The Yankees are seemingly focused on Derek Jeter’s pursuit of 3,000 hits. Not getting as much play: his slugging percentage is worse than all but one other Yankee hitter. Not all but one other Yankee regular – all but one of the other 14 guys who have come to bat for the team all year. Jeter is being “outslugged” by 71 points by Brett Gardner and by 33 by Jorge Posada, who is being treated in the Bronx as if he is a ghost…
The only one behind Jeter? Nick Swisher (.303 SA). And yet the manager says “we know Swisher will hit.” We know no such thing. Until last year he had never put together consecutive good seasons in the majors. And incidentally he still has more extra-base hits than Jeter. So does Justin Turner of the Mets – in one-third the plate appearances…
We haven’t even gotten to On Base Percentage. Simply put there is no excuse for Jeter to be leading off. None. He’s at .316. That’s tied for 242nd in the big leagues (that’s a wildly inflated number – it includes everybody in the majors. Nevertheless, among those in his neighborhood are Angel Sanchez of the Astros, Ronny Cedeno of the Pirates, and Jason Bartlett of the Padres. Nobody is trying to pretend they haven’t been offensive disasters. People read stuff like this from me about Jeter and wonder what I have against him. The answer is nothing. He’s a hall of famer and I’ve been stunned by his consistency and clutch play since I was at ESPN – that’s how long he’s been doing what he’s been doing. But they should’ve made him manager or general manager or team president last year – or at least should be planning to do so the day he gets his 3,000th hit.
Remember…this is the franchise that once released Babe Ruth…
The Mets have very quietly built a bullpen out of other teams’ spare parts. Jason Isringhausen has been lights out since coming back, Rule V draftee Pedro Beato’s scoreless streak wasn’t interrupted by his DL stint, and so far, Nationals refugee lefty Mike O’Connor has been untouchable. The secret to the Mets’ disastrous collapses of 2007 and 2008, and the miserable seasons since, has been the startling truth that the relief corps has never been as good as it is right now…
The Yankees appear to be dealing with the resurfacing of an old problem. First it was Ruben Sierra showing the kid a great time, late at night, after night games. Exit Mr. Sierra. Then his running-mate was Melky Cabrera. He was a late-inning game-winning machine in 2009. Nevertheless, exit Mr. Cabrera. Now it is a spare outfielder supposedly escorting the should-be MVP to see the bright lights of big league cities. The should-be MVP is hitting .275. There are rumblings that it may soon be Exit Mr. Spare Outfielder…
Speaking of exits, it may be hard to believe this, but my understanding is that Sandy Alderson, doing all due diligence to try to revive the team from Queens, has asked almost every club what they might give him for every one of his key players. You can forget the Jose Reyes talk: the Mets and the MLB caretakers working unobtrusively with them know they must re-sign Reyes. There are intriguing answers when the Mets say “Ike Davis” and, surprisingly, “Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran.” The answers offered when they say “David Wright” are stunningly low. The rap is simple: perfect public face of a franchise. Wonderful teammate. Great guy. Productive hitter and deft fielder. Durable. And not to be relied upon in the clutch. The yield for David Wright might be less than the yield for Carlos Beltran (FYI absolutely none of this comes from Sandy Alderson or anybody in the Met front office)…
Not to re-stir an old pot but Alex Rodriguez still looks to Yankee coaching assistant Brett Weber’s third-row seat from the on-deck circle. You remember Brett, right?But Brett isn’t always in his seat. He was, Friday. He wasn’t, last night. And it’s possible I’ve missed it, but I have not seen him throw a signal at A-Rod or any other Yankee, or wiggled any fingers, or held up a sign, or even as much as looked back. He may have taken an order for fries in that headset for all I know, but from what I’ve seen, he has not violated communications rule C4…
“WE TALKED ABOUT FEET”
As we look at the rogues’ gallery of baseball friends with whom I’ve posed this season, the touching saga of how Twitter brought together an underrated Marlins’ outfielder and a guy with a similar foot injury (me) is in the papers today, right here. LoMo portrays a certain raunchiness in his Twitter feed. I don’t want to hurt his street cred, but he’s also a polite and thoughtful guy. As is Andy Samberg from SNL, with whom I had the pleasure of sitting through the last of the Yankees-Red Sox games. Delightful sequence of pitches during a Swisher at bat. The first of them is lined straight back and bounces off the screen right in front of me. Mr. Samberg laughs appropriately. The next one is lined straight back and bounces off the screen right in front of him. His laugh is delayed by only about a second. He shouts “Swish! What the heck? I was an A’s fan!”You know this fella. Interviewed Harold Reynolds in, I think, 1987 or 1988. Worked with him at ESPN in 1996 and 1997, most memorably at the Jackie Robinson Game. Continues to anchor – in the more literal sense – the studio work at MLB Network, although Mitch Williams, Dan Plesac, Joe Magrane, all the other analysts and all the hosts have helped create the best TV start-up I’ve ever seen.
