Here It Comes

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:10
Apr 292015

With that title, you will surely think I am talking about the inevitable Yankee injuries, and you are partly right: they put Tanaka on the DL last night, and started Chase Whitley in his place. Whitley had a solid start (5 IP, 1 ER, 55 GS) and the Yankees’ shut-down bullpen pitched 4 innings allowing 1 run, so they won 4-2. And they had always planned to pitch Whitley, giving each starter an extra day, so it doesn’t actually disturb things: they’ll just rescind the extra day, and everyone else will go on normal rest, with Whitley taking Tanaka’s place. AND they increased their AL East lead. Tanaka is not complaining of elbow pain, but rather wrist/forearm, and they are saying, at this point, a month or so. We’ll see.

But what I really want to talk about is the Cubs kids. Kris Bryant we know about: he was in the news all spring, is now with the big club, and his 1 for 4 with only a single last night brought his season line down to .341/.471/.439/810. And we KNOW he has power, so that 098 ISO will surely rise. Then last week they brought up Addison Russell, and he has yet to hit (.179/.207/.286) but has been brilliant in the field at second base, and last night hit a key double, his fifth of his very young season (fun note: HIS ISO is .107, BETTER than Bryant). NOW they bring up a third kid: Junior Lake. He started in left field, went 2 for 5 with an RBI double. Lake was not a debut (he played 108 games last year) but adds to the youth movement.

We have been talking about this for a few years, how the Cubs had a very deep minor league system, and the players might coalesce at the same moment. Consider these players and their ages:

Addison Russell, 2B 21

Jorge Soler RF, Kris Bryant 3B, Arismendy Alcantara IF (currently back in AAA) 23

Anthony Rizzo 1B, Junior Lake LF, Starlin Castro SS 25

That’s SIX of last night’s eight position players at 25 years old or younger. And the Cubs have money: they could conceivably keep this core around for a long time.

Is their pitching good enough to win? Hard to say. Will they be fun to watch? Easy to say, YES!

Meanwhile, on other fronts: I almost feel prescient – I said before the season started that I was NOT on the Red Sox bandwagon, that their starting pitching was worse than people thought and that they would lose a lot of games 11-8. Well, they lost one last night by EXACTLY that score, as Clay Buchholz (preseason anointed ace) and a bunch of relievers melted down so much that even their pounding bats couldn’t keep up. The Red Sox have outscored the Yankees, 109 to 107 in the same number of games (21) which is 5.19 R/G which in today’s run context is outstanding. But the Sox have ALLOWED 118 (5.62 $/G) worst in baseball, while NY has allowed only 81 (3.86 R/G). Unlike previous seasons, this year so far the Yankees deserve a BETTER record (by the Pythagorean rule) than they have, and the Red Sox a worse record. In the case of NY, it is entirely due to 3 blowout wins, which so early in the season tip the RS/RA ratio, but in Boston’s case it is earned. I may do April scorecards on Friday if I get ambitious.

The most fun game of the day yesterday, by far, was the Nats and Braves. Washington scored first, a 2-out RBI double by Harper in the top of the first. AJ Cole made his ML debut for the Nats, and his first inning went single, out, single, sac fly, wild pitch, double for 2 runs and a 2-1 deficit. Sadly, that was his GOOD inning. In the second it went single, single, sac bunt, intentional walk (!!), single, line out. One run in, two outs, bases still loaded, but a chance to escape with minor damage. Another single plated a second run, bases still loaded, now down 4-1. A comebacker to the mound to end the inning, but Cole got excited, threw it away, and suddenly it was 6-1, runners on second and third, and still pitching. A double and a single plated 3 more runs (!) before a grounder ended the inning and his outing: 2 IP, 9 R, 4 ER, 1BB (intentional), 1 K (Game Score 12 – tough debut) . 9-1 Braves. The Nats got one back in the third, the Bravesmatched it in the fourth, to make it 10-2.

In the top of the fifth the Nats scored 4 unearned runs, on double, error, sac fly, strikeout, single, home run to close to 10-6. A Denard Span HR in the sixth made it 10-7 and ended Teheran’s day (GS 33). But single, double, walk added a run for Atlanta, and put two on with no outs. Just like the Red Sox game, the Nats kept scoring, but seemingly couldn’t stop the Braves from scoring, too. But Thornton came on and got out, out, walk (loading the bases), out to reestablish order. 11-7 Braves. Then, in the top of the seventh, the Nats rallied via walk, out, walk, out, triple, double for 3 runs to close to 11-10. NOW it was really a ballgame! AGAIN they couldn’t keep the Braves off the scoreboard, as they parlayed a walk and two singles into another run, to extend the shaky lead to 12-10. But in the top of the ninth the Nats got two on (walk, single) with only one out and Dan Uggla at the plate. Uggla hasn’t hit at all for years (ask Atlanta, his opponent on this day) and was only playing due to injuries, but on this day he already had 2 hits and 2 RBI. 438 feet later he had 3 hits, 5 RBI and a 13-12 Washington win. Wow!

The Dodgers fell to the Giants 2-1 (Kershaw and Bumgarner) for the Giants fourth win in five games against LA. As noted yesterday, they are a sub-.300 team against the rest of baseball. And the Mets couldn’t get it done, either: they gave up 3 in the sixth to trail 3-0, got them all back in the seventh to tie the game at 3, but lost 4-3 on a run in the eighth. Montero (GS 52) and Phelps (54) were both fine but not great, and C Torres allowed a run out of the bullpen (as opposed to A Torres, who threw a scoreless inning). You can’t win them all, I guess.

