Friday, October 03, 2003

Thoughts on Friday afternoon 

So Ron Gardenhire blamed the seventh-inning stretch for Radke plunking Johnson and the game getting away from the Twins? That's pretty pathetic. I lost a lot of respect for Gardy on that one. Give Radke credit for not joining in on that fool's chorus.

The Marlins won a must-win game on Wednesday. Today's game is another, but Mark Redman wants to pitch to Bonds claiming, "He's just another guy up there with a bat." Riiiiight. Let's home McKeon talks him out of it.

Have I mentioned that I'm officially rooting for the Cubs, Marlins and A's? Have been since game one of each series.

Speaking of must-wins, the A's had to take those first two games against the Red Sox to have a chance going into Boston. Don't be surprised if this series goes five.

Tonight's Prior vs. Maddux matchup sounds like an all-time classic, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cubbies win it easy. If they do, a Braves series win would be a big upset. Big game for the Bravos tonight. Unfortunately I'll be on a softball field tonight instead of in front of a television. Hey, my swing needs some work and I should be able get home in time to catch the second half of the Cubs game. I've got my radio with me. S'all good.

Lastly, and this is actually big enough news that I probably should have put it up top or in it's own post, Torre announced that he's going with Wells in Game 4. If this were any team other than the Twins I'd wince at that news, but Wells has two complete game wins against the Twins this year giving up just one run and one walk in 18 innings. Sure that was back when the Twins were struggling and Wells was healthy, but the Twinkies struggle against lefties and there's room for error (scary choice of words, I realize) with a 0.50 ERA. Besides, if Torre can avoid using Contreras on Saturday he'll have both him and Moose available to come in early if Wells doesn't have it. Of course if the Yanks loose on Saturday I might change my tune.

posted by Cliff at 2:00 PM

Thursday, October 02, 2003

And . . . exhale 

Normally when the Yankees win playoff games I get all excited and energized. Tonight I'm just relieved.

Andy Pettitte turned in a spectacular performance, combining with Rivera to allow just one run and a mere two flyball outs (!). Brad Radke was nearly as good.


Radke gave up two-strike singles to the game's first three batters (Soriano, Jeter and Giambi), but after Bernie hit a 2-0 sac fly to center, Radke got Posada and Matsui to strikeout swinging (Matsui on three pitches). Bases loaded, no outs and the Yankees got one run. Not good.

Pettitte and Radke cruised through the next three allowing just one hit each and walking none (Pettitte had walked Shannon Stewart to open the game). Then Torii Hunter lead off the fifth by knocking a 1-1 pitch over the centerfield wall. Andy made perhaps his only mistake of the night and Hunter capitalized on it to tie the game. Here's where the sweating and twitching kicks in. Koskie and Pierzynski follow Hunter's 400-foot shot by hitting the ball a total of one inch (a K and a dribbler at the plate that rolled fair). Two outs. Guzman then hits what looks like an easy grounder to short that Jeter throws in the dirt, skipping it by Johnson at first (who really could stand to work on his glovework at the bag). The next batter, Shannon Stewart, hits a ball up the middle that Soriano appears to misplay into a hit, sending your truly into a fit about the Yanks' keystone defense. Oh the ranting and raving! It's all falling apart before my eyes! Andy's pitching like it's Game 5 in 1996 and these guys can't catch the damn ball! Upon further review, the replay showed that Sori was screened from the ball by the second base umpire, thus getting a late look and a late break on it. Overreacted. Sorry. Pettitte gets the Rivas to ground out to Boone. Inning over. Deep breath.

Bottom of the fifth Sori knocks a two-out single, making me feel even more guilty for ranting at him in the top of the inning, and steals second. Jeter follows with a walk. Two on, two out. Giambi up. Did you pay attention to Game 1? Radke did. Giambi fans on high heat (despite my specifically telling him not to). The knots in my stomach tighten.

Andy issues another walk in the sixth. This one to Mientkiewitcz. Jones replaces Mientkiewitcz on first via a fielder's choice. Then Torii hits a grounder up the middle and . . . Jeter gets a glove on it! O, glorious day! Unfortunately he's unable to get it out of his glove smoothly and Jones slides into second safely ahead of Jeter's flip to Soriano. No biggie. Pettitte strikes out Koskie yet again. Inning over.

After Radke and Pettitte each work around a walk in the bottom of the sixth/top of the seventh, Nick Johnson, hitting eighth tonight as expected, leads of the bottom of the seventh. Radke, he of the Wellsian command of the strike zone, hits Nick in the rump with his fourth pitch. In the sixth, FOX put up a graphic detailing how, after he reaches 75 pitches, hitters begin to smack Radke around. Of course, this is a misleading stat, as are all of those "in the 7th 8th and 9th innings" etc. stats, because, at that point in the game, if a starter starts giving up hits he comes out, thus eliminating his opportunity to get the outs that would bring down those high ERAs and BAAs. Nonetheless, Juan Rivera successfully bunts Nick to second (though it isn't necessarily pretty, bunts shouldn't be described using the term "hang time") and Gardenhire brings in Hawkins to face the top of the order. Seemed like the perfect move after Hawk dominated the Yanks on Tuesday, but Soriano, who is really dialed in right now, works the count to 3-1 and smacks a single to left scoring Johnson. Sori now has two of the Yanks' three RBIs in the series and the only two collected on safeties. Jeter follows by hitting a Baltimore chop back to Hawkins who then airmails the throw off Mientkiewicz's glove and into the stands. Second and third and Giambi gets yet another shot. Ball. Swingandamiss. Foul. Pitch low and outside and Giambi drills it to center driving in both runs! This is where my usual elation turned in to a long, relieved exhalation. Three-run cushion. Hits with runners in scoring position. Only need six outs. Thank you, I can finally rest. Romero relieves the astonishingly ineffective Hawkins. Bernie singles. Jorge and Matsui, not so much.

