Saturday, May 27, 2006

One Star Shines Amidst Myriad of Problems

The starting pitching inevitably starts, and ends, with Unit. Another pair of terrible starts in two big spots. Blowing a 4-0 lead at Shea was one thing, then he goes out and labors through 5 innings at Fenway. Right now, I don't even want to send him to the mound. He is seriously no better than a fifth starter on most teams, if you go strictly by performance not name. The stats don't lie, he is good for about 5 or 6 runs over 5 innings, that's enough to get pitchers waived or relegated to the bullpen. The same of professional sports, particularly baseball, is that will never happen because of his salary. The Yanks need to do somehting with him. If this continues, I think they should do something that involves him not making any more starts until he fixes something. Obviously with Chacon down this is hard to do, but once he returns I would strongly consider benching Johnson. I would hope the Yanks can find someone to nurse them through 5 or 6 innings and keep them in a game, which is more than what Johnson is doing. Moose keeps going strong, although he looked very hittable against the Royals early last night, but bounced back. Wang needs to be more consistent but has shown flashes, Wright has been surprisingly good but let's see if he can avoid getting hit with another line drive.

Out in the bullpen, everyone that says Rivera is a problem has it all wrong. The problem is getting to Mo. Everytime Rivera comes into a jam in the 8th that is the problem. Sometimes Torre has way too quick of a trigger finger, but like the saying goes you never get fired for going with your best. I am very high on Scott Proctor but he has been roughed up this week in Boston and last night against KC, after some strong outings at Shea. His biggest problem is the old bases on balls. Explain how you walk the two guys batting ahead of Ortiz and Ramirez in Boston. It's obviously easier said then done, but come on here thats a big spot and bad performance. And Farnsworth is not much better, some nights he is a world-beater and other nights here comes Joe calling on Mariano to bail the Yanks out of a Farnsworth mess. The more that happens, the less of a chance the Yanks have in the long run. And what happened to Ron Villone being a big off-season pickup? He hardly gets in outside of mop-up duty. I expected to see him in some big 7th inning spots.

Bright Side
Jeter reached 2000 career hits last night with one of those classic swinging bunts that didn't even reach the pitchers mound. But what says the most about Derek is that on the first pitch after getting a standing O for the milestone hit, he takes off and steals third and in turn helps the Yanks get on the board. That's Jeter in a nutshell. Then there is A-Rod, a whole other story for another day.

By the way, is Manny still watching that homer sail out of Fenway? And a better question, can someone please knock him on his rearend after that. I don't care who hits it, don't let anyone show up one of your teammates like that. I'm surprised Torre didn't go do something himself. Do you think Frank Robinson would have stood for that? And Manny, come on, run for christ sake.

The Mets at a Glance

Well the Mets at least gave the illusion that they fixed, or tried to fix, their pitching problems this week. Unfortunately, if you think El Duque Hernandez and Mike Williams are answers than I must have the wrong questions. The Mets need to go out and make a splash right now. They have a chance to put the ka-boosh on the rest of this division right now. 2 of 3 from the Yanks then the Phils, sporting a 6-game lead with Pedro and Glavine holding down the fort, now is could be the time to just put this out of reach. Zito may not be the answer, and I can't tell who is available and who is the answer. But its not El Duque, the same guy who could not get anyone out in Arizona. Could a Kelvim Escobar be available? Or perhaps one of the Twins pitchers, with each each of those teams floundering? Maybe Zito, but only if the price is right. THe last think they need is another Scott Kazmir popping up on another team in 5 years. Speaking of Kazmir, wouldn't that be a great fit right now...

On the field, last night aside, the Mets keep giving off that feeling that this might be one of those special years. One of the '86 Mets years, or those '96 Yankees years. Late inning heroics time and time again. And while its too early to proclaim it a turnaround, let me be the first to say that one Carlos Beltran has stepped up quite a bit and carried the team at times. Even threw in some late inning hits.

