Results tagged ‘ Red Sox ’

The wins keep coming … and coming

THE PACE

Posada-9-1-250.jpgThe Yankees are currently on a pace for 103 wins, and given their remaining schedule, they could win more than that. Should they hold up, the 2009 Yankees would become the 18th team in club history to win 100 or more games. Note that this is no proof of destiny–the 2002, 2003, and 2004 Yankees won over 100 games and only one of them got to a World Series. Still, winning 100 games is the traditional mark of a club that is dominant in a historically significant way, so at some point we will have to figure out where this Yankees edition ranks among the great teams, both in comparison to Yankees predecessors and the 75 other 100-game teams from 1901 onwards.

Should this year’s team exceed 103 wins, they would join a most elite list of Yankees teams that have exceeded that mark — 1998 (114 wins), 1927 (110), 1961 (109), 1932 (107), 1939 (106), and 1963 (104). While dispensing with the normal allowances made for modern conditioning, relievers, the slider, night baseball, integration, and other factors that make comparing teams and players across eras an exercise in futility, it’s hard to see this team competing too strongly with the six listed above, except perhaps for 1932, a very similar outfit that was all about the offense (the only consistent pitchers were Red Ruffing and the fiery Johnny Allen), and the overrated 1961 team. The 1961 team had better starting pitching and a couple of Hall of Fame-level offensive seasons from Mantle and Maris, but the rest was unremarkable.

If you want to go by winning percentage, then the bar gets a little higher, with the 2009 team’s current .636 tied with five other clubs for 18th-best in club history, some non-100-game teams like the 1938 and 1953 Yankees sneaking in ahead of them. No one ever talks about the champion 1953 team as one of the best in club history, but it was a very good offensive unit (Mantle, Gene Woodling, and Hank Bauer all had big years in the outfield, and the only starter not to have at least a league-average season was second baseman Billy Martin) with a deep, versatile pitching staff.

We have another month to figure out where the 2009 team fits, or if they fit at all, so this is premature, but it’s more fun talking about this than the stuff we were talking about at this time last year.

POSADA AND THE PARK EFFECTS…
…That would be a swell name for a band, particularly if your name was Posada. It was good to see him swat a couple of home runs on the road, as he has largely confined his hitting to Yankee Stadium II this year, and we wouldn’t want folks to conclude he was merely banging ’em over the Blue Enabler (see, the Red Sox have the Green Monster and the Yankees have, heh, the Blue… oh, forget it). He still has some distance to go to overcome the possibility of being labeled the anti-Swisher, with .227/.314/.399 rates on the road versus a Piazza-like .335/.403/.658 at home. Despite the imbalance, his current 883 OPS ranks 15th among Yankees catchers (single-season, 300 PAs and up), mostly exceeded by Bill Dickey, Mike Stanley, and Yogi Berra, plus about three seasons from Posada himself. It has been a fine year, though slightly subpar by Posada’s own high standards as his walk rate has hit the lowest level of his career. Given that Posada is a 37-year-old catcher having one of the top 20 seasons at his position in team history, it probably would be ungrateful to kick about a detail like that.

Is fatigue an issue for CC?

ccblog_080909.jpgCOMPLICATED SHADOWS
Writing before the start of this series, I asked if CC Sabathia would rise to this challenge, and asked if it was fair to expect him to do so given his performance to date, one that was, by his own standards, weak. I don’t have to tell you how Sabathia answered that question. The next question for Sabathia — there’s always another one — is if he can take the fire he showed against the Red Sox and carry it with him through the rest of the season AND have enough left in the tank for his increasingly likely postseason appearances. Sabathia’s postseason record is the mirror-image of Mariano Rivera’s; he has a 7.92 ERA in five starts. The reason seems to be not nerves, but fatigue. In the past two seasons, Sabathia worked so hard getting his team through September (Milwaukee’s rare postseason appearance last year was his personal work), he was gassed in October. Such an outcome would reduce Saturday’s triumph to the level of a Pyrrhic victory.

And a glorious victory it was. With the Yankees’ second straight shutout, the Red Sox are now batting .144 for the series. The Yankees have discovered Boston’s hidden shame: once you get past Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, and (recent acquisition) Victor Martinez, there’s not a whole lot of high-impact hitting going on — and Bay isn’t in this series. While they don’t have any hitters who are total pushovers aside from shortstop (though David Ortiz, hitting .208/.262/.377 in the second half, may soon qualify), they also don’t have anyone aside from the aforementioned three who transcend the level of merely good.