Joe goes to Rivera to start the eighth. Fine by me. Andy was over 100 pitches and Mo needs to get his work in. Three run cushion. Bring it on. Three ground balls in the eighth and a one two three ninth. Game over. Yankees win 4-1. Series tied. Man we needed that.

Time for Heroes and Goats:

Yankees' Heroes:

Andy Pettitte - Big time stuff from Andy tonight. 7IP 4H 1ER 10K, nine ground balls to just 2 in the air. He was inspiring and dominating. Just terrific.
Alfonso Soriano - 3 for 4 with two runs scored and the go-ahead RBI in the seventh off Hawkins, the pitcher who dominated the Yanks in Game 1. Sori's now 5 for 9 in the series with two doubles and 2 RBI. He even made a great barehand grab in the eighth to retire Jones.

Yankees' Goats:

Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui for their bases-loaded Ks in the first. Jorge's 1 for 8 with three Ks and no walks on the series.

Twins' Heroes:

Brad Radke pitched almost as well as Pettitte, hanging with him through 6 1/3 and escaping that bases-loaded jam in the first.
Torii Hunter went 2 for 4 with the home run that accounted for all of the Twins' scoring. He's now 3 for 6 with two walks, 2 RBI and two runs scored on the series.
Shannon Stewart collected the only other Twins hits, going 2 for 3 with a walk. He's 4 for 7 with two walks on the series but has yet to drive in or score a run.

Twins Goats:
LaTroy Hawkins gave up the tie-breaking hit to Soriano, then allowed two more runs via another hit and his own throwing error. Didn't record a single out.
Corey Koskie went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, including the third out with runners at first and second in the sixth.
Luis Rivas went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. He thrice made the third out with runners on base, once with a man on second and once with a man on third.

ONWARD . . .

Due to MLB's habit of deciding game times at the last minute I won't be able to catch Saturday's game live. Instead I'll have to watch it on tape at 4:00, thus missing the two 4:00 games. Not ideal, to say the least.

I feel good about the Yankees chances on Saturday. Sure the Metrodome can be a scary place for visiting teams, especially in the postseason, but the Yankees tend to play well there, they're a great road team in general, and the pitching matchup of Lohse vs. Clemens favors the Yankees to a considerable degree. Much as the Twins are surely happy to have split in New York, I'm sure the Yanks would be content to split in Minnesota. Sunday they'll face Santana again. Best to get that win on Saturday. And if they do win Saturday, Sunday's game is a can't loose situation for me because the Yanks would either win the series or force a game five. Oh, that's good because I have tickets for Game 5.

posted by Cliff at 11:58 PM

Question #2 (completed and reposted) 

Okay, question #2. How to the ALDS Yankees of 2003 stack up against their 2002 counterparts?

Usually I avoid position-by-position comparisons because, frankly, I think they're misleading. Comparing each spot in the batting order would be much more revealing. Comparing positions is only useful if you're judging defense (quick unresearched ALDS defensive breakdown: 1B-Twins, 2B-Twins, SS-Twins, 3B-Twins, C-tie at best, probably Twins, RF-Twins, CF-Twins, LF-tie, maybe Yanks). But since we're comparing one team against itself here, we can get away with the position-by-position thing.

First Base: Giambi both years. This year his average fell 64 points, his slugging 71 points and his OBP 23 and he finished in yet another slump. He's also about a month away from knee surgery. Last year he tore up the ALDS. Advantage 2002.

Second Base: Soriano both years. He did an impressive job of replicating his break out season this year, showing up his critics. Though his numbers were down slightly overall, his OBP rose a pinch as he almost doubled last year's walk total. He also finished hot. Last year he finished in a slump after screwing up his swing trying to get his 40th homer. Advantage 2003

Shortstop: Jeter both years. Jeter's rate stats are up this year overall, but he hit .500 with two homers in last year's ALDS. Can't beat that. Even.

Third Base: Ventura vs. Boone. Ventura finished last year in a complete funk, but performed well (.286, 4 RBI) in the ALDS. Boone hit .295 in September with 5 homers and already has two ALDS hits. I think Ventura played a better third, but not by that much. Advantage 2003.

Catcher: Posada both years. Jorge had a great year (though he did even better in 2000, check it out). Will that translate into more than the .235 he hit last year? Tuesday's 0 for 4 didn't indicate that it would, but I'll keep the faith. Advantage 2003

Center Field: Williams both years. Are you sure this guy is Bernie Williams? Did anyone check his papers? Awful season for Bernie. He's got two hits already, but he also made a crucial defensive mistake. Last year he hit .333 with a game winning homer in the ALDS. I don't see that happening this year. Advantage 2002.