A comment on the bullpen if I may. I don't care if you are up 4 runs, 1 run, 8 runs, or down by 10, if the manager puts you in to pitch you go in and get guys out. I can't stand baseball players that think they are above certain situations. Come on Wagner, its the Yanks, a shutout, national that a problem. Not your situation. And don't give me this Willie should have left Sanchez in to start the 9th since it wasn't a save situation. My next beer is going to be a toast to the day when the save situation does not dictate the manager's pitching decisions.

I leave with this...lay off Willie....he is doing fine, not perfect, but he is going to be fine.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Call the Infirmary

We have reached the point where I think it takes SUzyn Waldman requires more than a half inning for the injury report on the radio. Coming into the season it was Pavano and Dotel, neither of whom I was connecting on for anything other than a mid-season suprise boost. Then came Sheffield, arguably there biggest RBI threat but with so many other big boppers a few weeks without Sheff is manageable. Then Matsui. The rock, probably the most steady producer in the lineup outside of Jeter. The same guy who everyone said should take a day off instead of keeping that ridiculous games played streak (I was all over that one myself)...gone for the year. Trot out an outfield of Bubba Crosby, Melky Cabrera, and an over the hill Bernie for a few days then you start worrying.

Now it's Damon with the foot, Posada with the back, Pavano officially gone, Sturtze shelved for good, though some could argue that may be for the better the way he pitched. And the list goes on. More importantly, what to do?

First before doing anything rash, Posada should be back shortly and unless they are hiding something Sheffield is also back with two weeks or so. Damon is not seriously injured and he is going to play unless something changes. At that point the lineup, while not at its best, is more than sufficient to win. Cano has really stepped up, and there is not much better than Jeter, Giambi, Sheff, and A-Rod in the middle of the lineup.

Now, as for the pitching, HELP!! Pavano is definitely gone, so no more pipe dreams or excuses that we're just waiting for him to get here. For Jaret Wright, it's just a matter of time I think. Johnson is a whole other discussion (see Subway Series blog). The bullpen is spotty outside of Proctor-Farnsworth-Rivera, or what we hope those three are.

Bottom line, the Yanks can't panic and start making trades for the Reggie Sanders of the world at this point. Maybe they should not even trade for pitching quite yet, but I think they need to bide their time, save their chips, and if they make a move grab a pitcher. Never thought I'd say this, but ROGER that?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Tough Week on the Diamond in the Big Apple

When the Yankees send out a starting OF of Melky Cabrera, Bubba Crosby, and an old Bernie Williams, you know its either 1990 again or there is a problem. Will they hold pat? I think they should, at least until we know more about Sheffield. Force the pitchers to step up. If they need help, give Kevin Thompson a shot from AAA, or god forbid try to play some small ball with a faster, slap hitting lineup.
Speaking of the Yanks pitching, stick a fork in Johnson. The Big Bomb is pitching like someone with around a 6 ERA. The fastball is not overpowering, the slider does not have the bite it used to, and the biggest problem is the location is not there. Sometimes players just go bad at a certain age and lose it, this could be it for RJ. I saw this coming, not that I'm always right since I thought the same thing about Pedro, but I still can't see investing #1 starter money in a 40+ year old with some injury history and lots of innings on the arm.
In the bullpen, someone finally stopped the bleeding with Tanyan Sturtze by putting him on the DL. Aaron Small may be on his way down that path as well. Thank god for Scotty Proctor. He is the guy they needed, along with Fransworth, so that Mo Rivera does not not to come in during the 8th inning every night. Now if they could get a lefty complement...

The Mets may want to try sneaking a DH into the lineup if they intend on running Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez out to the mound. This proves that you don't trade two serviceable major league caliber starting pitchers unless you have a good amount of depth. Very rarely does any team avoid any pitching injuries. Clearly the Mets thought they had depth somewhere and threw all these names at us, but now they we're seeing that none of the young guns are ready for the majors and they won't go to the wild card, Aaron Heilman.

Bring It...

Quick Hits...

Vince Carter is NOT an elite player. He's only had a few chances to prove it (re: Game 7 vs. Philly during his belated-college graduation) but time and again he has shown that in a big spot, like his buddy Kobe, Carter will either lay a dud or even if he manages to drop 40 or so he find a way to be detrimental to the team in a loss. Give me Rip Hamilton any day of the week.

