Saturday, May 08, 2004

Back on the 18th 

I hate to do this, folks, but I'm going on vacation (well, I don't hate to go on vacation). As a result, there will be about ten days of radio silence here on the BRB. That will cover the remainder of the west coast swing against the Mariners and the following homestand against the Angels and the Mariners again.

I've done my best to predict the pitching match-ups on the side-bar, but don't hold me to them. I've also taken a very brief look at each team in the two posts below. Oh, and for those of you looking for my comments on Thursday night's game in Oakland, that's down there too.

I'll do my best to get back in action when the Yanks face the Angels in Anaheim on the 18th. In the meantime, feel free to get some discussions going in the comments (the Angel and Mariner posts below would work well for comments on each respective series).

Also, I figure this is a good time to run down the links on the side-bar, as you should make use of them in my absence (as you should have been doing all along anyway). So here we go:

Yankee Blogs

Best I can tell, the two blogs that are most reliably updated are Bronx Banter and The Comerce Comet. The latter I only recently discovered. It's a livejournal site, so it's got a slightly different feel than your typical blog, but there's always something new there to read and Brian who runs it is always finding interesting and informative articles that rarely get mention elsewhere. I learn things reading the Comerce Comet. Bronx Banter is simply the Godfather of Yankee Blogs (or rather Alex Belth who writes it is). It's essential reading. Fantastic writing, the inspiration for this and countless other sites. If you're not already a regular reader, become one now. Oh, and there's some great conversation in the comments (which likely has brought a number of you here).

Jay Jaffe's Futility Infielder is not really a Yankee blog proper, but Jay's a Yankee fan and more likely to write about them than any other single team (except maybe the Dodgers), so I list it there. Regardless of affiliation, it's one of the very best baseball blogs in existence, and one of the oldest. Jaffe and Belth are two of the best baseball writers on the net, and quality gents as well.

The Replacement Level Yankee Blog's Larry Mahnken is a bit of a red ass, and his posts came sporadically during the offseason and during the launch of The Hardball Times, for which he writes, but he's back at it regularly now and I remember why I found him essential reading last season.

Steve Bonner's The Midnight Hour is at a new home and Steve seems to have a new-found dedication to his blog. Things can get a bit off-color there, but he's passionate, well-informed, and a good deal of fun.

Fabian McNally's Minor Yankee Blog takes a special interest in the Yankees farm system and often has in-depth analysis of how key minor leaguers are performing. Fabian also seems to have stepped up his post frequency recently, which is a welcome sight.

Lastly, there's a lot more Mets at Yankees, Mets and the Rest than either Yankees, or the rest for that matter (of the last there's about as much, if not less, than you get here). But I still check it out for Scott's odd post, and Vinny's writing on the Mets sucks me in far more than any Mets blog has a right to.

Sticking with the Yankee theme for one more link, if you don't read Steve Goldman's Pinstriped Bible over at the YES Network's Yankee page, you lose. Plain and simple. Steve was the first baseball writer I ever read regularly on the internet and five years later he has yet to let me down. Incredible writing. Great insight. And he's become a good friend too. Can't say enough about the man.

Eyeballing the list from there and skipping the links to try to get to bed so that I don't oversleep my flight tomorrow:

Dave Pinto's Baseball Musings is a great daily read from around the majors. Always on top of the latest news and the key games. In the Hall of Fame with Jaffe and Belth.

The Hardball Times was created in the image of Baseball Prospectus by a bunch of bloggers and is turning into a great sight.

Aaron Gleeman's Baseball Blog has lost some momentum to The Hardball Times (Aaron was one of the founders of THT), but is still fun to check out. Aaron's a megalomaniac, and a Twins fan.

Baseball News provides links to some of the more interesting baseblog posts around the web.

The All-Baseball All-Stars are Christian Ruzich's assemblage of quality blogs such including Bronx Banter, Christian's Cub Reporter--which recently added former Ball Talk author and New York-based Cubs fan Alex Cipley, Dodger Thoughts, Mariner Musings, Baysball (A's), Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, Bryan Smith's Wait Til Next Year, and the next three on my list, Ruzich's Transaction Guy (which was so money in the offseason), Mike's Baseball Rants (Phillies fan with a strong dislike of Joe Morgan and a very big calculator), and the Will Carroll Weblog, which spends as much time on politics and pop culture as on baseball and now has so many authors I can't keep them straight.

Moving on, Humbug Journal by the Score Bard is a baseball blog in verse. Sounds scary, but the Bard is brilliant. This is not some punk who thinks rhyming equals poetry. The man is a honest-to-goodness poet and a fascinating writer to boot.

The last three are the most team-specific non-Yankee blogs on the list. Brian at Redbird Nation took me to task over the A-Rod trade and I discovered that he's got a terrific blog over there. Besides which, the Cardinals have always kind of been my favorite NL team. I was happy when Tino went there. The Raindrops is about the Mets and occasionally involves some magnificent number crunching. Avkash is a good dude, too. Speaking of good dudes, Seth Stohs is one. He's also a Twins fan. Too bad his fantasy team blows (heh). Lastly, Edward Cossette's Bambino's Curse is a Red Sox blog worth reading, even for Yankee fans.

Of course BP and ESPN are there. And the Yankee's official sight really is a great source for info on the team.