“‘Scuse me?” Harper deadpanned up from his seat in front of a locker in the visiting clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The reporter tried again: “Are you going to remember that first RBI?”
“Did I get an RBI?” Harper’s act had reached its end and he smiled broadly. “Just kidding! Yeah.”
It had come in the 8th inning of a sloppy 10-8 Washington victory over the Yankees, off the prototypical AAA pitcher, Romulo Sanchez. But the single to right made the loudest sound of any ball connecting with any bat all day, and it was probably not coincidental that rightfielder Colin Curtis then bobbled it.
It’s not as if they’re going to put a plaque up to indicate it happened, although it was noteworthy that when Harper went into the game in the bottom of the 5th, as he jogged out to right, the other team’s crowd applauded loudly, as they did for his two plate appearances, as they did when he first emerged on the on-deck circle.
The first ribby also inspired remarkable perspective on comparative quickness. We will each have our own perspective on October 16, 1992. It was the day of the book party for Madonna’s $50 book of naked pictures of herself. The next day, Tom Glavine would four-hit Toronto to open the World Series. It was three weeks until Bill Clinton’s first presidential election. I had already been working at ESPN for ten months, Derek Jeter had already played 58 games in the minor leagues, and one of Harper’s current Washington teammates, Matt Stairs, had already played 13 games in the major leagues.
He was referring, of course, to the “30 to 40 at bats to get yourself ready,” during spring training – and not the seemingly lightning route that has put him in a major league camp at the age of 18 years and not even five months.
That route seems to challenge the expectation that Harper will have seen three Spring Trainings before he appears in a big league game that counts. It is noted that at this time in 2013 he will still be a young 20 year-old and that’s quick enough. Except the ball explodes off his bat and his adjustment to the outfield has already been such that he was as proud of starting a relay that nailed the Yankees’ Austin Romine at third base as he was of the RBI hit (shown to the left in what you’d say is a crappy photo, until you realize it was taken from the distant press box with an unaided iPhone).
Many newly-official men have looked like star big leaguers at 18. To go back to placing Harper’s birth in perspective, the ill-fated Yankee phenom Brien Taylor had already struck out 187 guys in his first 161 innings of pro pitching the day Harper was born. But it is hard to believe the Nats would arbitrarily slow down his pace through the minors to stick to an artificial deadline of 2013, because it isn’t just Harper’s physical game that’s so impressive.
His attitude is also already pretty well developed. Harper was asked by the small crowd of reporters around his cubicle what he thought of playing in a packed stadium festooned with Yankee self-promotion, and he admitted it was “awesome” to have shared a field with Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia and all the rest. He said “awesome” twice and added Nick Swisher to the pantheon of impressiveness, which should make Swisher say funny things later on.
But then Harper was asked if he’d said hello to any of these Yankees (even Swisher, who was almost 12 when Harper was born). “No. I don’t really care to say hi to anybody over there. I stick over here.” I wondered if that was humility or competitiveness. “You try to beat ’em. That’s what I am. If we’re off the field? Hey, I’ll go and say hello. You can be my best friend off the field and I’ll hate you on the baseball field. That’s how I am…on the field, I want to kick the crap out of you.” (By the way, here’s Dave Sheinin’s version of this in The Washington Post, including the very relevant detail that Harper grew up around Las Vegas as a Yankee fan).
