Saturday, May 29, 2004


The Yankee bats pushed Javier Vazquez's record above .500 tonight, producing a mere 7 runs thanks to a quartet of long balls by Sierra (2-run), Sheffield (3-run), Matsui and Jeter (both solo). Jeter had another 3-hit game, his third in a row, adding a double to his ninth-inning homer.

Vazquez was good enough (6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 2 K), but Paul Quantrill had another poor outing. Coming in with a runner on second, Quantrill battled Rocco Baldelli to a full count before getting him to ground out. He then allowed an RBI-single to Aubrey Huff, and a single to Tino to put runners at the corners. Tom Gordon then took over, walked Jose Cruz Jr. on five pitches to load the bases, gave up an RBI-groundout to Julio Lugo and struck out Robert Fick on four pitches. Gordon then worked a scoreless ninth and Mariano Rivera came on to earn his 300th save in the ninth.

I would like to take a closer look at the significance of 300 saves, but it's too late at night to start a research project like that right now. I will say that Rivera is the 17th man to join the 300-save club and that the list also includes Roberto Hernandez, Rick Aguilera, Jeff Montgomery and Doug Jones. Mo, who's 34, is fifth among active players in saves. Those ahead of him are John Franco (43), Trevor Hoffman (36), Hernandez (39), and Robb Nen (34, just one day older than Mo). Troy Percival (also 34) currently has 295 career saves.

At the end of my last post I promised a look at how the Devil Rays have changed since the Yanks last saw them on April 7. Promises, promises . . . Here's a quick rundown of what's different.

Let's start with the pitching staff. The D-Rays opened the season with a rotation of Victor Zambrano, Jeremi Gonzalez, Paul Abbott and Mark Hendrickson with Doug Waechter in triple-A waiting for the fifth spot to come due. With Lou Piniella running the show, you knew that wouldn't last. Jeremi Gonzalez made 7 starts before Piniella had had enough, after a one relief outing, he was sent down to triple-A. Rob Bell has taken his place in the rotation. Reclamation project Paul Abbott did Gonzalez one better, making eight starts before being demoted to the bullpen. He made his first relief appearance of the year tonight against the Yankees. He's been replaced in the rotation by Jason Standridge, who started the year on the DL following surgery on his pitching shoulder.

Gone from the bullpen the Rays featured to start the season are Damian Moss (designated for assignment 4/30) and Chad Gaudin (optioned to AAA with Gonzalez on 5/19). They have been replaced by Abbott and Travis Harper.

Abbott, Gonzalez, and Moss all departed the team with ERAs over 6.00, but I'm hard pressed to figure out why Gaudin (15 IP, 16 H, 13 K, 5 BB, 3.00) was demoted. Only three Tampa pitchers (closer Danys Baez and relievers John Halama and Trever Miller) have ERAs lower than the 21-year-old Gaudin's 3.00.

On the other side of the ball, Eduardo Perez and Damian Rolls are on the disabled list, Aubrey Huff has been moved from DH to third base, Geoff Blum has as many starts at second base on the season as Rey Sanchez and the DH slot has been filled primarily by Robert Fick. Replacing Rolls and Perez on the roster are Charles "Pickoff" Gipson (who made the opening day roster in Waechter's place but was replaced by Jason Romano immediately following the Japan trip; Romano has since been designated for assignment) and Fred "Nine More" McGriff, who was called up today and made his first appearance of the year in tonight's game, popping out against Tom Gordon.

You can check out my preseason preview of the D-Rays here. Looking at some of my key points from that preview, Both Crawford and Baldelli are drawing walks more frequently than last year (one per 17.4 plate appearances up from one per 24.4 PA for Crawford, 16.7 up from 22.8 for Baldelli), though both are still hacktastic. Fortunately, both are keeping their averages up and Crawford is on a pace to steal 80-plus bases (at a 75 percent success rate).

