Tagged: Jon Lester

This series still matters

jeter_250_092509.jpgRED SOX REDUX
The alliterative phrase “possible playoff preview” is overused, but here we have one of those series that could be exactly that. If the current seeding holds through the end of the season, the Yankees would face Detroit in the first round and, if they survive that test, see the winner of a Red Sox/Angels match-up in the second round.

Facing either opponent emphasizes the importance of maintaining the division lead and home field advantage, because the Red Sox are a .500 club on the road to date, and despite the recent successful action in Anaheim, the Yankees want to see as little of California as possible. Beating the Tigers only to find out one has to play up to four games in Anaheim might be the only time in sports history that the line, “I’m going to Disneyland!” would signify a negative.

Announcer: Hey, Derek Jeter! You just thrashed the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs! What are you going to do now?

Derek Jeter: I’m going to Disneyland! Aw, [expletive, expletive, expletive]!”

Thus, this series does matter in a real way, beyond the usual Red Sox-Yankees hoopla. There are also three pitchers undergoing key tests: Joba Chamberlain gets yet another chance to lower his post-Rules ERA from 8.50, and against a pitcher, Jon Lester, who has been almost unhittable since getting off to a rough beginning to the season, so there’s not a lot of margin for error. On May 26, Lester was 3-5 with an ERA of 6.07. He’s made 20 starts since then, going 11-2 with an ERA of 2.13. I hope that you readers won’t fault me too much when I say that I root for Lester as a fellow cancer survivor in spite of the uniform he wears. Some things transcend petty rivalry. I don’t mind if the Yankees beat him, of course, but I’d rather it was by a 2-1 score than a 15-1 score. In any case, much as with Joba’s most recent start in Seattle, the Yankees stand a good chance of being lulled to sleep if Joba allows the Sox to score an early touchdown.

On Saturday, CC Sabathia gets a chance to continue his recent dominance against a resurgent Daisuke Matsuzaka, which is really just a game of minimal expectations: You don’t have to win, but don’t pitch so badly that people start to wonder if you’re hurt, or have turned into Joe Cowley or something. On Sunday, Andy Pettitte will get a chance to put his shoulder fatigue further behind him, drawing Paul Byrd as his opponent, Byrd being Boston’s placeholder for a guy named Hypothetical Better Starter that We Don’t Have.

In short, it’s a weekend of confidence testing, of pulling back from a 3-3 road trip. The playoffs are assured and even the shape of the playoffs as far as the Yankees goes seems largely locked into place, so the key thing here is to not fall apart. That doesn’t seem like very much to add.

Lester on the hill means Melky Cabrera in the lineup. Last year at Triple-A, Brett Gardner batted .324/.407/.495 against southpaws. This year in the Majors he’s hit .302/.393/.415 against them. Cabrera has hit .261/.335/.418 against them, and those rates have slid in the second half — whereas Cabrera hit .267/.345/.480 against lefties through mid-July, since then he’s hit only .256/.326/.359 against them, which is actually a pathetically poor number for a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching.

This year, all right-handed hitters in the Majors are batting .268/.341/.431 against lefties. All right-handers have a built-in ability to hit left-handers, but not Cabrera. His career averages against southpaws stand at .254/.323/.354, and as with so much about his post-April work, his final numbers are going to be reflective of what he’s done in the rest of his career rather than what he did earlier this year. Joe Girardi really needs to forget about what he thinks he saw this spring and move on with things.

I note Baseball Think Factory:

Van Buren Elementary fourth-grader Nathan Johns thought his teacher was kidding when he instructed him to go to the bathroom and turn his Yankees T-shirt inside out.

The blue shirt read “New York No. 52” on the front and “Sabathia” for the New York Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia, on the back.

” I thought to myself ‘Is he serious or is he kidding,'” said Nate, 9, a student in Peter Addabbo’s fourth-grade class. “But he had this look like he wasn’t kidding at all.”

Nate complied, and said he was later told to wear it that way until dismissal. At lunch, Nate said the fifth-graders made fun of him because he wearing his shirt inside out.

“It was such a horrible day.” Nate said. “I don’t ever want anything like to happen again.”

Nate said he felt he was treated unfairly.

