The Return of Papi

Wow, nice to see Big Papi win the game for Boston Wednesday night.  A walk-off dinger is something else and David Ortiz perfected it in 2006.  But for some reason, the magic had left him in 2007.  He made up for it Wednesday.

The Red Sox are 5 up on the Yankees entering the weekend series at Fenway.  The Red Sox have Thursday off while the Yankees have a game against Toronto, so the lead will be either 4.5 or 5.5 unless the Rogers Centre has a cave in (and thus a postponement).

Prior to Wednesday’s game, the Red Sox had a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs.  They had a 93.9% chance of winning the AL East.  With each team (Bos and NY) winning tonight, the % improved for Boston as their "magic number" decreased.  As of Thursday AM, Boston’s magic number is 12 (a combination of 12 Red Sox wins and 12 Yankees losses equals the AL East).  For those wondering why I am talking about the Yankees, well, check the name of this site and they have won 7 in a row and have, by far, the best record in baseball since the break.  $191m in payroll buys a ton of talent and the Yankees are still in the hunt…

Some nice developments:

Ortiz on a streak:  Ortiz has 17 HR’s since the break vs. 14 before the break.  Sure that total is a far cry from the 54 he hit in 2006, but he is hot now and a hot David Ortiz is a good thing.

JD Drew:  He has been terrible I know, but (I was a supporter of him earlier in the year, but his total and complete lack of power has proved scary.) he has a few hits in the last few games.  Big deal?  Probably, but Red Sox fans have to cling to something.  More on JD Drew later.

Dustin Pedroia:  .325/.389/.451.  Pedroia is a possible ROY candidate and has been playing stellar D.  Pedroia has only made 5 errors at 2b, a position that usual yields 15 + error per season.  .991 /.985% (his vs. league avg 2b) fld % and a 4.47/4.56 range factor (vs league).

Mike Lowell:  Lowell has been a more than solid replacement for Manny, I’m taking my annual 20 games off, Ramirez.  Lowell is hitting .360/.418/.476 since the All-Star break through Tuesday.  Lowell has been super and make the idea of losing him in 2008 a painful thought.  He is hitting for average more than power right now (14 HR’s first half, 4 second half), but his average (.300 first half, .360 second half) has made up for it.  His 103 RBI is 2 short of a career high.

Josh Beckett:  Beckett has a better ERA since the break than prior:  3.44/3.05.  He has been the best starter on team hands down.

Jonathan Papalbon:  1.55 ERA entering Wednesday, that after posting a 0.92 ERA in 2006.  HR has been steady and has pitched 15 fewer innings than last season (in the regular season).

Boston has many players doing good things and many players doing more than adequate things, but there are still a few more games to be won and no need to coast.  Big series at Fenway this weekend.

Why Not Six?

I think Mike Mussina earned another start tonight.  He showed me enough that I want to see if he can do it again.  The thing is, I also think the Yankees should keep Kennedy in the rotation, so why not just go to a six-man rotation for the rest of the year?

Think about it, the guys you are counting on in the playoffs, with the exception of Wang, could use the extra rest.  Clemens’ elbow is a mess, I am not sure he should even start Sunday- more on that in a minute- and Pettitte probably wouldn’t get hurt from the rest.  Wang is really the only guy who should pitch every fifth day since you don’t want a sinkerballer to get too strong.  So, why not pitch Kennedy, Pettitte, Wang, Clemens, Hughes, Mussina, Kennedy for the next week and then start Wang against Toronto on the 21st?  That would leave Wang, Pettitte and Clemens in line to pitch games 1,2 and 3 of the ALDS while you could audition Mussina, Hughes and Kennedy for the final playoff rotation spot.  

As for Clemens on Sunday, I think the Yankees shouldn’t start him unless they have won the first two games of the series.  At best, the Yankees will head into Boston 4-1/2 games behind the Red Sox.  If they won the first two games of the series, they would be 2-1/2 back with a chance to cut the lead to 1-1/2.  If that is the case, I could see the argument for starting Roger.  Otherwise, I think it is better to bring him along slowly, with the goal of getting him on the mound for Game 3 of the ALDS. Wins are important, but pitching Roger Sunday in Fenway seems to be more about giving him one last game in Boston than what may be more important for the team as a whole.  