Isn’t this fun???

Strength of Schedule

Posted by Baseball Bob at 08:42
Apr 282015

Things baseball-wise, are pretty good in our home these days; it won’t last, but the four (!) teams that I am (sort of) rooting for this year are all playing well: the Dodgers (as expected) are in first place, as (unexpectedly) are the Yankees and the Mets. The Cubs are not in first place, but they are in second, only a game back of a Cardinals team that lost their ace, Wainwright, probably for the season, and two of their best players, Molina and Heyward, at least for a bit.

This got me to wondering, are these fast starts in part due to who these teams have played? The worst record in baseball belongs to the Brewers, for example, and the Cubs have played them NO times – still 19 to go! Many attempts have been made to assess strength of schedule, hereafter abbreviated SoS, and all these studies have concluded that for teams it doesn’t matter very much – perhaps a 2-game swing over 162 games. It matters MUCH more for a starting pitcher:  getting a lot of starts against bad teams can help the W-L, the ERA and even the FIP (that, actually is what xFIP is for, at least a bit). But in a 20-game sample, SoS clearly CAN matter – the Pirates are 11-9, but are 5-1 against Milwaukee, 6-8 against everyone else. So, is there any way to measure SoS so as to be at least interesting (to be useful, it would have to be predictive, and NOTHING about a 20-game sample is all that predictive)?

What I came up with is this: all of baseball, not including the games of your teams, has a .500 record. So, if you take each team you have played, and subtract their record against you, you get a record which can reasonably be compared to .500. That is, this is a measure, not of how good a team is, but of how well they have played (or at least done) so far in the season. Did you catch the team at a good or bad moment? Are your losses to them a part of their overall winning pattern, or were they losing to others but beating you? This is not SO easy to figure, but it is not so hard, either, if you only do a few teams. I haven’t figured out how to automate it, so I can look at 30 teams, so I am only going to do my four teams, for the moment.

Mets 15-5 (best in baseball!) have only played in their division except the 3 interleague games against the Yankees. Not counting the games against the Mets, you get: Atlanta 8-5, Miami 8-7, Philadelphia 7-8 and Washington 6-11, plus New York 10-7. This is +1 overall, so their opposition is about average. You might want to weight this but the number of games played (6 against Atlanta, 5 against Miami, 3 each for the others) but this doesn’t really materially affect the conclusion, though they have played 14 of 20 against teams with winning records when not playing the Mets.

Dodgers 12-7  also have played only within their division except interleague against the Angels. The records when not playing the Dodgers: Arizona 6-10, Colorado 11-5, San Diego 9-6, San Francisco 5-11 (!!), Seattle 8-8. This is -3 and with 5 games against the Giants, and 6 against Arizona, the weighted average would be worse still.

Yankees 12-8. Boston 9-8, Baltimore 7-9, Toronto 7-10, Tampa Bay 11-5, Detroit 13-3 Mets 14-3. So the Yankees have faced VERY GOOD competition, with the bad teams not very bad, and the good teams very, very good. This, of course, is what set me on this road, noting the Mets record, even though they lost their series to NY.

Cubs 11-7. Cincinnati 8-6, Colorado 10-6, Pittsburgh 9-6, San Diego 9-9, San Francisco 7-8. So the Cubs, like the Yankees but not to the same extent, have played teams that have done well when not playing the Cubs.

The flaw in this methodology became obvious, though, early on: the Mets opposition in large part played against each other, so naturally their record will be about .500. Dodgers ditto. The Cubs and Yankees DID have some games outside of their division, and in the case of the Yankees, they played the teams with the two very best records in baseball (when not playing the Yankees) and took both series.

Indicative of nothing, but fun. Note, too, that the Cubs have yet to play the Cardinals (or the Brewers) – a lot of games with both teams will have a huge impact on their season. Are the Brewers as bad as the Cardinals are good? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the most interesting, to me, of all the numbers above, are the Tampa Bay numbers. In recent years the Rays have beaten the Yankees like a drum, but so far THIS season NY is 4-0 against the Rays, who still have a very good record by beating up on everyone else in the division! And the Giants are 3-1 against the Dodgers, 5-11 against the rest of baseball.

I LOVE this game!

Higher Still

Posted by Baseball Bob at 11:12
Apr 252015

It was NOT, as it turned out, the Yankee high-water mark. They blew into Detroit, beat the Tigers three times and it could easily have been four: they led 1-0 in the seventh inning of the other game, intentionally walked the go-ahead run to first, and almost got away with it – a potential DP ball went off Gregorius’ glove to plate the tying run. Surprisingly, they entered the weekend series with the Mets in first place, which made it the first time EVER that the Mets and Yankees played a regular season game with both teams in first place. AND they pounded DeGrom to win that game, making today’s game the SECOND such game. So after taking 3 of 4 from the team with baseball’s best record, they now beat the team that replaced them as the team with baseball’s best record. Now, if they could only beat the teams in their OWN division!

Meanwhile, some other funny stuff from the standings: those 11-2 Tigers are now 11-6 and trail the Royals by a game and a half, the Mets may have lost to the Yankees, but they have an amazing four and a half game lead on the division, and SIX over the presumed class-of-the-division Nationals. The Dodgers and Cardinals sit atop their respective divisions, which is hardly a surprise, and the Yankees actually share their division lead with Boston, also no surprise. But who among us predicted that the ASTROS would lead their division after 16 games???

