Sunday, April 30, 2006

Where Are The Ks?

Another bad outing by the Unit yesterday, who got rescued by the Yankee offense's weekly 15-run outburst.

The guy's been a mixed bag this year, with some very good starts and some bad. The thing that I find intriguing, though, is how low his K/9 IP rate has become. While nobody expects the guy to have 12/9 IP like he had in his best years, even in '05 he had a very good 8.42/9 IP average.

But so far this year, Johnson has 25 K in 36 IP, good enough for a 6.19 K/9 IP ratio. If this lasts the whole year, that would by far be his lowest career total. And for a guy like Johnson, whose repetoire is all about fanning batters, that's got to be worrisome. This is not Chien-Ming Wang we're talking about here, a guy who can rely on his sinker to get people out. Johnson is simply not blowing his fastball past hitters anymore. Even in his gem against Baltimore, he had only 5 Ks in 8 IP. Very un-Unitlike.

If Johnson keeps stinking it up, the Yanks better hope Mussina keeps doing well. He's had a great April, and will be finishing off his April later today. His start so far reminds me of his April in '03, when he went 5-0 with a 1.70, and helped the Yankees get off to a great start even though Jeter was injured, as Michael Kay would be quick to note.

But his ERA in other months that season: 3.90 in June, 4.78 in July, 2.76 in August, and 4.45 in September. And people wonder why I call the guy inconsistent, even after his performance so far in '06. But I guess compared to everyone else in the rotation so far, the guy's been the only reliable starter for New York. After Moose, the lowest ERA in the Yanks' rotation is Chacon's 4.56 mark. So if and when Moose gets injured or starts struggling, Yankee fans will have to worry. Or pray for Clemens, or the 2006 version of Aaron Small.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Is This It for Mariano "Charlie Brown" Rivera?

I know, this question's been asked a zillion times every time he's blown a save or two, but no one lasts forever (except Julio Franco, apparently), so is this the end of the line? Will he be Mr. Automatic, or will he be John Franco of the late '90s, where you hold your breath every time he takes the mound?

Well, in the six games he's pitched so far, only once did he record a 1-2-3 inning. He's allowed 10 hits and 2 walks in 7.1 innings. Granted, he's entitled to some stinkers here and there, and as long as he gets the outs when they count (namely, in September and October), the Junkee fans won't care if he screws up many times throughout the season.

The bottom line is the Junkees are going to be the race all season, as none of the other teams in the divison have shown dominance. Boston looked like it had the potential to make things interesting, but I can't trust Wakefield anymore, and they need another starter to replace Wells.

Toronto has no bullpen, and the Orioles are a joke. So the Junkees will have those big games where they win 11-9 and will coast into September. The question is, if Charlie Brown isn't the same (and I call him that because he looked like CB in Game 4 of the '04 ALCS when he blew the lead - remember how he was all stretched out during the game-tying hit up the middle?), and the Junkees are in a close game with the White Sox or Red Sox during the playoffs, can you trust him to get out Thome, Konerko, Manny, Ortiz, et cetera?

Hopefully not.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's Tampa Bay Time Again!

One of the highlights of '05 for me happened around this time last year. The Yankees were struggling, and they had a four-game set against Tampa Bay. I figured, "if the Yanks are gonna turn it on, it's probably gonna happen now. Four games against Tampa Bay is a huge treat for them." Of course, that series turned out to be a treat for Yankee-haters all over. And until TB got swept in September, the fun lasted all summer. And it gave some of the Rays' young starts some exposure, like Jorge Cantu and Jonny Gomes.

The reason the Rays won was the explosive offense; and that hasn't changed much since last year, except for Randy-killer Eduardo Perez going to the Indians. For better or worse, the Rays miss Johnson this series. And the rest of the offense is picking up where it left off; Gomes is off to a torrid start, with 9 dingers already. The pitching, unfortunately, is pretty much the same, except for a couple of guys they got in the Danys Baez trade.

Game One is a pretty good pitching matchup - Kazmir vs. Mussina. Moose has been good his last few times out, so he's due for a bad outing. Kazmir did pretty well against New York last year - 1-1, 2.77.

Game 2 looks like a slugfest - McLung, who has a 6.75 lifetime ERA, goes for TB. And Wang, who, as Joel Sherman put it, looks "ordinary" this year - goes for the Yanks.

Game 3: Chacon, who struggled worse than his numbers showed on Saturday, vs. former Net Mark Hendrickson. Mark went 3-0 vs. the Yanks last year.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Will The Yankees Heat Up?