LF/RF: We'll put Mondesi up against Matsui since they're both regulars. Mondi hit .250 and drew three walks in the 2002 ALDS. Matsui's shown good form at the plate already and outperformed Mondesi's 2002 during the regular season by a good 50 points of average and OBP. Mondi could steal a base, but was a bit careless on the bases and in the field. Matsui's sound. Advantage 2003.

LF/RF: Juan Rivera all by his lonesome in 2002's left field vs. a Rivera/Garcia platoon this year in right. Garcia's a good defensive outfielder with a strong arm. Rivera hit .340/.358/.660 against lefties this year (calling Shane Spencer), Garcia .291/.335/.476 against righties. Big upgrade here over Rivera's .265/.311/.361 2002 stats. Advantage 2003.

DH: Johnson both years. Rondell White DHed in Game 1 last year and hit a homer in three at bats. Nick hit .182 with one walk and five strikeouts in the other four. He's a completely different hitter this year, however, the one that had long been advertised. Hopefully he'll find his way out of his current slump (which should see him dropped in the batting order tonight). That's not too much of a stretch given his 9-pitch at bat against Hawkins on Tuesday. Advantage 2003.

With two exceptions, one glaring, the 2003 team is an all-around better offensive team than 2003. Defensively, however, they're even at best, but most likely worse, due largely to Bernie in center.

Now the pitching:

Same rotation both years:

Mussina: Better in 2003
Pettitte: He's been healthier this year, but his ERA is more than a half-run worse than last year's. His other rate stats are pretty even for both years, though he striking out more men this year. That makes me wonder if that ERA doesn't have something to do with team defense. I'll get subjective here and give Andy in 2003 the nod.
Clemens: Better in 2003
Wells: Better in 2002 (of course he may not start Game 4, and he's been lights out against the Twins and got lit up by the Angels)

Advantage 2003


Rivera: ERA's down more than a run. Walks are down. WHIPs are identical. Other rate stats
were better for 2002. Mo's been healthier this year and looks strong going into October.
Advantage 2003

The only other member of last year's ALDS bullpen to return this year is Jeff Weaver. Weaver did not perform well in last year's ALDS, but he's imploded so completely this year I still have to give 2002 the edge on him.

Elsewhere I'll try to matchup similar pitchers in similar roles:

El Duque vs. Contreras: Both starters moved into the pen. Hernandez was the only Yankee pitcher other than Mo to have an ERA under 6.35 in last year's ALDS. He pitched some crucial innings in their only victory in Game 1 and overall struck out seven and walked none in 6+ innings. That said, Contreras looks fierce coming into the postseason, he's had more experience coming out of the pen this year than El Duque had last year and he seems more willing to do so. Advantage 2003

Mike Stanton vs. Gabe White: Hammond was supposed to replace Stanton, and he does in the sense that he's a lefty that's more effective against righties. Stanton had a better ERA in 2002 by over a run, but White's had an incredible WHIP and BAA since coming to the Yanks. Still, I consider him an unknown to some degree. Going into the Anaheim series I trusted Stanton. Even.

Steve Karsay vs. Jeff Nelson: Pretty close, but I'll give a slight edge to Karsay, as Nelson's not been the Jeff Nelson of the late-'90s of late.

Ramiro Mendoza vs. Hammond & Heredia: One extra pitcher this year in the pen. Hammond has done a fine job in the great scheme for the Yanks this year. Heredia's been very good since coming over (though his walks are high, as they've always been). Mendoza in 2002 wasn't better than Hammond and was probably worse, so easy advantage 2003 here.

Bullpen: Advantage 2003

Lastly a cursory look at the bench:

Enrique Wilson is the same player he was last year. John Flaherty sluggs better than Widger, who had a slight edge in average and OBP. The benched side of the right field platoon is pretty much Shane Spencer. All that's even. Ruben Sierra beats the 2002 version of Rondell White and adds the ability to switch hit. John Vander Wal in 2002 outhit Dave Dellucci in 2003 but went 0-fer the ALDS. Delooch is a better fielder and can be used as a pinch runner. Even there. The 2002 team had Ron Coomer, the 2003 team does not. Coomer was the only 2002 bench player other than White to get an ALDS hit. Slight edge to 2002, primarily for the extra man.

Let's review:

Line-up is better except for Bernie and Giambi.
Bench is down a man.
Rotation is pitching better.
Bullpen has a slight advantage.

It's very close, but this team does appear to be better than the team that lost to the Angels. The big key is stronger pitching (Yanks had an ERA of 8.21 in last year's ALDS). Also, it's possible that Giambi could find himself, which would be a huge boost to an offense that is already better than last year's edition thanks to the right field platoon, a big improvement by Nick, a stronger season from Jorge, Soriano coming into October hot and Matsui replacing Mondesi in the line-up.

Joe's promised some changes for tonight. Expect that to occur at the #2 hole in the line-up, with Nick moving down. If we're really good maybe he'll move Bernie to left, too!

Red Sox are down 0-2 and the Yanks are on in 30 min. Good stuff!

posted by Cliff at 5:01 PM

Past, Present and Future 

In recuperating from Game 1 and trying to think happy thoughts about Game 2 there are two questions that keep coming back into my head.

1) Is there any way that the Yankees defense can improve for next year?