Aubrey Huff has been extremely disappointing thus far, hitting just .237/.296/.349 (.220), though he is on a six game hitting streak and has improved his average 37 points in those six games (he's at .253 after a 4 for 5 night against the Yanks in which he drove in two, scored three and smacked a home run). On the flip side of that, Tino Martinez has been a pleasant surprise, going .295/.388/.512 (.303) thus far.

Doug Waechter and Victor Zambrano have been the D-Ray's best starters thus far, though Waechter's on pace to set the major league single season record for home runs allowed in about 120 fewer innings than it took Bert Blyleven to set the mark in 1986. Really, the less said about the Devil Ray's pitching the better. Put it this way, the Orioles ranked tenth in the AL in team ERA before the Yankees came to town. They're now dead last. The Devil Rays? They were tenth coming into today.

Speaking of team ranks, the Yankees lead the AL in runs scored, the Devil Rays are dead last. The Devil Ray's are the second worst team in baseball after the Expos and are on pace to finish 56-106 (.348). They would have to play .466 baseball the rest of the way to reach 70 wins.

posted by Cliff at 2:30 AM

Friday, May 28, 2004

No Mercy 

The Yanks wrapped up their first series in Baltimore last night by beating the tar out of the Orioles. The final score was 18-5 and it wasn't even that close, as Gabe White gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth. On YES, Singleton and Girardi claimed that White shouldn't be held accountable for that performance as he was "just trying to get outs" (!). Personally, I think facing Jose Leon (who homered), Robert Machado, the left-handed B.J. Surhoff (double), and Luis Matos (RBI single) with a 15-run lead is exactly the sort of situation where a guy like White (who didn't even bother to put his chain on last night) should be able to set 'em down in order.

To dwell on the pitching for just a tad longer, Jose Contreras was up to his usual tricks. After the Yanks scored 8 in the fifth, Contreras walked the first batter in the bottom of the inning (Palmeiro) on five pitches. Granted, he had been on the bench for fifty (yes, 5 - 0) minutes, but Jeter was having none of that. He rushed to the mound and told Jose to snap-to. El Titan then struck out the next batter (Javy Lopez) on three pitches. All totaled, he managed to hold the Orioles to three runs through six. Here are his last two starts:

TEX: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR
BAL: 6 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 4 K, 2 HR

My jury's still out, but if he can go six and keep the opposition to three or four runs, that'll do just fine. Contreras just has to be league average to be a useful fifth starter. Post-demotion, so far so good.

Felix Heredia was the only other Yankee pitcher used last night. He worked two innings, gave up three hits, struck out none, but also walked none. See, Gabe, is it that hard?

Anyway, the fun stuff is what the Yankee bats did these past three days. In three games, the Yankee offense scored 41 runs on 51 hits. Gadzooks! And Camden Yards is a consistent pitcher's park! Garry Sheffield led the team with 8 hits. Jeter had 5 doubles. Alex Rodriguez smacked two homers and stole two bases, Enrique Wilson drove in nine runs and Hideki Matsui scored nine runs, walked six times, hit the lone triple and reached base 13 times. Those are the leaders for the last three days. Here's how each member of the offense did:

Derek Jeter: 7 for 15, 5 2B, 4 RBI, 4 R, SB. Jeter lifted his batting average 22 points during the final two games. At .211 it's now higher than it's been since April 21. Oh, and despite his season-long slump, Jeter is on pace for a career high 42 doubles and a very Jeter-like 70 RBIs.

Gary Sheffield: 8 for 16, HR, 6 RBI, 5 R, BB. Folks are talking about Gary haven broken out this series. Honestly, I'm not so sure. Just one homer amidst a 41-run barrage by his team concerns me a bit. That homer is also his only extra-base hit in the past week. I'm more easily convinced that Jeter has finally broken out of his slump. Of course Jeter's slump has lasted so long it will take a solid week or more of hitting for me to be fully convinced he's out of it. Sure is great to see him hitting again, though.

