Saturday, June 05, 2004

Homers 6, Groins 2 

This is getting ridiculous. Down 4-0 in the third, once again the Yankees stormed back scoring seven runs on six long balls, a 2-run shot by Bernie in the third and solo homers by Wilson, A-Rod and Sheffield (two pitches apart in the fourth), Matsui and again by Sheffield, who started at DH because he had a stomach flu that rendered him dizzy. He should get dizzy more often.

It wasn't all good news for the Yanks tonight, however. Kevin Brown had a rough time, giving up six runs (five earned) on seven hits, including two homers, and a pair of walks in six innings. The outing pushed Brown's ERA to 4.00. Looking at his game log, he's given up four or more earned runs in every other start dating back to April 19 (allowing three or fewer in the in-between starts). The good news about Brown, however, is that he's failed to go six innings just once in eleven starts and taken each of his scheduled turns with the exception of a two-day delay for "personal" reasons last week. According to the New York Post those personal reasons were actually medical. Here are the key portions of that article:
Concerned about a lack of stamina, strength and weight loss, Kevin Brown spent Wednesday and yesterday [May 26 & 27] undergoing tests in New York. . . . Brown, a perfectionist, has a history of delving into his body at various times during the season. Throughout his career, Brown has believed there must be something physically wrong if he pitches poorly. A week ago tonight, in his previous start against the Rangers, Brown gave up 10 hits and five runs in 4 2/3 innings. . . . On May 7, Brown left the team for a day in order to see a Denver physical therapist though he said not one body part was hurting.

This rumored streak of hypochondria adds an interesting wrinkle to Brown's ugly injury history. That said, the mention of fatigue is interesting, as tired sinkerballers tend to leave the ball up and give up fly balls. Thus far this year, Brown is giving up fly balls at twice the rate he was last year, a rate higher than in any season in his career other than his injury-riddled 2002 campaign. He's also on pace to surrender 31 home runs, which would break his career high by ten.

The other bad news is that both of the Yankees starting middle infielders left the game with groin problems. Okay, maybe losing Enrique Wilson to a groin injury isn't a disaster (and he may only miss one game), but seeing Jeter come up lame just as he's really starting to sting the ball after two months of negative offense is tough to take. Supposedly Jeter initially injured his groin scoring from first on a double by Sheffield in yesterday's game against the Orioles. Torre almost didn't start Jeter today, but one can imagine how much Jeter, having finally found his groove, protested. According to Jeter after the game, Joe told him "don't be stupid." Still, though the groin tightened on him after beating out an infield single in the third inning, Jeter did not immediately come out of the game. Instead he scored on Bernie's home run and played the field in the top of the fourth, though he wasn't required to make any plays. When his turn to bat came up again in the bottom of the fourth, he confessed to Joe, who sent in Cairo to bat for him. Said Jeter, "he said he was trusting me, and I don't want to lose his trust."

There's been no DL mention yet. Jeter will sit out the two remaining games of the Rangers series, take Monday's off day, and attempt to play on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Yankees will likely have Cairo at short and Bush at second tomorrow and will hope to have Enrique back in action on Sunday.

In better injury news, Giambi is back with the team and expected to be activated and get the start at first on Sunday. Of course, I'd rather see him DH and see Clark at first, but getting Giambi's bat back is good news either way.

Steve Karsay pitched well for three innings in his third extended spring training start and should be ready to begin a two-to-three-week rehab assignment.

Lastly, the Yanks are going to skip Jose Contreras's next turn in the rotation, pushing his next start back to Saturday June 12 against San Diego. Ticket buyers beware.

posted by Cliff at 12:10 AM

Friday, June 04, 2004

The Texas Rangers 

As promised . . .

Texas Rangers

2003 Record: 71-91 (.438)
2003 Pythagorean Record: 69-93 (.426)

Manager: Buck Showalter
General Manager: John Hart

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Ameriquest Field in Arlington (110/109)

Who’s replacing whom?