With the win, the Yankees are on a pace to become the club’s first 100-win team since 2004 and the 19th such team in club history. Eighteen of those teams went to the postseason–the 1954 Yankees are the exception, and 12 of them won the World Series. The teams that didn’t make it all the way: 1942, 1963, 1980, and the 2002-2004 teams. Sweeping the series from the Sox would go a way towards avenging humiliations suffered earlier in the season, but it won’t mean much if it doesn’t happen as Boston will decamp trailing by at least 4.5 games. They face 10 games against good teams in the Tigers, Rangers (their immediate rival from the wild card), and Blue Jays, six on the road, before hosting the Yankees from the 21st through the 23rd. The Yankees get three at home against the Jays, followed by an always-difficult western road trip to Seattle and Oakland. The latter, at least, should be less of a challenge than in the past.

WISHING ON THE WILD CARD

In doing such damage to the Red Sox, the Yankees have helped to recast the wild card race. Seven days ago, the Red Sox had a 2.5-game lead on the Rangers and a 5.5-game lead over the Rays. Five straight losses later, the Rangers are a game out and the Rays are 1.5 out. The Rays have six games remaining with the Red Sox and seven with the Yankees (and three with the Rangers next week), so if they just hang in they’re going to have a chance to make noise right until the very end… If you’re thinking about how the Yankees might best avoid seeing the Angels this fall, the Red Sox are 4-2 against the Angels, the Rays 1-2 (they play this week), the Rangers 3-8.

OTHER STUFF
?    When Manny Ramirez was suspended, he was hitting .348/.492/.641. Since returning, he’s hit .262/.363/.514. That’s still good, but it’s more like Nick Swisher than Manny Ramirez.

?    With Saturday’s seven shutout innings against the Tigers, Carl Pavano is 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA against Detroit, 6-8 with a 6.61 ERA against everyone else.

?    When Carlos Lee hit his 300th career home run last night, the Astros became the only team to have three players reach that mark in the same season. This sums up the whole problem with the Astros.

?    That Josh Willingham is having a terrific year (.309/.417/.595) shouldn’t be a surprise–his numbers were neutered by the Marlins’ ballpark. He always had it in him to be this kind of hitter.

DISTANT EARLY WARNING

I’ll be hosting a live chat at Baseball Prospectus on Thursday at 1 PM EST. As always, if you can’t make it to the event itself, you can put your questions in the queue at the link above and I’ll look ’em over when we start up. I look forward to exchanging thoughts with y’all.

Some more on deadline trades

TRADE-O-RAMA
I enjoyed my BP colleague Christina Kahrl’s take on the Dodgers’ acquisition of George Sherrill from the Orioles for prospective third baseman Josh Bell and righty Steve Johnson:

torre_pb_080109.jpg[T]his move seems more about Joe Torre’s desperate need to turn to people he’s heard of in his pen. Sherrill’s been around long enough that Torre can use him with fully-formed preconceived notions without any chance that anyone will blame anyone other than Sherrill if it doesn’t work out in any particular high-leverage ballgame, and that’s the kind of cover the veteran skipper’s grown accustomed to over his long years of service. Bleeding talent for players Torre doesn’t have to sweat developing was one of those intrinsically accepted costs of employing the man in the first place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Dodgers fans have to like it.

Torre had his talents, no doubt about it, but he did become spectacularly risk-averse in the bullpen. Most managers are, but Torre reached an extreme. As I’ve remarked before, Joe Girardi has “made” more Major League relievers in less than two years running the Yankees than Torre did in his last five years, perhaps longer.

If you’re the Orioles, you wish you could have done more than this, but the organization isn’t willing to move Brian Roberts, while Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff haven’t been productive enough to excite anyone. Still, in Bell they added the possible replacement for Mora, and none too soon. There’s some question as to whether Bell can stay at third, and the club still desperately needs help at shortstop, but this is a start.  

The Red Sox made an excellent move in picking up Victor Martinez. They received an offensively talented catcher-first baseman who can spell Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, or, by pushing Youkilis to third base, Mike Lowell. Martinez can’t throw, but Varitek can’t either, so no big loss there. Martinez can belong to the Red Sox for another year if they pick up his $7.5 million option, which seems like a no-brainer. The one risk here is that Martinez has been in a severe slump; in his last 30 games he’s hit .161/.268/.279.