Hideki Matsui: 6 for 9, 2B, 3B, 5 RBI, 9 R, 6 BB. Hideki reached base 13 times in 16 trips. For those who haven't noticed, despite not homering in Baltimore, Matsui's on pace to hit a respectable 25 homers. What's more, his current line of .313/.429/.521 compares quite favorably to his career line in Japan. The following are his career line in Japan, his line from last year, and thus far in 2004:

.304/.413/.582 (.331)
.287/.353/.435 (.268)
.313/.429/.521 (.323)

Now that's more like it. Further evidence that Hideki's coming around is that, though he still drives me nuts with his grounders to the right side, his groundball/flyball ratio is way down, 1.56 this year compared to a dreadful 2.17 from last year. I'd prefer to see that ratio around 1.00 or even below, but the improvement cannot be denied.

Tony Clark: 6 for 14, 3 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 5 R. Clark has a hit in every game since Giambi went on the DL. For the season he's hitting .258/.375/.530 (.301). He's also playing some great defense at first. Travis Lee my ass.

Alex Rodriguez: 4 for 11, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R, 4 BB, 2 SB. In May, Alex is hitting .345/.429/.655 (.357) with 7 homers, 20 RBI, 19 runs and 6 steals.

Kenny Lofton: 4 for 8, 4 R. In 44 at-bats since coming off the DL, Kenny's hitting .341/.412/.545 (.322) with three triples.

Jorge Posada: 4 for 12, 2 2B, RBI, 5 R, 4 BB. The league-leader back in April, Jorge hasn't hit a home run in all of May. He is, however, hitting .345 with a .500 OBP (!) this month.

Bernie Williams: 3 for 11, 2 RBI, 3 R, BB. Bernie's got a six game hitting streak going.

Enrique Wilson: 4 for 13, HR, 9 RBI, 2 R. Wilson and Cairo have combined for 32 RBI thus far this season. Manny Ramirez has 32 RBI on the season. Jeff Kent leads major league second basemen with 38. Looking at their season totals, (Cairo: .271/.323/.407-.247; Wilson, still on the interstate despite his recent hot hitting: .223/.241/.340-.193), they shouldn't be in this company. What's going on here? Pretty simple, really. Here are the on-base percentages of the five guys (three runners plus two outs) who have most often hit directly above them (in reverse order):

Clark: .375
Matsui: .429
Posada: .452
Sheffield: .397
Giambi: .406

Okay, I'm cheating a little by leaving out Sierra and Bernie (both .333), but I think you get my point. Now imagine if the Yankees had as much as league-average production from the ninth spot in the line-up. Can you say 1000 runs?

Ruben Sierra: 2 for 9, 2 R

By the way, the Yankees were so hot in Baltimore, and the O's pitching so bad, that every one on the bench (save Homer Bush who never came up to bat) got a hit:

Miguel Cairo: 1 for 2, RBI

John Flaherty: 1 for 1

Bubba Crosby: 1 for 2, 2B, R, RBI, and his first major league walk. Congratulations, Bubba!

Hoo-boy. I'm winded from all that hitting.

Hope to get a quick preview of the D-Rays up before game time (some things have changed since last we saw them).

posted by Cliff at 2:27 PM

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Rain goes away, Yanks come back 

What did I tell you about the Orioles' pitching? After scoring 11 runs on Tuesday, the Yankees scored 12 more last night to clinch the three-game series.

Trailing 3-1 after four, the Yankees picked up four runs and the lead in the fifth on a Lofton double, Jeter-RBI single, Rodriguez single and a 3-run homer from Gary Sheffield.

Amidst that outburst, the clouds over Camden Yards had one of their own, putting a 65-minute rain delay in between Jeter and Rodriguez's turns at bat. It was the second night in a row that the Yanks and Orioles had to sit through an hour-plus rain delay. That put a cramp in the style of Mike Mussina who, after struggling in the first and early second, settled down to retire eleven straight Orioles before a Brian Roberts single in the bottom of the fifth.

The Yanks padded their lead with a Tony Clark homer and an RBI-single from Sheffield in the top of the sixth, but then things got ugly for the Bombers.