Alfonso Soriano replaces Alex Rodriguez
Brad Fullmer replaces Rafael Palmeiro
Brian Jordan replaces Juan Gonzalez
David Dellucci replaces Shane Spencer
Eric Young replaces Ryan Christenson
Rod Barajas replaces Einar Diaz
Ken Huckaby replaces Todd Greene
Gary Matthews Jr. replaces Doug Glanville
Chad Allen replaces Donnie Sadler
Kenny Rogers replaces John Thompson
Carlos Almanzar replaces Aaron Fultz

The Rangers' Current Roster

1B - Mark Teixeira
2B - Alfonso Soriano
SS - Michael Young
3B - Hank Blalock
C - Rod Barajas
RF - David Dellucci
CF - Laynce Nix
LF - Eric Young
DH - Brad Fullmer


R - Herbert Perry (IF)
R - Chad Allen (OF)
S - Gary Matthews Jr. (OF)
R - Ken Huckaby (C)


L - Kenny Rogers
R - Juan Dominguez
R - Ryan Drese
R - R.A. Dickey
R - Joaquin Benoit


R - Francisco Cordero
R - Erasmo Ramirez
L - Ron Mahay
L - Brian Shouse
R - Jay Powell
R - Carlos Almanzar
R - Frank Rodriguez

Disabled List:

L - Rusty Greer (OF - 60-day)
R - Jeff Zimmerman (60-day)
R - Colby Lewis (60-day)
R - Mickey Callway (60-day)
R - Gerald Laird (C - 60-day)
R - Jeff Nelson
R - Doug Brocail
R - Chan Ho Park
R - Kevin Mench (OF)
R - Brian Jordan (OF)

The Rangers Most Likely Line-up

R - Michael Young (SS)
L - Hank Blalock (3B)
R - Alfonso Soriano (2B)
L - Brad Fullmer (DH)
S - Mark Teixeira (1B)
L - David Dellucci (RF)
R - Eric Young (LF)
L - Laynce Nix (CF)
R - Rod Barajas (C)

Check out that DL! To take the edge off it, Greer missed all of 2003 and portions of the previous three seasons. His career is for all intents and purposes over. Zimmerman hasn't pitched since 2001. Lewis pitched the second most innings on the Rangers staff in 2003, but posted a 7.30 (!). Calloway has a career ERA of 6.11 in 119 innings and just turned 29. Brocail's four games pitched this year are his first in the majors since 2000. Park, Mench and Jordon were all guaranteed to get hurt at some point. That leaves just Nelson and Laird. Nelson posted a 5.40 ERA in 14 games before tearing the meniscus in his right knee in mid-May. The Rangers' surprisingly strong bullpen will survive without him. The only real tough break there is rookie catcher Gerald Laird, who will be out until late August with a torn thumb ligament.

Here's what I wrote about the Rangers after watching them loose a squeeker to the A's on opening day:
I gotta say, I really like the look of Texas's offense now that they've gotten rid of their vets and have an infield of Teixeira, Soriano, Young, Blalock and Laird with Nix in center. If they can turn the money they saved into pitching this offseason, they could make noise in that division next year. Unfortunately, that might be too big an "if."

Well don't look now, but the Rangers are already making noise in their division. Thus far this season they're playing .569 ball and trailing the Hell's Angels by just three games while leading the A's by a half of one. Pitching? Well their team ERA is down nearly a run and a half from last year's league-worst 5.98 to 4.50, which places them sixth in the AL, just behind the Yankees. Astonishingly, only three pitchers have racked up an ERA worse than that of last year's Rangers team, and those three (Rosman Garcia, Brocail and Callaway) have a combined 3 1/3 innings pitched in 2004.