2) The Twins may not put the ball in play like the Angles did last year, but they've got the dominating relievers and the scrappy, can-do, nothing-to-lose attitude and solid fundamental play. So, since the opponents are so similar, how does this year's edition of the playoff Yankees compare last year's edition?

Here's my take on #1:

Barring a blockbuster trade (Sori for Bret Boone, straight up?), the Yankees infield is going to return intact in 2004. The only thing that can really be done is to shuffle them around. Let's ignore the likelihood of any of this happening for a moment and have some fun speculating WFAN-stylee.

Much noise has been made recently by unheard voices like mine (but not necessarily by mine) about moving Jeter to third. But Jeter is one of the most productive shortstops in the majors. If Jeter were to go to third, the Yankees would more or less have to sign Miguel Tejada to fill the hole.

Or would they? Moving Jeter to third makes Aaron Boone trade bait. But Boone played 19 errorless games at second base in Cincinnati early this season with a higher Range Factor and Zone Rating than Soriano, who spent most of his time in the minors at shortstop. Hmmmm. So how about Boone at second, Sori at short and Jeter at third. Sori hits well enough to hang with the Nomars of the shortstop world, Boone is a far more valuable offensive player at second base and Jeter should be able to hold his own at third, a position where the Corey Koskies and Bill Muellers of the world are among the best in the league. Sori, meanwhile, goes to his left much better than his right, so the Sori-Boone keystone connection could help close the hole behind second where so many weak grounders become hits. Meanwhile, Jeets rifle arm would have no problem making the longer throw from the hot corner.

On the other hand, it's Sori's mental lapses and general uneasiness at second that have been the Yanks' biggest defensive infield problem in the postseason (during the regular season they can out-hit their defensive shortcomings). Having now played three full seasons at second, it's entirely possible that he'll be every bit as uneasy at short. It's certainly unlikely that his fielding instincts will improve, even if he is more comfortable. Plus, with this new arrangement you've got three players out of position. Additionally, you don't want Soriano taking the relay throws that Jeter usually takes, and Jeter, for all his shortcomings, has never really let the Yanks down in the field in the postseason, but has made some terrific plays. Then, allowing reality back into the picture, there's the fact that there's no possible way to get this to happen.

At first base you've got Giambi and Johnson. Giambi hits better when in the field. Johnson fields better than Giambi, but not by as much as we were once led to believe (his footwork and throws are better, but he doesn't have the glove work or poise of a Tino or Mattingly, and Giambi can snag liners and scoop throws better than advertised). Posada catches. End of story.

As for the outfield . . . Matsui does a good job, no complaints there. But he could play any of the three outfield positions. He may not be Torii Hunter in center, but with the way Bernie's been playing recently, he'd seem like it. Of course Bernie's not 100 percent right now, but he's still got that rag arm and no longer has the range he once had in center (though his fielding stats don't bear that out). The ideal answer would of course be to sign Carlos Beltran to play center, stick Bernie in left, and Matsui in right. I'd also suggest teaching Nick Johnson the outfield so he can rest Bernie on occasion and play in NL parks in the same lineup as Giambi, but that's not going to improve the outfield D. The second option is to play Matsui in center, Bernie in left, and sign Vlad Guerrero to play right. Third would be Bernie in left, Godzilla in center and Replacement Player-X/Johnson in right. Notice the trend. Get Bernie out of center. I love Bernie, but I can't bear to watch him in center anymore. I think Bernie would be more receptive to a shift than Jeter. Bernie's 35 after all, and is noticeably less comfortable in the field. I'm also a bit concerned about the number of nagging injuries he's had in recent years. Speaking of which, another reason the Yanks need to teach Nick the outfield is because Bernie may need to be the DH before long.

That's the long answer. The short answer is: signing a big-name, gold-glove-caliber outfielder and moving Bernie to left, but don't get your hopes up about the infield.

I'll tackle question #2 a little later.

posted by Cliff at 11:26 AM

Thank You, Baseball Gods 

Oh man. The first six games of this years playoffs have just been fantastic. On Tuesday the Yanks took it down to the final out against the Twins, Jason Schmidt pitched an absolute gem, and Kerry Wood shut down the Braves while driving in the game-winning run his own damn self. Yesterday the Marlins and Giants answered each other's runs four times before the Marlins finally pulled ahead to even the series, the Braves needed a bottom-of-the-eighth double from Mark DeRosa to even their series with the Cubs . . . and then there was the Red Sox and A's.