So far this year, the Yanks have just looked mediocre. In years past, it seems like they've either looked incredible or downright ugly, like last April. And the '06 Yanks aren't showing the lethargy of last year's team. Last year, while it was fun to watch the Devil Rays and Royals kick the tar out of the Yanks in the early going, you had a feeling things would turn around. And of course, they did.

But as things stand today, the Yanks are 7-7. Will they stay a .500 team?

I think this year, it's very possible. After all, how many players are currently underperforming? The offense is pretty much all there. The Yanks are hitting .298, third-best in the game. They're not going to score 15 runs every night. Maybe they'll score 9-10 runs twice a week, maybe 3 times if they're facing crappy pitching. Which is exactly what has gone on so far.

And the pitching has been what you'd expect. Mussina has been inconsistent as usual, though he pitched a great game Wednesday. Johnson can dominate occasionally, but isn't reliable. And the rest of the rotation is still a question mark. In fact, they might be overperforming; the Yanks' 4.05 team ERA is second-best in the AL.

So clearly, the Yanks can hit and occasionally pitch. They're playing pretty much up to par so far this year. Will they turn into a 100-win machine? If the numbers in the early going have any relevance, then I don't think so.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Yankees Now 2-6 Vs. Major Leaguers

You knew you couldn't take the three-game sweep against the Royals seriously. Kansas City sucked to begin with, and without Grienke, McDougal, or Redman, and with Runelvys Hernandez very out of shape, the team is a joke.

The Twins are a pretty good team, but they've slipped over the past couple of years. The emergence of the White Sox and Indians, along with the lack of cash catching up to them, have turned them into another has-been. Their pitching is still their strong point, even though Santana usually starts off a bit slowly. But their hitting has always been weak. This year, the lineup consists of a mix of decent young guys like Mauer and Morneau and mediocre-at-best vets like Luis Castillo and Tony Batista.

But they've managed two impressive wins against the Yanks. On Friday, the inconsistent Moose had his usual bad start. And some guy I've never heard of managed to hold the Yanks to a run.

And Saturday was a combo deal from both Wright and Rivera. You knew Wright would suck. Seems like everyone knew, except Ca$hman and George, apparently.

It's always a treat to see Rivera blow a game (though I don't think anything will top the thrill of Game 7 of the '01 WS). But I can't get too excited. Last April, he blew two saves against the Red Sox. There were murmurs that the guy was losing it. And then he proceeded to have another dominant year. So unless Rivera has six blown saves come June, I have no doubts as of yet.

It's only April, and maybe after enough games against the Orioles, plus a few times facing Seth McClung, the Yanks will move up in the standings. But as we've seen the past few Octobers, the Yanks always have trouble with the good teams. And in '06, that's as true as ever.

- The Yanks made another couple of "nothing-to-lose" moves, picking up 1B/DH Carlos Pena (who was part of the Jeff Weaver deal) and RP Jesus Colome (a guy who's gotten his butt kicked by the Yankees on many occasions). I don't see these guys having nearly as much impact as Chacon and Small. Pena might be an improvement over Andy Phillips, and Colome is just insurance for Farnsworthless and Villone.

But if these guys turn out to be any good, I don't want the Yankee fans to talk about Cashman's genius. The Yanks just gave these scrubs a few thousand bucks more than anyone else was willing to offer, and figured, "why the hell not?" Just like with Chacon and Small.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What's Up With Wang?

It always seems to happen to me. I write a post called "So Far, Same Old Story,"and the Yanks proceed to score 19 runs in the next two games. And of course, it was all capped off by Captain Intangibles' big home run. So the offense has awoken, at least against a AAA team masquerading as the Kansas City Royals.

But Cheing Ming Wang had a lot of trouble with that AAA team's lineup. And after two starts, I know it's a small sample size, but the numbers aren't good. Opposing batters are hitting .326 against Wang. His control has gotten worse, too. He used to average about 3 pitches per batter; the number so far this year is close to 7.

Maybe Wang is just off to a slow start and will turn back into the guy who baffled hitters for most of '05. Or maybe all the opposing teams and their scouting reports have the guy figured out. At one point last year, YD said that Wang would be done in '06. I disagreed, thinking that Wang would have a long career as a #3-type starter.

It's still to early to tell how things will turn out, but getting hit hard by the Royals is not a good sign at all.