This astonishing improvement is the result of several factors: 1) Last year's staff was phenominally bad--worse than the Tigers with an ERA more than a half-run worse than that of patchwork staff of the third-worst Royals. Just check out those ERAs! 2) Whereas their bullpen from 2003 saw 15 different pitchers end the year with ERAs over 6.00 (seven of them with 20 or more innings pitched) and ten with ERAs over 7.00 (seven of them with more than 15 innings pitched), this year's pen has five guys with ERAs under 4.00, including their four most used relievers, Ramirez (3.63), Powell (3.27), Almanzar (2.93) and closer Francisco Cordero (2.08). 3) 39-year-old Kenny Rogers: 3.10 ERA, 1.29 WHIP. Back for his third tour of duty in Arlington, Rodgers is dominating in his hitter haven of a home park: .228 BAA, 23 K, 6 BB in 36.1 IP. His stats crap out on the road (.295 and 18/16 in the same number of innings), but for some reason his ERA is still better away from Texas (2.97). 4) The surprisingly solid, if unexceptional, work of Ryan Drese (4.20 ERA) and R.A. Dickey (solidly league average at 4.80). Really, when you start with a 5.98 team ERA, league average is a breath of fresh air.

Of course the real key to this Rangers team is that young offense. That's why Laird hurts so much. He's the final piece of a fantastic, young (28, 27, 24, 24 and 23), primarily home grown (save Soriano) infield. Of course, in his absence Rod Barajas, who beat the Yankees two weeks ago with a walk-off homer, is hitting .303/.316/.617 with 7 homers and 20 RBI in just 76 ABs (that is to say, way, way over his head). The injury to Mench also hurts quite a bit as Mench (26) is part of the Rangers slower-to-develop young outfield corps led by Laynce Nix (.316/.357/.615 this season). It also hurts because with Jordan also on the DL, they're scraping the outfielder barrel for Gary Matthews and Chad Allen with Ramon Nivar (24) having tanked in a brief call-up earlier in the year. At least they have former Yankee David Dellucci crackin' heads at a .324/.398/.549 clip.

Can this Rangers team keep it up? Well, they're not going to with the division with the way the Angels are playing, but Eric Chavez's broken hand might opened up a bit more room in the West for them. I would expect them to cool off eventually, but if they can hang out just above .500 they just might convince a key free agent pitcher or outfielder to come down to Arlington to help them take the division in '05. And with A-Rod in New York, they've got some extra cash to do it with. So, who still wants argue about that trade being good for both teams?

posted by Cliff at 3:51 PM

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Don't call it a comeback 

The Yankees did it again, coming back from a 1-2 deficit to win 5-2. Javier Vazquez (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, now 6-4), Gordon (1 IP, 1 BB, 2 K) and Rivera (1 IP, 21st save) combined to break the O's streak of seven straight games with 13 or more hits, holding them to just five. During that streak the O's were 4-3, all three losses coming at the hands of the Yankees. The Yankees have now swept the O's twice in ten days, outscoring them 60-31. The Yanks have won 9 of their last 10 and are 25-8 (.758) since being swept by Boston at home in April. On the horizon are the Rangers (good), Rockies (awful), Padres (good), Diamondbacks (awful), Dodgers (surprisingly good) and three more games against the O's before a rematch with the Sox ends the month.

posted by Cliff at 4:23 PM

Trade Sturtze Now! 

Here are a few things that happened in last night's contest between the Orioles and Yankees. You tell me which one is least likely to happen again this season:

a) Jose Contreras was knocked out in the first inning after allowing five runs on two hits, three walks, a wild pitch and two errors by his infielders. He worked slowly and tentatively and threw just 55 percent of his 44 pitches (in just 2/3 of an inning!) for strikes.

b) Derek Jeter made errors on what should have been the first and last outs of the game, but made up for it with a solo home run in the fifth, extending his hitting streak and RBI streak to nine games.

c) Down 0-5 before their first turn at bat, the Yankees closed it to 3-5 in the bottom of the first on a 3-run Sheffield home run and eventually came back to win the game 6-5

d) Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera pitched the eighth and ninth, respectively, allowing just one hit each and no walks. Mo earned his AL-leading 20th save.

e) Tanyon Sturtze pitched 4 2/3 shutout innings

If you answered e), you win!

