Table Setting

This weekend’s series in Boston lacks the normal passion we normally see when the Yankees come to town. New York is dealing with one of its worst runs in years and things don’t seem to be getting much better.

 

There are a few story lines I thought I should discuss. First off, the ARod incident Wednesday night. For those that missed it MLB’s website has a link. Here is a description if you cannot get to the link:

 

Yankees up, men on 1st (ARod) and 2nd (Matsui), 2 outs. The batter hits a pop fly to the 3rd baseman. Because there are 2 outs, the runners are off on contact. ARod arrives at 3rd just when Howie Clark, the Blue Jays 3rd baseman, is about to catch the ball. ARod calls out "Mine" and Clark backs off thinking it is his teammate calling him off. The ball falls in and Matsui scores, inning still alive.

 

The play ended up to be insignificant from a game result standpoint as the Yankees walked away with it to a victory. The real drama came from so many people saying ARod pulled a "Bush League" play trying by trying to fool the Clark.

 

I could not disagree more. I think ARod’s play, while not normal or encouraged, is no different than many plays we see in baseball everyday.

 

Examples include: phantom tags, where a 2nd baseman never really touches 2nd for a force out on the first half of a double play. Runners faking towards home when an outfielder makes a catch in order to draw a throw. The idea being, perhaps the outfielder will airmail it over the catchers head allowing an easy score. Or, and in my opinion this is the best example, the middle infielder play where the fielder fakes catching a ball to induce a runner from 1st into a slide. This might prevent him from taking 3rd as it interrupts his progress.

 

Well, this last example, in my opinion, nullifies the argument that what ARod did might cause injury by forcing infielders to crashing into each other. Well, first off, when you are called off on a play, your first reaction is to lower your head, knowing roughly where the ball will land, and locate your teammate(s) to avoid a collision, no? No fielder, once called off, keeps his head up, eyes towards the heavens and runs off in hysteria. He locates obstacles and stays clear.

 

Going back to my last example of fielder deviousness (the fake the catch, to force the runner into a slide, we will call this the “fake catch”), I can sight 3 clear examples that forcing a runner to slide is FAR more dangerous than calling off a fielder:

 

Coco Crisp sliding into 2nd breaks a finger.
Manny Ramirez sliding into 3rd breaks a finger and then vacations in Pawtucket for 10 days.
And the worst, most devastating injury was Robin Ventura, March 21, 1997, sliding into home and breaking both his tibia and fibula all the while dislocating his ankle and causing a compound fracture of one or both of the aforementioned bones.

 

My point, sliding into a base can be very dangerous, especially when it is a non-routine slide. That is to say when a player is sliding thinking it might be a close call. If the “fake catch” is accepted and can cause a player to engage in an activity that is routine, but also potentially dangerous, especially when the stakes are raised, then why can’t ARod make fool a fielder into a mistake?

 

I believe this kind of thing happens more often than the Blue Jays will admit. The key point here is that most fielders don’t fall for it. When Clark fell for the fake out call from ARod, he and his teammates, especially shortstop John McDonald, felt really dumb and lashed out. Please don’t be insincere and tell me your favorite team or player, doesn’t do something to gain an extra advantage, be it faking a catch, faking a dash towards home, faking getting hit by a pitch, setting up in the batters box with a foot slightly outside said box, leaning into a pitch, claiming fan interference on a misplayed ball. The examples go on and on.

 

In this case, the Blue Jays fell for it and were embarrassed. I would be too, but you move on. Don’t be so naïve to think this kind of thing has been going on since baseball started. And, please tell me, what has baseball become, a non-contact chess match? Baseball is played at times at a painfully slow pace but can ramp up into an adrenaline pumping craze. Things happen quickly and players will often do what they can to get an edge.

 

I realize my opinion on this is probably the in the minority, but for all of ARod’s faults, and I believe he has many, I have no problem with his actions Wednesday night. Now, if I baseball like I think I know baseball, ARod will receive a nicely wrapped package under his ribs the next time he faces Toronto in the form of a fastball. Baseball polices itself and I expect that to happen here too. It is this retaliatory reason alone that we probably don’t see this play more often.

