Good Signs, but…

Yes, the Yankees have lost two-of-three, but you have to be encouraged with the way their starters looked in all three games. On Monday, AJ Burnett went eight innings and gave up one run. On Tuesday, Ivan Nova pitched 6.3 and looked great doing it. Last night, Bartolo Colon went eight innings and looked great as well.

There are of course two things you have to keep in mind when evaluating the above performances. The first is that Chicago is not a strong offensive team. They came into New York in a huge slump and apart from Konerko and Quentin, their lineup is terrible right now. (Alex Rios has put up a line of .163/.252/.207!) So, you could almost make the case that the Yankees’ pitchers had to look good otherwise you would really have had something to worry about.

The second thing to remember is that we are talking about AJ, Ivan and Bartolo. AJ can go out and pitch ten-straight shutouts and you still can’t trust him to do it again. Nova is a rookie and that means he is going to struggle at times. He has done that before and he will do it again. He is going to have growing pains and the Yankees have to be willing to let him have those. And finally you have Colon. He has been fantastic, but keep in mind that he was out of baseball in 2010 and hasn’t thrown more than 100 innings since 2007 when he was terrible. His last full season was 2005 and he isn’t the best “athlete” out there. Chances are very, very good that he will breakdown in the next few months, so enjoy this while you can.

And, while we are at it, let’s take a look at Freddy Garcia. He has junkballed his way to two very nice starts. But, he has only allowed one earned run because his BABIP is .147. That isn’t going to last, so expect that ERA to rise dramatically in the near future.

Now add in the news about Phil Hughes, which isn’t good. I have heard it compared to what David Cone went through in 1996 when he missed three months and Kenny Rogers in 2001 when he went on the DL in mid-July and didn’t return until 2002. We won’t know the real answer for at least a couple of days, but it seems likely that we won’t see Phil Hughes taking the mound anytime soon.

Boston has shaken off their 0-6 start and Tampa’s resurgence may be even more impressive as they have gotten back above .500 without Evan Longoria. The AL East will be a fight to the end and while the Yankees are in front now, how long can their pitching keep them there?

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There’s No Place Like Away

A 10-11 record is hardly something to be happy with, but if your favorite team started a season 2-10, I’m willing to guess you’d be at least pleased with a 10-11 mark.

The Red Sox have won 8 of their last 9 and open a 3-game set in Baltimore on Tuesday. The Red Sox ERA stands at 4.73 and their average is at .235, both terrible numbers when compared to expectations, but given where they stood 10 days ago, again, I’ll take it.

I have to hand it to the starting rotation, all 5 have put together an amazing run and allowed some of the Red Sox offense to get up to speed (Crawford, Salty and others).

Carl Crawford has 2 consecutive 2-hit games and in Sunday’s game, hit his first home run as a Red Sox, albeit with his fly down. I noticed the TV crew didn’t mention that, but what a fitting end to a power slump.

Too bad the Red Sox have Monday off as I hate to see them stop their momentum, but alas, a day off they have.

Sorry for the gap in posts, we should be back to our regular posting-selves this week.

Smart Move

Just heard on WFAN that Hughes is headed to the DL and Lance Pendleton, a guy who couldn’t make the Astros this spring is coming up to the Yankees.

The Hughes part makes a whole lot of sense. Something isn’t right, anyone watching the games can see that. It could certainly be the jump from 105 innings in 2009 to 176 in 2010. (That’s regular season, add in the playoffs and the gap is even bigger) The Yankees say they are going to have him do a lot of long toss and strengthening exercises, but I hope they have him visit a MRI tube just to check structural things too. Either way, losing Hughes now is not a big hit considering how he has been pitching.

I will assume that this means Big Bad Bartolo is in the rotation. The thing that has really impressed me about Bartolo this year is 13 K’s in 11 IP. I still think Bartolo breaks down somewhere this season so it is best to get as many innings as you can out of him right now.