One game, one portentous spring training, one killer instinct, and one exhibition game RBI do not mean you should step directly into the majors at 18. But they do tend to support the idea that suggesting it is theoretically possible at 19 is not at all crazy.
A LITTLE PHOTO TOUR OF (MY) SPRING TRAINING OPENER:
Take a nice deep breath:
An almost-forgotten pre-game ritual: The visiting team taking infield (and outfield) practice. The catchers are Derek Norris and Jesus Flores, the coaches Jim Lett and John McLaren. When I asked Washington manager Jim Riggleman about this, he said there was nothing better for a team before a game. “But on the road, the groundskeepers look at you like you’re crazy! ‘Get off our field!'” It looked to both of us like none of the Tampa groundskeepers had been alive the last time a big league team taking infield on the road, which may have gone out with Earl Weaver:
Whether or not his team actually beats the New York Yankees, I have to start this by standing up and applauding Ron Washington’s primary gamble.
Versus All Minnesota LHP 11-39 .282 two 2B, two 3BVersus Fuentes & Mijares 1-7 .143Versus Duensing & Liriano 10-32 .313
Admittedly it’s a small sample (two starts and five relief appearances) but there are some indicators. Though Marcus Thames tattooed Brian Duensing for a home run, none of the Yankee Seven hit a long ball off any of the lefties, even though Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, and Teixeira all batted righty against them.
My buddy and ex-colleague Rich Eisen of NFL Network asks a fascinating question. Apart from his meltdowns against Minnesota and Boston this week, Mariano Rivera has another startling skein in progress.
Having careened through the NL (Rockies beating the Braves in the NLCS, after the Rockies had beaten the Reds, and the Braves the wild-card Giants), we begin three nights’ worth of AL divisional previews, in the East:
BALTIMORE not have pitching. Surely they could have pitching by 2011, but right now
there is nothing on which to rely beyond Kevin Millwood, and no team relying on
Kevin Millwood has made the post-season since 2002 (and what is the excitement over
a pitcher who has produced exactly three winning seasons since that long-ago
last playoff appearance?). There are also worries offensively. Adam Jones was a
superstar at the All-Star break, but flatlined soon after, and any team relying
on Garrett Atkins clearly has not seen a National League game since 2006.
the unasked question in BOSTON: would the Red Sox rather have David Ortiz at DH
this year… or Luke Scott? Where, production-wise, will Not-So-Big-Papi fall in
2010? I think he’s behind Guerrero, Kubel, Lind, Matsui, Scott, and maybe
others. If the demise of the beast continues, the Red Sox are suddenly
presenting a very pedestrian line-up, one that might be the second weakest in
the division. Of course, Theo Epstein might have made this determination
already, which would explain the willingness to fill the big openings with the
great gloves of Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro, rather than slightly bigger bats
that couldn’t have changed the overall new dynamic – the Red Sox are a pitching
and defense outfit. Mind you, as those outfits go, they’re among the best in
recent years. The rotation is deep enough to survive Matsuzaka on the DL, the
bullpen robust enough to survive if that soggy finish by Papelbon in the ALDS
was more than a one-game thing, and the cadre of young cameo pitchers has been
refreshed with the rapid maturation of Casey Kelly. But no matter how the Old
Towne Team fairs in 2010, keep the Ortiz thought in the back of your mind. What
if the second half of ’09 was the aberration, not the first half? Will the Sox
have to bench him? And if so, could the twists and turns of fate find them
suddenly grateful that they had been unable to trade Mike Lowell?
Oh is this
a conflict of interest. This will be the 39th season my family has
had season tickets in NEW YORK, and I’m not convinced the Yankees will be
hitting me up for playoff ducats this fall. Things I do not expect to see
repeated from 2009: 1) A.J. Burnett’s reliability and perhaps even his stamina;
2) Joe Girardi’s ability to survive without a reliable fifth starter (if Phil
Hughes really can pull it off in this, his fourth attempt, he might become the
fourth starter if my instincts on Burnett are correct); 3) Nick Swisher’s
offensive performance (his average and his RBI totals have never increased two years in a row); 4)
Derek Jeter’s renaissance (as the Baseball Prospectus folks note, 36-year old shortstops
deteriorate quickly); 5) Jorge Posada’s prospects of getting 433 plate
appearances (which begs the question: if you were hoping to DH Posada on
occasion, why did you sign as your primary DH, a guy who cannot play the
outfield, and can barely play first base?). As I have written here before, I am
not buying the premise that what in essence was a trade of Melky Cabrera,
Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, for a full-time Brett Gardner plus Curtis
Granderson and Nick Johnson was necessarily an upgrade – even if Javier Vazquez (9
career post-season innings; 11 career post-season earned runs) was thrown in,
in the bargain. Anybody wanna buy some of my tickets?