 

The other story line is why isn’t Roger Clemens facing Boston this weekend? If compensation is a gauge, Roger is the most important player on the Yankees. If that is true, why not stuff him into the fray as soon as possible? He last pitched this past Monday and would be able to go again Saturday. Why not start him?

 

My guess is that given what has happened to the Yankees since it was announced he was rejoining them, they fear what would happen if he were to struggle badly against Boston. What would that to do the morale of the team and fan base?

 

But most of all, I was really hoping Clemens would pitch in Boston if for no other reason, it would have been a really good game to watch.

 

Fri: 7:05pm – Wang (3-4, 4.13) v. Wakefield (5-5, 3.36)
Sat: 3:55pm – Mussina (2-3, 5.86) v. Schilling (5-2, 3.68)
Sun: 8:05pm – Pettitte (3-4, 2.51) v. Beckett (2.65, 8-0)

 

Update: In watching Baseball Tonight (Thursday 10pm edition), Dusty Baker, Orestes Destrade and Fernando Vina, all former players, sided with me that the play was NOT Bush League. Come on people, this isn’t ballet we are watching.

 

Trot Nixon

The Red Sox play three against the 2nd best team in the AL tonight in the Cleveland Indians.

 

The Indians have some great everyday players, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner to name a few. Their pitching is deep too with C.C. Sabathia and up and coming Fausto Carmona (although that 1.35 K/BB ratio isn’t good. Compare that to Josh Beckett’s 3.91 and Daisuke Matsuzaka’s 3.04).

 

The biggest thrill for most Red Sox fans will come tonight when Trot Nixon is introduced. Nixon won’t go down as one of the top Red Sox to ever play but he is widely considered one of the most popular. I tried to put my finger on just why he was and remains so popular and realized it was because he tried hard, was affable and enjoyed being a Red Sox.

 

Welcome back Trot, you are a class act. I just hope tonight marks the beginning of a 3-game mini-slump for you.

 

12.5

The Red Sox hold a 12.5 game lead on the Yankees. No disrespect intended to the Yankees, but the Orioles are the closest to Boston right now at 11.5 games back.

The Yankees seem to be disastrously broken. They have the talent but nothing is clicking right now. I am astounded that things have gone so poorly.

That being said, the Yankees can never be counted out.

Focusing on the Red Sox, I figured some grades were in order. Consider these mid-term results.

Lugo: Grade D. Lugo is being paid far too much to have this poor an average (.231) and OBP (.296). I expect he’ll pick it up as he might just be dealing with the "first year in Boston" issue many struggle with.

Youkilis: Grade A. Leads the team in AVG, OBP and runs. He has played solid D and makes pitchers work very hard. I was stunned his name was mentioned so much in trade talks this off-season.

Ortiz: Grade A-. Good average, great OBP. His slugging is a bit off pace from the last 2 seasons, but with Manny’s early struggles, I don’t think he is getting as much too hit.

Manny: Grade C-. Manny has gotten off to a bad start. His K totals are high, his power is low. This isn’t a huge concern as Manny has taken a month or two off in the past during a season yet always seems to end up in the same place.

Drew: Grade D+. Like Lugo, he seems to be suffering in his first year in Boston. Unlike Lugo, he is still getting on base (.349 obp). More importantly, he has stayed somewhat healthy, only missing a few games with a sickness and a bruised back.

Lowell: Grade A. He and Youkilis have really carried the team thus far, at least from the supporting cast contributions. Lowell got off to a hot start in 2006 too, and tailed off a bit, let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.

Varitek: Grade B+. His average (.276) and obp (.373) are more than enough to keep him in the line-up. I had feared he was all done just a few weeks ago, but with his rediscovered ability to get on base and his defense, he is solid.

Crisp: Grade C. His grade would be worse if not for his stellar defense. Crisp hasn’t found the stroke that made him so appealing a pick on for Boston, but he has been tracking down everything hit towards him.