The game in Oakland started with Pedro Martinez vs. Tim Hudson, which is enough to hook any baseball fan. Hudson gives up a solo homer to Todd "If You're Gonna Talk The Talk You Gotta Walk The" Walker in the top of the first and you think the Sox are set. Then Pedro looks human in the third giving up three runs, two on a huge double by Erubiel Durazo. Hudson then gives up another solo shot in the fifth, this time to Jason Varitek, and begins to struggle with cramping in his pitching thumb. The thumb cramps his style, but has no noticeable effect on his results until the seventh when he walks Varitek, who was erased by a double play, and then gives up a single to Nomar. In comes Ricardo Rincon, up comes Todd "Aforementioned Nickname" Walker, and out goes Rincon's third pitch, 4-3 Sawx. The suddenly not so precious and fragile Pedro extends his pitch count in the bottom of the seventh, eventually reaching 130 pitches, a season high. One reason for this is an epic 11-pitch battle with Durazo that results in a walk on a questionable check swing to load the bases. Pedro escapes, popping up Chavez. Bring on the Boston bullpen. Timlin works a quick clean eighth. Then Kim in the ninth: fly out to center, walk, hit by pitch, strikeout. The key? The two outs were righties, the two baserunners lefties. The A's hero to this point, Durazo, a lefty, strides to the plate. Grady Little brings in lefty Alan Embree, finally catching on to that whole "bullpen-by-commitee" thing. Ball, strike, single to left! Tie game! ESPN gives Kim a lot of camera time as he sits cross-armed and cross-legged in the dugout looking cross. Keith Foulke pitches two more scoreless innings to follow his 1-2-3 frame in the ninth. Boston get's an inning out of Williamson, then goes to Game 3 starter Derek Lowe. Chances are had in the 11th. In the 12th Oakland goes to rookie starter Rich Harden who alternates 99 MPH strikes and pitches that Hernandez is lucky to glove. Bottom of the 12th. That man Durazo draws a lead-off walk. Chavez replaces him at first via a fielder's choice, one out. Tejada grounds out moving Chavez to second, two outs. Hatteberg works a full count and walks and Chavez steals third on ball four! How did the Red Sox let that happen?! Hatteberg moves to second on defensive indifference on the first pitch to T-Long. Little decides to walk the lefty Long to set up the force and pitch to the righty Hernandez. Hernandez looks at strike one and then lays down a squeeze bunt . . . with two outs! the catcher! The play catches the Sox so off guard that Mueller doesn't even attempt a throw and the A's win the game.


That was about eight hours ago. They play game two five hours from now.

Then the Yanks.

I think I'm in baseball heaven.

posted by Cliff at 10:29 AM

10 hours and counting 

I've been watching playoff baseball for over ten straight hours now (via internet, radio and television). The Sox and A's are still tied. I can barely keep my eyes open, but I'm rivited.

Two more games tomorrow.

Four on Friday.

I love October.

posted by Cliff at 2:08 AM

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Quick thoughts pre-Day 2 

Some quick notes on the other playoff series in the moments before Game 2 in San Franscisco . . .

In addition to simply not finding the time, one reason I didn’t write much in preview of these series is that I didn’t have anything specific to say. I think any of the four could go either way, and would not be completely stunned to see any of these eight teams go all the way. All eight have their strengths and weaknesses, few of which are overwhelming. Certainly Boston and the Braves have the most dangerous hitting, the Cubs and Yankees have the best starting pitching, the Twins the best defense and bullpen, etc. But I wouldn’t count the Marlins or A’s out either.

The Marlins will have to win every game not started by Jason Schmidt to defeat the Giants. Do I think they can do that? Yes. Do I think they will? I’d give them a 50/50 shot at it.

Do I think the Cubs starters can keep the Atlanta bats quiet enough to give the mediocre Chicago offense the opportunity to eek out enough runs to win? Yes. Do I think they will? Yes I do. Don’t be surprised if the Cubbies win their first postseason series since they took the 1908 championship.

Can the victorious Cubbies repeat the feat in a seven game series against the victor of the Giants/Fish series? Get back to me next week.

Lastly, I’m most anxious for the Sox/A’s series to kick off tonight (and a bit peeved that it’s doing so at 10pm EST, while there’s no 1:05 game on the schedule today—the game in Atlanta would have been a perfect candidate for the 1:05 game, but FOX and MLB just had to have that matchup in primetime, grrrrrr). The Sox seem to be the favorite to go all the way this year (yikes!), but Hudson and Zito could put a major cramp in their plans. At the same time, the A’s pitching is not very deep, after those two and Keith Foulke (and maybe Chad Bradford), it’s anybody’s guess what the rest of their staff will give them. If you turn on one of these games and there’s an A’s pitcher on the mound other than those four and Game 3 starter Ted Lilly, it’s probably safe to assume you’re looking at a Red Sox win. I don’t trust the Sox starters after Pedro, and good as it may look on paper, the Beantown fans have let it be known that the restructured Boston bullpen is still a cover-your-eyes affair. If Hudson can outlast Pedro tonight, allowing his hitters to scrap together a run or two off the Boston pen, we could be looking at an upset here as well.

Before tomorrows game I hope to give some thoughts on the Yankees D and compare this year’s playoff team to the one that took on the Angels a year ago.

Enjoy tonight’s games!

posted by Cliff at 4:04 PM

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I didn't say much, but I said enough 

So I may have shanked my ALDS preview in terms of depth, but it turns out that I said all that needed to be said for Game 1. The game was decided by defense (Yankees bad, Twins good) and nailed down by five scoreless innings from the Twins bullpen.

Johan Santana pitched well over four innings, but didn't dominate. Thanks to Aaron Gleeman for the heads up on Santana's occasional wildness, as he walked three in four innings and threw six straight balls to Nick Johnson and Derek Jeter in the third. He followed that up with a three-pitch strikeout of Jason Giambi to escape the only real jam he faced (first and second, two outs, not much of a jam).

