11 June 2005

Talkin' Baseball.

Not sure really where to start or what, exactly I want to write about. That kind of season so far...

I'll start by saying that, while we got our heiney's spanked, and it was embarassing, I must say that the sight of the Boston Red Sox at Wrigley Field made me irrationally happy. The blind interleague play squirrel finds a nut every few series or so. Anytime you can watch Maddux, even if he's dominating your team, is a treat. He's a genius. And he can rake too- who knew?!

I guess, watching the Red Sox this year, there is a sense of frustration in the way the tone of their games seem to unfold. Unfortunately, last year when the team was treading water, there was still a strong sense of performance and ability that was carrying them through. They obviously had the guys, they clearly had the right components.

This season though- I'm not so sure. Basically, while our offense is still (despite some maddening individual struggles) very very good, our pitching has been among the worst in the league- in specific the bullpen, which may have the distinction of being THE worst in the AL, were it not for Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Which effectively means nothing for the cause.

With the sole exception of Mike Timlin, who is having a career-resurgent season, Keith Foulke has had awful mechanics all season and given up HRs and BBs at truly alarming rates (although he's shown great signs his last few starts), Matt Mantei shows through gleams of brilliance that he can't be trusted to throw strikes (or stay healthy), John Halama is two automatic runs per outing, Alan Embree now FOUR, and Mike Myers is Mike Myers. He's a waste of a roster spot, and not even because of his positive performance.

Wakefield has been struggling badly, but that's Wakefield- he'll carry the team for a month or so, and it will all even out to ~185 IP of league average pitching. Fine. I do think Bronson Arroyo will find a satisfactory median point between his post suspension numbers (0-3, awful ER allowed) and post All Star 04- pre 05 suspension numbers. He's a good pitcher, and if he can start spotting his fastball better against lefties, I don't know why he can't be a 15 win, 4.10 ERA guy.

I also expect Wells, Miller and Clement to contribute along the lines what they've shown thus far- Clement will still put runners on, wiggle out of it the majority of the time, get mauled every now and then. Miller will be a very serviceable 6 inning pitcher, and Wells will be lights out for a couple starts, awful the next, and then merely good the next. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Curt Schilling will be back sometime in July, and while that will obviously help, there's no telling how successful someone at that age can be after that sort of trauma to the second-most vital joint relative to their job description.

But continually, this team seems to underperform their set career ability levels, and while it bodes well for their potential upside to catch lightning in a bottle and blast past the Orioles, it also becomes very worrisome considering their age. Manny Ramirez, for example, is having a very strange, frustrating season. Though his walk rate (though not necessarily his OBP), SLG numbers and RBI totals are more or less on his career averages, Manny is in a hitting slump that now dates back to post-All Star Break 2004. He's currently hitting .250, and while surprising to many, I don't think anyone who's watched him consistently this year feels comfortable at all going forward.

I don't think he's lost it, or fallen off a cliff- I don't think his career has taken a Jim Rice-like plunge. What I do know is what I can see- not only does he look remarkably uncomfortable at the plate, but he's showing few signs of truly breaking through.
  • When he does go the other way, it is rarely with authority and nearly always put right at a fielder.

  • He's getting ritually beaten by strikes called outside and then being fooled by jam jobs with the pitcher ahead.

  • It used to be you'd see Manny yell "coño!" to himself for missing a pitch once in a while- now it seems like an every-game occurence, and for a guy known for letting things roll off his back, he seems to be visibly frustrated after ABs.

  • I don't think I've seen him really tag a pitch over 91 MPH all season long- and pitches like that he used to foul off, he's getting blown right by him.

  • I'm not a hitting coach, I don't really know what I'm talking about, but when you watch a guy as religiously and scrupulously as I have Manny these last few years, when things are jarringly different, you can't help notice. In fact, in the past, when Manny has had his occasional mini-slump, it didn't really worry you because he always looked immaculate at the plate. Now he just looks sort of lost.