UPDATE: I guess you can't trust with numbers all the time. So yeah, batters are "only" hitting .326 against Wang this year.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

So Far, Same Old Story

When spring training started, everyone was all horny over the attitude in the Yankee clubhouse. "They're more hungry this year." "They're more relaxed." "Snorre and Cashman are happy again." "It feels like 1998."

I never got what the big fuss was all about. Aside from Damon, the Yankees didn't really improve the team over the offseason. And no, all those scrubs in the bullpen don't count. And last year's surprises of Small, Chacon, and Wang didn't mean a whole lot.

But after that first game, when they absolutely battered Barry Zito, I thought "wow, maybe all the pundits are right. Maybe the Yankees actually will score 1,000 runs this year." In the four games since that game, however, the Yanks haven't scored 15 runs altogether.

Having a good hitter like Damon on top of the hitter helps somewhat, but too many other guys in the lineup are struggling. You knew Posada and Bernie would suck. And Giambi's bat has slowed. Is BALCO gonna get another call in May? And Cano's batting .200. You can't get too excited about a rookie year. And I know it's only been a week, but you can't tell me for certain that Cano will heat up.

And right there, that's almost half the lineup. And guys like A-Schmuck and Sheff have, as usual, not gotten the big hits. Doesn't sound like a 1,000 run-scoring machine to me.

I have a feeling once the Yanks come home and face crappy teams like Baltimore and Tampa Bay, the hitting will heat up. So I'll enjoy this while I can.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Mariano: Give #42 Back!

My take on Mariano Rivera: the guy's an excellent pitcher, one of the best relievers of all time, but he clearly has no reverence for baseball history.

After all, who does he think he is to go co-opting Jackie Robinson's #42? Did Rivera ever have to face the tremendous task of breaking baseball's color line? I don't think so. Did he ever deal with racist taunts from opposing players? Not quite.

Is Rivera trying to fancy himself as some sort of revolutionary here? Trying to put himself on the same level as Jackie Robinson? Does he think that he's revolutionized the game in the same manner? What a conceited ass.

Maybe the Yankees are just trying to be like the Brooklyn Dodgers here. The Dodgers have been gone for almost 50 years, but they're still a huge part of the city's nostalgia. There are plently of exhibits and displays of Dem Bums, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, and all the rest. Perhaps the Yanks are just trying to steal the Dodgers' thunder. And what better way than to have their player wear #42, the only number retired by all of baseball, the number that is immediately associated with Jackie Robinson.

And don't tell me "Oh, Rivera had it first." I don't care. After April 15, 1997, when #42 and Jackie Robinson became forever intertwined in baseball history, Rivera should've stood up and said, "#42 is now Jackie's number. I can't wear it anymore." But no! I guess the Yankee mystique won out.

-- And that is all I have to say about the Billy Wagner "Enter Sandman" controversy.

Farns-worthless Screws Up; Snorre's Bonehead Move

I should've started an office pool for when Kyle Farns-worthless would start stinking it up as a Yankee. Well, if you picked the third game of the season, you're a winner! I clicked on the Yankee game after a night out last night, and as soon as I tuned in, I heard Thomas was up and Huston Street in the pen. Then came the John Sterling classic - "it is high, it is far, it is -- (awkward pause) -- off the wall! All three runs will score..." And just like that, it went from a 6-4 game to 9-4.

But we can't just blame Farnsworthless for this disaster. Jaret Wright gave up the triple to Bradley to begin the inning, and Cano picked up right where he left off last year. All throughout the spring, we heard about how the Yankees' new incredible coaching staff was going to turn Cano into a Gold Glove. Hasn't happened yet.

-- And after Tuesday's game, I was wondering, "why didn't Snorre put Rivera in there in the 9th?" Instead, the guy went to Scott Proctor. I still don't know what Snorre is horny over Proctor. The guy stinks. So why bring him in against a contender?

And I know what Yankee fans will say, "what do you mean, it's only April! Torre didn't want to wear Rivera out!" But hey, this is the regular season. And every game counts. And if the Yankees fall one game short of a playoff berth, the fans ought to look back at this game, which Joe Snorre botched up.

And for you ESPN Insiders, Rob Neyer agrees. In fact, in his latest book, he rips Snorre a new one for Game 5 of the '03 World Series, when Rivera was left unused. Instead, Weaver gave up a homer to Alex Gonzalez.

As Fred Hickman would say, those who forget their mistakes are condemned to repeat them.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

They Won't Score 15 Runs Every Night

I know it was only Opening Day. But I've seen too much to be able to sit back and say, "it's one game; the Yankees are going to crash back down to earth." Part of me fell for the hype about the lineup and thought, how is anyone going to get these guys out?