The Twins staked Santana to a lead in the top of that inning when Christian Guzman reached on a slow dribbler past Mussina that Soriano was unable to pick bare-handed. It was ruled a base hit. Shannon Stewart, the Twins' non-pitching MVP of the game, then followed with a single to left and Guzman slid in safely at third. Matsui's throw beat Guzman to the bag, but Boone missed his initial tag (sez Sterling/Steiner, I've still not seen a replay) and his second effort was late. Luis Rivas followed with a sac fly to center, scoring his keystone partner.

Santana's hamstring cramped up after the fourth, forcing Gardenhire to play matchups the rest of the way. Rick Reed got Boone and Rivera before giving up a double to Soriano. Romero was then brought in to face the lefty Johnson, getting him to ground out to first to end the inning.

The decisive inning of the game was the sixth. Matt LeCroy led off with a single. Jacque Jones struck out swinging. Then Torii Hunter hit the first pitch he saw into center. Bernie raced over to cut the ball off only to miss it completely, allowing the slow-footed LeCroy to round third and head home. Soriano took Bernie's eventual relay throw even though Jeter, who has a killer arm and is great with relays, was standing next to him. Noticing he had very little chance to catch LeCroy at home and that Hunter was headed for third, he elected to throw to Boone, but airmailed the throw into the stands. There was little chance that he would have caught the speedy Hunter anyway, but the throwing error allowed Torii to come all the way around and score (scored a triple, RBI, and an E4 on the throw -- at best Hunter's hit was a double, with an E8 allowing the runners to move up, then the E4). Absolutely horrendous. Two pitches later Corey Koskie hit a sinker to left that Matsui dived for and missed, like Hunter's hit the ball rolled towards the wall and Koskie wound up on second. Fortunately, Posada, throwing from his knees, nailed Koskie attempting to steal third and Mussina struck out Guzman, though not before walking Pierzynski.

Jeter, always up to the task in the postseason, lead off the bottom of the sixth with a single, but Romero retired Giambi, Posada and Williams in order to preserve the shutout. After Romero walked lefty Matsui in the bottom of the seventh, Gardenhire went to LaTroy Hawkins, who absolutely dominated, striking out four in two innings of work and allowing just one hit and no walks.

For their part, the Yankees escaped bases loaded situations in the fourth (two outs, Mussina popped Guzman up to third) and eighth (with runners on first and second, Sierra's strong throw kept LeCroy at third on a Koskie single . . . Heredia then got Pierzynski to hit one back to him, starting a 1-2-3 double play).

The Yankees got a man on in every inning but the eighth and by the time the ninth rolled around I had lost feeling in my toes from the amount of blood going to my swollen vocal chords, clapping hands, and pounding heart, all cheering for key hits that never came. Despite Hawkins' dominance, Gardenhire stuck by the book, bringing in his closer for the ninth. I first-guessed Gardenhire on this one, figuring with the off-day tomorrow I'd keep Hawkins in there if he still felt strong. Just as well, the Twins needed a scare. Bernie lead off the bottom of the ninth with a single to right on the first pitch. Matsui hit Guardado's very next pitch to the very top of the Kodak sign in left where Shannon Stewart, the Twins' trading deadline acquisition who helped lead them into the playoffs, made a spectacular leaping catch saving at least a double if not a home run (check the photo here). What the Yankee defense giveth, the Twins defense taketh away. That was today's game in a nutshell. Bernie had rounded second by the time Stewart caught Matsui's ball and had to flee back to first on his hobbled knee. The catch proved even more crucial when the next batter, Aaron Boone doubled to left. Sierra then hit a pop fly to shallow right bringing up Soriano with two outs. Showing unusual poise, Sori worked a 3-1 count then hacked a ball to deep second which he beat out for an RBI infield single that scored Bernie. Nick Johnson then strode to the plate. For the third time in as many at-bats, Nick was up with a runner on third (Boone) and two outs. For the third time in as many at bats, Nick failed to come through. Twins win Game 1, 3-1.

Deep breath.

Mussina, like Santana, wasn't lights-out, but he did well enough to win had his team backed him up in the field or at the plate. Here's his line:

7IP 7H 3R 2ER 3BB 6K (and I'll argue it shoulda been 1 ER)

Here are my heroes and goats for both teams for Game 1:

Twins' Heroes:

LaTroy Hawkins -- dominated for two innings, striking out four, picking up the win
Shannon Stewart -- 2 for 4 with a walk and what may have been the game-saving catch

Twin's Goats:

Eddie Guardado -- Twins fans talk about his Wetteland-like heart-attack saves. His 0.98 WHIP doesn't bear that out, but today's performance did. Up 3-0 starting the ninth, he allowed the Yankees' only run and brought the potential winning run to the plate. If not for Stewart's catch he might have blown the game all together.
Doug Mienkiewicz -- went 0 for 4 in the three hole, getting only one ball out of the infield. He was the only Twin who didn't reach base

Yankees Heroes:

I probably shouldn't give them the boldface because there weren't many heroics, but . . .
Give Mike Mussina credit for a solid seven innings and Felix Heredia same for two scoreless frames in relief (even if he did allow three baserunners in those innings).
On offense, Derek Jeter and Aaron Boone each had two hits. Jeets, who added a walk, lead off with a single after the disastrous top of the sixth and reached in each of his first three at-bats. Boone got his two hits in key situations late in the ballgame.
Hideki Matsui, meanwhile, went 1 for 3, but hit the drive that Stewart snagged in the ninth and added a walk in the seventh. He also made the throw that should have caught Guzman at third in the third.