Just promise me you'll all come back in ten days.

posted by Cliff at 12:25 AM

Friday, May 07, 2004

The Seattle Mariners 

Seattle Mariners

2003 Record: 93-69 (.574)
2003 Pythagorean Record: 97-65 (.598)

Manager: Bob Melvin
General Manager: Bill Bavasi

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Safeco Field (97/98)

Who’s replacing whom?

Raul Ibanez replaces Mike Cameron
Rich Aurilia replaces Carlos Guillen
Scott Spiezio replaces Jeff Cirillo
Jolbert Cabrera replaces Mark McLemore
Quinton McCraken replaces John Mabry
Dave Hansen replaces Rey Sanchez
Eddie Guardado replaces Arthur Rhodes
Mike Myers replaces Jeff Nelson
Ron Villone replaces Kazuhiro Sasaki

The Mariner's current roster:

1B - John Olerud
2B - Bret Boone
SS - Rich Aurilia
3B - Scott Spiezio
C - Dan Wilson
RF - Ichiro Suzuki
CF - Randy Winn
LF - Raul Ibanez
DH - Edgar Martinez


R - Jolbert Cabrera (IF)
S - Quinton McCraken (OF)
L - Dave Hansen (IF)
R - Pat Borders (C)


R - Freddy Garcia
R - Ryan Franklin
R - Gil Meche
L - Jamie Moyer
R - Joel Pineiro


L - Eddie Guardado
R - Shigetoshi Hasegawa
L - Mike Myers
L - Ron Villone
R -Julio Mateo
R - Rafael Soriano
R - J.J. Putz


R - Willie Bloomquist (IF)
L - Chris Snelling (OF)
R - Aaron Taylor (60-day)

The Mariners' primary line-up:

L - Ichiro Suzuki (RF)
S - Scott Spiezio (3B)
R - Bret Boone (2B)
R - Edgar Martinez (DH)
L - Raul Ibanez (LF)
R - Rich Aurilia (SS)
L - John Olerud (1B)
R - Dan Wilson (C)
S - Randy Winn (S)

If you're looking for him, Ben Davis just got sent down to triple-A in favor of the 900-year-old Pat Borders. That tells you how well Davis was hitting (for fun: .091/.162/.091). While those numbers are exceptional, they lead to the primary problem with this team: no one is hitting. Ibanez, much to the surprise of many who saw him as a park factor freak, actually has the best OPS among the team's starters (.866). Scott Spiezio is doing okay despite missing time with an injury. After that you're OPS leaders are Boone with his .295 OBP and Olerud with his .360 slugging. Ugh.

On the mound, the big story is that Freddy Garcia, whom the Yankees should miss in both series, seams to have righted his ship. The bullpen's doing pretty well, led by the now healthy and phenomenal Guardado. But otherwise it's just mnyeh. Unless you're excited by the fact that Kevin Jarvis pitched his way right off the team and Joel Pineiro is doing his best to join him.

There are only four teams in baseball worse than the Mariners right now, the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Royals and Expos. And Doug Melvin just got a contract extension after falling four wins short of his team's Pythagorean record last year. This Bavasi guy is a genius!

posted by Cliff at 11:58 PM

The Anaheim Angels 

Anaheim Angels

2003 Record: 77-85 (.475)
2003 Pythagorean Record: 80-82 (.494)

Manager: Mike Scioscia
General Manager: Bill Stoneman

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Edison International Field (93/94)

Who’s replacing whom?

Vladimir Guerrero replaces Scott Spiezio
Jose Guillen replaces Shawn Wooten and a half season of Brad Fullmer
Shane Halter replaces Benji Gil
Josh Paul replaces Eric Owens
Bartolo Colon replaces Kevin Appier
Kelvim Escobar replaces Scott Schoeneweis
Kevin Griggs replaces Mickey Callaway

The Angels current roster:

1B - Darin Erstad
2B - Adam Kennedy
SS - David Eckstein
3B - Troy Glaus
C - Bengie Molina
RF - Vladimir Guerrero
CF - Chone Figgins
LF - Jose Guillen
DH - Jeff DeVanon


R - Shane Halter (IF)
S - Alfredo Amezaga (IF)
R - Robb Quinlan (1B)
R - Jose Molina (C)
R - Josh Paul (C)


R - Bartolo Colon
L - Jarrod Washburn
R - Kelvin Escobar
R - Aaron Sele
R - John Lackey


R - Troy Percival
R - Francisco Rodriguez
R - Ben Webber
R - Scot Shields
R - Kevin Gregg
R - Ramon Ortiz


L - Garret Anderson (CF)
R - Tim Salmon (DH)
R - Brendan Donnelly
R - Greg Jones

A quasi-representative Angels line-up:

R - David Eckstein (SS)
L - Darin Erstad (1B)
S - Chone Figgins (CF)
R - Vladimir Guerrero (RF)
R - Troy Glaus (3B)
R - Jose Guillen (LF)
S - Jeff DeVanon (DH)
R - Bengie Molina (C)
L - Adam Kennedy (2B)

I say "quasi-representative" because Scioscia's been mixing it up with Glaus, Figgins, DeVanon and Shane Halter at 3B/DH/CF. Halter and Figgins have started at third. Figgins and DeVanon in center. Glaus and DeVanon at DH. Halter usually bats seventh.