The division was lost before July, the Yankees can have another crack at Boston, when it matters in October.  Save Roger’s final Boston start for then.   

Almost Perfect

You can quibble with the results of this weekend, after all it would have been better if Detroit had lost two to Seattle, but the end result is that the Yankees gained a game in their wild card lead while taking three off of the schedule.

The next three games will be very interesting as Toronto is playing better of late and the Yankees are sending three starters, Hughes, Moose and Kennedy, who are essentially mysteries right now. By giving the Wednesday start to Moose, the Yankees have setup their pitching for the Boston series and beyond, let me illustrate.

As things are now, here is my guess at how the rotation shakes out the rest of the way:

Hughes (11th, 17th, 23rd, 27th)
Mussina (12th, ??)
Kennedy(13th, 18th)
Pettitte (14th, 19th, 24th, 28th)
Wang (15th, 21st, 25th, 29th)
Clemens (16th, 22nd, 26th, 30th)

This maximizes the starts of the top four starters (four each) and puts the three best on schedule to pitch the final weekend if needed. This can obviously be amended if needed and the Yankees could start almost anyone that final weekend (since I am going to Baltimore I can just see it: Wright, Clippard and Igawa). As for the playoffs, they start Wednesday in one of the AL matchups and Thursday in the other, but both AL matchups play their second game on Friday. That means even if Wang makes his start on the 29th, he is ready to pitch by Game Two.

But, I get ahead of myself. The Yankees still need a combination of 16 wins and Tigers’ losses to clinch, but the picture looks pretty good right now.

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I was totally wrong about the move made to add Ohlendorf to the 40-man. The Yankees put Andy Phillips on the 60-day DL which means he is out for the year. Considering his limited production this year and all the arms in the system, it may be the end of Andy on the roster.

50!

Whenever I think of 50 home runs, I always think of Cecil Fielder. I remember watching him absolutely crush two balls against the Yankees in the final game of the 1990 season for home runs #50 and #51. It was remarkable to me at the time because it was the first time I had ever seen it happen (or at least be old enough to appreciate it). Of course a lot has happened in the last 17 years and 50 home runs doesn’t seem as impressive as it once was. But, A-Rod is the first Yankee to do it since Maris and Mantle both did it in 1961. So, I imagine for most of us this is the first time we have seen a Yankee do it.

Pretty cool and a pretty good night, apart from Bruney (shut up, meathead). Three up, twenty to go and a chance for a sweep tomorrow.

Here Comes An Army

Scranton got bounced out of the playoffs tonight and the Yankees are going to promote Igawa, DeSalvo, Henn, Karstens, Ohlendorf and Sardinha to the majors tomorrow.

All of those guys are on the 40-man except for Ohlendorf and promoting him will require a roster move. The Yankees could put Andrew Brackman on the 60-day DL, but I have a feeling they might DFA TJ Beam. Beam is the only guy from AAA who wasn’t called up and eventhough he had a decent season this year, he is 27 and has obviously fallen way down the prospect list. It will be interesting to watch because the Yankees might have another choice to make soon since Darrell Rasner is rehabbing in the minors (he made two starts in A ball so far) and would have pitched for Scranton if they had gone to a Game Five. Rasner is on the 60-day DL and would need to be added back to the 40-man.

It will also be interesting to see Ohlendorf since he is one of the pieces of the RJ trade and has been converted to a reliever without much success so far. He won’t pitch in any meaningful situations, but he will see some major league action.

And, with these moves the Yankees will have 20 pitchers on the staff! I said it earlier in the week, the rules allow it, so you might as well do it. The question is, how will Torre utilize his enormous bullpen?

Nice Work

The Yankees did what they needed to, taking 2 of 3 from Seattle and building the wild card lead to three games. With 22 to go, they are in the driver’s seat and now need to put the hammer down. Three games against the Royals while the Mariners and Tigers play each other offers a chance to increase the lead before things get tougher next week.

With the day off today and Monday, the Yankees can play with the rotation a lot. They will use Kennedy, Pettitte and Wang this weekend and then Hughes can start Tuesday against Toronto with Kennedy and Pettitte following him and Wang in line to start the Boston series. That means no Mike Mussina and no Roger Clemens until September 15th in Boston. That’s when the Yankees will have to use one of them or go with someone else. September 15th is the final day of the International League playoffs, so unless Scranton goes the distance, the Yankees will have a number of choices.