A-Rod has cooled off, as we all expected – I think he will be productive all year against lefties, unless he gets hurt, but his early success against righties was probably a fluke. But he is selective at the plate, having now walked 14 times against 17 strikeouts, a terrific ratio for an aging slugger, and so his OBP and SLG are still excellent despite his batting average, and his OPS is a pretty acceptable 982. The surprise of the year, really, has been the hitting of Chris Young, who has forced himself into the consciousness of the Yankees with a .357/.426/.762/1187 line, and not all of it against lefties. Why you would play Beltran and his .173/.241/.288/530 line instead is a mystery to me.

But what has really happened as the Yankees won 7 of 8 games is what I have said all along: the Yankees will go as far as their pitching takes them. In this 8 game stretch the Yankees game scores have been 34, 81, 47, 62, 60, 42, 67, 72. They scored a bunch for Adam Warren (the 34 and 42) and lost the 62 (Sabathia). So they have been both scoring runs AND preventing them, which is how you run off a win streak. The Yankees are +25 runs and 10-7, and they have won 3 games by 9 or more runs. But if you remove these three games (+28) then they are 7-7 and 3 runs below break-even: they deserve their record.

Since they have recently demolished both David Price and Jacob DeGrom, apparently they do BETTER against premiere pitchers: we’ll see if it holds up against Matt Harvey!

Life is good, and so is baseball.

High Water Mark?

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:11
Apr 202015

The Yankees yesterday completed a first-ever road sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. Yes, Tampa Bay used to be terrible, and the Yankees regularly swept them in Florida, but they weren’t the Rays then. Since they became the Rays in 2008, which also correlates to the point where the year-in-year-out top pick merry-go-round finally panned out and Tampa Bay became a contender, no sweeps for NYY in Tampa. Till now.

The Yankees won a workman-like 5-3 game, in which the three runs scored on outs, and one on an infield single that might have been handled. But they lived on base (leadoff man in the first SEVEN innings) and scored 5 runs without the benefit of a home run. Pineda was not sharp, but pitched well enough, and the bullpen was again shut-down. The win evened their record at 6-6, and amazingly they are exactly ONE game out of first, as the Orioles and Red Sox are both 7-5, with the Rays and Jays at 6-7 and another 1/2 game out. Could be an exciting season in the AL East.

That said, this may be the Yankees high-water mark. While my take from watching the games is that the Yankee rotation has pitched better than their results, at SOME point you have to look at the results. And things are about to get worse: they go to Detroit for 4 games, and THOSE guys are hitting the cover off the ball. And these games are part of a 25 road games in 35 total games stretch, and the start of a 30 games in 31 days stretch. It is not all that difficult to see the Yankees 10 games below .500 before the end of May. And that is WITHOUT assuming the inevitable injuries: if, say, Tanaka goes down, or Pineda, and if Chris Capuano turns out to be, well, Capuano-like, things could get ugly indeed.

The Yankees have FOUR regulars hitting below the Mendoza line (Drew .167, Beltran .184, Teixeira .184, Gregorius .189) and while this can change quickly at this time of year (McCann was at .149 but a 3-for-3 made it .250) this is troublesome, especially because all four struggled to hit last year, as well. The ONLY non-pitcher with an fWAR above 0.3 is (of course) A-Rod at 0.7, despite a negative fielding value (he played one game at first, making an error, and one game at third, with no range).

An interesting side note: the Yankees have thirteen position players on their roster (considering A-Rod, who is not a pitcher, anyway): SIX are left-handed batters, FOUR right-handed batters, and THREE switch-hitters. The four righties are A-Rod, Chris Young, John Ryan Murphy and Gregorio Petit – one DH and 3 subs. By wOBA: A-Rod  .487, Young .437, Murphy .3.4 (OK, Petit is .153). The three primary righties are 1, 2 and 4 on the team in wOBA, with only Gardner at .363 of the 9 left/switch players. Girardi’s pattern (if patterns exist after 12 games) is to play A-Rod every day, Young against lefties (resting one of the outfielders) and play Murphy against lefties (platooning with McCann!) AND on day games after night games. McCann has started 7 games, Murphy 5. Of course, Murphy is HITTING better than McCann, so the plan is not a bad one.

Meanwhile, the Amazing Mets won their 8th straight (OK, the last 4 against the Marlins) to have the best record in the NL and 2nd best in MLB. And the Cubs are 5-1 against the Brewers, and 1-5 against everyone else. Can they play Milwaukee about 100 times? They would be in the playoffs for sure.

One last Yankee oddity: the Yankees moved on Saturday (with their 9-0 win) to a positive run differential, which of course they extended yesterday. This is the first time since April 24, 2014 that this is true! A full year (and a year in which they had a winning record) without ever being at a point that they scored more runs than they allowed. And this year they have done it, after just 11 games, by outscoring the opposition in two of those games by 19 runs, be outscored in the other 10 by 15 runs.

Go Yankees! (and, I have to add, Go Dodgers, Go Mets, Go Cubs – I have FOUR rooting interests this year, oddly). When did I become a Mets fan? I’m not sure, but there it is. They ARE fun to watch, and interesting to root for.

Apr 182015

I have been annoyed this spring (and expressed it here) that the press thinks that the Yankees are All A-Rod All The Time. EVERY headline, every story was about him, even though there were other pretty compelling stories to be answered: How would the rotation (Tanaka, Pineda, Sabathia, Nova) fare health-wise and baseball-wise? Could Gregorius & Drew hit their way out of a paper bag? Would Ellsbury, Teixeira, McCann, Beltran bounce back? Would Betances/Miller be awesome? Is Hal an idiot (OK, that one is not so compelling). Would they miss the playoffs for the third straight year?