And yes, Scioscia has moved his best defensive outfielder to first base and is batting Chone Figgins third ahead of Vladimir Guerrero, while keeping Adam Kennedy imprisoned at the bottom of his line-up and Eckstein and Erstad at the top. And he's winning. At this writing the Angels are tied with the Astros for the best record in baseball.

They've been doing it by outhitting their disappointing pitching. End of story. Here's the evidence:

Angels batters: .283/.343/.448
Angels opponents: .280/.338/.429

That's just good enough.

Troy Glaus is hitting out of his mind. Vlad is Vlad (though without the wheels). Figgins is actually earning his palce in the batting order. Guillen is proving last year was not a fluke. Bengie Molina's hitting .305/.333/.475 and his back-up brother is doing significantly better when resting his brother's hammies.

It will be interesting to see how the recent loss of Anderson (who was among the hot hitters) and Salmon (who was not) will effect this offense. Neither will return before the Angels buzz out of the Bronx.

As for the pitching. Francisco Rodriguez, still just 22, has yet to give up an earned run and has struck out 23 in 14 2/3 innings (14.11 K/9!). Troy Percival and 25-year-old Kevin Gregg have been fierce. So, what else is new, the Angels bullpen is good. And Brendan Donnelly will be back before the Yanks face them next week.

The rotation is another story. Ramon Ortiz was so bad he got banished to the bullpen and has yet to make an appearance since his last start. Of course, the Angels had Aaron Sele ready to fill in, and he's got the best ERA of anyone in the rotation. Washburn has a league-leading five wins, but the worst ERA among the starters (the other three are in the high fours). Like I said, they're out-hitting their pitching. No surprise, then, that they're playing two games ahead of their Pythagorean Record.

posted by Cliff at 11:15 PM

All good things must come to an end 

The Yankees had to lose eventually. They just had to. That they lost with Javier Vazquez on the mound, however, did come as a bit of a surprise.

After jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the second (Bernie single, Clark double, Wilson RBI single, 2-RBI triple from Kenny Lofton, Jeter RBI single), the Yankees were shut down by Rich Harden. They managed just a single by Gary Sheffield--who was promptly caught stealing and is now 0 for 3 on the basepaths this year, not counting some failed attempts at taking the extra base--and a hit-by-pitch before consecutive walks removed Harden with two out in the eighth.

Meanwhile, Vazquez, who struggled with his control all night, just couldn't get it done in the second and sixth innings. The second: single, single, walk, foul out, Damian Miller walks with the bases loaded to drive in a run, fly out, RBI single, ground out. The sixth: strike out, groundout, single, single, wild pitch, walk to Damian Miller to load the bases, Billy McMillon walks with the bases loaded to drive in a run. Exit Vazquez. Enter Gabe White to face the lefty Kotsay. 2-RBI single.

In between Erubiel Durazo blasted a Vazquez pitch well into the right field stands. End result: 6-4 A's.

So Vazquez walks both Damian Miller and Billy McMillon with the bases loaded. In case that wasn't enough evidence that he was struggling with his control, that wild pitch in the sixth missed Posada low and away by about five feet. After the game, Joe Torre explained that Vazquez was having trouble with his release point. Surprising, considering how sound Javy's mechanics are and how infatuated I've become with his release. At any rate, chalk it up to a fluke bad outing. The streak had to end sometime.

A bigger concern is Gabe White, who in consecutive games came in to retire a lefty with two outs and the game tied and failed. Last night it was with the bases loaded and two outs and he gave up an RBI single. Two nights ago it was runners on the corners and two outs and he gave up an RBI single.

As for the line-up, Kenny Lofton is back in center and leading off. Honestly, right now I can't get upset at that. Bernie's so bad in center that Lofton is almost worth starting against lefties at this point, and it's not like Bernie (who's been bumped down below the heart of the order) has been hitting all that much thus far this season (though he's been better over the past week or so, raising his average 28 points in the past week while hitting .280/.357/.360 over the past seven days). Meanwhile, Enrique Wilson is back at second. He's hitting .333/.316/.444 in four games in May (and yes his OBP is lower than his batting average, it's because the denominator of OBP is plate appearances, not at-bats, and Enrique has a sac fly in that span).

In other news, Travis Lee has a torn labrum with will require surgery that will in all likelihood end his season. Good riddance, I say. I never understood that signing and am glad he won't be around to take ABs away from Tony Clark, who has two things Lee doesn't, power and patience. Showy defense be damned, Clark is just fine in the field.

Meanwhile, Felix Heredia has started throwing in Tampa. He's got to get back in shape, but he could wind up coming back and contributing to this team. I had figured him for a goner, but with Conteras in limbo and Osborne in the rotation, Heredia could be come an important piece once again.

posted by Cliff at 10:36 PM

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Softball Season 

Alright, forget the Yankees for a minute, check out the excitement from my first softball game of the season:

I play on my company's softball team on the Great Lawn in Central Park. We have about 20 players for 10 positions, so we play in two shifts. Today I took the second shift in center field. In my first at-bat I nailed a pitch, but hit it directly at the short fielder who caught it almost despite herself. My next at-bat came leading off the bottom of the seventh and final inning with my team trailing 6-4. This time I hit an easy fly to the same spot, but this one the short fielder misplayed. I took a big turn around first as the ball trickled away from her into right field, but their right fielder got the ball in quicker than I expected and caught me half way to second. I froze in that spot, leaning, but not moving toward first. Prior to that inning I knew I was leading off and had it in my mind to get to second base if at all possible. Frozen mid-basepath and outfitted with a new pair of cleats (not wanting to be the guy who takes things too seriously, I played the last three years in sneakers, despite the fact that most of my teammates wore cleats), I figured I was going to force these guys into a mistake (the level of play in my league is pretty low). Their shortstop took the rightfielder's throw in front of second and took one step toward me, but then stopped charging, I danced toward him a bit then leaned back again and he fired the ball to first, at which point I broke for second, beating the return throw comfortably. Mission accomplished.