BAY, I’m betting 2009 was the fluke and not 2008. What does one not like about
this team? Is rightfield confused? Stick Ben Zobrist there and let Sean
Rodriguez have a shot at second. That doesn’t work? Wait for mid-season and the
promotion of Desmond Jennings. You don’t like Crawford and Upton? Bartlett and
Longoria? Pena? The law firm of Shoppach and Navarro? The Rays seem to summon a
fully-grown starter from the minors each year – Price in ’08, Niemann in ’09,
Wade Davis in ’10. I do not think Rafael Soriano is the world’s greatest
reliever, but his acquisition is an acknowledgment that championship teams do
not muddle through with closers who pitched in All-Star Games prior to 2001.
What is the most remarkable fact about this extremely talented and balanced
team can be summed up by the caveat I have to offer in praising them. Shortly
after they were ransomed from Vince Naimoli, I discovered to my shock that a
college pal of mine had, for all these years, been married to the man who had just
done the ransoming. A
few innings later, Stu and Lisa Sternberg and I sat in their seats at Yankee
Stadium and he was earnestly asking how I thought he could convince the players
to accept a salary cap so the Rays could contend. I told him I wasn’t sure, but
he wouldn’t have to worry about it any earlier than our next lifetimes. So what
you are seeing in Tampa is, in fact, Plan “B” – and it may be the greatest Plan
“B” in baseball history.
know TORONTO is a small market team? Here is something the writers apparently
promised not to tell: the Jays got almost nothing for Roy Halladay. Sorry. When
the reward was Travis D’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor, it was only a
pair of pants being pressed. When the Jays inexplicably swapped Taylor to
Oakland for the lump-like Brett Wallace, it became the full trip to the
cleaners. One of the oldest rules of talent evaluation is: if a prospect has
been traded twice in four months, he may not be quite the prospect you think he
is (one of the older rules is: if one of your starting middle infielders has a
weight clause in his contract, you only have one starting middle infielder). On top of
which, when you consider the Jays paid $6 million in salary offset for the
privilege of giving Doc away, this trade has to be called what it was: a salary
dump in which ownership was admitting it had no interest in competing. Jays
fans are left to cheer three very exciting hitters in Aaron Hill, Adam Lind,
and Travis Snider; to try to get the correct spellings and pronunciations of the
guys in their rotation (“excuse me, are you Brett Cecil, or Cecil Brett?”);
and, since there really won’t be much else to do under the roof this summer,
buy and read injured reliever Dirk Hayhurst’s marvelous book The Bull…
oh, sorry, did I already mention it?
Tampa Bay steps back into the forefront in an exciting race with the
well-managed but decreasingly potent Red Sox, and bests Boston by a game or
two. The Yankees contend – possibly even dominate – into June or July before the
rotation, and/or Posada, and/or Jeter, blow up, and they fade to a distant
third. The Jays and Orioles compete only to be less like The Washington
once again, how happy would they have been if you had told the Phillies before
the World Series started, that after four games, all this would have been true:
Sabathia would be winless against them in two starts?
Utley would have hit three homers against Sabathia?
Philly sluggers would have produced two-homer games and seven blasts total?
Blanton would have produced a five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance?
Lee would have pitched a complete game?
Phillies would have rallied off the Yankee bullpen in the eighth?
Howard would have stolen a base and then scored the tying run thanks to his
Teixeira would have held to 1-for-14, Melky Cabrera 2-for-13, Robinson Cano
2-for-14, and Alex Rodriguez, 2-for-15?