Listening to the Yankees' radio and television announcers praise Sturtze last night was enough to make me sick to my stomach. Yes, Sturtze held the Orioles scoreless for 4 2/3 innings, and yes that performance was key to the Yankees winning the game. But to say that Sturtze pitched well and has earned anything in terms of future work in non-blow outs (either Sterling or Steiner--as if one could tell them apart anymore--even suggested that he'd earned a start!) is to completely ignore how Sturtze pitched yesterday. Here's what's hidden behind that goose egg in the runs column:

* 97 pitches in 4 2/3 innings, only 58 percent of them for strikes.
* 5 hits and 4 walks in 4 2/3 innings. That's 9 baserunners in 4 2/3 innings, which translates to a 1.93 WHIP (on the season, Sturtze has a 1.89 WHIP in 9 full innings)
* In four of the five innings he started, the Orioles got at least one runner into scoring position.
* An Oriole reached base off Sturtze in every inning he started.
* He threw a first-pitch ball to seven of the first eight batters he faced.

In general, Sturtze pitched about as poor as one can pitch in four plus innings of work and still keep his opponent scoreless. Fercryinoutloud, in the second inning he had the bases loaded and fell behind Luis Matos 2-1 before getting him to ground into a fielder's choice. You can only come one ball closer to giving up a run without actually doing it. Even if Sturtze had pitched well, he has a long an undeniable record of awful pitching that one good performance cannot override. That he didn't even pitch particularly well should force the Yankees to see his performance last night for what it actually was, a fluke.

Now, compare what Sturtze did to the performance of the man who followed him, Bret Prinz:

Sturtze: 97 pitches, 14 outs (6.93 pitches per out)
Prinz: 21 pitches, 5 outs (4.20 pitches per out)

Sturtze: 58 percent of his pitches for strikes
Prinz: 67 percent of his pitches for strikes'

Sturtze: first pitch strikes to 10 of 22 hitters
Prinz: first pitch strikes to 4 of 5 hitters

Sturtze: 9 baserunners, 1.93 WHIP
Prinz: 0 baserunners, 0.00 WHIP

Sturtze: 4 2/3 IP: 2 K (3.86 K/9) 4 BB (7.71 BB/9)
Prinz: 1 2/3 IP: 3 K (16.20 K/9) 0 BB (0.00 BB/9)

Granted this was just one game. So let's look at their complete major league stats for 2004 thus far:

Sturtze: 4 G, 9 IP, 11 H, 3 HR, 6 BB, 7 K, 5.00 ERA, 1.89 WHIP
Prinz: 4 G, 6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 HR, 0 BB, 7 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.45 WHIP

Those stats include Sturtze's "great" game last night. Yes, the sample size is tiny, but the difference is night and day. What's more, Sturtze has thrown over 600 major league innings in his career with an ERA of 5.19 and a WHIP of 1.57. This man is not a good pitcher. He must be eliminated.

Sturtze's value will likely never be higher than it is now. I say the Yankees trade him before they let him throw another pitch. They might even be able to get a nice shiny bag of baseballs in return.

posted by Cliff at 11:05 AM

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Too close 

Five days after scoring eight runs in less than five innings against Sidney Ponson, the Yankees got another crack at the Baltimore "ace" last night and scored seven runs in less than six innings. Matsui and Posada homered, but the big day came from Derek Jeter, who went 4 for 5 with a pair of dingers and three RBIs. Despite his slump, Jeter is now on pace to hit 19 home runs and drive in 84 runs, both of which would exceed his career averages in those categories.

The Oriole pen held the Yankees to just one hit in the 2 1/3 innings after Ponson's departure, but the Yankees entered the ninth inning with a 8-3 lead having received a solid outing from Mussina (6 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 2 K) and excellent relief from Paul Quantrill (1 hit in 1 2/3 IP) and Tom Gordon, who came on in the top of the eighth to strike out B.J. Surhoff.