The acquisition of Martinez rendered Adam LaRoche redundant, so he was swapped off to the Braves for Casey Kotchman. Kotchman is the New Millennium Doug Mientkiewicz, and he’ll take on that role for the Sox. A greater role in the future will depend on this offseason. If Varitek wants to come back, he has the contractual right to do so, and that could block up the catchers’ position a bit. Mike Lowell has another year to go on his deal, and has no-trade protection. David Ortiz is also signed for another year.

The Braves made an odd deal here, picking up an imminent free agent who isn’t a great hitter for a first baseman. True, Kotchman hadn’t hit like on either, but he’s better at getting on base and is the superior gloveman. The Bravos may do well in the short term given that LaRoche is a second-half hitter, but the gain here is likely small and they may be in possession of neither player by November.

These moves will have an impact on the Yankees as they fight the Red Sox the rest of the way. The Sox have hit well in their own ballpark, averaging 5.7 runs per game in the Fens, but have hit just .252/.336/.402 on the road with an average of 4.6 runs per game. The league-average offense scores 4.7. How the addition of Martinez benefits the Red Sox depends on how they spot him to best advantage in different pitcher match-ups, and if they’re willing to cut into David Ortiz’s playing time now and again or bench Mike Lowell against the odd right-hander in road games. In addition, the deal cost the Sox Justin Masterson the versatile swingman. They might miss having him around.

In terms of the moves the Yankees did not make, it’s a bit surprising to see the long-coveted Jarod Wasburn go to the Tigers for two left-handed pitching prospects, Luke French, who has pitched seven games in the majors this year with strong results, and Mauricio Robles, an A-ball pitcher. Neither is a high-value prospect, just “interesting,” and it seems odd that the Yankees couldn’t have made a competitive offer had they wanted to do so. Now they have the choice of sticking with Sergio Mitre, pulling Phil Hughes out of the bullpen, or trying another minor leaguer, either another retread like (choke) Kei Igawa, or go with an untried pitcher such as Scranton’s George Kontos or Trenton’s Zach McAllister (currently on the disabled list with a “tired arm”). Given Mitre’s track record, they have very little to lose by rolling the dice on anyone this side of Sidney Ponson.

Meanwhile, the competition …


LaRoche-7-22-250.jpgThe Red Sox made themselves a nice low-key deal today, picking up first baseman Adam LaRoche from the Pittsburgh Pirates for two lower-echelon prospects. LaRoche is no star, but he does have home run power and has a career-long tradition of being a second-half hitter, batting .296/.357/.544 hitter in the second half. The Sox haven’t hit all that well this year, with Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay having the team’s only outstanding seasons at bat. In addition, Mike Lowell has been slowed by his recovery from hip surgery and has missed over 20 games. Since Youkilis came through the minors as a third baseman, the Sox can slide him over there and continue to get above-average production at the hot corner, but until now the benefit was small given the options to replace Youkilis at first. Mark Kotsay, Jeff Bailey, and Aaron Bates represent a drastic falloff from the ideal first baseman.

LaRoche should solve that problem, but it will be interesting to see how often he plays when Lowell is available. With David Ortiz locked in at designated hitter (his hot June seems to have bought him more time to live down his horrible first two months), the Sox have no room to get LaRoche at bats anywhere but first base–it’s too bad he can’t take the odd turn in right field for J.D. Drew, who is 6-for-44 over his last 12 games and hasn’t had a hit since before the All-Star break. As LaRoche is a career .249/.308/.435 hitter against lefties, the Red Sox won’t miss much if he sits against them, so there is something like the makings of a three-sided platoon here, with Youkilis bouncing around and Lowell taking some time off against right-handers. The overall upgrade in offense is very minor if LaRoche doesn’t have his usual second-half explosion, but his value would be a lot greater if Lowell must again hit the disabled list.

One alternative scenario could arise if the Sox see part of the benefit of this move as defensive. That is, the team feels Lowell’s defense at third has been so compromised by the surgery that they’re better off with Youkilis, no Mike Schmidt himself, playing there more often. The main thing wrong with that picture is that LaRoche isn’t a great fielder either.