The next batter hit a lazy grounder to short. Had I been on first it likely would have been two and at the very least an easy flip for the out at second. Instead, the play was at first and the throw was wild, putting runners on first and third (I was breaking for third on the shortstop's throw regardless) with no outs. The next batter creamed a triple over the right fielder's head to tie the game. Money.

An unproductive flyout followed for the first out. The next batter hit a fly to medium depth left. The runner we had on third is a Jason Giambi type, right handed, but a big power hitter incapable of hitting to the opposite field and not very fleet of foot. He tagged and bluffed home. The throw came into the infield, but got loose, at which point the runner broke for the plate. In our league we generally play our worst fielder at catcher, so the other team's first baseman had come home to field the throw from the pitcher, who corralled the ball in the infield. He, our runner and the catcher all converged at home, the throw from the pitcher wasn't fielded cleanly and we won the game 7-6.

Now, the one blight on this beautiful comeback sparked by the baserunning bravado of your humble narrator was that our on-deck hitter was attempting to clear the bat from home as the other three were converging there. As a result, the other team's third baseman went nuts, claiming that was interference and the runner should have been out. None of his teammates supported his claim, not even the first baseman, who was the one who would have been interfered with, so it fell on deaf ears and we got our second straight win to kick off the season. Huzzah!

posted by Cliff at 10:48 PM


Holy cannoli, I tell you what. If you've gone to bed before the end of either of of these ballgames out in Oakland, you're a first-rate huckleberry, I mean . . .

Never mind the first eight innings. Sure it was a tight and compelling game. Kevin Brown was his usual stingy self and Barry Zito matched him pitch-for-pitch with his best outing since April 18. The Yanks got out to an early lead in the second on Gary Sheffield's second home run of the year (more on that later). The A's evened it up on a solo shot by Scott Hatteberg in the bottom of that same inning then went ahead on a Scutaro single, a productive out, and a Byrnes RBI double an inning later. Jason Giambi evened the score in the sixth with a no-doubter to right. Kevin Brown tired in the seventh and after retiring the first two batters gave up a double to Mark Kotsay, who moved to third on a passed ball, and walked Byrnes. Gabe White then came in to face the lefty Chavez and got ahead 1-2 before surrendering a sharp grounder that scooted between Rodriguez and Enrique Wilson at short (more on that later as well) for an RBI single that put the A's up once again.

Then came the ninth.

With a one-run lead Ken Macha sent closer Eriq LaSalle . . . er, Arthur Rhodes to the mound. I swear, Rhodes must cower at the sight of a Yankee uniform. Alex Rodriguez creamed Rhodes' very first pitch over the wall in left center for a game-tying home run. One pitch.

Rattled, Rhodes walked Giambi on six pitches, none of which drew a swing from Giambi. After Gary Sheffield blasted a pitch into the farthest reaches of the foul territory in the left field upper deck and grounded into a double play, Rhodes walked Posada on four pitches and surrendered a full-count single to Matsui to put runners on the corners.

Remember when I wrote this earlier today?
If [Torre] does the smart thing and starts Tony Clark at first with Giambi at DH . . . I'll take back every negative comment I made about his line-ups for the month of April

Well, I take it all back. Clark started at first with Giambi at DH and Sierra nursing his hamstring on the bench (Sierra reached on an error in a pinch-hitting performance in the eighth that I could knit pick, but I'm being nice to Joe tonight). Despite playing errorless ball at first, Clark entered this at-bat 0-for-3 and, despite a history that proves that he's a better hitter from the right-side facing lefties, without a right-handed base hit this year (though he'd only come to the plate righty eight times and walked in three of those appearances). Clark quickly fell behind 0-2, but Rhodes evened things up at 2-2 before Clark launched a double over the head of Eric Byrnes in left that plated Posada to put the Yankees up 4-3.

Mo saved it in the ninth, though it wasn't exactly pretty. The first two batters he faced singled. Mark Kotsay then bunted past Rivera down the third-base line, but Mo, with his cat-like speed and reflexes, leapt off the mound and made a diving shovel pass to Rodriguez to nail the lead runner at third. With that excitement taken care of, he then retired the final two batters on six pitches. This past Sunday I had the privilege of attending the Yankees' 4-2 victory with reader Clay Caviness. As Mo performed the same sort of self-inflicted Houdini routine (first two batters reached base, next three made unproductive outs), Clay commented that Mo's starting to save games like John Wetteland used to. Good call there, Clay.

So the Yankees have won eight in a row, and remain tied with the also-victorious Red Sox atop the East, now two games ahead of the Orioles.