It's one of those baseball cliches, but it's true: if your team runs into a hot pitcher, forget it. You can have great hitters, but a pitcher who's got his stuff going will take care of your team rather quickly.

And in a scene all too reminiscent of last year, the Yanks went 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position last night. Hey, these guys can hit. But if they can't string it together, what's the use?

So, at least for a day, the 2006 Yankees playesd just like the old teams.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Here We Go Again (Game 1 of 2006)

Don't have much to add to what Manny wrote about the Junkees, in fact, he brought to mind the beginning of 2003, when the Junkees started out 16-3. Michael Gay got all horny about the fact that they did it without Jeter, as he was injured in that "dirty play" in Toronto. So at 16-3, everyone was saying how they were going to win 120 games, they're unstoppable, blah, blah, blah.

Not quite. They came back down to earth. Yes, they won the division, but Snorre aged fifteen years that season.

Also, we know that when you buy all stars at every position, you're going to score a lot of runs every day. The question is how their pitching will do (and I disagree with Manny - I think Chacon is back in the pen by June), and how they'll fare against the White Sox in October.

So as much as I'd like to write them off and enjoy a Junkee-free October, I know it's not likely.

- Let's also remember that their 15-2 win is just as good as if they'd won 15-14. In other words, it's just one win, the same as Boston's win on Monday.

- Gotta like that Ron Villone stunk up the joint in his one inning of work. Let the carousel begin.

Let The Blowouts Begin (And End)!

So the Yankees are off to a fast start this year. The A's, everyone's hot pick, got thoroughly embarrassed on their home turf. A-Schmuck came through in the clutch, but a few months too late. (Thank you, Ervin Santana) So did the Shemp. And Johnson pitched pretty well. I'm sure this game will be a Yankees Classic on YES soon enough.

Maybe it's good that the Yanks started with a bang. In '98, they had that 1-3 start and everyone was freaking out. We all know how that year turned out. Even last year, the Yanks had that awful April, but turned into the Yanks of old for the second half of the season. So maybe the Yanks start fast this year, and then fall off as the season progresses.

Besides, even if the Yankees sweep the A's, I can't get too excited. For a few years already, we've seen how the A's can be slow starters. They don't pick up the pace until June, maybe July. In fact, last year, the A's went 1-5 against the Yanks in May. The lowlight there had to be when Kevin Brown pitched 7 shutout innings against them. And in '04, the A's also went 1-5 against NY (the immortal Donovan Osbourne getting the W in a game there). Go back to '02, back when we thought Art Howe was the next Casey Stengel, and the A's went 2-4 in April/May vs. NY.

So beating the A's in April or May doesn't mean a whole lot. Especially when you've got the true Moneyball team, all $200 million worth, going up against them.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Manny's Crystal Ball

Opening Day means it's prediction time. I'm sure I'll be dead wrong on some of these, and come October some jerk will read this on the archives and see how stupid I was. But who cares, I like predictions. Here goes nothing:

- Johnny Damon does pretty well in his first year as a Yankee, but Coco Crisp puts up better numbers.

- Cano's numbers drop off somewhat from last year, but he still ends up as one of the better 2B in the league.

- The Yankees' most consistent starter in '06? Shawn Chacon.

- Aaron Small will be out of baseball by the All-Star break.

- Farnsworth will be the latest newcomer that can't handle New York. Dotel will develop as a setup man, but the Yanks will have the usual revolving door of Buddy Grooms and Gabe Whites.

- With his new contract and no rest, Shemp Matsui's numbers will slip. Not too much, but they won't go up.

- Posada will suck.

- Bernie will be on the bench come August. The Yankees will look for a Glenallen Hill-type to take over at DH.

- The Yankees will end up with the wild card this year. A healthy Schilling and Beckett lead the Red Sox to the top of the division.

- The Big Unit will blow another playoff game, A-Rod will forget how to hit, and the Yanks will have another first-round loss.

- And the White Sox will repeat as World Champs.

-- I liked what I saw from the Red Sox today. Especially coming against one of the AL's top offensive clubs. If they have more games like that, they'll be in very good shape.

And I always get a little pleasure when the Yanks start off the season on the road. It's nice to see Opening Day being celebrated in Shea. Especially when half of New York is asleep by the fifth inning of the Yankee game. Looking forward to seeing the Mets on the back page of the tabloids this year (in a good way), and hopefully a lot more than in years past.