Detroit is the team to beat. They have to bounce back after the Game 3 loss, but I think they asserted their authority over Cleveland at home in the first two games....Can Round Two be any worse, especially after the first round excitement... Was that Dallas playing sturdy defense against the defending champs. Watch out, if they can hold the Spurs down like they did in Game 3 and show up with their top offensive game they will head right to the Finals.

On Larry Brown...he did a terrible job this year both in coaching and handling the team. With that said, this debacle is not only his fault. Its not easy to put together a championship team, but I think it may be harder to put together this bad a mix of basketball players. No point guards, 8 shooting guards, guys that hate each other, rookies that the coach won't play, and lots of overpaid, unperforming players. Now thats waht I call an accomplishment. When you play this bad there is plenty of blame to go around...its like Christmas dinner, you can pass blame around the table to Isiah, Larry, Dolan, Starbury, other players, and still have leftovers after it gets around the table. They just need a total overhaul. Unfortunately it does not happen overnight and I would hope that we've reached the point where everyone is on a short leash. Interesting to see what happens. I say, start overhauling this roster and soon.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

First Round in the Books

The NBA looked somewhat smart for making the first round of the playoffs a 7-game suaree thanks to all the excitement it generated. Still, they should stick with the 5-game set. Look at the second round matchups, my point exactly. They are exactly what everyone predicted. No upsets. No cinderella teams. If it had been 5 games, maybe the Lakers sneak through or the Kings find a way.

With that said, LeBron and Arenas conducted a classic 1 on 1 battle throughout the series. There have not been many individual performers opposite each other that played at this high a level, especially with their teams relying on them this much. It had everything, game-winners, highlight reel plays, big stat sheets, etc. But before we go too far, LeBron is not becoming the next Jordan just based on this series. It was the first round, it was the Wizards, another words it is not enough.

Out West, the Lakers and Suns went at it, and it got nasty. Should Raja Bell have been suspended? Tough call, but I would have liked to see the league suspend him if the foul was on someone other than Kobe. Glad the Suns pulled it out though. Kobe showed his true colors in Game 6 and 7, being an individualist in the first then downright failing his team in the 7th. And whose Lakers team was that a few years ago? That's right, Shaq!

Some words of wisdom, watch out for Detroit. They flew under the radar (a 6:30 start time one night) while LeBron got the pub. Now the well-oiled machine will take charge. They have to be the favorites without a doubt. Rest assured LeBron will not put up the numbers he did against Washington without an insane effort. The Pistons can D-up and Prince is a tough matchup. Out west, San Antonio looked extremely vulnerable against a game Kings team. But, like the Yankees of the late '90's, don't count them out until they are dead. They are great on their own court, have a bunch of proven PLAYOFF performers, a great coach, all the ingredients. One way or another look for the winner of that series with Dallas to head to the Finals.
Now it may be time to pay attention...Round 2.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Overrated, Overrated...

Another one of those great "player polls" was published earlier this week by Sports Illustrated about who is the most over-rated player in the majors. Top 3...Jeter, Beltran, A-Rod. All play in NY, all have big contracts. Is it surprising? Jeter is a little surprising since it was a player poll, maybe the fans I could see it. The other two are not shocking, but still not necessarily deserving.

First off all, if I may be a bit philosophical, exactly what rating is this based on to which we are saying these players are over-rated? The obvious answer is salary. There are high expectations that come with their contracts. But if that's the case how come Bernie Williams was not considered over-rated last year when he made a boat load of money and produced hardly anything. The same can be said for a number of athletes who sign long term contracts which end when they are in their late 30's and no longer produce at the rate which warranted the contract. How about Grant Hill? Was he overrated? When he played he didn't earn a dime on the dollar of that contract. I am a huge Grant Hill fan and everyone knows it was injuries, but if we base over/under rating solely on money, then he was overrated?

A second reason, most pertinent to Jeter, is that people rate a player based on their power numbers. Jeter is not a power hitter, never pretended to be one and never will be. But what about the clutch hitting, the 200 hits and .300 average every season, the moving runners over and base running skills that go larely unnoticed but manufacture a mountain of critical runs. What about the defense? Jeter is much better than the ridiculous sabemetrician measurable fielding stats show, and both A-Rod and Beltran are gold glove caliber.