Then things got ugly.

Luis Matos lead off with a single off Gordon. Larry Bigbie replaced Matos at first via a fielder's choice. That brought up Jerry Hairston, who quickly fell behind 0-2. At this point Gordon had thrown 9 straight strikes since leading Surhoff off with a ball in the eighth. Hairston then fouled off Gordon's third pitch, took the fourth for a ball and fouled off four more before lining a single to center to put runners on first and second. Following Hairston's nine-pitch at-bat, Brian Roberts worked an eight-pitch walk from Gordon to load the bases.

With Miguel Tejada now lurking in the on-deck circle as the tying run and the AL's leading hitter in the batter's box in the form of Melvin Mora, Torre summoned Rivera from the pen to clean up Gordon's mess. Mo retired Mora on his very first pitch, getting him to foul out to Posada for the second out. But Tejada, after falling behind 1-2, fouled off a pitch and took ball two before singling into left to score Bigbie and Hairston, cutting the Yankee lead to 8-5, and pushing Roberts to second. Rafael Palmeiro, who way back in 1996 was one of only two batters to homer off of Rivera (I remember because I was at that game), was given an unintentional pass on four pitches to bring up Javy Lopez. Mo's first two pitches to Lopez missed the zone and after a called strike one to push the count to 2-1, Lopez singled into left to score Roberts and Tejada and push pinch runner Jose Leon to third with the tying run. The first pitch to B.J. Surhoff was also a ball and B.J. got a good swing on the second, sending it out into the shallow part of the gap in left, but the ball hung up long enough for Matsui to get there and end the ball game. Mo threw just eight of his 17 pitches for strikes. Ugly.

Still, Rivera got his 19th save of the year, Mussina his sixth win against four losses, and the Yanks took the ballgame, moving into sole possession of first place in the AL East later in the night when the Red Sox fell to the Angels, who now trail the Yanks by just a 1/2 game for the best record in baseball.

In other news, the Yankees put Kenny Lofton on the DL yesterday. Lofton, who hadn't played since the Yanks were in Baltimore last Thursday due to a "tight" left hamstring will have his DL stay retroactively dated to that game. Replacing Kenny on the roster is Bret Prinz, who has been stellar for the Clippers since being inexplicably sent down in favor of Tanyon Sturtze two weeks ago when Jose Contreras was brought back up. The Yankees will go with the extra pitcher until Jason Giambi is activated this weekend or early next week, at which point Brian Cashman will (hopefully) take Taynon Sturtze out behind the shed and put one behind his ear.

Speaking of Giambi, he begins his rehab assignment in Tampa today. Steve Karsay, threw 34 more pitches in his second extended spring training game and will start a rehab assignment with Tampa on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have picked up Jason Anderson off waivers from the Indians and assigned him to Columbus. You might remember Anderson, who turns 25 one week from today, as last year's Scott Proctor, the hard throwing right-handed reliever who made the team out of spring training. Anderson was shipped to the Mets with two other minor league RHPs for Armando Benitez in mid-July of last year. He had a 4.88 ERA in 28 combined games for the two New York teams last year (with 33 H, 16 K and 19 BB in 31 1/3 IP) and was claimed off waivers by the Indians in April. Anderson has been added to the 40-man, with David Parrish being designated for assignment to make room.

posted by Cliff at 9:56 AM

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Coming home 

Over the holiday weekend the Yankees completed their longest road trip of the year by taking two of three from the Devil Rays in Tampa. Truth be told, they probably should have swept the Rays as they did the Orioles. After 7-5 and 5-3 victories behind Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown (and seven home runs from Sierra (2), Sheffield, Matsui, Jeter, Bernie and Enrique Wilson), they fell just one run short on Sunday, losing 7-6 after a rough start by Jon Lieber.

