Tuesday Night Observations

Daisuke Matsuzaka works incredibly slowly.  He pitched into the 7th and took 2 3/4 hours, and that was a fast night for him.  It has been a painful thing to watch all season especially when compared to Tim Wakefield.

Matsuzaka hit ARod and almost hit Robinson Cano (who gave him his best menacing glare).  Prediction:  Roger Clemens does something about it Wednesday night.  Prediction:  Josh Beckett answers the call.

Eric Hinske isn’t, never has been and never will be a match for Jaba Chamberlain.

Given the Yankee offense, if they had any consistent pitching, this wouldn’t be a contest.

If anyone in the Yankees organization cares, it might be a good idea to not use Chamberlain as much as Scott Proctor was used.  Proctor was probably never destined to be an elite reliever, but he might have made a few million as a pitcher.  Now, I’m not sure he’ll be in baseball in 3 years.  I know, he made a major league minimum at worst, but still.  Maybe Joe Torre will cut him a few checks in a few years.

JD Drew might as well come up with one of his 20 game injuries as he isn’t helping this Red Sox team at all.  He has been terrible.  A .756 OPS at $14m a year.  He best figure this problem out soon or he will not be a happy man for the next few years (despite his wealth…after all, money doesn’t buy one happiness).

Mike Lowell will probably wind up with 115-120 RBI this year.  Not bad for a throw-in.  My guess is he is gone next year as Boston won’t want to offer more than 2 years and he’ll probably get a 3-4 year deal at $11-$12m per.

Tuesday was the toughest match-up in the series for Boston as Andy Pettitte is a good pitcher having a good year.

With both Manny Ramirez and Bobby Kielty going down with injuries, get used to Eric Hinske for a day or two.  Yikes.

Despite the lead the Red Sox have over the Yankees, there is still a buzz in the air when these 2 teams go head-to-head.

Day Off

The Red Sox enjoy a 7.5 game lead heading into Tuesday’s 3-game set in the Bronx.  Given the lead, this series isn’t quite what most would have hoped.  But from this Red Sox fan, it is nice to have a little breathing room at this time of year, even if it lessens the drama factor of playing the Yankees in New York.

With the September roster expansion approaching (and Pawtucket playing sub-.500 ball), we are likely to see a few call-ups:

guarantees:

Ellsbury, Lester (at Portland), Clayton (Royce), Buchholz, Breslow, Corey, Hansack, maybe George Kottaras, newly acquired Chris Carter, Brandon Moss.  That’s 10 guys and probably too many.  In fact, I think the Red Sox usually only promote 4-5 tops.  So to revise my list, I’ll go with Ellsbury, Lester, Clayton, Buchholz and Carter.

You read it here first.

Assuming Boston doesn’t do anything stupid, like overusing players, etc, they are setting themselves up nicely for a potential playoff run.  I realize the playoffs aren’t a guarantee, but they are in good shape.  In fact, www.coolstandings.com has the Red Sox as follows this morning:

Red Sox:  % chance to win division – 97.7%, to win the WC – 2.2%, to miss playoffs – 0.2%  So based on this site which simulates the remaining schedule 1 million times to come up with their results, the Red Sox are in good shape.  Again, stanger things have happened…

Take the Red Sox Playoff Poll!

Terry Francona needs to rest players as much as possible and use his bullpen arms sparingly while at the same time making sure the team doesn’t lose any intensity.  Glad I don’t have his job.

Last note, nice run production from the team this weekend.  If Ortiz, Manny, Lowell and Drew can hit the ball like they did this weekend (well Manny and Drew weren’t great), the Red Sox have a chance to go a long way this year.  But "If’s" don’t win you anything.

Keep It In Perspective

It’s tough to remember as you go through the season, but I bet 16 games ago, you would be happy to have the Yankees where they are now. 9-7 though the tough 20-game stretch. This allows them to finish the stretch 2-2 and still come out over .500.