Anyway, yesterday again the headlines were all A-Rod all the time, but not so annoying: he hit a MONSTER (est: 471 feet) HR to open the scoring, a laser (never more than maybe 15 feet off the ground) HR to tie the game at 4 after Yankee starter Adam Warren gave up 4 runs in 4 IP, and then singled in the go-ahead run in a 5-4 Yankee win against Tampa Bay. NY really had no business winning this game: they had only 5 hits (3 by A-Rod) AND a failed starter, but they got 5 scoreless innings from their bullpen, 3 HRs (Steve Drew had one), and their two singles came in the same inning. Hard to sustain a season with wins like this, though.

The Mets are cruising, and you have to think at this point that they will finish ahead of the Yanks. They are 8-3 with the Yankees at 4-6, a 3 1/2 game lead. Now 3 1/2 games after 11 games of a 162 game season is basically nothing, but if you have two teams projected for essentially the same win rate, then even if the hot/cold start doesn’t change your projection at all, the team with the lead will finish better probably 70% of the time. If you add in what little you learn of the teams from the early returns then it becomes 75 or maybe 80%. And THOSE are betting odds. The factors that are missing: who is more likely to suffer team-limiting injuries (Yankees), and who is more likely to spend money to try to stay in the race (also Yankees) but they probably cancel out. Sigh.

Meanwhile, Detroit (now 9-1) continues to roll (Good News? Yankees play them next) and Boston is living up to expectations in the early returns (7-3). And after initially struggling, the Dodgers are now on a 5-game win streak of their own, and back atop the NL West (tied with the Rox) and looking pretty good.

Not a lot of time today, but despite NY’s struggles I am loving having baseball back!

Ten Days In

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:00
Apr 162015

We are ten days into the new baseball season, and, of course, anything can still happened. And will. But still, what fun is it if we don’t speculate? These observations are in no particular order: I am not saying that the first is most likely or the last is least credible, but just that these are the conclusions that I jump to:

1) The Yankees are worse than the Mets. I can be optimistic about their starters, even in the face of the actual runs allowed, but at some point I have to face the fact that Tanaka is a junk-baller with a partially-torn labrum, Sabathia is a junk-baller who thinks he is a power pitcher, Pineda is a power pitcher who probably can’t stay healthy, Eovaldi is a kid with electric stuff that can’t keep it together and Warren is a terrific starter that the Yankees are apparently going to send back to the bullpen just as soon as Chris (gulp!) Capuano is available. Ugh.

2) Shane Greene is more valuable than Didi Gregorius. Of course, without Didi a lot of balls are going to find the hole at shortstop. On the other hand, if I want a good-fielding shortstop to hit .140, I already have Steven Drew!

3) The Orioles are probably going to be fine. Despite the annual analysis suggesting that the Orioles overperformed, they seem intent on overperforming every year. Is it possible that Buck Showalter is just worth about 7 WAR?

4) The Nationals are not as invincible as we thought

5) The Red Sox rotation will NOT hold up

6) The Phillies ARE as bad as we thought

7) The Padres ARE going to be fun all year, and are probably NOT going to, you know, win

8) Mike Trout can be gotten out with high, inside fastballs. Until he adjusts (I predict about another week) at which point, well, he’ll be Mike Trout

9) The Twins are going to lose 100 games

On an unrelated note, did you see that there was a 2-1 double play earlier this week (Sunday or Monday)? I watched the highlights of every game so far this season, and it wasn’t mentioned (????). But I had never seen a 2-1 DP. I had never heard of one. I sat for 10 minutes or so and tried to dream one up. No luck. Can you? No, you can’t. Oh, in case you stumbled in here from Mars (or from College Basketball) a 2-1 double play is one in which the first putout is credited to the catcher, an assist is credited to the catcher, and the second putout is credited to the pitcher. Got it?

OK, how can that happen? Pitchers don’t record a lot of putouts. The most common one is a grounder to first, pitcher covering. The next most common one is a popup that is too short to wait for a real fielder. The next most common one is a line drive that the pitcher spears. NONE of these are remotely possible as the SECOND putout of a given play.

Occasionally a pitcher gets a putout and a catcher gets an assist when a wild pitch or passed ball goes to the backstop, a runner tries to score from third, the pitcher covers and the catcher recovers the ball and throws him out. Happens 2-3 times a year. So that was my first guess: runners on first and third, 0 or 12 outs, batter strikes out on a wild pitch. Batter is out, because he can’t run to (occupied) first base with fewer than two outs, catcher chases the ball down and flips to pitcher for the out. Technically, a “strike-em-out throw-em-out” double play, 2-1 (catchers get putouts on strikeouts, for some reason). Plausible, and may have happened sometime in the past, but that wasn’t it.

OK, that got me thinking about this: a runner from third can tag up if a ball is caught in the air. Usually that is to the outfield, of course, be we have seen tagups on foul popups, especially if the play is far from the plate and the catch is tough (falling into the stands, sliding into a wall, etc.). So, suppose with a runner on third the ball is fouled behind home plate, or toward the dugout, and the catcher races over. The pitcher, naturally, covers home. The catcher makes the play falling down, or falling into the dugout, or some such, and the runner decides to tag and try to score from third. Throw home, and a 2-1 DP. Semi-plausible, but it didn’t happen this way, either.

