THE THEOLOGY OF JOSE MOLINA
Jose Molina is Friday night’s designated hitter. Did you know that Molina has set his career high in walks this season? His 14th free pass did the trick, shattering his 2005 record of 13. There are all kinds of players — I bet somewhere in his career Barry Bonds got 13 walks in four games. To give Molina all the credit he’s due for his feat, it really does represent a huge uptick in patience. Last year, when Jorge Posada’s injury forced the Yankees to give Molina more playing time than he’d ever received before or ever will again, he walked only 12 times in 297 plate appearances. He’s exceeded that total by two despite coming to the plate 147 times. He’s walking twice as often as he used to. No doubt this is just another example of the cosmic dice finding the sweet spot on Molina’s Strat-O-Matic card again and again, Rosencrantz’s coin coming up heads 92 times in a row. Albert Einstein famously said that God does not play dice with the universe, but this is pretty clear evidence that He does play dice with Jose Molina’s walk rate. Coming soon: The Book of Molina: When Good Things Happen to Inoffensive Reserve Catchers — featuring a new translation of the Book of Job revealing that the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding.
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE ZACK GREINKE …
… And Jim Leyland is Ophelia. Really. Tonight’s attempt to resolve the never-ending battle of the AL Central features Jake Peavy and the White Sox against Edwin Jackson of the Tigers and Lenny DiNardo of the Royals going against Jeff Manship (whose name always makes me think either of slave-rowed galleys or alien abductions, or both. Methinks the Twins will be but one game out at the end of the night. DiNardo is a journeyman lefty lacking in control or strikeout pitches, and while the Twins have had problems with southpaws this year (they’re under .500 in games started by lefties) DiNardo doesn’t merit any consideration because of his handedness. Manship of Space is a rookie, equally unimpressive in his own way, another Twins pitch-to-contact guy. The thing is, when you’re facing the Royals, pitching to contact isn’t such a big deal.
The Tigers get to try their luck against Peavy, who completely dominated them last week. Familiarity shouldn’t breed success, not with a pitcher of his quality, though it is fair to note that the previous game was at Chicago, and the Tigers have been miserable in road games. As for their own starter, Jackson was impressive early, but note that in the second half his ERA has jumped by two full runs, from 2.52 to 4.53. His strikeout rate has also dropped in that time, going from seven a game to six. In short, his season is a mirror-image of CC Sabathia’s. In his last start against the White Sox, just days ago, he gave up five runs in seven innings. His September includes a solid but unspectacular game against the Rays and seven shutout innings against the Indians. The rest has been mush, the aggregate coming to an ERA of 5.08.
Saturday the odds shift back to the Tigers, as the Twins draw Greinke and they get the sore-armed Freddy Garica. They bombed Garcia last week, but he had actually been pitching very well to that point, with a 3.09 ERA in his previous five starts. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate has been less than intimidating, even in that time, and that means that even if he’s at his best he could give up some runs. The one fly in the ointment for the Tigers is that they’re starting rookie Alfredo Figaro, a sort of functional sinker/change-up guy. One imagines he won’t have too long a leash. The results of Saturday’s play should make Sunday a day of for-all-accounts-and-purposes exhibitions, and the Yankees can get on with the business of figuring out how to beat the Tigers.
IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING, BUT I WANNA SAY IT ANYWAY
I wasn’t at last night’s game, so I missed the opportunity to say this in person: Polly Tompkins you have a friend at the Pinstriped Bible. As Kevin Goldstein said to me over five years ago: kick cancer’s [rear end]. I can’t pass that along enough times.
And if you ever want to talk baseball with someone who has had the smallest taste of what you are going through, feel free to drop a line anytime.
(Editor’s Note: Watch Kimberly Jones’ interview with Polly here.)
QUICK REACTION TO THE (POSSIBLE) JAKE PEAVY TRADE
At this writing, not all the details have been iced yet, like who the Padres are getting back. In a way, it doesn’t really matter, because anytime a club trades a talent like Peavy it’s almost certainly going to lose the deal, because you’re trading something proven for something speculative. The exception is the miserable Yankees trades of the 1980s, like Doug Drabek for Rick Rhoden, or Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps. The Yankees traded something speculative for something fading, and their upside was far from guaranteed, whereas Peavy is an ace still in the center of his career. That’s why the Yankees have come away looking good on many trades of the Brian Cashman era, say in the Chuck Knoblauch deal. The Twins couldn’t get equal talent, so they hoped to make up in volume what they were giving up, and that’s just not going to happen 99 percent of the time — the very rarity of stars means it’s unlikely that you’ll get one back when you deal one no matter how many players are taken in as part of the package.