The upshot for the Yankees here, in terms of the division competition, is that the Sox will no longer fall to the replacement level at first when Lowell is out and that they and other Sox opponents will see a few more late-inning at-bats for a left-handed hitter who can put the ball out of the park now and again as opposed to Kotsay, a player who has very little left to give. The impact of this could be small or it could be great. Consider that with Lowell out last October, Kotsay was Boston’s playoffs first baseman, and he killed them, going 10-for-40 in two rounds but failing to take a walk, hit a home run, or drive in a baserunner. In the ALCS, the Rays embarrassed him with good fastballs. If the Sox manage to avoid that fate–assuming the first-place Yankees allow them to get that far–they’ll have accomplished something.

The Sergio Mitre experiment

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?
Tim Wakefield hit the DL with back stiffness today, so the Red Sox brought up Clay Buchholz to take his spot. The Yankees had a hole in their rotation, so they brought up Sergio Mitre. There’s a huge gap between a 28-year-old with a 5.36 ERA and a 24-year-old with a 5.35 ERA.

As I wrote about Mitre a few weeks ago, he’s a heavy ground-ball type who has never found consistency in the Majors due in large part to control problems — a pitch-to-contact type can’t walk three or four batters per nine innings and expect to succeed. There are simply too many balls in play with runners on base for the pitcher to garner consistent results. That said, Mitre’s control in the Minors this year has been tremendous, with just seven free passes in 54.1 innings, or 1.2 per nine innings. If he retains that kind of control in the Majors and still has his groundball mojo as well, he can be the late-career Greg Maddux.

The main reason that this will remain just a fantasy is that Mitre almost always showed god control in the Minors. His career rate in 110 games is 2.2 walks per nine innings. In the big leagues he’s either twitchier or more advanced batters manage to lay off his more borderline offerings. When batters have swung, they’ve hit .298/.361/.435. The light power is a token of his groundball approach. Unfortunately, the singles/walks combo has been damaging enough.

The Mitre experiment is worth trying, but if the early results aren’t good the Yankees can’t hang on for as long as they did with pointless reliever Brett Tomko, who was finally DFA’d to make room for Mitre. Pitchers can reinvent themselves, but when it doesn’t happen there’s little point in chasing. That’s something the Red Sox are proving with John Smoltz. Wakefield’s injury buys Smoltz some time, but until today the biggest favor the Sox were doing for the Yankees was pursuing the last ounce the 42-year-old had to give instead of trying to get the first ounce out of Buchholz. Now they’ll do both, still an advantageous situation for the New Yorkers. Should Buchholz establish himself before Wakefield is ready to come back or Daisuke Matsuzaka is ready to give his shoulder another try, the Sox will have enviable depth for the rest of the season.

Burning Burnett

BURNETT: ON
The only complaint you might make about A.J. Burnett’s last four starts is that he started his hot streak five days after he lasted less than three innings against the Red Sox. Other than that little complaint, he’s 3-1 with 28.1 innings pitched, 16 hits, 12 walks, 33 strikeouts, and an ERA of 0.95. With the exception of the aforementioned start at Fenway on June 9, all of his starts going back to May 27 have been of the quality variety, six innings or more, three earned runs or less. The one loss came courtesy of the offense and an ill-timed, game-ending Robinson Cano groundball double play (some themes just keep reinforcing themselves, even if I don’t want to go there). Burnett basically can’t get any better except to conquer the Red Sox, but he won’t get another shot at them until August. For now, he’ll make one more start before the All-Star break, presumably Wednesday night at Minnesota.

I don’t know if a guy who is 7-4 with a 3.83 ERA will merit a look for the All-Star game pitching staff, but Burnett would be nicely set up to pitch that game, as his next start after the Twins’ appearance would fall during the break. For what it’s worth, he’s fifth in the AL in strikeouts, and if he wins on Wednesday he’d be in the top three in wins.

hughes250_070309.jpgTHE KEY TO HUGHES
… And maybe Joba Chamberlain as well. There was a lot of discussion of Jimmy Key on today’s YES broadcast of the Yankees game, a natural given that Key split most of his career between the two teams doing battle. Key, it was acknowledged, had a great career, one that would have been even better had it not been cut short by arm problems. This is inarguably true. Key was a four-time All-Star, had three top-five Cy Young award finishes, led his league in ERA, strikeouts and wins, had terrific control, and generally posted ERAs that were well ahead of the league average. He pitched on six postseason teams, two of which won the World Series. Key won’t be going to the Hall of Fame, but he had a very successful, memorable career.