Pedroia: Grade B+. Dustin has raised his average to .271 and his obp (.361) is great for any #9 hitter. More importantly, Pedroia never gives away an at bat. His 12 pitch, 9th inning at bat today against Gagne ended with him hitting a solo home run which ended up being the deciding run. His defense has been more than solid. I think Terry Francona should be commended for keeping him in the line-up despite his early struggles.

Schilling: Grade B. He has certainly done enough to give the Red Sox a chance to win most of the time. What is most concerning is the number of hits he is allowing per inning. Schilling does still have good enough command to limit walks thus keeping opponents OBP down. I am not ready to say he has officially gotten old, but without his velocity and his excellent command of years past, this Schilling might not be worth $13m a season.

Beckett: Grade A. Beckett was the most dominating AL starter prior to his injury. The good news is he had been able to throw his off-speed stuff for strikes. With his most recent injury, he’ll have to prove himself again, fair or not.

Matsuzaka: Grade B. Daisuke has been up and down. I’m impressed with what he has accomplished given the intense pressure he has faced. His make-up is off the charts. His in-game consistency is off right now and his 4.43 ERA is proof of that. But he is averaging almost a strikeout per inning and has a 3:1 K/BB ratio.

Wakefield: Grade B+. Wakefield has kept the Red Sox in most games. His 5-5 record is misleading as he has pitched better than that. He is still subject to bouts of inconsistency, but he is still a bargain.

Tavarez: Grade C+. I hear people rave about Tavarez thus far and scratch my head. I suppose if you thought prior to the season he was hopelessly overmatched, yes, I’d be happy with him so far, but he is a veteran pitcher who had 93 career starts coming into 2007. He has pitched well in spots, but seems to fall into the "one bad inning" trap, hence the 3-4 record. I am ok with him as a stop gap, but nothing more.

Papelbon: Grade A-. The only ding against him is his durability. Specifically Francona’s hesitancy to use him much. Then again, it might just be a function of the Red Sox playing so well. Since there is no urgency, why overuse him?

Okajima: Grade A. A major surprise, Okajima has pitched as well as a first year pitcher can. I’m not sure he’ll continue at this level of success, but so far so good.

The rest of the pen: Grade B+. Mostly good results from this crowded crew. Francona hasn’t had to overwork them which is partly the reason for their success. At the same time, with such limited use, players like Joel Pineiro and Kyle Snyder really haven’t had a chance to prove themselves.

There are a few others I’m leaving out, but so be it. The Red Sox are playing very well and have built a tremendous lead. I feel their only real enemy at this point is themselves. They cannot become complacent. The Yankees are capable of so much more and have a history of wiping out massive leads. Don’t get comfortable boys.

FYI, Sports Illustrated ran an article on the charity efforts of Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield. The 3 teamed up with Charity Wines to produce 3 wines, the proceeds of which will be given to their respective charity.

SI enlisted the help of Dr. Vino to assess each wine. You can check it out in the May 28th issue of SI, page 26.

Caught Off Guard

The Red Sox looked flat tonight and their starter, Tim Wakefield, struggled for the 2nd time in 2 starts, not a good trend.

 

What was most frustrating was the amount of called strikes the Red Sox took. Lugo, Manny and Drew were in fact called out on strikes, looking.

 

I suppose the most encouraging thing was that Wang went 6.1 innings yet the Yankees still used 4 relievers. Mike Myers (22 – 51%), Brain Bruney (23 – 53%), Scott Proctor (24 – 56%) and Kyle Farnsworth (19 – 44%) have been used a ton this year. I included their total # of appearances and % of games in which each has appeared.

 

The Red Sox used relievers Romero (18 – 42% ), Pineiro (14 – 33%) and Delcarmen (1 – 2.3%). Hideki Okajima is their most used reliever with 20 appearances (47%).

 

If the Joe Torre keeps the bullpen usage at the level he has, many Yankee relievers will need new careers.

 

Round 3

It seems like too much too soon what with the Red Sox and Yankees squaring off for the 3rd time already in 2007.

 

The drama here is that Boston is 10.5 games ahead of New York. This is unfamiliar territory for most Red Sox fans. People are pretty well divided on what to make of this. One the one hand, the Yankees will have to play some very good baseball the rest of the way and the Red Sox will have to play some average at best baseball for the gap to be closed whilst on the other hand, Boston does have a past history of coughing up such leads.

