THE WEEK THAT WANTED TO BE EVERYTHING
Johnny Damon delivered what might have been a season-saving hit for the Yankees on Sunday. Now the Yankees have to capitalize. Beginning on Tuesday, the club will play three games against the division-leading Blue Jays at Toronto. A letdown against the Jays, say dropping two of three games, would leave the Yankees with a 16-18 record and a long five games in the loss column to make up on the leader, with a similar number to be made up against the Red Sox. The Yankees currently have a 5-11 record against divisional opponents, and at that rate they won’t make it to the postseason. Showing up against the Jays would be a good place to start making a change for the better.
The good news for the Yankees is that the Jays have played 34 games, but 20 of them have gone against the American League Central. They’re 2-1 against the White Sox, 3-2 against the Indians, 3-1 against the Tigers, and 3-1 against the Twins. Only the Royals, who have taken three of four against them, have put up any kind of fight. Their only exposure to the AL East has come in three games against the Orioles. They have not seen the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays, which is to say that they haven’t proved anything as of yet.
That will change beginning Tuesday with the series against the Yankees. The Jays will meet the Red Sox six times before the month is out. They’ll also face some tough NL East opponents in interleague play, meeting up with the Braves, Phillies and Marlins, as well as the Reds and Nats. They finish June against the Rays, and then it’s all AL East for them into the third week of July, including a 10-game road trip to the Yankees, Rays and Orioles, and three more games against the Red Sox. They also bookend the month of July with two series at home against the Rays.
That last series against the Rays concludes on July 26. At that point, 10 days after the All-Star break, we’ll have a better sense of whether the Jays will hang around for the rest of the year or not, as they’ll finally have had a real test. Expect it to expose a number of Jays as having played over their heads to date. Whether or not the Yankees will be able to take advantage of this or not is another matter. The matchups for the current series — A.J. Burnett vs. Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte vs. Scott Richmond, CC Sabathia vs. Brian Tallet — argue for a good showing for the Bombers. Halladay is difficult to impossible, but Richmond is a journeyman mystery ripe for solving, and Tallet is left-handed — the Yankees have done very well against southpaws, hitting .319/.395/.533 against them to date.
Post-Jays, the Yankees commence a 10-game homestand against the Twins, Orioles and Phillies. The Twins are 4-8 on the road and haven’t pitched well, and the Orioles are the Orioles, even if the Yankees have split with them so far. The Phillies are a tougher nut to crack given their best-of-NL offense, but their pitching isn’t what it was last year, and should give the Yankees a better than fair chance of winning a few — their starters’ ERA is 6.28. Sure, Yankees’ starters have a 5.68 ERA, so maybe they don’t want to brag about their dominant hurling compared to what the champs have done, but at least they’ll have a shot.
It’s never wise to overhype a short stretch of the season, but it truly seems as if the Yankees are to make a statement, it’s going to be now. They have the opportunity and the means and the spotlight role of poking a hole in the Jays’ gonfalon bubble. If they can hold now, in a few weeks they’ll have Jorge Posada back and the team will be (theoretically) fully staffed for the first time all year and can really make some progress.
MORE OF ME
On Tuesday, May 12, at 1 p.m., I’ll be chatting live at Baseball Prospectus. The chat is open to all comers, subscribers and non, and if you can’t make it because you’re working or something (an unlikely excuse in this economy), you can enter your questions ahead of time at the foregoing link. I hope to see you there.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Braves 4, Phillies 2: Over his last seven games, Casey Kotchman is hitting .385 (10-for-26), and .347 over his last 20 contests … You think your team has closer problems. The defending champs’ closer Brad Lidge has an ERA of 8.53 and has allowed at least a run in his last three appearances.
Tigers 5, Indians 3: And the Motor City Kitties sweep. It feels like it’s in bad taste to refer to Detroit as the Motor City … Something has to happen to galvanize the Indians, a team that has more talent than it has shown thus far. That’s an understatement given that they have the worst record in baseball. Arizona had less cause to remove its manager than Cleveland does … This was a team that was expected to contend … Pitching coach Carl Willis. Seventh season, since 2003. Obviously the guy has seen his ups and downs and you have to respect the organization’s loyalty to a coach. Derek Shelton, hitting coach for five seasons. Has been there since replacing Eddie Murray in 2005. Toward the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency; the decision not to rearrange the infield around the acquisition of Mark DeRosa is open to second-guessing, though many first-guessed it … Justin Verlander’s last three starts, including April 27 against the Yankees: 3-0, 23 innings, 11 hits, five walks, 31 strikeouts, one, count’em, one run. Catcher Gerald Laird is 1-for-32 over his last 10 games.