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My only complaint from last night’s game is a familiar one, what is Rivera doing in that game? I know he hasn’t pitched since Saturday, but Tuesday night Joe used Vizcaino in a blowout and now he is out indefinitely. If Rivera needs work, have him throw on the side, throw BP, throw against a wall, just don’t use him in 10-2 games.

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Lastly, is it me or does all the football talk right now annoy you as well? I love football and I will watch tonight’s game, but I head one sports radio guy say that “now baseball is over”. Seriously, I can’t understand that kind of reasoning when you have good wild card races in the AL and NL, and two amazing division races in the NL. Watch football all you want, but don’t knock baseball this time of year.

That’s An Ace

Critics will point to a lack of strikeouts as a major flaw and his somewhat high ERA, but Chien-Ming Wang is an “ace” in my mind. Yes, he doesn’t strike people out and yes, he can be hit at times. But, think about when the game is on the line and the Yankees need a big effort, who is the guy you want to see holding the ball?

In my mind it is Wang. Tonight they needed a big win, last week they needed a win for a sweep. In July it was two big wins against LA and Minnesota that got things going for the Yankees. It’s funny, but I always think of a game he pitched against Washington last year as when Wang showed he was an ace. I say funny because he lost. It was June 18th and the Yankees were desperate for a quality start because they had burned through most of their bullpen in the first two games of the series. Wang came out and dominated for the first 8 innings, entering the ninth with a 2-1 lead. He got the first out of the ninth, but then gave up a hit and a home run to end things right there. Ballgame over, but Wang had saved the bullpen for later in the season.

I would guess that by the end of 2009, Wang will no longer be looked at as an ace for the Yankees. Hughes will probably be established by then and Joba seems to have the highest ceiling of them all. But, I don’t know if I will ever feel as comfortable watching any of them as I do when I see Wang, the guy just knows how to deliver.

Wake Up!

I realized this morning that the last game I saw that the Yankees actuallly won was August 19th. Part of that was because I was on a trip, but another part of that is beacause the Yankees have gone 6-8 over their last 14 and that includes the sweep of Boston.

The main problem as Joel Sherman alludes to today with his clever headline of “Wang and Pettitte and Then Forget It” is that the starting pitching isn’t very good. Actually, most of the pitching isn’t very good. The Yankees have gone 16-12 over the last month and they have done that with a team ERA of 5.41. So, as the offense cools, the pitching simply isn’t there to pick things up.

To their credit, the Yankees have tried to address this. Joba is now a fixture in the bullpen and Kennedy will make another start this week. That certainly helps, but with Roger Clemens missing at lest a start that means Mike Mussina will rejoin the rotation (8.33 ERA over the last month) . Sean Henn (17.27) is back in the minors, but the Yankees have to rely on Phil Hughes (5.53) every fifth day. Kyle Farnsworth has turned his year around (2.08) but Edwar Ramirez (5.23) hasn’t provided a spark since he has surrendered four home runs in ten innings.

At this point, with the wild card really a dead heat (Seattle is tied with New York in the loss column) there is nothing to lose by trying every asset they have. Jose Veras is back in the bigs and should be tried out in singificant relief roles. Baseball allows teams to play the last 25 games or so with expanded rosters and the Yankees should take advantage of that. Other than Andrew Brackman, every other pitcher on the 40-man roster has pitched for the Yankees this year or last. Seven of them are still in the minors and they should all be recalled. Get them up here and send see if quantity can replace quality. Who knows, maybe Chase Wright can dazzle out of the bullpen for an inning here or there. Maybe Mike Mussina would be effective if he knew he was only going to pitch three innings each time out. What about using Clippard/DeSalvo/Igawa and Karstens two innings each in a game? I know it is radical and not traiditional baseball, but the Yankees have to try something else.