(Now, to be honest, 2-2 would leave me wanting more. I want a win tomorrow and a win in the Red Sox series, nothing less than that.)

The other thing to remember is that Seattle is going to start facing some very tough competition. Three@ LA, One@Cleveland, 3@Toronto and then the big one, 3@ the Stadium. And, when they finish that stretch they still have 11 games left with Cleveland, LA and Detroit.

So, despite the tough losses, bad play and general malaise I feel tonight, things are ok. Tomorrow morning we will wake up and the Yankees will either be 2 or 3 games out of the wild card. Not wonderful, but considering the whole picture, not terrible.

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One last note, I am off on a family trip for the next week, but hopefully I will be able to check in with some updates along the way.

Don’t forget the “second” trading deadline is Friday, if Moose gets bombed, I would bet a veteran starter shows up courtesy of Brian Cashman.

Moose Replacement?

The papers are full of speculation that Mike Mussina will be replaced in the starting rotation after Monday if he gets shelled again. Now, I am not going to attempt to defend Mussina’s pitching recently, he has stunk, and if you look at some splits things get a little more frightening. Consider the top and bottom halves of the league in terms of runs scored. Against the teams in the top half, Mussina has a 6.39 ERA against the bottom half it is 4.42.

The fact that he pitches worse against the best teams is not a shock, but the fact that he is only league-average against the lower half is a cause for concern. It is obvious to anyone that watches him, that Mussina has lost his fastball, but the stats suggest that he isn’t really fooling anyone. So, the Yankees are right to think about replacing him in the rotation, the problem is, who do you put in his place?

Right off the top, cross Joba off your list. His inning cap of 130 makes it impossible (more on that later) and since putting him back in the rotation would bump the risk of an injury, the Yankees would never do it.

And that’s the big problem, there really isn’t a candidate in the system you can get excited about. Matt DeSalvo didn’t exactly dazzle in his time in the Bronx, so would you want him back? Likewise with Kei Igawa and Jeff Karstens. Tyler Clippard and Chase Wright are currently in AA ball. Ian Kennedy also has an innings cap and while I don’t know exactly what the figure is, he has thrown 140 innings already this year.

So, that leaves you with probably one candidate, Steven White. White has pitched reasonably well at AAA (3.50 ERA in 79 innings) and he is following his pattern of reaching a level, struggling and then doing well there the following year. He only has 46K’s which is a cause for concern, but those numbers have improved lately. But, despite that, do you really want to insert him into a pennant race over Mike Mussina? After Monday they may not have a choice, but for now it is a hard question to answer.

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Last night’s game was typical Pettitte, he has always been the “stopper” for this staff. It is one of the reasons everyone was glad to see him back and an ingredient this staff has lacked since he left. I would bet almost anything right now that Joe Torre starts him in Game Two of the playoffs if they make it.

Despite the win, I have to admit I was upset with seeing Joba in the eighth. Yes, I enjoyed the theatre of the Guerrerro-Chamberlain at bat (if you missed that you missed a great showdown and the sight of Guerrero almost crushing an 100-mph fastball, but fouling it back. As Ted Williams used to say, I bet he smelled the wood burning on that one) and I understand there are no “refunds” on the Joba plan. If he doesn’t pitch Wednesday, it doesn’t mean he can pitch back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. But, the Yankees have said they want him to only pitch 130 innings this year. Last night’s game brings him to 96. That means he has 34 left over the final 35 games which following the Joba Rules should work, but why are they using him and Mo in that game? I can see one, but not both and isn’t that the perfect situation for a Farnsworth appearance?

Anyway, that is about all I can grumble about and that is a good thing. Now the Yankees need to get back on track against a slumping Tigers team without Gary Sheffield.

An Ugly Night

As I write this, the Yankees are losing 18-5 in the seventh. Mike Mussina stunk, Ron Villone was worse, Edwar Ramirez made a bad pitch and Sean Henn looked bad as well. The bullpen is shot and still needs to get six outs.