The post-rain-delay Mussina walked Miguel Tejada on four pitches to start the bottom of the sixth. After getting Rafael Palmeiro to fly out, he surrendered a 3-1 single to Javy Lopez on his 93rd pitch of the night. Torre replaced him with Paul Quantrill, looking to protect the Yanks 7-3 lead. Quantrill's second pitch to B.J. Surhoff (starting in place of Jay Gibbons, who sat out with back spasms) landed beyond the wall in right to put the O's within one. Ski-Doo then got ahead of Luis Matos 0-2, but Matos turned around his third pitch for a single. Quantrill came out of the game, Gabe White came out of the pen, Gabe White's necklace came off of his neck (again), and singles by the first two batters he faced, Bigbie and Hairston, tied the game.

This is where I started to doubt Joe Torre's sanity. Bigbie singled on White's first pitch. Hairston singled down 1-2. White then retired Brian Roberts for the second out of the inning after which Torre popped out of the dugout and signaled for . . . Tanyon Sturtze!? Never mind the fact that the man shouldn't even be on the roster (Bret Prinz!), but to bring in a man who had essentially pitched his way out of the majors into a tie game . . . to face the best hitter in the American League (believe it or not, Melvin Mora currently fits that description) . . . I'm speechless.

To Sturtze's credit, he got a first-pitch strike on each of the three batters he faced. Of course, two of them singled (including Mora), and he eventually fell behind to both Tejada (the other single) and Palmeiro (the third out). Nonetheless, Sturtze is doing a nice job of filling Jeff Weaver's shoes. Tie Game + Sturtze = Yankees Trailing. When Sturtze walked off the mound it was 9-7 O's.

I've been thinking about the "Joe Torre era" recently. Thus far there have been three distinct stages. Stage I established the team in 1996 and 1997. Stage II was the domination of 1998-2001. Stage III began with the retirement of O'Neill and the signing of Giambi. Two of the distinguishing characteristics of Stage II were 1) no matter how far behind they fell in a game, the team and the fans were always confident that the Yanks would come back, and 2) every in-game move Joe Torre made seemed to work. I'm sure my perception of the latter was partially the result of my being a less critical viewer at the time. In retrospect, I'm tempted to say that the second was more dependent on the first than the other way around. Still, I mention this because this years team, unlike the two previous Stage III Torre teams, is showing a knack for comebacks that caused me to have fond remembrances of Stage II. I mention this here because of what happened in the top of the seventh last night:

Hideki Matsui took the first three pitches from Buddy Groom, falling behind 1-2, then ripped a homer to right. Ruben Sierra followed with a single. To my delight, Torre did not pinch run for Sierra, whose bat might again be useful in a game that had already seen 17 men cross the plate. With B.J. Ryan taking over for Groom, Tony Clark moved Sierra to second with a groundout. Enrique Wilson took the first four pitches he saw from Ryan to get ahead 3-1. He then singled into left. To my shock and amazement, Luis Sojo sent Sierra home from second on Wilson's single. To my shock and delight, Sierra was safe at home, tying the game at 9-9.

It was a risky, perhaps foolish send on Sojo's part (with one out and the top of the order due up, holding a slow runner at third on a single to left is the "right" thing to do), but I'm beginning to think Sojo is getting great reads on outfielders and runners. He received some criticism for sending Posada home on Vlad Guerrero last week in Anaheim, but according to the replay (or other's accounts of it) Jorge was safe. In a game I attended early this month against Kansas City, he sent Jorge home from second on a single by Matsui with no outs and the game tied when most would have held him. Jorge was safe. I know I've seen him send Posada a third time, when every one but Luis thought he'd be out. He was safe. It's circumstantial evidence, some one with more time on their hands might be able to find out how many runners Sojo's gotten thrown out at home thus far this year (if so, please let me know in the comments), but it seems to me that there's a method behind Sojo's windmill madness at third.