The one aspect of Key’s career that wasn’t discussed was how he started it. The answer is, “in the bullpen.” A third-round pick in the 1982 draft, Key was a starter all the way through a brief Minor League career that saw him make the Blue Jays out of Spring Training in 1984. Manager Bobby Cox and general manager Pat Gillick never saw fit to give him a start that year. Instead, he made 63 appearances out of the bullpen. He was up and down in terms of results, as rookies often are, but he finished the season strong, putting up a 2.93 ERA in the last two months, and in 1985 he made the move to the starting rotation. Not coincidentally, the Blue Jays improved their record by 10 games and won the AL East.

Key is just one of dozens of successful starting pitchers who broke in this way. For this reason it’s always a little humorous when commentators and fans act nervous about pitching Phil Hughes out of the bullpen, or, for that matter, promoting Chamberlain out of it. Every pitcher is different, so there’s no ironclad rule that says, “Jimmy Key did it, so it must be okay,” but you can point to more stories like Key’s than you can the other kind, the one where a pitcher was somehow destroyed by the diversion into relief work.

MONTERO MANIA
Cue up the hype machine, because the 19-year-old mutant slugger in the making homered in his fourth straight game on Thursday. He’s now batting .325/.395/.571 with five home runs in 21 games at Double-A Trenton. He’s also thrown in nine walks, which is actually a better rate than he had down in the Florida State League. Combine his numbers for the two levels and you get a teenager who is batting .346/.403/.580 in 69 games. Here’s the best thing about the numbers: Trenton is a tough place to hit. Jesus Montero is hitting “only” .314/.368/.457 with one home run there. On the road, the Boy Wonder is batting .333/.417/.667 with four home runs in 42 at-bats. In other words, the numbers are artificially depressed.

This is getting ahead of things, but let’s dream: With a strong conclusion to the season at Trenton, Montero will be in a good position to get a long look from the Major League staff in spring training next year. He would then be a hot streak and an injury away from a call to Scranton. His position is still a problem — Montero threw out just 13 percent of basestealers at Tampa. He’s done a bit better at Trenton, with a 28 percent caught stealing rate, but it’s early days yet. Despite this, if Montero’s bat is ready, the Yankees could use him at the designated hitter spot with occasional spot starts at catcher against those teams that are less inclined to run.

With Hideki Matsui likely to leave town after the season, they’ll have the opening on the roster and a chance to save some money by using a young player in the spot. This is something that teams are generally reluctant to do, as there seems to be the thought that if you let a young guy DH you’re hurting his chances of someday developing into Ozzie Smith. That seems like an unnecessary worry in Montero’s case. 

A pinstriped win, no matter what

jorge_250.jpg

NO MATTER WHAT
HAPPENS, IT’S GOOD FOR THE YANKEES

The next two weeks are going to be a fascinating, possibly
decisive time for the Yankees. First, they should have Jorge Posada back on
Friday, which means they’ll have something like their full offensive complement
for the first time all year–Brett Gardner 
substituting for Melky Cabrera for the next several days
notwithstanding, though Brett is actually out-hitting Melky in May,
.357/.449/.619 to .321/.348/.429, so you can’t say the lineup is suffering too badly
for his absence.

The Yankees then take their reconstituted offense into
battle against the Indians, a team that’s no pushover but has real pitching
problems–even during their recent little winning streak, they were pounded more
often than not. Following four games at Cleveland,
where the Indians are 10-11, they go home for three against the Rangers, a
dangerous team but one that is not nearly so dangerous on the road due to their
low on-base percentage. Yes, their power hitters are going to knock a few balls
out of Yankee Stadium II, but so will the Yankees, and they should have more
runners on when they do so.

