A Better Yardstick

A five-game winning streak is nothing to sniff at, but it should also be viewed with caution. The Yankees beat up on two teams that they really should beat up on if they are going to be a serious playoff team. Now things are going to get a lot tougher.

Look at the breakdown of the next 44 games:

6 games against the Angels (and check out what Pujols has done recently)
3 games against Detroit
6 games against Tampa
6 games against the Mets (currently 1/2 a game better than the Yankees)
6 games against the Braves
3 games against Washington- on the road
3 games against Cleveland (first place Cleveland)
4 games against the White Sox
4 games against Boston- on the road
3 games against Toronto

That’s over 1/4 of the season against teams who are all .500 or better except for Detroit and Boston. And do you really expect either of those clubs to remain under .500?

There are a number of things that will determine whether or not the Yankees can succeed or fail over this stretch.

Start with Mark Teixeira. He was awesome over the weekend and the Yankees obviously need that to continue. He says his breathing is better, so maybe we will see the surge continue.

And let’s move to A-Rod. He belted two homers on Thursday and then didn’t have an extra-base hit all weekend. In fact, he has only five doubles all season which ties him with Russel Martin and Curtis Granderson for the lowest total among Yankee regulars. Is he a singles hitter now, or does he still have power? One interesting note is that he has stolen six bases already this season. He hasn’t stolen more than 4 since 2009.

Let’s move to a pitcher, Phil Hughes. Hughes had a terrible April, but in May he has looked like a solid middle of the rotation guy. His walk rate is way down and his ERA in the month stands at 3.45. If he continues near that pace, the Yankees could have a pretty solid rotation because…

…of Kuroda and Pettitte. Pettitte has pitched very well in two of his three starts. Kuroda lowered his ERA below 4 yesterday and for all the talk about his inability to pitch in the AL, the fact remains that he has allowed three runs or less in 7 of his 10 starts. Throw out the two starts where he got really hammered and his ERA is 2.42. CC will be CC and there is a chance he will be followed in the rotation by the best second, third and fourth starters the Yankees have had in awhile.

That’s important because the fifth starter is not doing so well. Ivan Nova’s overall ERA is ugly, but more concerning to me is the trend that developed in May. While his ERA in May is not very different from his ERA in June, it hides some underlying flaws. His strikeout to walk ratio has dropped from 5 to 2.58. He has allowed 8 homers in May compared to 4 in April. He is still striking out a lot of guys, but the other numbers are troubling. The Yankees will have patience with him, but I wonder how long they will wait if he keeps pitching like this?

The good news is that the Yankees should get some reinforcements during this stretch. Hopefully, Brett Gardner and David Robertson return to the club in the very near future. The Yankees will need them.

Brawling

First let me say I’m a big Joe Maddon fan. When the Red Sox conducted their managerial interviews prior to the 2004 season, Maddon was on the list and I recall rooting for him because of his interest in blending sabermetrics with olde-timey baseball hunches. When the Sox hired Terry Francona, I was disappointed, goes to show what I know.

All of this brings us up to last night’s game, of which I saw very little. Relying on ESPN’s recap, I learned the Red Sox lost and there was a bench clearing incident. The Red Sox losing isn’t news and while a bench clearing moment is exciting, this one lacked much action. What was interesting was Maddon’s take on what precipitated the scuffle.

Here is the link from espn:

http://espn.go.com/boston/mlb/story/_/id/7974166/boston-red-sox-get-joe-maddon-tampa-bay-rays-fired-brawl

I have no doubt Franklin Morales was trying to hit Luke Scott but to read Maddon’s complete overreaction is amusing. To call the Red Sox coaches “incompetent,” plus many other things, is off the wall. So far this year, many Red Sox and Rays players have been hit by a pitch with several other pitches thrown with recklessness. Maddon clearly is viewing things through Rays-blue colored glasses.

And Scott, to think he can lambaste a town, team, fans and a park and not expect to be hit is downright naive. Scott talks a lot and sometimes talking can get you into trouble, as it should. Words carry weight. My money is on Scott getting dusted again this weekend.

Back to Maddon, he can call the Red Sox coaches, read: Bobby Valentine, incompetent, but he equally shares the blame as sailing a pitch over Daniel Nava sounds like it had purpose and even of it didn’t, it is a reckless act, dare I say an incompetent act.

Ah baseball, for such a ploddingly slow sport, it sure can generate excitement. Josh Beckett goes to tonight. Let’s see if he pitches incompetently.

Time For A Shakeup

Apologies for not posting recently. I’ve been “distracted’ by the Rangers first trip to the Conference Finals in 15 years and the fact that the Yankees are just not very good right now. In fact, Andy and I are thinking about registering the domain name “www.mediocrebaseball.com”. I kid, but wow has this season been a bummer so far.