At any rate, it took the Yankees just four batters to close the two-run gap and Wilson had moved to second on the throw home that failed to catch Sierra. To my continued delight, Joe Torre then pinch-hit for the 3-for-4 Kenny Lofton because of the lefty Ryan on the mound (Joe gets it!). Lofton looked a bit upset in the dugout, but pinch-hitter Bernie Williams (who is .353/.450/.529 in the past week, a respectable .276/.368/.434 on the month, and has raised his average 42 points and his SLG almost 100 points in the past 14 days), delivered a 3-1 single to score Wilson and give the Yankees the lead. With that Lofton popped up to the top step of the dugout to cheer on his replacement. As they say, nothing helps build chemistry more than winning.

And the line kept moving. Jeter (3 for 5 on the night and, at least temporarily, off the interstate) doubled. Sojo held Bernie at third. Rodriguez was intentionally walked. Gary Sheffield, already 2 for 3 with a homer and four RBIs on the night, singled Bernie and Jeter home (he finished 4 for 5 with six RBIs) and the Yanks were up 12-9. The two teams combined to score 17 runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

Oh, one other distinguishing characteristic of the Stage II Torre Yankees? A great bullpen. Last night, Stage III's Tom Gordon and Mo Rivera shut the door (just a Surhoff single of Gordon and a Raffy single off Mo).

It wasn't real pretty (but not terribly sloppy -- no errors on either side, no one picked off or caught stealing), but last night's game sure made me feel good about these Yankees.

Now for some other news:

The Yankees have released Donovan Osborne. I know this may sound crazy, but I just don't get it. I've posted it before, I'll do it again. This is what Osborne did out of the pen this year: 3.18 ERA, 11.1 IP, 11 H, 10 K, 3 BB. Sure he bombed in one start and was ungood in the other, but no team with Tanyon Sturtze on the roster should be cutting loose pitchers who have contributed anything. I'd take Osborne over Sturtze right now.

Meanwhile, Steve Hearsay is scheduled to pitch his first extended spring training game on Saturday. He's thus far thrown seven innings combined in three simulated games. I'm not ready to change his name back just yet, but he's back on the radar.

Sticking with the pitching staff, Kevin Brown has left the team briefly for undisclosed personal reasons. Originally scheduled to start tonight, he will instead start on Saturday with Contreras and Vazquez moving up a day to take his place. Since the Yankees had an off-day on Monday, both will be pitching on normal rest.

Lastly, the Yankees claimed 27-year-old second baseman Kevin Hooper off waivers from the Marlins yesterday. Hooper will report to Columbus. This is not a very meaningful transaction on it's surface, but it points to the fact that the Yankees are well aware of the hole that exists at second, no matter how hot Enrique Wilson's bat may be right now. With Hooper added to Caonabo Cosme and Andy Phillips in Columbus it suggests that the Yankees might be getting ready to promote Phillips, who hit .357/.383/.738 in ten games at Trenton has since hit .374/.418/.692 in 91 ABs with the Clippers. As Fabian McNally reports, Phillips has started seeing action at second (after playing first and third for most of the season thus far). For a refresher, here's my introduction to Phillips from my non-roster invitee analysis back in March:
Andy Phillips is a soon-to-be 27-year-old righty-hitting second baseman. He came to the Yankee system out of the University of Alabama in 1999. He was selected as the Yankees Minor League Player of the Year in 2002 after tearing up Norwich to the tune of .305/.381/.618 with 19 homers in 272 at-bats, earning him a promotion to Columbus. Last year he played in just 17 games as the result of a right elbow strain and tendonitis that he suffered the previous autumn in the Arizona Fall League.

Could Homer Bush's days in the Bronx be numbered?

posted by Cliff at 9:40 AM

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

We be gettin' down with no (rain) delay 

Lesseee . . . Jon Lieber is money. The O's pitching is not. Yanks win 11-3, end of story, right?

Yeah pretty much. Buried in all of that was a sloppy inning from Felix Heredia and the fact that, in a bit of gamesmanship, the Orioles (likely Mazzelli) had Gabe White remove his pimp chain when he entered in the eighth. There was also a 79-minute rain-delay in the second inning that perfectly coincided with my similarly delayed train ride home from my softball game (we played the role of the O's tonight--thus making it even more fitting that I wore my 1970-stylee Orioles cap).