Oh, as for Wilson and Sheffield. Wilson started at shortstop tonight as Derek Jeter was a last-minute scratch due to a stomach virus. Wilson also assumed Jeter's lead-off spot. Again, I'm giving Joe a free ride tonight, but I've often wondered about this. Just because the line-up has been made and you have to yank a player at the last minute, does that mean you can't rearrange the line-up? Isn't nothing set until the line-ups are handed to the umpires before the game? Or does a "late-scratch" in this sense mean that Jeter was actually in the line-up submitted to the umps and thus Wilson was technically an in-game substitution? The first two questions are rhetorical. The third is not.

Meanwhile, Sheffield's homer broke his longest homerless streak since 1992. Actually, that previous streak stretched across two seasons (end '91, beginning '92). I have no idea how long, or how long ago his longest previous uninterrupted homerless streak was. Nonetheless, I do have an idea as to why Sheffield's not hitting homers. Simple really, he's not hitting fly balls.

Those of you that read Bronx Banter (which should be all of you) may have caught this comment that I posted in response to Alex's May 4 post:
I've been concerned about the amount of ground balls Sheff has been hitting of late and was actually delighted to see him fly out in his last two at-bats on Sunday.

Looking at his stats on ESPN he's hit 40 ground balls to 23 fly balls this year. That's a 1.74 ratio. His career average is 0.96 (fly-ball hitter). Curiously, he's been trending the other way. Since '99: .81, .84, .91, 1.04, 1.26 and currently in 2004 1.74.

His slugging doesn't fully correspond, fortunately. It actually increased 120 points from '99 to 2000. Then decreased from '00 to '02 before jumping 92 points in 2003, despite the fact that he obliterated his career high in groundballs in 2003. All of which gives me hope that Sheff will indeed start mashing. Meanwhile, he's hitting .284 with a .400 OBP and is tied for second on the team in RBIs (w/ Matsui behind Jorge). If that's a slow start . . .

Updating that info, Sheffield made contact three times last night and hit three fly balls. He made contact twice tonight and hit one fly and one grounder. The fly, his homer, came first and marked the sixth straight ball he had hit in the air out of 27 fly balls on the season. It seems to follow that if Sheffield hits fly balls at something closer to his career rate, his home run rate will correspondingly inch closer to his established level. Thus the problem isn't that Sheffield's not hitting homers, it's that he's not hitting flies of any kind--or at least, hasn't been. So to whoever is in charge of getting the message to Matsui, be sure to tell Sheffield too: it's damn hard to hit a ground-ball home run and we're not paying you to hit singles.

Looking ahead, expect Kenny Lofton to finally make a start tomorrow against righty Rich Harden. I desperately hope Kenny gets that start in center as, even with ground-ball pitcher Kevin Brown on the mound, Bernie had several embarrassing moments in the field again tonight, most notably when Erubiel Durazo (four career stolen bases) took second on him on what should have been a single to center. The big question mark is where Kenny bats in the order. I suppose Jeter's stomach will have something to say about that.

Speaking of vomit (crude as that may be, regular readers will recognize it as a legitimate segue), as I had hoped, Jose Contreras is on his way to Billy Connors' School for Funked Up Pitchers in Tampa. Contreras was optioned all the way down to single-A Tampa today. He will be replaced in the rotation by Donovan Osborne and on the roster by Bret Prinz (a.k.a. Scott Proctor Mach I). Prinz has a 6.48 ERA thus far in Columbus. The good news is that without Contreras in the rotation, Joe can probably get away with keeping both Prinz and Proctor out of action for the foreseeable future (Proctor has seen work in 3 of the 15 games for which he has been on the 25-man roster). Contreras, meanwhile, will work with Connors in Tampa and then enter the Clippers rotation in triple-A once he is "ready to pitch." If you missed it, I wrote at length about the possibility of Contreras being demoted in my post from earlier today. The only thing that's really changed with this news is that it sounds like Jose will be away from the big club for longer than the one month I had envisioned. But then that might all depend on Osborne, Prinz, Proctor and perhaps Alex Graman.

At any rate, the Yanks look to make it nine in a row and their third consecutive series sweep tonight and they've got Javier Vazquez on the mound to make it happen. Good times.

posted by Cliff at 1:33 AM

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Deja vu all over Ruben 

From yesterday's post:
If those four [Brown, Vazquez, Mussina, Lieber] can remain healthy and effective . . . any contribution from Jose Contreras is going to be gravy. Tonight we get another indication as to just how tasty that gravy will be.

Answer: tastes like vomit. Here's Contreras's line from last night: 2 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 60 pitches, 53% strikes. I only caught the end of the game, but according to Ken Singleton, Contreras first started to crumble when Eric Byrnes reached base in the first. Mind you that Byrnes batted second in the A's line-up and singled on Contreras's sixth pitch of the night. Nonetheless, Singleton claimed that the baserunner seemed to distract the big man. Indeed, Byrnes stole second on Contreras's very next pitch (to Eric Chavez), and then stole third without even drawing a throw two pitches later. Contreras was ahead 1-2 to Chavez at that point, but two pitches later Chavez deposited one over the wall in right and Contreras had given up more runs than he'd gotten outs. He then rebounded by striking out Jermaine Dye (who must have dreadful numbers against El Titan) on three pitches, but fell behind Scott Hattberg and served up another dinger, two outs, three runs in.