Somewhat same idea, though fair territory: bases loaded, batter pops up a bunt, runners charge thinking it will fall (could even be suicide squeeze). Anyway, pitcher is running toward home (toward the ball), catcher makes a diving catch, runner keeps going (he needs to go back to third, of course), prone catcher flips to pitcher who tags runner, even though he could throw instead to third. 2-1 DP, though pretty improbable. Didn’t happen this way.

What really happened is something I didn’t even come close to imagining. Runner on first only (!). Runner leaves on the pitch, intent on stealing second. Batter pops up foul between first and home, toward first-base dugout. First baseman and catcher both chase it. Second baseman goes over to second AS IF THERE WERE A DP CHANCE. Runner, not seeing the catcher successfully field the popup, thinks instead the second baseman is trying to deke him into sliding (he WAS trying to deke him, after all) and rounds the bag, only to realize the third base coach is screaming at him to get back. He retreats but the pitcher covers first and the catcher throws to him to double off the runner. Close play at first, the catcher had to wait seemingly FOREVER for the pitcher and runner to get there, and it was bang band. 2-1 DP. Hasn’t happened before since we have play-by-play date (mid eighties?). Cool.

I LOVE this game. I don’t yet love this Yankee team, though I am trying.

Still on 1998 Pace

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:05
Apr 142015

The Yankees won their second straight after the 1-4 start, exactly matching their record-breaking 1998 campaign. The primary difference: you don’t expect this Yankee team to win. I watched this whole game last night, and while it was happening there was NEVER a point where I felt that they were likely to win! Let me step you through it.

The Yankees opened the scoring with a home run by Chris Young. Michael Pineda was on the mound, but he seemed to be laboring in the early going. Only a matter of time, I said. In the fourth inning, sure enough, the laboring broke through. A series of hits caused the Orioles to take the lead 2-1. One of those hits was a hard ground ball down the third-base line. No, the Yankees weren’t shifted, and I expected Chase Headley to field that ball, though not necessarily to be able to recover and get an out. But Headley wasn’t AT third base – it was Alex Rodriguez. At this point in his career, and after TWO hip surgeries, he has the range of a cigar store Indian, and the ball was into left field for a double. Well, I thought, the onslaught has begun, and there is no way the Orioles are going to lose this home opener.

Then Pineda decided to find his stuff and retire about 10 Orioles in a row, Mark Teixeira hit his third home run of the young season (all from the right side, go figure) and the game was tied at two. Only a matter of time, I felt, even though the objective evidence was there in front of me that the O’s were have a terrible time scoring, too. But Pineda allowed a baserunner, and was allowed to pitch to Adam Jones, and I could feel the apprehension rise. And Jones put a charge into the ball and put it in the seats for a 4-2 Oriole lead, and my concern was clearly justified.

Righty Hunter replaced lefty Chen for the seventh, to face Young and Murphy, two Yankee right-handers, and I knew this inning would be a bust. Not quite: Young singled and Hunter lost the strike zone, walking Murphy. Two on and no one out, but Brian Matusz was ready in the bullpen, and the next four Yankee hitters were Gregorius, Petit, Ellsbury and Gardner. All but Petit hit lefty, and Petit doesn’t hit at all. So Matusz would come in, shut down the Yanks, and that would be that. No, Showalter left Hunter in. He got Gregorius to fly out, and the Yankees pinch-hit lefty Garrett Jones. Oh, I thought, THAT was what they were waiting for: get light-hitting Gregorius out, get NY to commit to the lefty pinch-hitter, and THEN bring on Matusz. Didn’t happen, they stayed with Hunter. Announcers speculated that Matusz, having thrown two innings the night before, wasn’t really available, but was a deke by crafty Showalter. Anyway, THAT worked for Baltimore, too, as Jones flied out, no advance.

Ellsbury up, and it works AGAIN as he makes weak contact and pulls a ground ball toward second. But the contact is SO weak that the second baseman has to charge and throw off-balance, and the first baseman couldn’t handle the throw, and it was ruled a hit because it did require more than “ordinary effort” but clearly the Yankees did nothing to deserve the bases loaded. Still, with Gardner due up and STILL no Matusz, there was a flicker of hope until I realized that it was Steven Drew, he of the 118/118/118/236 line, coming in to hit for Gardner. Gardner was hit on the wrist by a pitch in the first inning, and apparently it had swelled up and he had to come out. I guess Showalter figured that ANYONE could handle Drew, especially a hard thrower, but darned if Steven didn’t get hold of a meatball (94 MPH but right down the middle, belt-high) and park it in the seats in right-center for the first pinch-hit grand slam by a Yankee since Jorge Posada in 2001. 6-4 New York.

And STILL I had a bad feeling about the game. Pineda came out for the seventh, even after his shaky sixth, and single, strikeout, single ended his day with the tying runs on base. Dellen Betances came in, which SHOULD have inspired confidence but in fact he has struggled all spring, and into his limited appearances in the first week. He couldn’t locate his fastball, so he was throwing mostly breaking balls, which is NOT what inspires confidence about him, and Caleb Joseph (only playing because Wieters is still hurt) singled sharply to left. Gardner and his laser arm were no longer out there, but Clark had moved from right to left (Jones in right, Drew at second), and he got off a throw which caused the runner to scamper back to third: bases loaded, one out, and leadoff batter De Aza at the plate. Nervous, nervous, nervous. He hits a ball slowly to Drew, who has been shaky at second, but Drew fields it fairly cleanly and throws to Gregorius at second, whose relay to first is so far off-line that Teixeira has to make an all-world play, fully horizontal with no part of his body within a foot of the ground to keep a second run from scoring and a tie game.