Girardi would have had to bench one outfielder and might have to replace
another one due to injury?
are the little things that usually put a team ahead three games to one, not
behind by that margin. While Johnny Damon has rightly been lionized (and would be the Series MVP to this point), there are two totally under-reported secrets to the
Yankees’ success. Consider the last outs Sabathia got last night: Jimmy Rollins
lined a one-bouncer directly to Alex Rodriguez, and Shane Victorino flied right
to Nick Swisher. Throughout the Series, particularly last night, the Yanks’
major league scouting – coordinated by Gene Michael – has positioned its
fielders nearly perfectly, exploiting pitch selection and a thorough knowledge
of where each Philadelphia hitter is likely to hit a given pitch. I’ve always
thought somebody could get a PHD calculating just how little Yankee fielders
had to travel to get balls hit by the Braves in the 1999 Series, when Michael’s
charts were at their maximum value.
other hidden headline: Damaso Marte, a pitcher who before the Series would have
been ranked somewhere behind the Phillie Phanatic in likely impact on the
outcome. All he has done thus far is strike out Utley and get Howard on a fly
while the first game was still close, punch out Howard and Werth and get Ibanez
on a liner in the third game, and retire Howard on another fly last night. He
has been flawless after a 9.45 ERA and just five holds during the regular
But by no
means are the Phillies dead. One of the realities of those “Advantage Phillies” stats listed above is that they either won’t last, or that if they do, they are likely to suddenly start producing dramatic results for Philadelphia, and possibly in sufficient supply to produce three straight wins. And Joe Girardi has opened the door for that slim hope with the decision to go with A.J. Burnett on short
Rather than risk Chad
Gaudin, with Burnett available on extra rest in Game Six, and Andy Pettitte on
the same (or Sabathia) for Game Seven, he will pitch Burnett with a line-up
behind him that could lack not just a DH, but also perhaps Cabrera and Jorge
Posada. As it lays out now, Burnett, Pettitte and Sabathia will all go on short
rest in pursuit of one win. Or it won’t be Pettitte in Game Six – it’ll be Gaudin anyway.
So, you’re the Phillies and three games into the World Series, you have already beaten CC Sabathia, and two of your stars have each produced a two-homer game. You’ve limited Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira to one hit apiece. You caused Joe Girardi to bench Nick Swisher, you’ve faced Phil Hughes for four batters and gotten three of them on base, and you’ve not only scored first in every game, the latest you’ve scored your first run is the third inning.
Nothing against the multiple talents of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys but the pregame performance is a LITTLE LOUD.
This is not specific to such programs. They appear to have borrowed Spinal Taps control knob for the Yankee Stadium PA System. An Air Force flyover would probably be drowned out by the Yankee Trivia Quiz.
Nick Swisher, benched tonight in favor of Jerry Hairston, to a Yankee employee wishing him luck: Yeah Ill need it for my next at bat – in Game Seven.
One other thought before Game Two starts: wasnt there a time in the games history when a pitcher like Cliff Lee making a basket catch as he did last night would be greeted by an angry batsman charging the mound?
OK, I might have to completely revise my assessment of the Yankees. In the Bronx last night, in one of the ten best baseball games I’ve ever attended, the New York club tied it on Rodriguez’s homer, benefitted from a horrible call in rightfield, staved off bases loaded and none out on Robertson’s pitching, and got the winning run on Teixeira’s parabola off the top of the left field wall.
Jason Varitek, who for my money is the only reason the head-to-head matchup between the teams offering us playoff previews tonight here in the Bronx end up 4-3-2 Yankees instead of 4-3-2 Red Sox, must have just tied some kind of dubious record. In the first inning he and Jon Lester were victimized by three stolen bases without a single throw. Two were on balls that popped away from the Boston veteran but the third was not. It was pointed out, in the Baseball Prospectus Annual I believe, that veterans who guide pitching staffs without contributing offense are not called catchers – theyre called coaches. If Varitek is not producing that vaunted glove and brainwork behind the plate the Stockings need to move him out, Victor Martinez in, and almost anybody to First.
The Sox sloppiness afield has cone in contrast to the unlikeliest of Yankee brilliance: a Joba Chamberlain barehanded pick-up of Ellsburys squib in the first, and a stop, slide, and hope grab by Nick Swisher to rob Ortiz just now in the second.