Contreras settled down and worked through the second with no further damage, striking out Crosby, walking Miller on a full count and getting an inning ending double play from Scutaro. Then came the third. Kotsay lead off with a single. Contreras got ahead of Byrnes 1-2 before uncorking a wild pitch that allowed Kotsay to move to second. Again with the baserunners running wild. Did he never allow a man to reach base in Cuba? What is the deal with that? At any rate, Contreras walked Byrnes as Kotsay stole third on ball four. Chavez then walked on five pitches to load the bases. Contreras's floated three straight balls to Dye before coming back to even the count, but Dye then fouled off a pair of pitches before drawing ball four and forcing home Oakland's fourth run. That was all Joe Torre needed to see.

After the game Contreras claimed that his pitches weren't going where he wanted and expected them to:
The balls were going the opposite of where I wanted them to go. If I wanted it to go outside, it would cut in. Obviously, I was doing something wrong with my mechanics and we'll have to correct that.

Torre and Posada, however, focused on Contreras's continued lack of confidence. Said Jorge: "He was probably thinking too much. I tried to help him out, get him through the game, but it didn't seem like he was in it. We went backwards today."

Donovan Osborne was brought in to relieve Contreras down 4-1 with no outs and the bases loaded in the third. He retired the lefty Hatteberg on his very first pitch, getting him to foul out to Rodriguez, but then surrendered a single to Durazo that plated two more runs and put runners on the corners. He then fell behind Bobby Crosby 3-0 but recovered to strike him out on the following three pitches, at which point Jermaine Dye got caught off third base, but managed to avoid Posada's tag in the resulting rundown by falling to the ground and scampering home for the seventh Oakland run, all of which were charged to Contreras. Osborne then recovered to pitch three more innings in which he allowed just two more hits, one of them Eric Chavez's second home run of the game.

I have now officially had it with Jose Contreras. I suspect the Yankees are going to give him one more start, but I would yank him now and send him off to Billy Connors School of Funked Up Pitchers in Tampa. With the Yankees top four starters doing so well, it would be much wiser to try to piece together the fifth starting spot in Contreras's absence now as opposed to down the road when an injury to one of the other startes may prevent such a move from being made.

Actually, although he's had a bit of trouble with inherited runners (looking at innings in which he entered the game with runners on base and either recorded an out or allowed a run to score, six of his twelve inherited runners have scored thus far this season) Donovan Osborne has pitched well enough to earn a spot start in Contreras's place (3.18 ERA, 11.1 IP, 11 H, 10 K, 3 BB). Should Osborne fail, they can give Alex Graman another shot, and should he fail, they can piece together a bullpen start. Looking at the schedule, they could get all the way through the end of May with just three more starts from the fifth spot in the rotation. That means they could send Contreras to Tampa today, watch all of their fifth starter options go one-and-out and still not need Contreras again until June 5 (provided the rest of the rotation stays healthy). That gives Contreras a full month to work out his difficulties in Tampa, as he did to great effect last year (though the circumstances were different as there was an injury involved last year, and he missed almost three full months of the season).

Trying to put Contreras's start out of my mind like I might a bad dream, everything else about last night's game was some pretty tasty gravy. The Yanks got one in the third on a Jeter double and an RBI single from Rodriguez. In the fourth they got two more when singles by Matsui and Sierra were cashed in on Enrique Wilson's first extra-base hit of the year, a 2-RBI double. Chavez's homer off of Osborne extended the Oakland lead to 8-3, but then came the seventh inning.

Enrique Wilson lead off the inning with an infield single. After a Jeter flyout, Bernie singled Enrique to thrid. Then Alex Rodriguez hammered Mulder's 1-1 pitch to left center to become the youngest player ever to reach 350 career home runs (edging out his former teammate, Ken Griffey Jr.) and close the gap to 8-6. Mulder then walked Giambi on five pitches and was pulled in favor of Chad Bradford who promptly walked Sheffield and Posada (the latter on five pitches) to load the bases before being replaced by Ricardo Rincon (whom Charlie Steiner insisted on calling "Ricky" throughout last night's broadcast). Rincon struck out fellow lefty Matsui on four pitches, bringing Ruben Sierra to the plate with two outs.

Flashback: Exactly one week prior to this game, Ruben Sierra stood in the right-handed batters box at Yankee stadium with the bases loaded, one out, and his team trailing by one run in the eighth. Staring back at him from the pitchers mound was none other than Ricardo "Ricky" Rincon. Sierra laced a double off the left field foul line, plating two runners and giving the Yankees a one-run lead that they would not relinquish.

That hit jumpstarted a near career week for Sierra (two homers and seven RBI in one game on Saturday, the AL Player of the Week Award, a seven game hitting streak, etc.). One week later, Sierra stood in the right-handed batters box at Network Associates Coliseum with the bases loaded, two outs, and his team trailing by two runs in the seventh. Staring back at him from the pitchers mound was none other than Ricardo "Ricky" Rincon. On Rincon's first pitch, Sierra laced a double to left field, plating three runners (thanks to a daring send of Posada by Luis Sojo), and giving the Yankees a one-run lead that they would not relinquish.

Because the bullpen is money.

The Yanks added one in the ninth on a Posada single, Matsui double, intentional walk to pinch-hitter Kenny Lofton, and an Enrique Wilson RBI groundout.