“Just because my teacher doesn’t like the Yankees I should still have the right to wear a Yankees shirt,” Nate said Thursday after school. The teacher has Boston Red Sox paraphernalia all over the classroom on display, he said.

I have long felt that one of the problems with the educational experience in our country is that school is a place where they teach you about your rights and then fail to honor them. As an aspiring columnist in high school, I simultaneously learned about first amendment rights and was subject to prior restraint and press censorship because the administration didn’t like my choice of topics.

Apparently, now you can also be bullied because the teacher doesn’t like your choice of teams. Had the kid been wearing an Obama T-Shirt, or for that matter a Richard Nixon T-shirt (a friend actually did wear one in high school, albeit as a kind of ironic statement), the violation of his rights would have been much more obvious and probably wouldn’t have been contemplated. Instead, the kid, a fourth-grader, all of nine years old, was singled out in a possibly traumatic way. The petty tyranny of some teachers over children is astounding to behold. They indulge in arbitrary behaviors that they would never, ever have the guts to pull with an adult.

Longtime readers know that I am no fan of the teaching profession. As time goes on and my own children get further into the school system, and I read of matters like this one, I see little to change my mind. This incident was wholly inappropriate and the teacher should be disciplined — and although this is a Yankees-centric feature, I would say that even if the roles were reversed, and an educator who was a Yankees fan told some helpless child to reverse his Kevin Youkilis T.

Since he’s such a brave Red Sox fan, his punishment should be to stand outside of Gate 4 of Yankee Stadium this weekend and ask everyone coming in to reverse their T-shirts. I’d like to see the reaction of people old enough to answer back. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic.

The around (and about)

lester_250.jpgRed Sox 8, Blue Jays 2: A comeback start for Jon Lester, with the lefty striking out 12 in six innings and allowing just one run on three hits and a like number of walks. On May 18, the Jays were in first place, 3.5 games up, with a record of 27-14. Since then, thanks to a nine-game losing streak, they’re 2-10. Reality bites — hard. Next up for the Red Sox: at Tigers. Next up for the Jays: hosting the Angels. It should be another good week for the Yankees, assuming they can win a few. Notice was paid to Terry Francona shaking up his lineup, a cosmetic change that sometimes leads to a seemingly psychological boost.

Tigers 3, Orioles 0: You have to feel for the Rays, who would be far more competitive with Edwin Jackson (eight innings, two hits, no runs, 2.30 ERA) on their team, but they made an economic decision they have to live with. The Rays have enjoyed the highest increase in per-game attendance this year, but that only means they rank ninth in the league instead of 12th. Thus are pennant races determined — it’s not just smarts, but also what you have in the bank, with perhaps the latter outweighing the former. The Tigers continue to allow the fewest runs per game (4.31) in the league, which allows them to win even on days like Sunday when Jim Leyland benched some key regulars. Bonus: Fernando “Caesar” Rodney has been an effective closer. Orioles’ silver lining: two good starts for rookie Jason Berken, though it probably doesn’t mean much in the long term. Luke Scott went 0-for-3, ending a rather ridiculous May in which he hit .432/.479/.1.000 in 13 games sandwiched around a DL stay.

Twins 3, Rays 2: In which the Rays give up the decisive run on a little looping liner over Ben Zobrist’s head. Former Yankee Sean Henn picked up his first hold of the season in this one. The Rays have the No. 2 offense in the AL, the Yankees No. 1. Both found on Sunday that sometimes you just don’t get the safeties when you need them. It happens.

White Sox 7, Royals 4: The Pale Hose are just one game below .500, and with a visit from Oakland up next, they’re likely to get back over in the short term. Define “short term” as until they host the Tigers for five games in four days a week from today. Less than 20,000 in KC to see Zack Greinke pitch against John Danks. Shameful.

Athletics 5, Rangers 4: On October 13, 2002, Adam Kennedy hit three home runs in the fifth game of the ALCS against the Twins. Yesterday he popped two against the Rangers, including the game-winner, bringing his season rates to .390/.462/.622 in 21 games. This from a fellow who wasn’t even in the Majors to start the year after having been thoroughly mediocre for the last six years and for the bulk of the rest of his career. This has always been the mystery of the player was the first-round pick of the Cardinals way back in 1997: on some days, he can be the guy he was in that playoff game, or was yesterday. On most days he can’t, but everyone knows he can. Hence the frustration.