    To me, chief among the Red Sox offensive problems is Terry Francona's insistence on hitting their worst hitter second against RHP, an idea so ludicrously bad, you can't even believe a team like the Red Sox would entertain it. Now, I don't pretend to know more than the guys devoting their life's work to understanding and interpreting the sorts of things that determine optimal lineup orders and effective use of personell among what we have to work with.

    But am I wrong, or is it not working, and fabulously so? Simply put, Edgar Renteria CANNOT hit right handed pitching. Can't do it. And when he is backing up one of the great leadoff-on-base guys in baseball by grounding the two of them into double plays nearly every fucking at bat, it's no wonder they're not contending in the face of sub-par pitching, though they easily could be.

    And even still, a third of the way into the season, David Ortiz has 50 RBI. An entire generation of Red Sox fans will grow up with David as their favorite baseball player ever. Nothing wrong with that.

    Nor is there anything wrong with how Damon, Nixon, Varitek, and, especially recently, Bellhorn, have been playing either. Varitek is hitting at near MVP levels while doing it as a catcher, Nixon has been slumping lately but is on his way to matching his remarkalbe 2003 season, and Damon is only slumping in the power numbers. Otherwise, he's playing great defense (again), hitting, getting on base, and remaining a great baserunner. Johnny Damon is a truly great baseball player.

    Varitek though, if not given steady rest starting yesterday, is really going to start to fade down the stretch, and he could hardly be blamed. Mirabelli IS hurt, but the advantage of pushing Tek so hard NOW as opposed to his having more gas in the tank down to the wire is nonexistant. You've gotta save him. That said, the man is on pace for ~35 HRs. He's been a Beast.

    Bill Mueller is still walking, but he's hitting into an obscene amount of double plays and he's not hitting for power either. In fact, the Red Sox infield- not including the talents of David Ortiz in his NL park 1B duties, have 14 HR among the four of them. Mueller 2, Renteria 5, Bellhorn 3, and Millar 4. Just awful. Kevin Millar has been awful. Meanwhile, in AAA Roberto Petagine is back from his knee problem and is sporting a nifty .327/ .426/ .714 line with 9 HR in 98 ABs. Why Petagine hasn't had a chance to prove himself at the major league level while Youkilis soaks up a roster spot rotting on the bench and Kevin Millar swallows outs nightly (I know, I know, he's "hot" now) is beyond me. I see no reason why Petagine can't mash right now.

    I also don't see much to trade for, and the market CLEARLY belongs to the seller with so many teams theoretically "in contention" and looking for the same thing- pitching. I'd be heartbroken to see any of the following prospects traded- Pedroia, Ramirez, A. Sanchez, Papelbon or Lester. It may happen, though.

    That said, we're still only 4 games behind Baltimore in the East and have a vast majority of our games at home the rest of the way. This is going to be a tough season to grind out wins, and with a growing parity in the AL, it appears there are going to be even MORE teams clawing at the playoff spots than in years past though. Should be interesting.

    "Joe... it looks like he MAY be struggling
    to pitch in the New York market. See
    how his eyes are all shifty? I recommend
    we pay him to pitch elsewhere in exchange
    for some old superstar."

    Every day though, it appears, one of those teams clawing it out with the Sox, Orioles, White Sox, Twins, Rangers and Angels will NOT be the New York Yankees. I don't say this as a prediction that they'll not go to the playoffs- I have no idea of that. I don't say this as a prediction that they'll not win the division- anything can happen.

    But whatever flukey type run this team may go on, whatever kind of absurd winning streak they might put together calling my belief in God into question, they are still one very definite and unequivocal thing-

    A bad fucking baseball team.

    Their starting pitching, their bullpen, their lineup- all the same thing. Filled with great players (with some exceptions) on the downslope of their careers and underperforming in every aspect of their games. The only aspect of a baseball team's worth that is free of this classification is their defense, which has been predictably awful, is easily the worst in baseball, and is easily the worst I've ever seen on a baseball team in my life. I'm only 23 though, so maybe that won't impress people. Older people feel free to chime in and agree though.