As for the callup of Pendleton, this one has me a bit confused. It’s not that Pendleton hasn’t pitched well in 2011, he has in a very small sample size. But this was a guy the Yankees lost in the Rule 5 draft last December and then he didn’t do enough to stick with a miserable Astros club. Adding Pendleton to the major league roster required a change to the 40-man. In this case, putting Feliciano on the 60-day DL. So, the Yankees could have added any pitcher in the organization and they chose a guy they didn’t think enough of to protect in the Rule 5 four months ago? What about Mark Prior? It seems odd to me and it is a big vote of non confidence in guys like Phelps, Garrison and Ortegano, who were already on the 40-man.

How Not To Spend $12 Million

The Yankees have three lefty pitchers who each earn $4 million a year and none of them will probably be of any use to the club in 2011.

Start with Pedro Feliciano who has a torn shoulder capsule. Brian Cashman said the other day that Feliciano was “abused” by the Mets which leads me to wonder why the Yankees signed him feeling that way?

Damaso Marte had labrum surgery last October and has started playing catch. There a chance, not a big one, that he could be back at some point this year. Should we blame the Pirates for his problems?

Last, and certainly least, is Kei Igawa, the $51 million man. Kei set the career wins record at Scranton and is now currently pitching out of the bullpen in Trenton. Thankfully, this is the last year of his disaster of a contract.

That leaves the current Yankees with only one lefty in the pen, Boone Logan, and Logan doesn’t seem to be able to get lefties out right now. He has only faced eight of them this season, but they have tattooed him at a rate of .500/.625/.667.

The Yankees will obviously give Logan every chance to show he can improve, but what if he doesn’t? Andy Sisco is currently in Scranton and Steve Garrison is pitching in Trenton, but I think we all know the obvious answer is Manny Banuelos. Remember that Manny only threw 109 innings in 2009 and 64 in 2010 there is zero chance he is going to be starting the rest of the season. But, I could definitely see a late season callup to pitch out of the bullpen in his future.

One last note, Feliciano can obviously be moved to the 60-day DL. I wonder if the Yankees will do that and put someone new on the 40-man?

Let’s Handicap Things Again

Ok, so we are 9-11 games into the season and with two-consecutive off days for the Yankees, I have had a chance to reconsider my AL East projections. Let’s start from the top, or what I thought would be the top….

1- Boston- Well, I did say that I had doubts about their rotation. My foresight was 20/20!

2- New York- I did predict a “mediocre first half”. Who can disagree?

3- Baltimore- Well I loved Buck Showalter and thought they would be above .500. Mission accomplished!

4- Tampa Bay- I said they would be “dangerous” this year and Kyle Farnsworth is their closer!

5- Toronto- I “bet” that they would finish third in every division in baseball other than the AL East and apart from the AL Central, they would right now!

So, my predictions are obviously spot on.

Ok, through 9-11 games you have to wonder if the world has turned upside down. Baltimore is clearly the best team in the division and they have more wins than Boston and Tampa combined. The Yankees are one-game over .500, but they have also been the only team to lose to Boston.

But, there are still a lot of games left to be played. If the Yankees continue their current record they will finish 90-72. The Red Sox playing up to their abilities still finish with 93 wins. (.600 baseball) Baltimore playing down to theirs, finishes with 83 wins (.500 ball) I forget who told me this, but the best baseball advice I have ever received, is to not pay attention to records or standings until Memorial Day at the earliest.

The Horror

Boston fans have just about reached their breaking point when it comes to Daisuke Matsuzaka. It is bad enough he is one of the least enjoyable pitchers to watch ever but to also produce awful results is just too much.

For those who don’t get a chance to watch Matsuzaka regularly, it generally goes something like this:

Ball 1
Ball 2
By this point, he has already lost me.

Each at bat turns into an epic and there’s always that feeling that he and the catcher are never on the same page. It is maddening to watch.

The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham has declared now the time to trade Matsuzaka. Weei and ESPNBoston all have polls up asking what to do with Matsuzaka with the most popular answer being “trade him.”

Things aren’t going well and something needs to be done. Will Matsuzaka be the sacrificial lamb? Couldn’t we also point to John Lackey who is being paid more and has 4 more years left with Boston (vs. Matsuzaka’s 2 years)? What about the pitching coach or manager. How about the GM for constructing this squad?

2011 has been a disaster thus far and whether it is fair or not to point the finger at any one player is irrelevant. Something will happen in the coming days and it will be a shot across the bow for those still here. “Figure it out or you’ll be next,” will be the message.