To make matters worse, Scranton had a doubleheader tonight in which Chris Britton threw three innings so he can’t come help tomorrow. The Yankees can’t recall Karstens or Brower unless their is an injury and Bruney has not pitched well in AAA so far. So, I am going to guess that TJ Beam gets promoted for tomorrow’s game. I think someone is going to be brought up and Beam and Jose Veras are the only other relievers on the 40-man roster right now. In fact they may be the only available guys. (Igawa and DeSalvo pitched tonight, Clippard on the 19th, Chase Wright on the 20th, the problem with recalling Karstens or Brower I mentioned above and somehow I don’t think Brackman is going to hit the majors tomorrow) That leaves Bruney, Veras and Beam, take your pick, but one of those guys will be helping the bullpen tomorrow.

The only “good” news is Andy Pettitte is starting. Pettitte usually picks up his team after a loss and they will really need it tomorrow (actually tonight in New York)

Ugh

A Welcome Weekend

You have to love the way the Yankees responded to losing three-straight and dropping the first game of the Tigers series. They rediscovered their bats and their starting pitching, while not spectacular, got the job done. Even better, the bullpen and the bench are becoming big strengths.

Don’t underestimate the pitching performances this weekend. Yes, Clemens and Wang struggled, but Detroit is a great offensive team. Six innings and three runs or less is something you will take every time when facing that offense. And, the bullpen was simply awesome. Mo looked great, same with (cough…cough) Farnsworth and Joba and Edwar are simply electric.

Add it all up and the first half of the 20-game crunch shows the Yankees have gone 7-3. Since 11 wins was the initial goal, things look good, but the degree fo dificulty is ramping up a lot. Three in Anaheim and then four in Detroit before three against Boston. So, a lot of potholes remain in the road, but this team looks ready for them.

Gagne Gags Again

This is not good.  Eric Gagne has been just terrible.  His control is off and his velocity is all over the map.  I’m not sure this deal is working out.  Last night, after a spirited rally to take a 5-4 lead, Gagne came in to close the game and coughed it up.

Now, turning on excuse mode, Gagne’s role has been muddy of late.  He was a closer upon getting traded, he came to Boston and has been asked to be a set-up guy and last night he was asked to close again.  Perhaps Gagne is having trouble with his changing job description.

Excuse mode off.

This is a time where a veteran like Mike Timlin needs to sit down with Gagne and tell him to A.)  relax and B.)  tell him he doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone.  Only a veteran offer of support like that will help in my opinion.  But just as important is Gagne’s willingness to listen.  Gagne is at a fork in the road.  Take a left and he can look back at his Boston experience as one of his worst, most painful jobs ever.  Take a right and he can make the best of his situation and look back at it as a great time.  Granted, his ability to throw strikes and get people out is the main component of that left/right fork in the road choice, but getting his head screwed on straight is the most important thing.  If he is healthy mentally, he can take a right.

Overshadowed by the Gagne debacle was the debut of Clay Buchholz.  He pitched 6 solid innings and proved why people are excited.  I think is is great that he goes back to Pawtucket with a bit more knowledge about what it takes at the major league level and works on his game.

Wily Mo Pena was traded to the Nationals along with cash considerations for a PTBNL.  We learn the name of that player after the playoffs.

Jacoby Ellsbury played in game 2 last night (once Buchholz was sent back down) and it seems Bobby Kielty will be activated for today’s game forcing a return to AAA by Ellsbury.

Lastly, Doug Mirabelli was put on the DL with a calf strain and Kevin Cash, Pawtucket’s catcher, was summoned.  The transaction wire was busy yesterday.

The Future is Now

It’s official, Clay Buchholz is going to start game one of Friday’s day/night doubleheader.  As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Buchholz is considered one of baseball’s top pitching prospects and certainly Boston’s top prospect.

Buchholz is 8-3 in the minors this year with 164 K’s (leading all of the minors) in 117 innings.