Mets 8, Pirates 4: And it wasn’t as close as it looked — it’s just that the Mets used Sean Green. In Green’s first seven games, he allowed two runs in 7.1 innings. In seven games since then, he’s allowed 12 runs in 6.2 innings. Nonetheless, the Mets swept the series at home against the Pirates, won their seventh straight game, and went into first place; you can’t argue with that. The Pirates have lost eight straight and are in the basement of the NL Central. All is right with the world. A loss against the Cardinals on Tuesday would put them on a 100-loss pace … Note that the Mets have hit 13 triples — 11 at home, two on the road. Ironic that the team built an homage to Ebbets Field, and it’s playing just like it did the original for the Dodgers — the 1914 Dodgers.
Cardinals 8, Reds 7: Ryan Franklin, impromptu closer for this season after Jason Motte scared the pants off of ol’ Tony LaRussa on Opening Day, finally blew a save, giving up Adam Rosales’s first Major League homer, then a pinch-hit shot to Micah Owings. LaRussa used eight pitchers in 10 innings. It must have been hell.
Cubs 4, Brewers 2: What a contrast it is to listen to Bobby Fuller’s 1966 hit rendition of “I Fought the Law” back to back with the Clash’s anti-fascist insurrection version from 1979. Fuller sounds like a suburban kid picked up for trying to score some drugs on a Saturday afternoon trip to the inner city having told mom he’d be at the movies. That Fuller was found dead in a parked car adds another shade to the hapless tourist undone by the street scene. Has Sonny Curtis been put into any songwriting hall o’ fames as of yet? He wrote “I Fought the Law,” the Buddy Holly ravers “Rock Around with Ollie Vee,” the English lyrics to “Let it Be Me,” and, incongruously, “Love is All Around,” the theme to the “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” I’ll take the middle one, a minor classic that somehow never found a place in the Holly cannon.
Astros 12, Padres 5: Don’t let the Astros’ victories in this series of semi-exhibitions against the Padres fool you; they still stink on ice … How is it that LaTroy Hawkins allowed 26 runs in 33 games for the Yankees, b
ut in 38 games since then he’s allowed only seven runs? … Say you go to the Astros game this weekend and Lance Berkman isn’t in the lineup (he has strained cartilage in his left wrist). How do you not ask for your money back? It’s like going to see the Rolling Stone, but the part of Mick Jagger is being played by David Lee Roth … Pudge Rodriguez, of no apparent interest to the Yankees this offseason, went 4-for-4 to raise his rates to .273/.318/.495. His next home run is career No. 300 … Carlos Lee hit his sixth home run to reach .333/.377/.573, but his contract makes him untradeable. Even if not, most of the production is home cooking.
Rangers 7, White Sox 1: Jose Contreras is 0-5, 8.19 ERA and has been banished to the bullpen. Just thought it was worth mentioning for those who track ex-Yankees like so much orbital detritus. When Matt Harrison is pitching complete game shutouts against the White Sox, it’s (A) a great sign for the Rangers; (B) a portent of doom for the White Sox; (C) just one game; (D) all of the above.
Mariners 5, Twins 3: It was one of those wonderful moments. The Twins were leading, 2-0, in the top of the eighth. Ron Gardenhire yanked starter Nick Blackburn so that the rookie lefty Jose Mijares could pitch to the top of the M’s order. With one out, Mijares walked Jose Lopez to bring the faded Ken Griffey Jr. to the plate. Mijares, the young gun, threw the old gun a flat fastball with nothing on it, and Griffey hit it to the moon, or as close to the moon as you can get a ball in a domed stadium. That tied the game, and the bullpen gave the rest away later on … Good move by the Twins getting Matt Tolbert up to play second base for Alexi Casilla. Not that Tolbert is Roger Hornsby, but Casilla was miserable. Brendan Harris can probably out-hit both of them, but his glove gives defensive-minded managers fits … Where’s Adrian Beltre’s walk-year surge? (.234/.265/.328, one home run.)