Betances is wild, and two straight balls are nowhere near the zone – on the second De Aza steals second without a throw, so a hit now puts the Orioles ahead. Pearce walks on 5 pitches, bringing up Chris Davis with the bases again loaded. Davis has struggled, and had already struck out three times, but still: Betances wild, the man with more HRs than any other the past two seasons at the plate, in his team’s home opener, in a homerun haven of a ballpark, with 55,000 enthusiastic fans shouting encouragement – you just KNOW that something bad is going to happen for the Yankees. Betances throws him four pitches. The first is low and he swings over it. The next is inside and he pulls it hard, foul. The third is low and away, and he lets it go by. The fourth is a curve ball in the dirt, and he swings at it and strikes out. 6-5 Yankees, two innings to go.

Betances comes out again for the eighth and allows a leadoff single to Adam Jones, and you just KNOW that the Orioles are going to at least tie up the game. Jones breaks for second, getting a good jump, on a 2-2 pitch (ball three) and John Ryan Murphy, who has had throwing problems, chooses this moment to throw a perfect low strike, and Jones is out. One pitch later Snider walks, and you STILL know the O’s are going to rally, with the dangerous Manny Machado at the plate. But Girardi has seen enough of Betances, and he brings in Andrew Miller for a 5-out save. A year ago this is inconceivable: he removes the righty Betances, and brings in lefty Miller to face righty Machado. Has to backfire, right? Miller, too, is a bit wild, and throws four straight pitches out of the zone, but Snider swings at the third one for a foul strike. He pumps a fastball in there for a called strike, and breaks off a nasty slider that Machado misses for a strikeout. He strikes out Shoop on three straight pitches – it is hard to tell but I’m not at all sure that ANY of them would be strikes if taken. One inning to go.

Three quick outs and Miller is back out for the ninth, to protect a 1-run lead. And NOW, finally, I begin to wonder if NY might actually win this game. Baltimore came into this game leading the AL in HRs (and they hit another in the game) but they are now tied for the league lead with (can you guess?) the much-maligned Yankee offense, who have 3 in this game for 12 in 7 games. Miller strikes out Cabrera in an 8-pitch at bat, but Caleb Joseph really launches one on a mistake fastball. The announcers think it might go out, but it is hit to straightaway centerfield, where there is room in every ML park, and Ellsbury CAN cover ground. He makes a nice catch, not actually spectacular but pretty good, and I can breathe again. Just as I think the drama is over, he hits Young (batting for De Aza) with a pitch. He throws two balls to Pearce, then a called strike (taking all the way) and induces a ground ball to Drew. Drew bobbles it (heart in mouth) but recovers and has plenty of time to throw to Teixeira to end the game. Whew!

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the Red Sox pound “best team in baseball” Washington 9-4, the Tigers win streak is done at 6, falling 5-4 to the Pirates, and KC demolishes pitiful Minnesota 12-3 to remain perfect. Fun times.

I LOVE this game!

Apr 132015

In 1998 the Yankees got off to a horrible start. They lost their first three games. they played a long fourth game, prevailing in extra innings after 4 1/2 hours, but were flat in game 5 and were blown out 8-0. I clearly remember talk about how they had holes in their offense (no left fielder, shaky second base, aging players at first base and right field). It wasn’t true, not really, as the aging players were 30 and 35. But they had an unproven kid at shortstop, and a patchwork rotation. But after the 1-4 start they exploded in the sixth game, winning 13-7 and it wasn’t that close. It was the start of great things: they ran off an eight-game win streak, lost one, won six more in a row, lost one, and won eight more in a row. If you are counting at home, that means they went 22-2 over their next 24 games, to be 23-6 and in command of the pennant race. They ultimately won 114 games, blew through the playoffs 11-2 and are considered one of the greatest teams of all-time. Notably, they were not really a team of stars (though Bernie Williams had his best season) but were a team without holes: the only position player listed by Baseball-Reference with an OPS+ under 100 is Chad Curtis in left field, but left field was NOT actually a hole – Tim Raines (OPS+ 107) and Darryl Strawberry (OPS+ 132) also played there (Straw is listed at DH) and Shane Spencer (OPS+ 236!) blazed across September with 10 HRs in 67 ABs.

Sadly, the 2015 Yankees are not the 1998 Yankees, but the early season similarities are eerie. They started 1-4, had trouble scoring runs with their only real output being in the extra-inning game, their pitching was good enough to lose or lousy, including the bullpen (Mariano was hurt to start the year). This description fits equally with both seasons. And yesterday the Yankees broke out, just like the 1998 Yanks, with a 7-run first inning against Red Sox “ace” Clay Buchholz en route to a 14-4 pasting of the Red Sox. All they have to do to keep the parallel going is go 21-2 over the next 23 games, and I’ll be a happy man!

Having said repeatedly that the early returns were not quite as bleak as they seemed, since every Yankee starter pitched pretty well the first trip through the rotation, I have now to say that the win yesterday was not as good as it appears. Yes, the Yankees DID get some legitimately hard-hit balls (they are actually SECOND in the AL in Home runs!!) but walk with me through the big first inning:

Ellsbury walked, as Buchholz was wild. He broke for second and when the shortstop went over to cover Brett Gardner swung late and hit a 50 foot dribbler toward short, where no one was. Ellsbury, running on the pitch, easily took third. Murderer’s Row here we come! Beltran hit a grounder to first, too SLOW for the Sox to double him up, as Ellsbury scored. Woo-woo big offense! Teixeira came back from 0-2 to walk, as Buchholz lost the strike zone again, And McCann pulled a DP grounder to first base to end the inning. Only Napoli bobbled the routine play, and the bases were loaded instead. NOW Buchholz was shaken, and gave up a double to A-Rod, and HRs to Headley and Drew (!) for a 7-0 deficit. Go Yankees!