    Think about it though- is it really surprising that a team struggling to rotate at bats among 37 year old Bernie Williams, 37 year old Tino Martinez, 39 year old Ruben Sierra and post-steroids Jason Giambi is struggling? If I told you a team was paying Tony Womack- Tony Fugging Womack!- $2 million dollars to bring his .570 OPS to play left field and thought they'd contend... how long would you laugh before you asked if I was serious? I mean, a .570 OPS in LF. Makes me feel like a spoiled brat for complaining about a dip in production from Manny.

    Is it really surprising that bringing Kevin Brown to New York was a monumentally bad idea? Is it really that surprising that putting all their eggs in the Randy Johnson basket DIDN'T address their obvious and glaring needs (CF/ 2B holes) and that abandoning ship on a young, strong starter- Javy Vazquez- like a petulant, bratty toddler (or like Randy Levine) that didn't get what they wanted right now was a bad idea? So now not only are the Yankees getting mediocrity out of Randy Johnson, they're also paying a really great replacement for him that they HAD to pitch for another team.

    Mussina looks old, Pavano and Wright were predictably overrated by aberration-type career years, Chien Min Wang is a middle-range pitching prospect who strikes no one out, and nearly every Yankee fan finds solace from their bullpen in the form of Tanyon Sturtze. I know the "scrap-heap-made-friends-with-Rivera" story from Kay, during every Sturtze appearance, warms the heart... but he's Tanyon Sturtze. He's not that good, and his being "the guy Torre trusts" speaks volumes about the Yankee bullpen, and maybe more than a little about Torre too.

    But you know all this. Of course, to Yankee people, this is all a matter of a lack of fire, a lack of discipline or some shit. To Yankee people, Joe Torre acting like Billy Martin (ie, a drunk moron) will change the tide (thank Michael Kay for that pearl), or Derek Jeter flipping the lunch table over will "wake these guys up."

    Wake them up? WAKE THEM UP?!

    Tonight during their game against St. Louis, cunning linguist David Justice began talking about Derek Jeter and how, as captain, he needs to call a meeting to right this ship. Nevermind that he's already done this like three times, Justice was adamant that even though "these guys know they can play better," Jeter needed to call them on it. He was babbling seriously, so I switched the channel, did a once around the TV lineup, and by the time I made it back to YES, it was about ten minutes later, in the same inning, and Justice was literally repeating the last thing I heard him say. Word for word.

    What he was talking about though was evident on the field- he'd just watched Jason Giambi flub his third straight play in the field, leading to yet even more Cardinal runs, and when Robinson Cano dogged out an easy inning-ending grounder into a run-scoring error, it was getting pretty appalling. The camera stared at Jeter, and Kay told us all what he was sure Jeter was feeling, reading his jaw muscles and telling us that this was killing him, and that he appeared to be grinding his teeth. Nope, not joking at all...

    And Harold Reynolds still thinks the Yankees will rattle off 65+ wins from here on out (putting them at 65-35 the rest of the way) and win the division. I'm not kidding, he said that. Whether Kruk is still holding to his wet-pantied prediction of Randy Johnson winning 30 games is unsure.

    It's funny to see a bunch of people attached to a baseball team that simply don't know that much about baseball scramble to understand what's wrong with them. "I just don't get it..."

    I do.

    Hey, they're definitely better than getting swept in Kansas City- but not much.

    Also, I heard Buster Olney say this on TV today, then read it in his wonderful blog:

    Uh, ashamed? The Florida Marlins are very, very good. There's no evidence though that they're SO much better than Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York or Washington that failure to best ALL of them would be "shameful." Baseball history is littered with seasons from teams best in their division on paper coming in... second.

    I can tell you one thing though. If, hypothetically speaking, a team were to spend upwards of $200 million dollars and missed the playoffs... that might be considered shameful.

    ...some "everything is going to be warm and fuzzy from here on out" mojo for the Sox.

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