 

But is the lead really in jeopardy? Over the past few weeks I’ve heard many reasons for why the Yankees are scuffling:

 

- The Yankees are old – Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, Clemens, Mussina, Damon, the list goes on
- The Yankees lack any fire – Paul O’Neill, where are you?
- There’s no chemistry – ARod vs. Jeter
- The auro of the 90’s Yankees has been chipped away -loss at Arizona, 2004, etc
- The Yankees lack depth (catcher, utility IF, starters)
- George Steinbrenner is a shell of his former self. 10 years ago people would get fired
- Joe Torre and Brian Cashman have lost direction
- Injuries to the rotation – 11 starters so far

 

Whatever the reason or reasons, the Yankees are not playing well now. I’ll stop short of calling them bad, because the talent suggests otherwise.

 

But if I had to put my finger on one of the reason above, I think it has to be injuries. You can blame the strength and conditioning coach (former) for some, but how can he be held accountable for broken bones, mystery elbow ailments and an assortment of others? This team is snakebitten right now and its a good thing for Red Sox fans.

 

The Yankees do have their top 3 (Wang, Mussina and Pettitte) against Tim Wakefield, Julian Tavarez and Curt Schilling.

 

Game 1 tonight: Bronx, NY. 7:05pm start. Wang v. Wakefield

Am I Crying Wolf?

As I write this, the Red Sox and Tigers are in the 7th inning of the final of their 4 games. Curt Schilling looked old. He had command issues and lacked velocity (an ongoing theme). When pitchers start doing things frequently that they have rarely done previously (like walk in a run. Schilling has done it twice this year, 5 times previously in his career), it makes you wonder.

 

Do I think Schilling is done? No, but he may be entering a new phase of his career. It’s like the old age process.

 

Phase One – Independent Living Facility
Phase Two – Assisted Living
Phase Three – Nursing Home Care
Phase Four – Phase Out

 

Schilling might not be ready for Phase Out, but he might have made the leap from Assisted Living to Nursing Home Care. Let’s hope not. The stats certainly suggest otherwise:

 

Entering Thursday’s game: 52 IP, 54 H, 21 ER, 11 BB, 41 K, 3.63 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 4-1 record.

 

I’ll take that I suppose. He did manage to battle his way through 6 tonight all the while giving his team the chance to win.

 

So the Red Sox are up 9 games on the Yankees. There are so many that think this is an insurmountable lead. I disagree. I’ve written this before, but last year they gained 5.5 games on the Red Sox in only 13 days and overcame a 1.5 game deficit and turned it into an 11 game lead in about 45 days. And given the Yankees budget and current talent, it could happen if the Red Sox lose focus.

 

Enough wolf crying. Let’s enjoy some good Red Sox baseball.

 

One transaction that caught my eye today was the signing of Michael Tucker to a minor league deal. Tucker hasn’t been good since…well, ever, but his best years are behind him. He is a decent defensive outfielder with some speed (114 career SB’s) and average pop (.423 career slg). At his age, he’d be a bench player at best.

 

Why did they sign him? Certainly Pawtucket doesn’t need help. My guess, and you read it here first, is that Boston is packaging Wily Mo Pena for a trade. A trade for what/whom? I don’t know, but my guess is Pena, due for another hefty arbitration pay hike this off-season, will be sent packing, a clear admission that Boston made a big mistake trading Bronson Arroyo. There, etched in stone.

 

Then again, Pena might be the starting LF for Boston in 2009 and hit 40 HR’s. Pena certainly is an enigma. He has 50 HR power and 200 K’s plate discipline.

 

While the game isn’t over, Eric Hinske has had a great game. His first few innings were filled with challenging defensive plays, followed by one of the best catches I’ve seen this year in terms of athletic ability and also in terms of importance, and he hit a go-ahead 2-run home run in the 7th.

 

Let’s hope they hold the lead.

 

Atlanta this weekend, assuming the rain holds off.

 

Man Down

What a comeback. Baltimore’s Chris Ray looked lost and it turns out he was lost. He walked 2, gave up a key double and made the game ending error. I’m guess he wasn’t allowed to shower with the team after the game.