We are only 6% done with the season with 152 games left. But we were joking about this terrible start after 3 games, then 6 and now 10. At some point it has to stop and those who are paid the big bucks are going to be asked to fix things swiftly.

Expect some movement shortly and whatever that movement is, let’s hope it turns this smoldering wreck around.

Beckett

I’ve been pretty down on Josh Beckett over the past few years. He hasn’t lived up to his billing nor his contract. While one start doesn’t make an all-star, it was very nice to see him shut out a very good offense last night.

Beckett had 4 pitches working including his change-up which, if he can throw it consistently, will help off set the loss of velocity on his fastball. Keep them guessing as they say. Beckett is really important to this team not only because all of the other starters stink right now, but because they have big resources invested in him and when he is right, like last night, he is a very good pitcher. The Red Sox need him productive this year and beyond.

Just as Beckett enters the first of a 4-year, $17mm per contract, the Red Sox also locked up Clay Buchholz to a 4-year, $28.7mm deal. The deal also includes 2 team option years. The deal doesn’t start until next season meaning the Red Sox have Buchholz tied up for the next 7 years including this year. The 2 option years are $13mm and $13.5mm respectively. I like this deal as the years are limited and the team can extend it if things go well. Granted a disaster means this is wasted money, but if a consistent all-star emerges, the Red Sox make out.

These deals make so much sense to me as it affords the team a relatively affordable contract for a player’s prime years and it makes sense to the pitcher as one pitch can end a career. Having what should be lifetime security at age 26 is a blessing (or a curse if your character is flawed).

Tampa Bay is in town for a series. They aren’t what they use to be those Rays. With Evan Longoria hurt, there aren’t many familiar faces left in the line-up (one less especially since Manny Ramirez has “retired”).

Carl Crawford will lead off again tonight which I must say is an experiment. Terry Francona is trying to gauge whether Crawford can handle that spot. I am really not sure what Francona is trying to accomplish actually, but I can’t claim to have any better ideas. When your team isn’t hitting, what’s there to do? I still think Ellsbury and Craword back to back is a great idea from a menacing the opposition on the base paths standpoint, but having 2 lefties back to back and then forcing either Pedroia, Gonzalez or Youkilis to hit too far down is a tough trade off.

Let’s see if a consistent and successful line-up emerges soon.

Reyes Waived, Doubront Activated

The Red Sox parted ways with Dennys Reyes today and actived rookie lefty Felix Doubront from the DL. Additionally, the Red Sox DLed Matt Albers and promoted Alfredo Aceves from AAA Pawtucket yesterday.

Another news worthy move has Terry Francona, yet again, adjusted his line-up. Here it is for today’s game:

lf – Crawford
2b – Pedroia
1b – Gonzalez
3b – Youkilis
dh – Ortiz
rf – Drew
c – Saltalamacchia
cf – Ellsbury
ss – Scutaro

Crawford leading off with Ellsbury to the 8th spot. I thought the idea of moving Crawford down to the 7th spot was to take some pressure off until he finds his grove. Well, I guess Francona thinks he’s found it. I guess a .250 average since he dropped Crawford to the 7th spot in game 3 is considered being “hot” on this team right now.

I’m not sure of Francona’s reasoning on this, I just hope it isn’t to give us, the fans, the impression he is trying all he can. In fact, switching guys around all day might do more damage than good.

Can The Yankees Clinch This Weekend?

I kid, I kid, but judging from some of the talk in Boston, they seem to think so. Yes, Boston has had a miserable start, but with 156 games, they can certainly recover. If they play .600 baseball the rest of the way, they would win 94 games (I rounded). Even if the Yankees swept them this weekend, .600 baseball the rest of the way would bring Boston 92 wins. For a team that many people thought could win 100 games (a .617 clip) .600 baseball is very doable. So spare me facts like “no team that started 0-5 ever won the World Series”. It’s way to early to count out any team, let alone a talented one like Boston.

So, I am hoping to see two things this weekend. I want to see Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova pitch effectively. I want to see Phil Hughes’ velocity get above 90-mph and Ivan Nova show that he can pitch effectively in a hostile environment. Win or lose, those two developments would presage a successful Yankee season.

Back with more after the game.