Also Kenny Lofton, who came out of Sunday's game with a tight hamstring, didn't start against the lefty Bedard. In his place, Torre started Sierra in right, Bernie in center, and DHed Sheffield. Lofton will likely start against the righty Lopez tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the O's made three roster moves before tonight's game. They are:

RHP Denny Bautista, IF Jose Leon and C Robert Machado called up.
RHP Rick Bauer, IF Jose Bautista and C Keith Osik sent down.

All three promoted players saw action late in tonight's game, Leon and Machado as defensive replacements in the ninth. Bautista was the first man out of the O's pen in the fifth and gave up four runs on three hits and a walk in 1 2/3 innings without striking out anyone. And so it goes for the O's.

I should add an apology to those who were unable to view the BRB for parts of Tuesday. Blogger was having an issue with the use of "www" at the beginning of some addresses. If you're reading this, it's all better now.

posted by Cliff at 11:55 PM

Sunday, May 23, 2004

The Orioles 

Baltimore Orioles

2003 Record: 71-91 (.438)
2003 Pythagorean Record: 74-88 (.457)

Manager: Lee Mazzilli
General Manager: Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Oriole Park at Camden Yards (95/96)

Who’s replacing whom?
Miguel Tejada replaces Tony Batista
Rafael Palmeiro replaces Jeff Conine
Javy Lopez replaces Brook Fordyce
Keith Osik replaces Geronimo Gil
Luis Lopez and Jose Bautista replace Deivi Cruz
Erik Bedard replaces Jason Johnson
Daniel Cabrera replaces Pat Hentgen
Mike DeJean replaces Kerry Lightenberg
Darwin Cubillian replaces Hector Carrasco

The Orioles' Current Roster:

1B - Rafael Palmeiro
2B - Brian Roberts
SS - Miguel Tejada
3B - Melvin Mora
C - Javy Lopez
RF - Jay Gibbons
CF - Luis Matos
LF - Larry Bigbie
DH - Jerry Hairston, Jr.


L - B.J. Surhoff (OF)
S - Luis Lopez (IF)
R - Jose Bautista (IF)
R - Keith Osik (C)


R - Sidney Ponson
R - Rodrigo Lopez
L - Eric DuBose
L - Erik Bedard
R - Daniel Cabrera


R - Jorge Julio
L - B.J. Ryan
R - Mike DeJean
L - Buddy Groom
L - John Parrish
R - Rick Bauer
R - Darwin Cubillan


R - Marty Cordova (OF)
S - David Segui (1B)
L - Omar Daal
L - Matt Riley

The Orioles most likey line-up:

S - Brian Roberts (2B)
R - Melvin Mora (3B)
R - Miguel Tejada (SS)
L - Rafael Palmeiro (1B)
R - Javy Lopez (C)
L - Jay Gibbons (RF)
R - Luis Matos (CF)
L - Larry Bigbie (LF)
R - Jerry Hairston (DH)

This offseason, whenever someone said that the Orioles' signings of Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro set them up to "make some noise" in the AL East, I consistantly replied "with what pitching?" I never got a response.

Last year the Orioles team ERA was 4.76, 10th in a 14-team league. Thus far their team ERA is 4.84, 10th in a 14-team league. Their rotation is a mess. Their big pitching signing this offseason was Sidney Ponson. Except that Ponson started 21 games for the Orioles last year. So he's not an addition at all. Ponson had a career year last year, posting a 3.77 ERA in his 21 Oriole starts. This year he's got a 5.40 ERA, worst among Baltimore's current starters. Meanwhile, both pitchers they acquired in the trade that sent Ponson to the Giants have pitched their way off the team. Damian Moss did so in spring training and has since pitched his way off the Devil Rays as well. Kurt Ainsworth started 7 games in an Oriole uniform at the start of the year, but was banished to Rochester when the dust cleared and his ERA column read "9.68."