Rockies 3, Marlins 2: Hanley Ramirez has an eight-game hitting streak going, during which he has hit .548 with four home runs and six walks … Bonifacio Watch: .250/.298/.311, hitting .205/.279/.231 in May. We’ll know the Marlins are serious when they make a change. Tough-luck loss for Chris Volstad, but one-run losses can be chalked up to an unfair universe or self-defeating lineup construction — your pick on Mondays.
Angels 4, Royals 3: As the resurgent Royals are swept by the fallen Angels, and lose ace closer Joakim Soria to the disabled list in the process. Egregious defense cost the Royals in this series (that and Joe Saunders out-pitching Zack Greinke by a hair). The defense will probably never be a calling card. It’s still hard to be more than agnostic about their chances given how much they have to depend on pitching, and within that guys like Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar … And Kyle Farnsworth. Still, S. Ponson is going to the bullpen, so we know that they’re not sleeping. On still another hand: Trying Luis Hernandez as your solution to a season-long slump by Mike Aviles is not a sign of seriousness. Inspirational line of the day: Bobby Abreu, 0-for-0 with four walks. Mickey Hatcher must stay awake nights wondering why he can’t get through that guy (and still no home runs).
Blue Jays 5, Athletic 0: In what would be a distinct novelty for Yankees fans, a team’s top pitching prospect actually, well, pitches. Eight innings, no runs, a ton of groundouts (12) and six strikeouts, the jubilation tempered only by the knowledge that the A’s are hitting like a team out of the deadball era (former Athletic Carlos Pena leads the AL with 13 home runs; the entire A’s club has 18). It’s another rabbit out o’ the hat for the Jays, and as we said here when they called Cecil up, a vote in favor of the bold: why lose with the dregs when you can bet on the upside? Smokey the Jay say, “No reason not to (and only you can prevent forest fires).” … Despite the league-leading six runs of offense a game, the Jays may need to add a bat before they’re done… But, who knows if they will?
Giants 7, Dodgers 5: The Torremen bow in 13. Don’t worry: Jeff Weaver started, he didn’t relieve. That honor, and the loss, went to another faded New York pitching meteor, Guillermo Mota … Since Manny Ramirez was banned, Juan Pierre has been on fire, going 9-for-16 with three doubles (.563/.632/.750) over four games. If he keeps that up, the Dodgers won’t miss Manny too much. Otherwise …
Diamondbacks 10, Nationals 8: In Howard Bryant’s very fine book, “Juicing the Game,” A.J. Hinch is set up as one of the last good men in Sodom. “One night in 2001, Hinch, frustrated, sat with his wife, Erin, and told her that if he decided to use anabolic steroids, there was no doubt in his mind that his modest power numbers would improve enough to make him a more attractive backup catcher, maybe even give him a chance at being a starter. Hinch was against steroids, to some degree because he believed their use to be cheating, but mostly because they scared him. “Hinch didn’t use, and is portrayed as being resentful of those who take the easy way out and do use. One wonders how he’ll react on the day that one of his players is outed — perhaps with all the good cheer of Tommy Lasorda after Darryl Strawberry was suspended for failing a drug test? … Adam Dunn in the three games at Arizona: 6-for-13, four home runs … What do teammates call Esmerling Vasquez for short? … I keep wondering if the ‘Backs will trade Conor Jackson when he’s down (very, very down), and how the acquiring team will react when they discover they’ve dealt a prospect for a Matt Murton clone (.269/.360/.402 career on the road).
Red Sox 4, Rays 3: The Sox finally call up Daniel Bard (29 strikeouts in 16 innings at Triple A) but didn’t use him, so we have to wait to see what the tyro can do to even out the team’s pitching problems. If you can’t get the starting pitching right, maybe more bullpen will do the trick … Carl Crawford has hit in 11 of his last 12, going 22-for-51 with four doubles, a triple, a home run, six walks, 15 steals, and hasn’t been thrown out (.431/.500/.608). Don’t know where his home runs have gone, but it doesn’t matter if he’s going to be doing a Ty Cobb imitation … Jason Varitek has thrown out just eight of 42 attempted base stealers (19 percent). That probably doesn’t help Boston’s record, but as you can see from the standings, it hasn’t hurt all that much either.