Yankees Goats:

Sure Alfonso Soriano drove in the only run, and both he and Bernie Williams each picked up two hits, including singles off Guardado in the ninth, but their misplays in the sixth were the difference in this game, giving them both goat status for the day.
Jorge Posada went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, but played well in the field and only had one missed opportunity to advance a runner, so take his listing with a grain of salt.
Jason Giambi went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, twice making the third out with runners on base, the second time striking out on three pitches.
Nick Johnson went 0 for 4 with a strikeout and a walk. In his final three at bats he made the final out of the inning with a runner on third, including the final out of the game when the tying run was on first. To his credit, the one time he struck out he fouled of four 2-2 pitches from LaTroy Hawkins before waving at the ninth pitch of the at-bat.
On a smaller scale, Jeff Nelson walked the only man he faced in the eighth, throwing three straight balls before working the count full.

ONWARD . . .

With the way the Yankees played today, one can't be terribly optimistic about Game 2 on Thursday. The day off tomorrow allows the Twins to rest their bullpen, thus making it possible for Hawkins to repeat his performance from today. For his part, Brad Radke's been stellar down the stretch, giving up no more than two runs in any of his five September starts, and no more than one run in any of his last three. He walked a total of one batter in the month of September. Those final five starts included two crucial games against the still-contending White Sox and their big-run offense. Here's Radke's line in those two games:

16 IP 17 H 3 R 3 ER 2 HR 0 BB 8 K

He pitched all but one inning of those two games (one was at the Metrodome) winning them both.

Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte, even if he's on his game, will need his defense to pick him up. Here's hoping Giambi and Johnson will fare better against the righty. I'd like to see Bernie shifted to left in favor of Matsui, but I know that's not going to happen. Actually, if I may stray a bit, I'd like to see Nick Johnson learn the outfield in the offseason so that a) he and Giambi play in the same game in National League parks and b) Bernie can get some much needed time at DH without knocking Johnson or Giambi out of the lineup. Had Nick had the occasional game in the outfield over the course of the 2003 season, I'd actually suggest DHing Bernie, putting Matsui in center and Nick at one of the corners. With his bum knee and rag arm, Bernie is a liability in the field right now. It hurts to watch.

Whatever the forces that conspire against them, the Yankees need to win on Thursday. Being down 0-2 after the first two at home is bad enough (yes the Yanks have overcome that in the past, but this is not that team), but being down 0-2 and heading to the Metrodome with it's deafening noise, mysterious air conditioning, artificial turf and baseball-colored roof is baaaaaaad. Plus, since he only threw 59 pitches today, they're sure to see Santana again in the second game in Minnesota. No hope of drawing Kenny Rodgers, perennial playoff goat. Thursday the Yankees need to be sharp, smart and hungry. I'm already nervous.

Before I go, I thought I'd share this view from my seat at today's game:

The Yanks may have lost, but I got my money's worth. Skipping work for playoff baseball on a day like this. Is there anything better?

posted by Cliff at 7:12 PM

Super half-assed ALDS preview 

Okay, so I've been overloaded in numerous different ways in the past few days and didn't get to my ALDS preview as I had hoped. Here are some quick thoughts:

Yankees strengths: offense, starting pitching
Twins strengths: defense, bullpen

Actually, the Twins starting pitching is not that shabby (Johan Santana and Brad Radke have been a large part of their late break for the AL Central title), and their bullpen isn't quite what it was last year (partially due to a disappointing season from J.C. Romero). Likewise, the Yankee bullpen is probably better than those of us who have been tearing our hair out about it all season are willing to believe.

As for the other two, the Yankees are one of the worst defensive teams in the majors and the Twins biggest offensive threat is probably Corey Koskie, who hit .292 with 14 homers and 69 RBI this year and got on base just under 40 percent of the time. Those gaps are large.

The Twins have a huge home-field advantage, but also have a huge drop off when facing left-handed pitching, as blogging wiz kid and Twins fan Aaron Gleeman points out in his informative break down of the matchup.

Overall, this series reminds me a bit too much of last year's ALDS, with the Yankees the clear favorite, but still very vulnerable. Tomorrow's Game 1 (which I will attend!) will be huge for both teams, as the Twins can't afford to lose with Santana on the mound and probably need to force a second game in Minneapolis, while the Yanks need to come out and establish their dominance, get inside the Twins heads, and remind them of that 0-fer they have against the Yanks over the past two seasons.

Moose vs. Santana at the Stadium. Playoffs. Awesome.

More tomorrow, sorry I suck.

posted by Cliff at 12:25 AM

Monday, September 29, 2003

Rookie of the Year 

This seems so unimportant with the ALDS starting tomorrow (I’ve got my ticket for Game 1 and cleared it with the boss to take off for the 1:05 start), and after my massive, two-part post on the MVP. But I promised it, and it is Yankee-related. So let’s get this done.