I’ll be honest, things went downhill for me when Mariano got hurt. Without him, I have lost my favorite player. In fact, I can’t remember not having a favorite player actively playing since I started rooting for the Yankees. To wit:

1978-8/2/79: Munson, Nettles, Guidry
8/3/79-1983: Nettles+Guidry
1984-1988 Guidry+Mattingly
1988-1995 Mattingly
1996-1999 Bernie Williams
1999-2006 Bernie and Mariano
2006- now Mariano

And now I feel empty. I’ve been searching for a new favorite player for awhile, but I just haven’t found one. I can’t be a Jeter guy (though I do appreciate him) and I can’t find another guy I like enough. Granderson or Swisher could be the next one, but I am just not there yet with either of them. So, I find myself watching the games, but feeling somewhat empty.

But enough about me, the Yankees are 21-21 and clearly struggling. I give Girardi credit for dropping Tex to the 7th spot tonight, you can’t argue that it was a sensible move. But, the Yankees need to do something more. They need to shake up this club and there are only a few moves they can make that would make sense. Here are my ideas ranked from most-likely to least.

1- Release Freddy Garcia. Freddy has been better in the bullpen, but it’s a bad fit and he didn’t do himself any favors tonight. Cutting a guy who makes $4 million may show the lockeroom something.

2- Move A-Rod to the #2 spot in the lineup. Alex is getting on base and hitting for average, but he isn’t driving the ball. Moving him out of the meat of the order might wake him up and doing it by moving him “up” might protect his ego.

3- Keep Boone Logan away from the later innings unless a lefty is up. The platoon split isn’t as pronounced in 2012 as it has been in his career, but Logan is much, much better against lefties. Put him in against righties and trouble tends to follow.

4- Bench Russell Martin and put Chris Stewart in as the regular catcher. Martin has been MIA with the bat and somewhat MIA with the glove. (Freddy didn’t deserve that WP call tonight) Also, what has happened with Martin and Sabathia this year?

5- Fire a coach. Sure, it’s the Steinbrenner way, but he wasn’t always wrong when he did it.

6- Release Martin. This is an “In Case of Emergency” move, but if things keep going like this and Martin keeps going like this, it is worth remembering that his contract ends after this season.

How about you, any moves you would make?

What Now?

I’ve speculated about this a few times in recent weeks, but after last night’s performance, I am convinced the Yankees need to send Eduardo Nunez down to the minors and either give him extensive work as a utility guy or as an outfielder. This is a guy who appears to be turning into Chuck Knoblauch and the Yankees have to figure out a way to prevent that. Maybe they can’t. Maybe Nunez is going to be a guy who simply can’t make the routine throw in the infield. I refuse to believe that right now, I think this is more a case of not being trained for the role the Yankees wanted him to play.

In his minor league career, Nunez played 600 games at shortstop, 19 at second, 17 at third and zero in the outfield. Yet, they made him their utility guy at the start of 2011, primarily because he can hit and run a bit while Ramiro Pena can’t. I don’t think it was a bad choice, but it also required Nunez to do some things he had never done before. There is no shame in the fact that he is failing.

And failing may be too nice a word for it. Look at the way he tried to backhand that ball on his first error last night. That was a terrible play. The throw in the second was probably the “better” error, but both of those plays are routine ones that need to be made. What the Yankees need to do is figure out their long term goal for Nunez. Is it as a possible replacement for Jeter or A-Rod? Is it a move to the outfield? Perhaps a super-utility guy? I suspect the latter, so why not send him to the minors for a couple of weeks and let him work through his troubles? He could start every day at a different position and get some experience. The Yankees have Nix on the roster to soak up the utility AB’s and Chavez could be back later today. Trying to teach him multiple positions in the majors isn’t working.

One last thought. CC Sabathia had a lower ERA throwing to Russel Martin last year than he did to Francisco Cervelli. (Both were outstanding) So, why does he need Chris Stewart as his personal catcher this year? And if Martin is the defensive whiz the Yankees think he is, what is going on?

15 Years Ago…

the Yankees tried to break in a new closer. He blew three of his first six saves, but rebounded pretty nicely from there.

The point, obviously, is that closing ballgames is not an easy job. It’s even harder when you have to come in and protect a one-run lead. Robertson looked shaky last night and he looked bad tonight. Some fans will bury him, but if you are one of the guys (like me) screaming for the Yankees to develop their own pitching, this is the harsh reality of that request. Sure, Robertson may never amount to a big league closer, but he has shown more than enough in his big league career to keep the job right now. Girardi gave a great example in his postgame comparing closers to NFL kickers. As he said, “the great ones bounce back.” Robertson deserves the chance to prove he can be a great one.

I’m Fairly Sure He Doesn’t Get It

Boston.com is reportng that Josh Beckett played golf just 2 days prior to a scheduled missed start due to a stiff latissimus (lat) muscle.