The Rangers are followed into New York by the Rays, 12-16 on the road and
suffering from a rapidly unraveling pitching staff. After that series, the Yankees go to Boston, where they get another chance to make
some kind of statement against the Red Sox. Before the Red Sox get to that
point on their journey, the Sox have three games at Toronto, which means that no matter what
happens, one team next to the Yankees in the standings will be losing. Then it’s
off to Detroit,
where the Tigers are a tough 15-7 and currently lead the American League in
lowest run average. Finally, they entertain the Rangers at home while the
Yankees are grappling with the Rays. This could be the moment where the Red Sox
see the race slipping away. Their starting pitching is surprisingly poor. Josh
Beckett has now had five straight quality starts, but there are still problems
beyond him, like getting Daisuke Matsuzaka under control, Jon Lester fixed, and
figuring out how to get rid of Brad Penny so one of the kids can come up and
presumably have an ERA under 6.00. They have let David Ortiz kill them all
season long, and replacing him is going to be a painful and divisive thing to
do. This organization is endlessly resourceful, and they won’t just fall apart,
but they have real problems right now.

As for the Jays,
after the Red Sox, they host the Angels for three and the Royals for three,
both winnable series but neither sure things, followed by four games at Texas, which won’t be
easy at all.

 
THE BULLPEN: A QUICK
WORD

Remember Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell. Better by far to
give Mark Melancon a long look before dealing the farm for a Jose Veras
replacement.


MAKE IT STOP!
Are we done with Angel Berroa yet? Has anyone yet explained
his purpose? Does he have incriminating photos of someone?

It’s a small thing, a very small thing, the 25th
man, but then, remember what Joe Torre did with Homer Bush in 1998. Flexibility,
or for that matter a useful hitter off the bench, would allow the Yankees to
win more games. This would seem… obvious.

 

THE AROUND (AND
ABOUT)

Giants 6, Braves 3:
Randy Johnson threw six strong innings for victory No. 299 (one run, three hits,
no walks, five strikeouts). You’d rather not see him back into 300, and some of
his recent starts have been rough. He’s an amazing physical specimen: in 52
innings, he’s got 54 strikeouts, 9.35 per nine innings. The man is 45 years
old, and there are many, many 25-year-olds who don’t get that many batters to
swing and miss. Only 12 pitchers have thrown as many as 100 innings in a season
at Johnson’s age or older. At 45, Nolan Ryan struck out 8.98 batters per nine
innings. Phil Niekro struck out 6.10 as a 46-year-old Yankee in 1985. There
have been five geriatric seasons in the 5.00s, including Satchel Paige’s 5.93
in 1952. (Paige was a lot further above his league average than Niekro was
above his.) Johnson has the second-largest differential between his rate and
the league strikeout rate after Ryan.

 
Angels 3, White Sox 1:
Everyone pitched well, even Gavin Floyd and someone with the last name of
“Weaver.” These things happen. In fairness to the last-mentioned, he currently
ranks second in the league in ERA, about a run and a half behind Zack Greinke.
Obligatory former Yankees watch: Bobby Abreu went 2-for-3, as did Juan Rivera,
who is now batting .293/.335/.415, which is kind of like current Brett Gardner,
but without the speed and defense or the promise of improvement.

 
Padres 8,
Diamondbacks 5
: After a miserable, miserable, rehearsals-for-retirement
start, Brian Giles has hit .295/.407/523 over his last 14 games, throwing in
nine walks. It’s something, though 14 games is hardly definitive. Good to see
the Padres bounce back over .500 after their recent winning streak was
terminated; usually a fringe team that starts acting dominant for a couple of
weeks will quickly demonstrate the way gravity works (as in, what goes up must
come down).

Twins 4, Red Sox 2:
Solid work all around by Twins pitching in this one, including three innings of
scoreless relief, 1 1/3 by Jose Mijares, a rookie lefty with a
ninth-inning-worthy fastball-slider combo currently working the middle frames…
Another two-hit day for Ellsbury; if you get your batting average up high
enough, eventually it won’t matter if you don’t walk or hit for power. Said
batting average is higher still than your current .307; see Dernard Span–the
difference is a few more extra-base hits and about 14 more walks in exactly the
same amount of playing time.  

 
Mets 7, Washington 4: A
wild, wild night for Johan Santana, who still seems on pace to win that elusive
third Cy Young award. Three straight wins for the Mets with a lineup that for
the Yankees would be missing Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada. It’s
the Nats, of course, so thank the Lords of Good Timing, but all credit to the
Mets for being able to execute… And Daniel Murphy, who banged a home run off a
rather idiotically placed sign.