Speaking of Wilson and Lofton, Joe Torre stuck with Sierra at DH and Bernie in center last night. You know, for all of the complaining and overanalysis that I do of Joe's line-ups, he's been doing a lot right thus far. He's been using my line-up--with Jeter leading off, Bernie batting second and Jorge hitting sixth ahead of Matui--for the bulk of the year. With Lofton back in action, he's thus far resisted forcing him back in the line-up at the expense of the hot-hitting Sierra. And he recognized Enrique Wilson's futility before the end of April, giving some key starts to Miguel Cairo when the team most needed any little advantage it could get. One could argue that keeping highwaymen Jeter and Bernie in the one and two holes is counterproductive, and technically it is. But as the team is currently on a seven game winning streak, I can accept the fact that Torre doesn't want to add insult to injury by demoting the twin pillars of Yankeedom. Sure a line-up that looks like this: Sheffield, Matsui, Rodriguez, Giambi, Posada, Sierra, Williams, Jeter, Cairo would make more sense right now, but there's no need to mix things up that severely when the team is winning.

That said, Sierra came up lame on his way to second after hitting his game-winning double last night. According to Torre after the game it was simply a cramp in his hamstring, but Ruben remains questionable for tonight. That means that Joe is more likely to start Lofton against the lefty Zito. If he does, pray he puts him in center and Bernie in DH. If he does the smart thing and starts Tony Clark at first with Giambi at DH (note that Brown is pitching tonight, so infield defense is much more important than outfield defense), I'll take back every negative comment I made about his line-ups for the month of April. Of course, if Sierra can play, all bets are off.

By the way, the Yankees are now tied with the big bad Red Sox for first in the AL East, one game ahead of the Orioles. Since the Sox completed their three game sweep of the Bombers in the Bronx and opened up a five game lead over the Yanks in the East, they've gone 3-5 and have lost their last five in a row, meanwhile the Yankees are 7-0*. Though the odds will catch up to them eventually, I see no reason why they can't make it eight in a row tonight.

*By they way, here's what I wrote following that sweep at the hands of the Bosox: "The best my inner optimist can do for this team right now is to say that they've got to hit bottom before they can climb back up, and perhaps a four game losing streak that includes getting swept at home by the Red Sox and shut out in the final game is them hitting bottom." Bingo.

posted by Cliff at 10:32 AM

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Catching up 

Sorry for laying low for the past 48 hours. I've got a vacation rapidly approaching (yes, that does mean there's more radio silence to come, but I'll tell you about that later) and I'm up to my neck in trying to make sure that things at work and at home won't collapse in my absence. I'm also a little underprepared for the trip itself. But you didn't come here to read about this stuff, you came here to see what light I can shed on the Yankees weekend roster moves, current winning streak, and the upcoming series in Oakland (or maybe you just came here to be nice--either way, thanks), so on with it . . .

First thing's first. You know this by now, but the Yankees extended their winning streak to six games with a sweep of the Royals that concluded with a tidy 4-2 win over the Royals on Sunday. That game saw both teams play errorless ball and walk just three batters combined (well, Mo plunked Joker Joe in the spine, but we'll ignore that).

Mussina wasn't the strike-throwing machine that he was in his previous start--2 K and 64 percent of his pitches for strikes on Sunday vs. 7 K and 69 percent strikes against the A's--but he didn't walk a single batter for the first time this year and gave up a season low two runs. He threw 110 pitches in seven full innings and finished the game by retiring the last eleven batters he faced. That run included three consecutive 1-2-3 innings. Moose had recorded four 1-2-3 innings thus far this season prior to Sunday's game (his very first inning of work in Japan, one in each of his next two starts, and one in his last start against the A's). Although he looked shaky early on, zero walks, three 1-2-3 innings, and word that his fastball hit a season high 92mph on the radar gun are all excellent signs.

So Kevin Brown is leading the league in wins and was just selected as the AL Pitcher of the Month for April. Moose just went 7 innings with 0 walks and just 2 runs and continues to improve. Lieber is back looking like a strong four rather than a sufficient five (7 IP, 0 BB, 3 R, 91 pitches). Javier Vazquez joins Brown in the top five AL pitchers in value over replacement level (last start: 8 IP, 0 BB, 2 R, 91 pitches). If those four can remain healthy and effective (always with the if), then any contribution from Jose Contreras is going to be gravy.

Tonight we get another indication as to just how tasty that gravy will be, as El Titan de Bronze takes the mound in Oakland for the Yankees' first west coast game of the season. Contreras's last start was by far his best of the season. His 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R and 1 BB were all season bests that added up to his first win. The secret to that success can be summarized in two words: "Posada" and "fastball."

As it turns out Contreras's biggest problem wasn't necessarily tipping pitches. It was a lack of confidence in his 95-mile-per-hour fastball. Instead of establishing his heat and fooling batters with his splitter, Contreras had become, in Mel Stottlemyre's words, "forkball-crazy." As a result, hitters learned to lay off the pitch as it dropped out of the zone (though he may also have been tipping it) and sat on the fastball, thus increasing Contreras's fear of throwing it, leaving his slider, his third best pitch, as the only effective pitch in his arsenal.

By his last start, Jorge Posada had seen enough and told the big man that he would call his entire game. Posada completely inverted Contreras's game plan, establishing the fast ball and mixing in just a handful of splitters through his six innings of work. Of course, it wasn't easy. Contreras frequently slowed the pace of the game, especially in his troublesome third and sixth innings, and often resisted Posada's requests for the fastball. Fortunately, Posada won out, and the results speak for themselves.