Tanaka pitched, for me, the same game as last time: he was pretty good in all but one inning, but lost it a bit that inning and allowed 3 runs (last time 4 runs). The media say he was much better, and maybe so – after the big first inning he was throwing strikes, and the Sox hit some of them, and that is OK. And the Yankees scored a bunch more runs, so their offense at this moment looks deceptively find: the team stats in runs scored, in OPS, etc. look upper-half of the league, and if THIS team is 6th in the AL in offense, they are likely to win a lot of games, assuming the pitching holds up reasonably. But one game does NOT a season make, and 18 runs in 5 games is more indicative than 13 in 1 game, especially when lots of the 13 runs were semi-meaningless, and some of them generated like the start of this game.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are not the only team in the game, even if my blog seems to show that. The Tigers and Royals both moved to 6-0, the last undefeated teams standing, as the Braves fell to the Mets with the ageless Bartolo Colon going seven pretty strong innings (GS 58) for the tight 4-3 win. The Reds and Rockies, both 4-0 a couple of days ago, have both lost back-to-back games. Bubble burst easily. Talking about history, the Tigers start is the first 6-0 start since 1985. One more win will surpass that team which lost its 7th game, but the REAL comparison is to the 1984 team, which had the best start in ML history: the won their first 9 games, lost one, won 7 more to be 16-1, lost again, won 3 to push to 19-2, lost a pair, and then won 7 straight to be 26-4 after 30 games. Wow! Then, after losing that 31st game, they won 9 MORE in a row, to make their quarter-season record 35-5. Now THAT’S a start!

The Tigers go to Pittsburgh for the Pirates home opener this afternoon, to try to extend their streak. The Royals are in Minnesota, so perhaps their task is a bit easier. If anyone cares, the Yankees play in Baltimore tonight.

History awaits! Not likely that these Yankees (or Tigers) will answer her call.

Another Ugly Loss

Posted by Baseball Bob at 08:57
Apr 122015

My prediction of a 20-142 season for the Yankees may not be that far off, if things continue as they are now.

The Yankees got ANOTHER solid start, this one from Adam Warren (1 ER in 5.1 IP – GS 51), but this time an exhausted bullpen let them down (6 R in 3.2 IP), the defense let them down (4 unearned runs) and the offense let them down, again. After 7 innings against emergency Boston starter Joe Kelly, the Yankees had 1 run on 1 hit and 1 error: all three courtesy of Alex Rodriguez, making his first ever start at first base. He dropped a routine throw on his second chance in the field, but this did NOT really lead to the Sox first run: yes, that baserunner scored but only because Brett Gardner turned the wrong way on a fly ball with two outs and that runner on third. But the Yankees were throwing the ball all over the field, and flailing at pitches all night. Joe Kelly is not THAT good.

The run they scored in the second inning when A-Rod singled, advanced to third via a pair of walks, and scored on a sac fly, was the first one they have scored in five games within the first four innings of the game! While the metric I use suggests that an offense has done its job when it scores 4 runs, which they have done 3 times in 5 games, it comes with caveats: in their only win, they scored 3 in the 8th without a hard-hit ball, in the third loss they scored 5 runs but only 3 in the first nine innings, the other two in ten additional innings, and last night they scored 4 runs, but were down 8-1 before scoring the final three runs that improved their winning chances from 0.1% to about 1%.

A look at the Yankee batting averages tells the tale: Garrett Jones and John Ryan Murphy lead the team at .286, both 2 for 7 in limited play. A-Rod is next at .278, no one else is over .250, and batting-title qualifiers Teixeira, Headley, Gregorius, Drew and Beltran are all below .200, with Beltran at a nifty .100. Drew is particularly noteworthy, picking up BELOW where he left off last year: his .118 batting average is particularly empty, as that is ALSO his OBP AND his SLG! No walks, no extra-base hits. He does have an error though, so he is not a complete zero.

Today’s fun stat: Brock Holt had more fWAR IN LAST NIGHT’S GAME than the Yankees’ entire lineup for the entire season!

End of rant. Go Yankees. Please.

What a Friday!

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:34
Apr 112015

MLB’s efforts to shorten the length of games to draw a better, younger audience didn’t reckon on the Yankees and the Red Sox. Historically the slowest game anyway, last night they played for 6 hours and 49 minutes (!!!) which was the longest game in Sox history and the second-longest in Yankee history. I don’t know when the longest was, but I think I may have attended it as a youngster: Dad and I went to a Saturday double-header and the first game went very long (memory hazy but my recollection is something like 20 innings). Dad wanted to stay to get his money’s worth, and we didn’t get home till after 10 for a 1 pm start! Anyway, this one could have had the same result and been over in just over 3 hours, but Chase Headley’s only hit in 19 innings was a 2-out, game-tying home run in the ninth to send the game into extra innings.