Angels 9, Mariners 8: The M’s had this one in the bag until they actually had to pitch. That part didn’t work out too well. Six unanswered runs in the first three innings should have made the rest academic, but the Angels worked away and David Aardsma buckled in the ninth. Comedy relief included Ichiro Suzuki going 4-for-5 with a couple of doubles and a home run to raise his rates to .354/.386/.454, his 24th straight game with a hit. If Ichiro keeps this up, 2009 will be one of those years where Mr. Mariner lives up to his rep. Average during the streak: .406, three home runs in 106 at-bats.

Mets 3, Marlins 2: It’s not often you see a pitcher exit a shutout because he really, really has to get to the bathroom….

Astros 2, Pirates 1: Sixth save of the season for LaTroy Hawkins, backing Mike Hampton, as the Astros team up for a win out of 2001 or 2004 or any other year when Hampton and Hawkins were vaguely healthy and effective and people had more money than they do now. That would probably rule out 1893, what with the panic and all. Andy LaRoche in May: .330/.411/.457, now hitting .299/.371/.420 overall… The Pirates recalled Steven Jackson today. We’ll see if Joe Girardi erred in not getting the guy into a game before the Yankees cut him loose.

Phillies 4, Nationals 2: Methuselah Moyer wins No. 250, and may he win 250 more. Josh Willingham popped two for the Nats, and it’s hard to visualize his still doing double-duty as a Senate page after the trading deadline. If the Nats play one game above water the rest of the way, they would finish at 70-92. Their next series, at home against San Francisco, offers an interesting contrast, the pitching impaired versus the hitting impaired. My money is on the latter.

Brewers 5, Reds 2: Fifteen games in now and Trevor Hoffman still hasn’t allowed a run, and closing out this one allowed the Brewskis finally to pass the Cardinals and take first place. Mike Cameron popped home run number eleven, and his power is an important component of what’s been working for the Brewers. A bit unexpected, too: Cameron is hitting .284/.379/.550, and he’s never touched those numbers in a full season. Craig Counsell since Rickie Weeks went down: 11 games, 50 PA, .306/.320/.306. Anyone spot the problem here?

Padres 5, Rockies 4: A change of managers is a superficial patch for a team that can’t hit. Adrian Gonzalez blasts No. 20, leads the NL in home runs. If a player from that team in that park leads the league for the season, it will have been a minor miracle — 15 of the 20 have been hit on the road. Since joining the Padres, Gonzalez has hit .268 with a home run every 24.5 at-bats at home, .305 with a homer every 14.9 at-bats on the road. With a contract that calls for $3 million this year, $4.75 million next year, and $5.5 million the year after, he should be the most desirable trade possibility in baseball right now. Not only is he cheap, but if the acquiring team plays in a fair park and gets 250 post-trade at-bats, they could get 15-20 home runs out of the bargain.

Giants 5, Cardinals 3: When the starting pitcher (Adam Wainwright) has an off day, the Cards lack the offensive heft to counterpunch. This team desperately needs a bat. When I see “Wainwright,” I can never help hearing, “General Wainwright is a right guy.” And if you know what that refers to, you’re either pretty old, a history buff, or both. Here’s a toast to General Wainwright’s guys, holding out on that island (and after), real American heroes.

Braves 9, Diamondbacks 3: Garret Anderson hit his first home run of the season, raising his rates to .266/.294/.358. Kelly Johnson has hit in seven of eight games, batting .342 with seven doubles, a triple, and two home runs. No walks, though. Seems like it was at this time last year that I was wondering where Johnson left his walks… The real news of the game was Kris Medlen’s very solid start and a rare poor one by Max Scherzer.

Dodgers 8, Cubs 2: Over in the first inning, with former home run machine Eric Milton holding the Cubs in check. That’s not the feat it used to be, of course. Rafael Furcal is batting .245/.308/.304 with three stolen bases in six chances. When do you think Joe Torre drops him out of the No. 2 spot? My guess is never… As I typed these words, a John Mellencamp song came on the XM and I actually liked it. I’m shaken to my core. I was fooled by the long instrumental opening, I swear! Excuse me while I go look for some strong, abrasive soap….