Taking a closer look at the last two games, the Devil Rays scored all three of their runs in the bottom of the eighth on Saturday night against a tiring Kevin Brown, who came into the inning having thrown 97 pitches and left after his 118th. Toby Hall lead off with a homer. After a pair of outs, Carl Crawford walked and stole second and was doubled home by Rocco Baldelli. Felix Heredia then came on to retire the lefty Aubrey Huff, but surrendered an RBI double on a 2-2 count, dropping his post-DL LOOGY average to .333. Gordon and Rivera (career save #301) then came on to close out an otherwise bump-free Yankee victory.

Sunday's game was a heartbreaker. Jon Lieber suffered his second rocky outing in pinstripes. After holding the D-Rays scoreless in the first three frames, Lieber allowed a lead-off homer to Aubrey Huff in the fourth and struggled from there on out. The Rays tacked on two more in the fourth, and Huff homered again in the fifth. Lieber then loaded the bases in the sixth and was replaced by Gabe White with no outs. Carl Crawford, the first batter White faced, hit a sac fly for the first out and the fifth Tampa run. White then struck out Baldelli on four pitches. With just one out to go and runners on first and second, white worked Aubrey Huff even at 2-2 before the suddenly en fuego third baseman singled up the middle to score the sixth Tampa run. Amazingly, despite giving up six runs on eleven hits in five innings, Lieber threw only 70 pitches, an astonishing 77 percent of them for strikes.

After the Yankees got two men on (Clark and Wilson) and failed to score in the top of the seventh, Torre threw in the towel . . . er, Tanyon Sturtze, who amazingly worked a 1-2-3 seventh. Inspired by the miracle they had just witnessed, the Yankees rallied for four runs in the eighth on singles by Rodriguez, Matsui, Sierra, Clark and Jeter, a Wilson walk and a Geoff Blum throwing error. With the Tampa lead trimmed to just two runs, Torre, apparently blinded by the light, left in Sturtze, who promptly gave up a lead-off home run to the mighty Brook Fordyce. Sheffield, Sierra and Clark rallied for two more runs in the top of the ninth off of D-Ray closer Danys Baez, but Posada struck out swinging to end the game. If not for that one extra run allowed by Sturtze, play would have continued.

Still, the Yankees finished 8-4 on the road trip and an outstanding 18-8 for the month of May. They won six of their last seven games on the trip and scored fewer than seven runs in just one of those contests.

Everything's looking up for the Yankees right now. Steve Hearsay is actually throwing 94 miles per hour and 40-pitches a pop in extended spring training games in Tampa. He could be back by the end of the month. Jason Giambi is taking grounders and claims he'll be ready to come off the DL on schedule this Sunday (he'll hang back in Tampa until then). Meanwhile, Joe Torre will have a difficult time deciding who gets benched when Giambi returns. Tony Clark has eleven hits and twelve RBI in the eight games that Jason Giambi has spent on the DL, not to mention his superior defense. Ruben Sierra hit .356/.400/.678 in May, and has 7 hits and 2 homers in his last five games. Kenny Lofton is still nursing his hamstring (he didn't play at all on the turf in Tampa), but has hit .333/.400/.521 since coming off the DL. Bernie Williams' numbers aren't quite as impressive, but he did cap an eight-game hitting streak with a three-hit night on Saturday that included a first-inning home run and Bernie's average and slugging were 77 and 146 points better in May than they were in April.

Taking a quick look at the standings, the Yankees are tied in first place in the east with the rival Red Sox. By virtue of having played two fewer games than the Sox, the Yankees have a higher winning percentage, and thus the best record in baseball. They trail the Sox (who, again, have played two more games than the bombers) by just one run for the major league lead in runs scored and are scoring 5.6 runs per game on the season. Tonight, the Yanks get another crack at Baltimore "ace" Sir Sidney Ponson, whom they lit up for 8 runs in under five innings last Thursday.

For their part, the Orioles have won all four of their games since the Yankees left town and have scored a minimum of seven runs in each of them.

posted by Cliff at 12:28 PM

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