Playing golf is what baseball players do, I get that, but when public perception is already that you are a beer drinking slob, how can you be so careless in your decision making? Again, it is a sense of entitlement that he must feel, as though he can do no wrong and isn’t to blame for anything bad.

Bobby Valentine is quoted in the piece as saying, “I’m trying to sort out my feelings” about this issue. Sort them out he will as this is not going to go away.

More fallout to come I’m sure.

I was away last week and much happened. The Red Sox still stink, Kevin Youkilis got hurt…again, and Will Middlebrooks was called up, amongst other things. The Middlebrooks call-up was the best as he is off to a boffo start and anytime a rookie comes up and makes a splash, it is an exciting thing. Exciting is what the Red Sox need after all.

Regarding the still stinking part, the Red Sox haven’t just stunk for 5 weeks in 2012, they stunk for 4 weeks in September/October 2011. Their record since September 2011 is 19-37. That is last place bad. It kind of reminds me of the time leading up to Morgan Magic, when John MacNamara had lost his team and watching the Red Sox was a chore. Walpole Joe came in and the Red Sox rattled off one of the best runs in baseball history (or at least Red Sox history).

I’m not sure who or what will be this season’s Morgan Magic, but Middlebrooks Magic has a ring to it.

Forcing It

I can’t for the life of me get why the Yankees are putting Andy Pettitte into the rotation Sunday. I get that David Phelps didn’t exactly dominate in his one start, but by giving up two runs in four innings while striking out five, he showed some potential. Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte has made two starts above A ball and has allowed three earned runs in five innings in both of them.

But Pettitte proclaimed himself ready and something makes me think the Yankees felt pressured into this. I hope I am wrong and I also hope that getting Pettitte back in the bigs will “start his juices” and up his performance. I wouldn’t have made this call if it was my choice.

What I do wonder is what will happen roster-wise over the next few days? Brett Gardner should be back Thursday and Eric Chavez may join him. Then Pettitte will need to be activated and put on the 40-man roster. the obvious calls are Gardner gets activated, Wise gets sent down. Chavez gets activated and Nix gets sent down. Pettitte gets activated, Rivera moved to the 60-day DL and Eppley gets sent down. But, it wouldn’t shock me to see the Yankees keep Nix and send Nunez down to get more outfield time. Or jettison Rapada, a guy who has walked 5 in 8 innings and keep Eppley. Maybe they send Phelps down to keep him stretched out? We shall see.

He’ll Be Back!

Mariano Rivera just announced on Twitter and to the press that he will come back for the 2013 season.

Simply awesome news as this is clearly not the way anyone wanted to see Rivera leave the game.

The Day After

While we all hope that Mariano Rivera won’t decide to retire off of this injury, the fact remains that the 2012 Yankees need to regroup and figure out how to replace him. As I see it, there are three choices they can make.

1- Give the job to David Robertson. Robertson has been lights out and he appears to have ice water in his veins so it would be a good fit. In a way they would be passing the torch to a guy who resembles Rivera pre 1997.

2- Give the job to Rafael Soriano. Soriano has closed before and done it in the AL East, so he could certainly do it. Furthermore, letting him close now would allow him to rack up some saves and increase the chances that he opts out of his contract after this season.

3- Move Phil Hughes to the bullpen with the idea of making him the closer in the near future. Probably not going to happen, nor am I saying it should- yet. But, if Hughes continues to be a two-pitch pitcher, it’s hard to see how he stays in the rotation. He’s been in the bullpen before so it isn’t the craziest idea. But, I think the Yankees won’t make this move unless Hughes bombs in his next few starts. After all, Rivera was once a mediocre starter.

Lost in all of this is a move which didn’t get a lot of notice at the time, but could become important later this season- the signing of David Aardsma. Aardsma saved 69 games from 2009-10, but he’s essentially been injured since then. When the Yankees signed him in February Cashman said he was a month behind Joba in his comeback (before Joba’s ankle injury) so he could be ready to pitch in July. Hopefully, the Yankees don’t have a big hole in their bullpen come July, but if they do, Aardsma could be a solid addition.

If the choice were mine, I give the job to Robertson. The Yankees were going to need to develop a new closer one of these days, why not go with the home-grown guy?

Torn ACL

Seldom do we get to write our own athletic obituary. Perhaps it was hubris that led us to believe Mariano Rivera would be able to write his, but it sounds like that was folly. Girardi announced tonight that the “preliminary” report is that Rivera has a torn ACL. I’m not a doctor, but I can’t believe someone who was could look at a MRI and proclaim a tear of the ACL when a tear didn’t exist. In short, I think this is the end of Rivera for 2012. And if it is, you have to wonder if it means the end of Rivera forever?