After Ponson their best starters in 2003 were Jason Johnson, who is now a Tiger, Pat Hentgen, who is once again a Blue Jay, and Eric DuBose. DuBose is back and pitching about league average (4.67 ERA). After Ponson and DuBose the only O's starter who began the year in the rotation and is still there is Erik Bedard. Bedard, 25, pitched 2/3 of an inning with the big club in 2002, then had Tommy John surgery. He was slated as the team's fifth starter this year and has posted a 4.97 ERA in his six starts thus far. After that comes 22-year-old Daniel Cabrera who has pitched well twice and poorly once in the first three big-league starts of his career. Bringing up the rear is the Orioles best starter from 2002, Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez failed to make the rotation out of spring training, but with Ainsworth's demotion and the continued injury problems of Matt Riley (6.33 ERA in 4 starts thus far), earned his way back in with an 0.33 ERA in 27 innings out of the pen. In his only start thus far Lopez allowed six runs without making it out of the fifth inning. And so it goes for the O's.

The O's pen has been better. Or at least half of it has. Closer Jose Julio and lefties B.J. Ryan and Buddy Groom have pitched well. The rest have been average to awful. That's basically wortheless considering the state of their rotation.

The only reason the O's have clung to .500 this long (and they're exactly .500 going into tonight's game) is that they've been hitting just enough. They're actually ninth in the AL in runs scored. The big news is that Melvin Mora, coming off what looked like a fluke season (a partial fluke season at that) is leading the AL in OPS (first in average and OBP, second to Posada in slugging). Javy Lopez, as of this writing, has almost exacly matched his average and OBP from his huge year last year. On the other hand his slugging average is a full .200 points lower that it was a year ago, which is very telling and more indicative of the sort of season I expect him to have. Miguel Tejada is outhitting his career averages across the board. Raffy Palmeiro is echoing Lopez to some degree, posting familiar AVG and OBP numbers but with a dip in his slugging. Not bad for a man of his age.

All together that's solid production out of the imports, but once you get to the home grown "talent" there's a drop. Bigbie and Gibbons are similarly average. Roberts, who won the second base job because he can stay healthy, is remarkably efficient on the basepaths, but otherwise Bigbie and Gibbons without any power. Luis Matos has thus far been horrible: .225/.273/.344. Ouch. So much for Baltimore's youth movement. After starting the year on the DL, Jerry Hairston has found a home at DH, which is fine, because there are no other places to play him and there's no one else worth giving his at-bats. Well, B.J. Surhoff is still hangin' 'round and hitting like Brian Roberts without the speed and defense. So there's that. Hairston is fresh of the DL and desperately trying to prove his worth to teams in need of a second baseman. Though I would think his injury history would scare off any GM short of the most desperate.

Face it folks, this is a bad team, big names and big contracts be damned (and they usually are).

posted by Cliff at 11:49 PM

Texas Wrap 

So Jose Contreras made me look overly cynical on Saturday by turning in his best outing of the year (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR). Of course he threw just 59 percent of his pitches for strikes, hit two batters, threw a wild pitch and allowed a stolen base to Dellucci. Still, he didn't melt down. So I tip my hat to him and hope he can repeat (I dare not ask that he improve on) his performance against the much weaker Devil Rays on Friday.

The Rangers went on to win that Saturday game 4-3 because, as irony would have it, after the rare strong showing from Contreras, the Yankees' all-star bullpen wasn't able to put it away.

Here's the nasty recap: To begin the bottom of the eighth, Felix Heredia gave up a lead-off single to Hank Blalock on his only pitch of the game, dropping his post-injury LOOGY average to .500. Heredia was then replaced by Tom Gordon. On Gordon's first pitch, Alfonso Soriano hit a weak grounder that Alex Rodriguez charged, booted, barehanded and fired to first. Replays showed that Soriano was clearly out, but he was called safe. Blalock moved to third on the play. On the next pitch, Brad Fullmer hit a comebacker that Gordon threw into center to allow Blalock to score and keep runners on the corners with no outs. Two pitches later, Mark Teixeira singled Sori home to put runners at first and second. David Dellucci hit another comebacker two pitches later that Gordon successfully got to Jeter at second for the force, but his throw wasn't accurate enough to allow Jeter to turn the double play. For those keeping track, between the bad call at first and the two comebackers, both of which could have been double plays, the Rangers were given seven outs in this inning (which they used up on just eight pitches). Gordon's seventh and final pitch of the inning finally got that elusive DP off the bat of Kevin Mench, 4-6-3 stylee.