Here are the only five candidates that I’ve heard mentioned for ROY:

Hideki Matsui19.278172694.286.352.434.7866386821061622
Angel Berroa16.268148633.288.339.453.7922999927317215
Jody Gerut14.281119521.279.337.496.832357066752245
Rocco Baldelli13.262156634.290.326.418.744291268978112710
Mark Teixeira13.270124585.261.333.484.8174411966842612

In addition to those statistics we must bear in mind the positions each player has played. Berroa has distinguished himself in the field, turning in a strong performance in 157 games at shortstop for the Royals. Baldelli has played a spectacular centerfield for the Devil Rays. Matsui, as we know, has played every game for the Yankees, most of them in left field. He did however start 46 games in center, and has shown outstanding instincts in the field. I’m thus willing to raise him above the 1B/LF/RF/DH muddle. Jody Gerut has played all three outfield positions (RF-62, LF-36, CF-14) thus earning a few extra points himself. Teixeira has spent most of his time at first base (115 games) but has also played both corner outfield positions and third base (between 11-15 games at each). That time at third gives him a few extra points as well.

Looking at the above chart, this is hardly a walk for any of the three favorites (Berroa, Matsui, Baldelli). While Matsui leads in RBI, WS and runs created, he also leads in plate appearances by quite a bit. Gerut has the best EqA and OPS, and Teixeira the best SLG and most homers. Despite bringing excitement to the coma-inducing Devil Rays, Baldelli is the first to go here, as Berroa, who plays an even more valuable defensive position, bests him in most categories in an almost identical number of plate appearances. Baldelli’s only advantages are two points of batting average, eight runs created, five RBIs, and six stolen bases (though his stolen base percentage trails Berroa’s 73 percent to 81 percent). Gerut performs a similar sweep of Teixeira. Despite trailing by 64 plate appearances he loses only 5 runs created, 9 walks, 9 RBIs and four homers, leading everywhere else other than slugging.

Now before we get to Gerut and Matsui, some words on the legitimacy of Matsui as a candidate. Let’s see, Gerut is 26 and had never played a major league game prior to this season. Berroa is 25 and played 35 major league games over the 2001 and 2002 seasons gathering 33 major league hits. Matsui is 29 and had never played a major league game prior to this season. What’s the problem? Most experts estimate the level of play in Japan as somewhere between AAA and the majors. So that would be sub-major league level play, would it not? I’m sure that over the course of this season both Gerut and Berroa have faced far more pitchers that they had previously faced in the minor leagues (and in previous spring trainings) than Matsui did pitchers he’d seen before in Japan (and international All-Star games). So what advantage does Matsui have again? That he doesn’t speak the language or know the culture? That he’s never seen the two-seam fastball before? That he’s used to playing in bandboxes? I don’t get it.

Rob Neyer, a writer whom I generally respect, proposed that players who make a certain salary (he suggested $1 million) be declared ineligible for the Rookie of the Year, clearly ignoring the existence of bonus babies like 23-year-old Mark Prior, who made $1.45 million this year, or the Yankees $17 million man Drew Henson, who looks like a rookie if I’ve ever seen one. Then turned around and argued for A-Rod as MVP (which, we’ve seen, he deserves), ignoring the fact that one of the primary arguments against A-Rod’s candidacy is the negative impact of his $252 million contract. Bad form.

Anyway, back to Matsui and Gerut. Matsui has a 143 plate-appearance advantage, which makes comparing counting stats difficult. Gerut actually out-homered Matsui by 8, which corresponds to his 62-point lead in slugging, which in turn translates into a 46-point lead in OPS. Both are corner outfielders capable of playing center. Neither is a threat on the bases. Gerut has been the second best everyday player on a terrible team. Matsui has been the sixth best everyday player on a team with the best record in baseball. Sure, Matsui’s 106 RBI look great, but, as we know, RBIs are a team stat. Gerut has a small lead in EqA and if you divide Win Shares by plate appearances you find they earn them at the same rate. I think I’ve gotta give Matsui the boot here. Sure his ability to play every day is valuable, but that’s one area where having spent nine years with a single team does give him a bit of an advantage. Otherwise I think Gerut’s big lead in slugging is more valuable than Matsui’s small one in OBP. Sure an ounce of OBP is worth a pound of slugging, but slugging is what you want out of your slow-footed corner outfielders, and it’s what Gerut gives you over Matsui.

Which brings us to Berroa. Berroa’s playing time falls in between Matsui and Gerut, he has the highest average of the three, slips past Gerut in OBP, but trails him in slugging (and thus OPS). He, too, has hit more homers than Matsui in fewer PA, but lags a bit in EqA. At the same time, he has a similar WS/PA number and leads Gerut in RC/PA. Berroa, also adds speed on the bases and more value on defense. Like Gerut, he’s been the second best player on his team, but unlike Gerut, his team has been competitive all year. As much as I discounted the standings in my MVP vote, I think showing poise in a pennant race is a key way for a rookie to distinguish himself. At the same time, it’s not Gerut’s fault that his team didn’t compete, and entirely possible that he would have performed similarly. What I think it comes down to here is that slow-footed corner outfielders who can hit .280 with 22 homers are a lot easier to come by than slick-fielding shortstops who can produce at the plate. I thought I’d get here either easier, or via a different route, and on a different day I might be convinced to pick Gerut, as Berroa’s .792 OPS and .268 EqA make it difficult to give him any kind of award, but I think I’m going to have to side with the rest here. Your 2003 BRB AL Rookie of the Year is:

Angel Berroa.

Twins vs. Yanks roster analysis and matchups late tonight . . .

posted by Cliff at 1:14 PM

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