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It is sad that Andy Phillips is going to miss the rest of the season. By all accounts, he is a great guy and he has had way more than his share of bad luck. But, it will allow the Yankees the rectify a big hole in their lineup. Phillips hit .292/.338/.373 which just doesn’t cut it. I am all for having Giambi play there more because while the defense is weakened at first, it is strengthened if the Yankees put Damon in left and Matsui at DH. (Note for 2008, Damon is a pretty good left fielder so far). Since Giambi at first every day won’t hold up for the rest of the year, how about a platoon of Duncan and Betemit at first?

Duncan has certainly earned some playing time and his .800 slugging percentage against LHP speaks for itself. Betemit has hit a big slump, but I think that may be more a function of adjusting to New York and his role here. In his career he has hit .267/.348/.467 against RHP, why not give it a whirl?

The Week That Was

The Yankees get humiliated in Detroit Monday, sweep Boston, get humiliated against Tampa Friday and then see the third of their young guns pitch pretty well for a win Saturday. Meanwhile, Seattle loses eight-straight and the Yankees are now two-games up in the wild card. And since I didn’t see a single pitch of any of it, I can’t really say much more about it. But, I do have a few observations from reading box scores.

1- Bravo to the Yankees for benching Mussina after Monday’s pounding and rolling the dice with Kennedy. From what I read, Brian Cashman doesn’t think his innings limit (whatever that may be) will be a concern for the rest of the year, so good for them.

2- Speaking of Mussina, why won’t the Yankees pitch him in relief? If a starter gets bombed, why wouldn’t they call on Moose? I know they are trying to keep him happy, but Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi have shelved their egos, why can’t Mussina be expected to as well?

3- Phil Hughes is struggling, which isn’t that surprising when you consider his age. The question is, how long can the Yankees keep throwing him out there? His next start is Wednesday in a huge game with Seattle. If he doesn’t pitch well, they have to consider putting someone else in his spot.

4- Chris Britton made it out of AAA, this has to be a mistake right?

5- September callups for Kennedy, Veras and Gonzalez with Mientkiewicz activated. I am just confused as to why the Yankees chose to DFA Kevin Thompson and keep Bronson Sardinha. Sardinha may have more of an upside, he is four years younger, but Thompson could help this club now. He can steal bases and play great defense. He may never amount to more than a 4th or 5th outfielder, but that would be a nice thing on the bench for September in my mind.

6- Scranton made the AAA playoffs, so we won’t see some additional players for a bit, but I would bet that Karstens and DeSalvo will be brought back when they end and maybe, just maybe Kei Igawa. The Yankees need to see if Igawa can pitch in the bigs at all and a September blowout would be a good place to start.

26 games left, it should be a fun ride to the finish.

No-Hitter!

Clay Buchholz pitched a no-hitter tonight as I’m sure most of you already know.

Great spectator event indeed, but here was my thought process throughout:

1.)  No way a rookie pitches a no-no in his 2nd MLB start.

2.)  Wow, what a good job Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy (and NESN) did of not saying "no-hitter."  Obviously they had to acknowledge the significance of what was happening, but they skated around saying the phrase, something FOX sports would not do.

3.)  Pitching coach John Farrell shook Buchholz’s hand after the 8th, I though that was a bad move as you generally aren’t supposed to talk to or address a pitching in the midst of a late-game no-hitter.  At first I thought it might mean they were taking him out, but in the end it was no bid deal.

4.)  Home plate umpire Joe West helped out Buchholz early in the game (i.e. the first pitch) but worked a bit against him in the latter innings.  There were 2 pitches, one a change the other the hook, which West called balls.  In my mind, they were both clearly strikes.

5.)  What great pitchers pitched a no-hitter so soon in their career?  Is this a good career event?  Or does it matter?  I worry that such an event will be the peak rather than a great accomplishment along the way to greatness.

Or maybe I should relax and enjoy this moment.  I have it saved on TIVO and I’ve already watched the last at bat about 10 times.  Congratulations Clay Buchholz.  Now, get ready for the full body-cast Red Sox management will want to place you in tomorrow.  115 pitches exceded his season high by 21.  He averaged 78 pitches per start in the minors, an indication that management wants to protect this kid.  Maybe he’ll start again this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they say "great season kid, now take 5 months off."

Update:  Aparently ESPN’s Rob Neyer wondered the same thing about Buchholz and his place in history.  Neyer seems ok with the notion that this won’t have any impact on his future (negatively or positively).