 

The Red Sox looked foolish at the plate with journeyman Jeremy Guthrie only allowing 3 hits all day, but the 9th inning was one of those once a decade comebacks.

 

The bigger potentially long-term issue Sunday was the loss of Josh Beckett. He left in the 5th with an avulsion of his right middle finger. I had never heard of an avulsion before and from what I gather, nor had most others. Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy were trying to figure it out on air and the Boston Globe’s Amelie Benjamin.

 

My guess is the team doctor figured he had to prove to people he worked hard for his degree and decided that dropping "avulsion" on us would do the trick.

 

No matter what the injury, it sounds like something he won’t bounce back from in the next day or two. An avulsion sounds like it’s essentially a cut or skin seperation. If so, the Red Sox might have to put him on the 15-day DL and the depth of the Red Sox organization will be tested.

 

For the first 6-7 weeks of the season, all we’ve read and heard about is how great the Red Sox rotation is and how lousy the Yankees rotation is. Well, the Yankees are back at reasonable strength with Pettitte, Wang, Mussina and soon to be Clemens. The Red Sox just went down to Schilling, Matsuzaka, Wakefield and then 2 question marks in Julian Tavarez (I guess him stinking makes him not a question mark) and whoever takes Beckett’s spot.

 

I don’t feel quite as good anymore. Jon Lester might be back soon, but let’s face it, he doesn’t have a ton of MLB experience and I fear Red Sox fans have dubbed him the next great lefty. He might just struggle, not only with things rookies or near rookies struggle with, but with the aftermath of having just beaten cancer.

 

My guess is Devern Hansack will get the chance to start in Beckett’s place should Beckett get shelved. If so, it’ll be a very interesting challenge for Boston.

Down on the Farm – I

The Red Sox 2006 draft was widely considered a great draft. Of course only time will tell if the player selected will provide some stank in Boston. Here are some updates on how the 2006 draft class is fairly thus far in 2007. Let’s focus on the positional players.

 

Greenville Drive – A

 

Lars Anderson (2006, 18th round) – .262/.339/.398 – The tall and powerful Anderson has not shown the power I’d like to see at this point. The season is early and I’m not too concerned.

 

Jonathan Still (2006, 4th round) – .286/.383/.514 – The NC State catcher has put together a nice start to his season, but struggled badly at Single-A Lowell in 2006.

 

Jason Place (2006, 1st round) – .175/.243/.361 – The 1st round pick has struggled badly after posting solid numbers in the Gulf Coast League in 2006.

 

Lancaster JetHawks – A

 

Aaron Bates – The rather large 1b has been cranking it in 2007: .288/.430/.604.

 

Zach Daeges (2006, 6th round) – .349/.425/.532 – Daeges has hit for average so far in 2007, but with limited power.

 

Nice W for the Red Sox Tuesday night. Josh Beckett has looked great so far and certainly appears to be a difference pitcher.

 

Wednesday features a Japanese showdown in Toronto. Daisuke Matsuzaka (Red Sox present) goes against Tomo Ohka (Red Sox past).

Balance of Power – Clemens a Yankee

Roger Clemens is a Yankee.

 

He apparently announced it live at the Yankees game today.

 

Wow, it is clear the Yankees emptied their vault to get him onboard. It has been reported he was going to get a prorated $20m to sign with whomever, but b/c his announcement came far earlier than expected, I have to assume the Yankees said, "here’s a blank cheque."

 

This is a major boost for New York and yet another reason to not count them out.

 

UPDATE: ESPN is reporting that Clemens will be paid $4.5m a month. Assuming he is ready June 1, he’ll make $18m to pitch for 4 months. That’s a pro-rated salary of $27m, compared with his $22m in 2006.

 

Clemens will work his way back into pitching shape via stops at the various levels of the Yankees minor leagues.

 

Red Sox fans, should we be worried? I think so, a least a little bit. Let’s say Roger debuts on June 1st, he has the potential to impact the rotation for 2/3 of the season. In addition, the mere mention of his signing has to inject the Yankees with confidence.