AA – Portland:  7-2, 86.2 IP, 55 H, 17 ER, 22 BB, 116 K, 1.17 ERA

AAA – Pawtucket:  1-1, 30.1 IP, 23 H, 11 ER, 8 BB, 48 K, 3.26 ERA

To be fair, Buchholz dominated at AA and has done just fine at AAA, but he will be facing a very good Anaheim Angels team and specifically, will be going against John Lackey.  This is likely to be a one time deal as he will probably be option right back to Pawtucket until further notice.  But it certainly will be fun to watch his debut.

Other news of interest is the fate of Wily Mo Pena.  In order to make room for Buchholz, something has to give.  Because Javier Lopez (he has options) is already in the minors, there are really no clear decisions here.  If the Red Sox have a deal in place for Wily Mo, then he is the one to go when Buchholz gets called up.  Upon Buchholz’s return to AAA, we will either see Bobby Kielty or Jacoby Ellsbury (check out his hitting log on his hyperlink, 17 hits in his last 10 games).

So we may be saying goodbye to Wily Mo, who I am convinced will hit 40 HRs with any team willing to give him a starting job, and hello to either a veteran in Kielty or to a top prospect in Ellsbury.

Friday will be a great baseball day for Red Sox fans.

A New World

The Yankees just gave a guy with less than 100 innings of college ball and an arm in need of surgery $4.5 million and a major league contract. Have they gone insane?

It is certainly easy to say they have, after all, that is a lot of money, but on second glance, this is all part of the plan that Brian Cashman has been developing with good results so far. Basically, the Yankees are going to use their considerable financial advantages to get high-ceiling players in the draft. Player who some of the other teams will avoid because of the costs involved with signing them. So, the Yankees drafted Brackman, a 6’10” flamethrower that scouts loved because they could afford him. In fact, they spent somewhere around 10$ million when all is said and done on their first fifteen picks in the draft.

That’s a lot of money, but it is still just one season of Carl Pavano (Actually, when you factor luxury tax in, it is less than a season of Carl) and that is how we have to look at these things now. Developing young pitchers has become the mantra of the organization and by aiming for the high-risk/high reward type of player you sometimes hit the lottery. (Remember, last season Joba Chamberlain scared away a lot of teams because of cost and arm problems.)

I am not sure what will happen with Brackman. If he indeed has surgery, which seems likely, we won’t see him in the Bronx until 2010 at the earliest in my mind. But, besides Brackman there are a lot of interesting names out there, a couple of catchers, Ryan Pope who has thrown 19 innings at Staten Island already and Damon Sublett who has five home runs there in 175 AB’s. What seems fair to say is that some of the 2007 draft picks will work out and because the Yankees went for talent regardless of cost, some of those picks should work out quite well.

I think it will take another year or two, but a Yankees’ minor league system teeming with prospects seems to be attainable. If the team is indeed ready to look inside first before signing the big free agent, the rest of baseball better watch out.

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Tonight’s lineup
Damon- LF
Jeter- SS
Abreu-RF
A-Rod-3B
Matsui-DH
Posada-C
Giambi-1B
Cano-2B
Cabrera-CF

I love Torre putting Giambi at first against the very tought Verlander and I imagine it is also a way of playing him before facing the lefty tomorrow night.

That’s Baseball

That game certainly took you from the lows to the highs to the lows. The utter futility of the Yankees’ offense for eight innings, punctuated by a great home run and then Mo looking lost. As Mitchell said in a comment on a previous post “ugh”.

But, there were some very positive signs. Duncan has to be considered in the first base mix anytime a lefty is pitching and Ramirez showed that wicked changeup very well in 2+ innings. I know it is hard to lose a series to Baltimore, but since the All-Star break they are 18-13, definitely a team on the rise.

Now comes a huge test, four against the Tigers. Detroit has a great offense and we will learn a lot about the Yankees’ pitching staff the next four days.