Tonight I imagine Posada will again take control of Contreras's game. It will be interesting to see if Contreras works with more confidence now that he has seen how effective he can be if he establishes his heater. It will be an even more telling trial as he will be facing the same team that faced him in his previous start. Last week was a pivotal game for Contreras, but in a sense, tonight could be every bit as important.

Opposing Contreras once again will be Mark Mulder, who had his worst outing of the year last week in the Bronx (6 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 6 K--yes, that's his "worst" outing of the year) and has not pitched since. It will be Mulder's first start in Oakland since April 11.

Now, as for those transactions . . .

The Yankees made three changes to their roster over the weekend. On Saturday they activated Jon Lieber and demoted Alex Graman to Columbus. This was expected, as both Graman and Scott Proctor had fallen into non-use (what Jay Jaffe calls the Jay Witasick Memorial Bullpen Role). Of the two, Graman is better served by the demotion as he will rejoin the Clippers rotation where he can pitch away memories of his rain-soaked debut in Chicago.

Then they got sneaky. I had expected the Yanks to place Travis Lee on the disabled list when they activated Kenny Lofton. They did both of those things this weekend, but not in one move. Rather they disabled Lee on Saturday, bringing up Homer Bush to fill his spot. Then on Sunday they activated Lofton and demoted Bubba Crosby. To paraphrase Tom Hanks in Ladykillers, clever and yet, not clever.

What happened here is that Joe Torre realized that, with Lofton coming off the DL, Bubba Crosby's weekly at-bats would be reduced to monthly. Previous to this, the organization's second baseman of choice revealed his true self to Torre. Horrified at the grotesque .138 GPA he saw before him (never mind that Joe's probably never heard of GPA), Torre began to give starts to Miguel Cairo as he sought an alternative. That alternative looks something like this:

1B - Giambi
CF - Lofton
DH - Williams

2B - Cairo
PH - Sierra
2B - Wilson
PH - Clark
2B - Bush

With Lofton replacing Crosby on the roster and Sierra in the line-up, Torre replaced the unplayable Travis Lee (who hadn't seen game action since an unsuccessful pinch-hitting appearance in the final game against Boston on April 25) with Homer Bush. This new configuration allows him to pinch-hit for his second baseman twice per game without having having to activate Willie Randolph to play the field in extra innings. Meanwhile, Crosby will become a starter in Columbus which should help him get his stroke down in time to take over the centerfield job once Lofton is traded in late June or July (that or fall into a dreadful slump that will secure Lofton's place on this team).

All of which makes sense. Crosby is probably the Yankees best defensive option in center, but he has yet to draw a major league walk and has just one major league hit against left-handed pitching. Kenny Lofton is not as Kenny Lofton was, but, at least against righties, he's still a valuable offensive performer. No harm in letting Bubba get some ABs in triple-A until Lofton can be unloaded on some half-witted pennant contender desperate for a centerfielder.

Of course, with just 18 Yankee at-bats to his credit, Bubba has become a fan favorite. The Yanks could never have sent him down for Homer Bush as a stand-alone transaction and not gotten blasted for it. Instead, they snuck Bush onto the roster then replaced Bubba with Lofton. Made sense, add a centerfielder, subtract a centerfielder. And really, that's what they've done.

The catch to all of this is that all of the old truisms about Kenny Lofton needing to be benched against lefties still hold. Unfortunately, Lofton will most likely make his first start since rejoining the team tonight against the left-handed Mulder, and will probably start again tomorrow against the lefty Zito. Normally I would argue that Tony Clark should get those starts, pushing Giambi to DH and Bernie into center (well, really left and Matsui to center, but we know that's not going to happen any time soon), but with Ruben Sierra having skipped the off ramp and simply launched himself off the interstate (two homers and seven RBI in one game on Saturday, the AL Player of the Week Award, his first since 1991, a seven game hitting streak and hits in each of his last eight starts, all of which has pushed his season GPA up to .272), there is a shadow of hope that Joe will keep Sierra in the line-up (did I just write that?!) and Lofton on the bench until they face Rich Harden on Thursday (yes, Rich Harden, the A's have swapped him and Redman in the rotation).

Alright. My crazy week continues and I'm fresh outta time. More tomorrow, I hope. Hasta luego, mis amigos!

posted by Cliff at 2:29 PM

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Transactions & Tickets 

The Yankees and Royals both made some roster moves yesterday that I missed. I'll discuss the Yankee's moves later, but for now, here's what's different:

Jon Lieber activated, Alex Graman sent down to Columbus.
Travis Lee place on 15-day DL, Homer Bush brought up from Columbus.

Jorge DePaula was shifted to the 60-day DL to make room for Homer on the 25-man.


Angel Berroa activated, Tony Graffanino placed on 15-day DL (knee).
Eduardo Villacis activated, Justin Huisman demoted.

Lastly, I'm going to tomorrow's (Sunday's) game, but have two bleacher seats I need to unload. Some of the best bleacher seats in the house, face value. If you're interested email me with your phone number before 10:00am Sunday. I'll call you and can give you the tickets at the Stadium.

posted by Cliff at 2:39 AM

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