The Sox got two runners in the 10th, 2 more in the 11th, a leadoff single (and sac bunt) in the 13th and baserunners in the 14th and 15th as well, while the Yankees ONLY threat in extras was A-Rod’s one-out double in the 11th. Yankee-killer David Ortiz put the Yankees out of their misery with a long home run with one out in the sixteenth inning for a 4-3 Boston lead. But Mark Teixeira, a notoriously slow starting spring hitter, led off the home half with a right-handed home run to retie the game, and the marathon continued. The Yankees got a walk and a single in the 17th, but no threat, because Gardner was picked off first before the single. In the 18th Esmail Rogers, pitching in his fourth inning, hit Dustin Pedroia leading off. After Ortiz flied out, Hanley sent Pedroia to third on a single, and Sandoval scored the go-ahead run with another single. But shockingly, McCann and Beltran both doubled in the bottom of the inning, tying the game once again.

Rogers (the last Yankee reliever) gave up a single and a walk and then backup catcher John Ryan Murphy, in the game because he ran for McCann in the 18th (and scored the tying run) allowed a passed ball to put the runners at second and third and a Mookie Betts sac fly to fairly shallow center plated what proved to be the winning run, as the Yankees did not have another 3 am rally in them: Ellsbury did start the inning with a single, but after Gardner tried to win it with a home run swing that fell well short, Beltran grounded into a well-played DP to end it. Wow!

The unlikely quintet of teams that started 3-0 (Reds, Rockies, Braves, Royals and Tigers) ALL managed to win again on Friday. Detroit built a 5-0 lead, saw it shrink to 5-3 but then cruised to an 8-4 win. The Royals rode the strong pitching of Jason Vargas to a tight, 4-2 victory. The Reds built a 5-1 lead over the Cardinals, only to have to hang on by their fingertips to win 5-4 in a nail-biter. The Braves got 3 runs early, saw the lead evaporate against the Mets, and then scored two late runs for a 5-3 win. Only the surprising Rockies had an easy time of it, never trailing in a 5-1 win against the Cubs. Most of these teams haven’t seen a 4-0 start in a long time.

The Dodger’s Adrian Gonzalez was on base 3 of 5 times , causing his OBP to drop over 100 points (!) as the Dodgers fell to Arizona in 10 innings. Gonzalez’ 1 for 3 (with 2 walks) caused a sharp dip in his .769 batting average 2.077 slugging percentage (they now stand at a mere .722 and 1.750) The Dodgers, apparently need him to return to form, as they can’t win if he doesn’t hit for at least 8 total bases in a game!

Tin Lincecum threw 7 strong innings (GS 71) and Brandon Morrow did the same for the Padres (GS 73) but Jeremy Affeldt allowed the Padres and 8th inning run and a win. But perhaps the most fun game of the day was played in Florida, an inter-league in-state-rivalry (really?) game between the Rays and the Marlins. Played before only 17,00 fans, the Marlins got a run in the first on two singles, a stolen base, a wild pitch and a baserunning blunder. They failed to score in the second, but Rays pitcher Steve Geltz was removed after two innings in his first ever major league start. Maybe that was the plan all along, to just go with a set of relievers, and if he was hurt there is no mention of it in any of the game summaries I read. Anyway, if that was the plan, it went badly awry: Erasmo Ramirez loaded the bases with no outs in the third on a walk, a single and a HBP. His defense bailed him out, getting a DP as the second Marlins run scored. Kiermaier homered leading of the fourth for TB, cutting the lead to 2-1. Ramirez came back out for the fourth, with about equal effectiveness but less help from his defense: single, walk, double, out, walk loaded the bases with one run already in. A 2-run single, a 2-run double and an RBI single made it 8-1, with Erasmo still toiling.

Dan Haren, the forgotten man in the Dee Gordon trade, pitched 6 fine innings for the Marlins (remember that the Dodgers are paying 100% of his salary, and everyone expected him to retire?) allowing just the one run, striking out 2 and walking none (GS 62) and so the Marlins took that 8-1 lead into the seventh inning when Miami brought in David Phelps. He allowed a leadoff single, but retired Longoria, all still good. Another single put two on, and back-to-back walks forced in a run, and ended his day with the bases loaded, an 8-2 lead, and only one out. In came Sam Dyson. In case he is not a household name for you, he is 26 years old, and had a good season (ERA 2.14 in 40 IP) as a rookie last year. His only other appearance this year was last Tuesday when he allowed 2 hits and 2 walks but only 1 run in 2 IP. In THIS game, though, he got a strikeout for out #2 and then issued back-to-back walks (are you sensing a theme?) for two more runs and an 8-4 score. With David Dejesus announced as a pinch-hitter, the Marlins brought in AJ Ramos to pitch. Dejesus hit a 3-run double to make the score 8-7, and Cabrera (who had led off the inning with a single) got his second single of the inning to tie the game at 8!

Dee Gordon got on base with one out in the bottom of the eighth in classic Gordon fashion (after a single he hit a DP-like grounder and beat the relay throw), stole second, and scored on a single by all-world Giancarlo Stanton to allow Miami to take a 9-8 lead. Somehow, though, you knew this one was not over: in the ninth a leadoff double, a shallow single that did NOT score a run and ANOTHER beaten-out potential DP tied the game at 9. Shockingly, in the bottom of the 10th, Gordon actually hit a legitimate gap double with one out, and scored easily on Yelich’s ground-ball single. Not to worry, there was only one out and Stanton on deck, so Miami was going to win it anyway!

Baseball is FUN. I’m sure much more happened, but my fingers and eyes are tired. Yankees and Red Sox again this afternoon, and I confidently predict that the game will be shorter than last night!

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