With the game tied, Gordon seemed to be settled down in the bottom of the ninth, striking out Laynce Nix on five pitches and getting strike one on Rod Barajas. Strike two to Barajas landed on the other side of the left field wall. Game over. To add insult to injury, the winning pitcher, who put down heart of the Yankee order 1-2-3 on seven pitches in the top of the ninth, was 2001 Yankee bullpen reject Carlos Almanzar. As for Gordon, Saturday was just the fourth outing of his 23 in which he allowed a run of any kind.

Down 0-2 in the series the Yanks salvaged the final game today behind a solid outing from Javier Vazquez (6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 6 K, 0 HR, 67 percent of 99 pitches for strikes) and the big bat of . . . Enrique Wilson? Wilson went 3 for 5 with a double, a no-doubter home run, 3 RBI and 2 runs scored. He also played some stellar defense. Just goes to show, it's a long season and anything can happen.

The most exciting play of the game was a lead-off triple from Kenny Lofton (his fourth three-bagger of the season). Lofton smacked a 2-1 pitch from R.A. Dickey over Laynce Nix's head in center and cruised into third comfortably. In returning the ball to the infield, the Rangers threw the ball away allowing Lofton to score on his own.

I've gotta say, as much as I've grumbled about Kenny Lofton's presence on this team, I do enjoy watching him play. He's fast, runs full-speed on every play and is adept at taking the extra base. He's also a noticeably better center fielder than Bernie Williams at this stage of their careers. (Of course, all things are relative. At this stage of his career I might be a better center fielder than Bernie Williams.) Lofton's got a respectable .355 OBP thus far and 11 walks to just 6 Ks. He's also got 10 runs scored in 16 games and four triples. With Jeter and Bernie struggling thus far at the plate (though Bernie seems to slowly be coming around, his GPA in May is .268), I can't even complain about his leading off right now. Meanwhile, Joe's kept him to just six at-bats against lefties (1 H, 2 K). Don't look now, but Kenny Lofton just might be a valuable part of this team.

Speaking of Lofton, it looks like he'll be the regular centerfielder during Giambi's stay on the DL, with Bernie at DH and Clark at first . Bubba Crosby was recalled to take Giambi's spot on the roster, which does make some sense if the first outfielder on your bench is going to be Ruben Sierra (I has assumed Sierra would get the DH starts as he's started more games at DH than any other Yankee thus far this season). Of course this means that the first base depth chart now looks like this (career games at first in parentheses): Clark (872), Cairo (8), Posada (16), Flaherty (0). Tony Clark has played more games at first base this season than the rest of the Yankees' 25-man roster has in their combined major league careers.

Ah, but that's not the worst of it, according to this Mark Feinsand article, "Torre said that general manager Brian Cashman was working the phones, so a backup first baseman could arrive soon." Oh, come on! Either Giambi's in worse shape that they're telling us (x-rays on his ankle were negative), or the organization's unwillingness to promote non-prospects from AAA borders on pathological (Bubba, you don't know how lucky you are). Option three is that I'm making too big a deal out of one sentence in one article.

The Orioles are next on the schedule. I'll get up a quick preview of this year's Baltimore squad before Tuesday night's game.

Which reminds me, sorry I didn't get a preview up of the Rangers. That was due to my dizziness, which seems to have completely passed (two full days of solid ground, gotta love it). Thanks again for the well-wishes. I'll do a Rangers preview before they come to town on the fourth of June.

posted by Cliff at 7:53 PM

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