As for the White Sox, at 5 ½ games out, it’s certainly not too late for them to climb back into the AL Central race, and their starting rotation could certainly use help, particularly after the very dramatic flame out of Jose Contreras, but it’s really their offense that needs the most help. The Pale Hose are batting .245/.315/.386 as a team, a scary bad place to be in this era. They need an entire infield, or even just one hard-hitting infielder more than they need a pitcher. Perhaps now they will play more low-scoring games, but they won’t necessarily win them.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Detroit 5, Rangers 3: The Rangers are real, but not as real as say, the Emerald City sets in “The Wizard of Oz.” They could still well win the division and probably should, but they do have real problems on the road. The batters don’t walk at all, and away from their uncomfortably friendly ballpark (all the walls in Arlington are close talkers), they don’t do much to reach base — they were batting .241/.284/.425 on the road going into this game. Yes, the power is real, but solo home runs can be like a pen-pal you’ll never meet — as the Tigers showed by hitting two solos and a two-run shot off of Matt Harrison in this contest.
White Sox 7, Twins 4: One item left over from the Twins-Yankees series that’s driving him half insane (and I was already halfway there) was the extensive on-air discussion of Ron Gardenhire’s difficulty in finding a number two hitter who can hit. Is your heart breaking, yet, thinking of poor Gardy staying up nights, eyes red-rimmed from tears as he struggles to make out that card one more time? True, Twins No. 2 hitters are batting just .190/.254/.250 on the season. False that we should feel sorry for them, because there’s a very simple solution: STOP LISTING BAD HITTERS IN THE SPOT. Twins No. 8 hitters are batting .304/.381/.348 for gosh sakes. Sure, it’s just shuffling the problem around, but at least Gardenhire can bury the problem instead of giving it the second-most plate appearances on the team. The real issue is not the No. 2 spot, but that Twins’ second basemen can’t hit, yet Gardenhire feels obligated to bat them second. Compulsive nerve-twitching isn’t thinking… In other news, it seems like wherever Francisco Liriano was heading in 2006, he won’t be going back there.
Marlins 8, Diamondbacks 6: Somehow I find it annoying to type “Diamondbacks,” and I’ll be doing it a minimum of three times today. It beats digging ditches, I know that, so really, I’m not complaining. I still feel like Miguel Montero could help a contender if the D’backs felt like, y’know, rebuilding. On the Marlins side, Chris Volstad had less than his best start but still struck out nine in six innings and came away with a win. What a novelty, a sinker-ball guy with strikeouts.
Diamondbacks 11, Marlins 9: No doubt Justin Upton will take a 4-for-7 with two home runs; that’s a week’s production for some players, a month’s if you’re talking about Jose Molina. At least Upton is a superstar in the making; it’s harder to explain Felipe Lopez hitting .323/.379/.484. Depressing: a Hayden Penn start. More depressing: Hanley Ramirez going 0-for-9 in the doubleheader.
Braves 12, Rockies 4: Wow. The Braves score 12 runs, Javier Vazquez allows fewer than 12 runs — it’s neat when things go according to plan. Of course, you don’t get a pitcher as wild as Jorge De La Rosa every day, and even if you did, Francoeur still wouldn’t take a walk. Cheap shot? Sure, but willful, obstinate stupidity is also cheap these days (with prices so low they’re practically giving it away, promising you a 200 percent annual return on all the money you didn’t put in). I promise I’ll put away this particular stick for at least a few days, especially because it’s more fun to cheer “professional hitter” Matt Diaz’s 3-for-4. He’s up to .288/.369/.466 and he’s not got one-third the talent of some other guys we could mention.
Pirates 2, Nationals 1: At least everyone pitched well, up to a point. Hilarious note of the day: Nats move Daniel Cabrera to the bullpen. We’ve had lefty specialists and side-arming righty specialists. Meet the walks ‘n’ wild pitches specialist.
Athletics 7, Rays 6: Connie Mack said he was very pleased with the way Jimmy ***** played third today, and… Any team with an offense that has an adjusted OPS below 80 is historically poor; the A’s OPS+ is currently 78. Nonetheless, something is crazy wrong with Scott Kazmir, so they get to score for a change. Another positive development: Matt Holiday is hitting .278/.489/.568 over the last 14 days. And when Daffy Duck asks, “Do you want to trade him now, or wait ’til you get home?” you know exactly what to say…
Reds 5, Phillies 1: Here’s another clue for you all: the Walrus was Jamie Moyer. Oh, come on — he’s not too young. Check out the cover of “Abbey Road” — he’s “the pitcher.” You can just spot him peaking out of the trunk of the VW Bug.
Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 3: You’ll never fail like common people… The big noise is over Big Papi’s initial home run, but I dig Kevin Youkilis coming back with a 3-for-5 to push his average back over .400 (.404 to be exact). Even bigger, as we pointed out here yesterday, as that Brett Cecil failed his first test against a real offense. If the Red Sox revealed the little man behind the curtain, well, it’s not necessarily curtains for the Jays, but it could be — this way to the egress.
Astros 6, Brewers 4: In my theology, the Astros don’t win enough games to get within two games of .500, so I object to this result on religious grounds — especially when their manager makes an elementary mistake and turns in the wrong lineup card, costin
g his team an out on a batting out of order charge… Not sure that playing Casey McGehee helps the Brewers either offensively or defensively; you’d like to see Mat Gamel and some aggressive defensive subbing get a shot at hitting their way past any leather problems; the Macha-men hit well, but not so well they can afford to punt on a position…
Indians 6, Royals 5: Sid Ponson takes the loss in relief. I’ve often said that if you stabbed yourself in the fork every day for a year, you’d eventually get used to it and perhaps even miss it when you finally stopped. Ponson is like being stabbed in the leg with a fork. What a strange way to run a ballclub.
