention to the ALDS, is a scary proposition.

Even with the emergence of Bruney, the Yanks still absolutely need Proctor, Farnsworth, and even Villone to pitch like they were in late July and early August. Thankfully, Torre has given Villone a few days off, resting his ostensibly tired arm. Proctor has received no such luxury, and pitched in his third straight game last night. Why Torre continues to do this I don't know. He wants to go to his best relievers because he wants to win the game at hand, and that's understandable. However, if by going to your best reliever too frequently you compromise his effectiveness, I cease to see the logic. Hopefully he'll get the Tampa Bay series off, but I think that's as likely as him getting the start on Wednesday.

A win is extra nice here, if for no other reason than the first inning omen. With Damon and Jeter having singled, the heart of the order was on with no outs and some speed on the bases. But then Abreu struck out. And then A-Rod was absolutely frozen by a 3-2 curveball, which immediately begs the question of how many times Lopez has thrown a 3-2 curve, and furthermore how many times he's gotten it over for a strike. I'm figuring that he throws a curve 3-2, eh, 1 out of 15 times, and probably gets that over for a strike 1 of 4. Of course, that's all anecdotal, and I'm simply not willing to pay Baseball Info Solutions for the hard data. Not yet, at least. After Posada dinked one to second, Lopez escaped the inning unfazed.

But, in the end, they all made up for their first-inning shortcoming in the seventh. Abreu hit a sac fly to get the ball rolling, Alex followed it up with an RBI single, and Jorge took one for the team, which set the table for Cano's rip shot. For Orioles fans, only one name comes to mind here: Fernando Tatis. As we say in the land of Deadspin, “Stupid Angelos.”

So remember all those bench guys who have gotten in the lineup lately? Yeah, that's all about to change, as we can expect Hideki Matsui to be penciled in as the DH tonight against Tampa Bay. It's especially nice because the game is at home, and I expect nothing less than a roaring ovation for Godzilla. One of the managers at my now-former place of employment predicted that Matsui would hit a homer in his first game back, but that's nothing more than a sensational prediction. Facing Tim Corcoran may assist said prediction, but in reality, I'd actually be happier if he drew a walk or two and slapped a single to left. Over his first week or so back, you have to be more concerned with timing and discipline than power.

Jason Giambi is also set to return to the lineup, as he'll become the everyday first baseman for the foreseeable future. He always complains of unbalanced splits and performing worse as a DH, but I've always blamed that on the fact that most of the time that he's DHing, he's suffering from some minor ailment. This year, however, he's been the DH to provide playing time to Andy Phillips and Craig Wilson. His splits:

1B .293/.463/.624
DH .215/.366/.518

Get this man out in the field, immediately and often.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Solid Weekend

It is no secret that baseball is, by far and wide, my favorite sport. No other game captures the essence of man quite like it. Is there another game where the strategy changes sometimes 130 times in a game, after each pitch? Give me the MLB Extra Innings package (or, greatest $100 I've spent all year) and I'll have something to watch every night of the week.

This makes early September a bit awkward, as the second love of my life is resurrected from seven months of dormancy. Here we have the stretch run of baseball, quite possibly the second most important month in the sport, and opposite it is the NFL, which evokes a completely different feeling. It's man taking out aggression on man, where baseball is man taking out aggression on a round ball with a cylindrical stick.

Yes, I watched my fair share of baseball this weekend, though that's not to say I didn't spend time with my other love. It's quite easy, actually, to flip back and forth between football and baseball because they're both play-based games. There's a stop in the action between each play, meaning enough down time to hit the “r-tune” button on the remote and catch up with the happenings in the other game.

Such is the way it went on Saturday. I didn't want to miss the Yankees try, try again with Cy Loewen nor did I want to miss Penn State/Notre Dame. They played opposite each other, and I managed to miss little on each end, though I was more adamant about seeing the Orioles on offense, since Wang was once again up to his crafty ways. Perhaps the greatest story to emanate from the 2006 Yankees is the emergence of Chien-Ming Wang. He showed flashes of serviceability surrounding a shoulder injury last year, but it was a long shot to predict that he'd turn into arguably the Yankees most valuable pitching weapon. Say what you will about Mike Mussina and how his brilliance salvaged the first half of the season; right now, Wang is the ace of the staff.

We'll get a more telling peek at the state of the Yankees pitching staff over the next few days. First comes tonight, as Randy Johnson gets a chance to prove that his recent mastery is more than just a long string of luck. He'll get four more starts for the rest of the season, which could get cut to three if the Yankees find themselves in a more favorable position come the last week of September.

I know it's a bit short today, but I have too much on my mind regarding the Jets and their season-opening victory to keep prattling on about a successful weekend in Baltimore. On a closing note, isn't it plainly obvious to everyone at this point that there is no sense in sending out Wright for the seventh inning?