 

Some facts and figures on Clemens in 2006:

 

19 starts, 113.1 innings, 89 H, 29 BB, 102 K’s, 7-6 record, 2.30 ERA.
That works out to 5.98 innings per start. That is good news for Boston. The Yankees have had to abuse their bullpen already and adding Clemens won’t help if he cannot give them more than 6 a start. Then again, his vitals are solid enough that Joe Torre can trot in his mop-up guy after Clemens is done assuming they have a big enough lead.

 

Clemens did all those great things against the NL. While I think talk radio makes it seem like the NL is Little League baseball compared to the AL, I will say there is a difference. The 9th hitter in the NL is a lay-up vs a far more competitive at bat in the AL, so I think that will inflate Roger’s numbers a bit. Add to it he will be pitching in the AL East, a tough place to make a living as a pitcher.

 

Regardless of all the above analysis and statistics, Clemens joining the Yankees is a coup and probably not good news for Boston. Hopefully the addition of Jon Lester in a few weeks will prove a similar boost to the Red Sox.

Kid Gloves

Terry Francona, or team doctors, opted not to let Jonathan Papelbon close Thursday’s game. With the Red Sox up 8-7 in the top of the 9th, Francona instead used Brendan Donnelly (walk), then J.C. Romero (induced double play, ground out to 3rd).

 

What concerns me is that Francona gave Papelbon 2 nights off after having thrown 35 pitches Tuesday night. This sets interesting precedent as if 1 night off isn’t enough, surely Francona can’t change that philosophy with Papelbon as the season progresses. After all, wasn’t the theory as to why Papelbon had the slight shoulder dislocation last year the result of over-use? If the Red Sox are worried about that happening again, certainly they can’t think increasing his workload as the season progresses is a good thing.

 

I guess we’ll have to live with the idea of Papelbon not being available for 2 nights after a high-pitch outing.

 

In addition, I would not have allowed Romero to pitch to Richie Sexson. Coming into the game, Romero had allowed righties to hit .471 against him! 8 hits in 3 innings. Righties hit .382 against him in 2006. Seriously Terry!

 

Lastly, Daisuke Matsuzaka did not have his A, B or C game tonight. He was terrible in fact, allowing 5 hits and 5 walks, 7 earned runs while only striking out 1 in 5 innings. Matsuzaka’s ERA now stands at 5.45. Seattle isn’t generally considered a good hitting team, so this was not a good night for Matsuzaka, but somehow, he did keep the Red Sox in the game, mostly thanks to the opposition.

 

His command of his breaking/offspeed stuff was abysmal and his velocity on his fastball, his best pitch Thursday, was in the low 90’s. I’m not too concerned as all pitchers are allowed an off-night, but it wasn’t a good outing. His home/road splits are night and day, so perhaps a few road games will be good for Matsuzaka.

 

Oh, did I mention the Red Sox won? Jim Rice said it best in the NESN post-game show when he said "the Red Sox stole this game." There was lousy defense (Lugo x 2) and lousy starting pitching, generally not a good combo.

 

Francona in his post-game press conference said he overrode Papelbon’s desire to pitch Thursday night and said it was because it is such a long season he wanted to be cautious. Fair enough Terry, fair enough.

 

Notes: Mike Timlin is down and out with shoulder tendonitis and Devern Hansack is back with Boston. Hansack has pitched well at Pawtucket: 28.2 IP, 30 H, 6 BB, 34 K, 3.77 ERA. You know the Red Sox brass is fired up with his K/9 and thus he is now with Boston.

 

Timlin has been a great player, but clearly hasn’t brought much to the table since mid-season 2006. I don’t know if he is done, but he isn’t helping right now.

 

Boston flies to Minnesota tonight to face the Twins over the weekend.

 

Fri, May 4 8:10 pm Wakefield (2-3, 2.59) vs. C. Silva (2-1, 3.10)
Sat, May 5 7:10 pm Tavárez (1-2, 7.58) vs. J. Santana (3-2, 3.60)
Sun, May 6 2:10 pm Schilling (3-1, 3.15) vs. S. Ponson (2-3, 6.67)