Cardinals 2, Cubs 1: Last night, Milton Bradley made a baserunning gaffe, getting doubled off of first base. Lou Piniella said, “You know what happens when you’re not scoring runs? Invariably, people try to overdo, and it leads to mistakes.” Casey Stengel, Piniella’s managerial grandfather through Billy Martin, said exactly the same thing, except that his version was, “When you’re losing, everyone commences to playing stupid.” Meanwhile, on the crimson side of the field, Chris Carpenter takes a licking and keeps on ticking. He’s more machine than man now, but he keeps coming back. You have to admire that; unlike the old days, the players have the option now to take the money and hit the sofa.
Padres 2, Giants 1: Fighting for scraps in a division that’s already over with.
Mariners 1, Angels 0: Any Santana trumps a Jakubauskas. It says that in Hoyle’s. The only exception: Wednesdays. Note: Bobby Abreu and his toe headed out early. Still no home runs for Bobby, and he’s down to .300/.400/.364, which is not unhelpful, but more like peak Luis Castillo than peak Abreu.
Dodgers 2, Mets 1: Being swept hurts, getting a one-run, seven-inning performance from Livan Hernandez and still losing just kills, because you don’t know if you’ll ever get anything like that out of his spot again. Carlos Beltran was the only Met who actually hit, but no doubt the bashing on ESPN continues. Playing guys out of position, having an old team, these things aren’t worthy of criticism, but the center fielder who is hitting .370, him we’ve gotta crucify. Truly, this is the way of the world.
Melky Cabrera failed as a starter but has hit four home runs as a role player, so the Yankees should make him a starter again. If he doesn’t play well when starting, they can make him a role player again, and if he hits a few more home runs coming off the bench, they can make him a starter again. If he slumps, they can always put him back in the reserve role. Assuming he does well there, he might be ready for another shot at starting, and … and … and …
There are three possibilities right now:
1. The last 26 Cabrera at-bats outweigh the previous 1500 or so, and Cabrera has become a slugging outfielder.
2. Cabrera is having one those transient streaks, like the one he had precisely a year ago.
3. The Yankees have found a job for Cabrera in which he can actually be useful.
There is no reason to rush Cabrera into the lineup given that the upside is mostly nonexistent, while the downside includes damage to Brett Gardner’s career. Not that Gardner needs any extra help with that. He’s played terrific defense and runs the bases well, but the walks aren’t there, and since the power isn’t going to be there, the walks have to be there if he’s going to hit enough to play. Gardner is 15 games in, and needs more time to rediscover his patience. If he can’t get there, perhaps he’s not the answer this year, or not ever. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Cabrera is the answer either. Cabrera could very well be more valuable in 250 at-bats than in 500, and that’s not a missed opportunity for the Yankees, it’s seizing one.
… At least he’s done better than in his first four starts this year than in his first four starts last year. The difference, of course, is that this year he has 253 regular innings in his rearview mirror, plus postseason action. It’s early yet, so we’ll see if this is the refractory year or “first four starts phobia” is just something the big man has to get through.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? Took my children to the toy store last night. All the Jake Peavy action figures were on clearance.
? The Jays’ Ricky Romero just hit the DL with an oblique strain. That leaves them with Roy Halladay and prayer. There’s an offensive correction coming soon, too, and then the division’s more natural order will restore itself.
? Let’s say the Mets’ Daniel Murphy stays at his current rates for the rest of the season, finishing at .315/.367/.407. Does that much offense equal that of a conventional left fielder with average defense? Almost certainly not. Meanwhile, if Mike Pelfrey and John Maine are held back by injuries and Livan Hernandez is Livan Hernandez, there’s just not enough pitching in the organization to make up for it. Of course, the way the Phillies, Braves, Nats, and now Marlins are going, it’s becoming apparent that no team can win the NL East — or more accurately, the first team to identify and fix its biggest weakness will be the winner.
? Marcus Thames is out indefinitely with a rib cage strain. Traded by the Yankees to the Texas Rangers for Ruben Sierra. Though he has his flaws — he’s no fielder and he doesn’t walk — platoon players with his kind of power are hard to find. He’s played 434 games since leaving the Yankees. The Yankees got 231 games of .249/.295/.429 out of Sierra during his second stay with the team, most of which was contained in a very hot May ’04. Not a move that Brian Cashman wants to frame and put on his mantel.
? Brandon Inge hit his fifth home run last night. Career as a catcher: .199/.260/.330, which makes him perhaps the worst-hitting catcher ever. As a third baseman: .258/.329/.430, plus defense. Hmm …
? Yes, but how many home runs has Bobby Abreu hit?
? The Yankees can at least feel comforted that Cliff Lee pitched well against the Royals, too. At 6-10, the Indians remain in deep trouble.
? I find it a continual source of amusement that the “new” Jeff Francoeur has but one walk and a .328 OBP. As Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, “If this is tea, please give me some coffee; if this is coffee, please give me some tea.”