Personally, I think some of those power hitters that strikeout a bunch, can't play defense, and don't run are the real OVER-rated players. At this point, Barry Bonds fits into that category. What about Tejada? Great player, trmendous hitter, but are you going to tell me you take him over Jeter for your team? Come on, when did Jeter complain about contracts and request trades? Yeah, he was taken care of, but not until after A-ROd and Nomar's first contract. And can you remind me the last time Tejada got a big hit when it mattered? He did get a chance for a few consecutive years with Oakland, did he not?

This argument can clearly barrel on for quite some time, but one more question...what about pitchers? Has Josh Beckett proven to be as good as advertised yet? Well, I saw the 2003 World Series but he is hyped as one of the best and he still has yet to win 15 games in a season. Wood and Prior? No debating the arms and talent, but they are overrated given the production on the field. Closers as a whole, with the exception of Rivera, are way overhyped. They get 3 outs, 3 stinkin outs, mostly with 2 or 3 run cushions against what can often be an already beaten team. Even spot started straigt from Double-A can do that without a problem. Come on.

But I'll go toe to toe with anyone on this...prove to me that Jeter is overrated.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I'm A Convert...

Totally against the Johnny Damon signing. Old player, overpaid..against the way things should be done. Then came Saturday...

Damon hist a few homers, a few hits, RBI's, etc. after a great defensive start to the season. But it's the at-bat after all that which caught my attention. Damon pops out in the 8th inning. Second baseman drops it,which happens maybe once or twice a season. Where is Damon? In the batter's box like most players? Trotting to first then heading to the dugout? No, how about standing on second base! That won me over. That's Paul O'Neill. That's hustle. This is someone we can root for!

Johnny Be Good

It may be too early to get excited about Yankees-Red Sox, or maybe its never too early to get excited even when they seemingly play almost every other week. But this week the game, the standings, the pitching matchups, were all secondary. The would Boston fan's treat Johnny Damon in his return to Beantown after crossing the boundaries?

I'm usually the type who says the media is blowing this out of proportion and who cares, but as a sports fan I always get a thrill out of the moment, a lot of which is created by fan reaction at a game. The lineup introductions at the All-Star game and game one of the World Series, or better yet a curtain call after game-changing homerun...and there goes that tingling sensation up my back. So I clearly have a stance on this issue, since I think it creates the moment which is what sports, especially live sports, is all about.

If I'm a Sox fan, Damon gets booed. No doubt about it. First of all, he was on the team for 4 years, otherwise known as two less than his Royals tenure, and it's not like he was Big Papi carrying the load. I know it's not how long, but which 4 years. The other thing, Damon could have stayed if he wanted to make a few dollars less which I think he could have afforded. To boot, it's the Yankees and that's the real kicker. BOO!!! (fill in other expletives from Landsdowne Street)...and deservedly so.

Paul O'Neill, Bernie, Mattingly, Rivera..I don't even think they would answer the phone in Boston called. They are YANKEES. Damon clearly was not a BOSTONIAN. That's one thing the Sox don't have that the Yankees do, players that bleed for the team. Maybe Wakefield and Varitek from this generation with Big Papi getting close, and that's it.

And yes Damon did get Boo'd. And yes Big Papi wound up delivering the killer blow. Could have predicted it from a mile away. And I bet everyone in that stadium on Monday night will remember "the moment".

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Runaway Train

One week after a disappointing outing in their first suaree with Atlanta this season, the Mets rolled through the House that Ted Turner built (with some help from the Olympics) like they never have and then, probably even MORE impressive, they received a great starting pitching outing from none other than Victor Zambrano. The same Victor Zambrano who Mets fans were about to throw off the Williamsburg Bridge a week ago. Maybe something special is brewing exactly 20 years later.

The NL East is a very winnable division. Maybe it won't even take 90 wins. The Mets can take advantage of one more week of beating up on the division. They succees and we may very well be looking at an 8-10 game lead before May 10th. They still probably need another reliable started and reliever to avoid an inevitable down spell. But the more I watch them, the more I think they can do this.