 
Reds 6, Astros 1:
Seventh straight loss for the Astros, who are starting to get to the place
where a 100-loss season becomes a real possibility–something that has never
happened in what has been a generally successful franchise despite never having
had a champion. From 1969 through last year, the club had won 175 more games
than it had lost… It’s not clear who they can trade, as the few exciting
players are signed to outsized contracts, and they have no impact-level
prospects, so the journey of the ‘Stros, not just through the rest of this
year, but into the next, is going to be an interesting one. As C-3PO said,
there’ll be no escape for the princess this time… Remember I was talking about
Phil Hughes and quality start percentage a couple of days ago? Bronson Arroyo
is at 60 percent, but his ERA is over 5.00–in his three losses, his ERA is
13.83.

 
Indians 12, Rays 7:
The Rays continue to lead the AL
in runs scored per game, but their pitching is like Cerberus’s chew-toy. That
they are hitting so well despite their injuries and a B.J. Upton who ranks as
one of the most futile hitters in the biz is amazing. The regression of the
hurlers is less so, and was widely predicted, though I for one was not so quick
to believe it. I certainly had higher hopes for control artist Andy Sonnanstine,
who has not been so controlling this year. As we saw with Ian Kennedy, a
similar pitcher last year, this model of hurler is either all right or all
wrong–their (lack of) stuff doesn’t allow for a middle ground. The good news
for the Rays is they have some alternatives, such as David Price (now up with
the club) and Wade Davis (not yet).

 
Marlins 6, Phillies 2:
Sometimes even the champions lose to a pitcher named Burke Badenhop, though not
often. Forty-five thousand watched this one at Philadelphia, and as Casey Stengel liked to
say, the attendance was robbed. If Ryan Howard was hitting better than
.227/.303/.455 (four home runs, 88 at-bats), they’d at least have more to talk
about during these Badenhop bow-downs.

 
Mariners 6, Athletics
1
: Nomar Garciaparra heads back to the disabled list. Just thought I would
point out the biggest non-news of the day. I’d also like to point out that
Mariners infielders are hitting .236/.280/.375 as a group, and that’s counting
Russell Branyan. With his fourth cought stealing, Ichiro equals his total for
all of 2008.

 
Dodgers 8, Rockies 6:
Andre Ethier had better hurry and find his stroke, because if Juan Pierre is
still hitting .400 when Manny comes back, even I’m going to have a hard time
arguing that he should be benched–that Pierre has allowed the Dodgers to feel
so little pain over Ramirez’s banishment is one of the stories of the year. The
story of the game was that Joe Torre’s pen bent but didn’t break.

 
Cubs 5, Pirates 2:
Notable mainly for Carlos Zambrano’s ejection-worthy explosion and the
relocation of the Cubs to a game over .500.

 
Tigers 8, Royals 3:
Another strong start for Rick Porcello, though the low strikeout rate is still
troubling. Kyle Farnsworth threw a scoreless inning in the loss, his usual spot
for scoreless innings.

Orioles 12, Blue Jays
10
: Add Nolan Reimold to the list of possibly invigorating youth the
Orioles are now playing with–next year, the AL East could be an even more
difficult place to win a pennant than it is now, though pitching is still going
to be a problem by the Bay. As for the Jays, by the All-Star break we’re not
going to remember they were ever in the race.

 
Cardinals 3, Brewers
2
: In which the Cardinals take control, largely due to their busy bullpen,
though Todd Wellemeyer was solid for five. You wonder if LaRussa’s hardworking
relievers can keep up the pace for the rest of the year, though to be fair he
has spread out the work… Albert Pujols has just one home run in the last two
weeks.  

 
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Big series for Yanks in Toronto

damon250_051109.jpgTHE 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. 

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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. 

The Pinstriped Bible — LIVE from the Bronx

andybiblepinstriped09.jpgMORE FROM THE BALLPARK ( 9:35 p.m.)
As I write, the Yankees are batting in the bottom of the fourth. Andy Sonnanstine, who has not been particularly good this year, have held them to one hit (three hits — in the time it took me to complete this sentence, Teixeira singled and Matsui doubled. Either the Yankees are heating up or my sentences are too long). The Rays have played some excellent defense, as is to be expected given that by at least one measure, defensive efficiency, the Rays are the best leather team in the league — just as they were last year.

With two runners on, the ballpark is plenty loud — I wonder if the acoustics are really as has been said or the fans haven’t had enough to cheer about… And Cano flies out to Carl Crawford in left, and all at once it’s quiet again.

A little earlier, A.J. Burnett skipped a ball through Dioner Navarro’s toes, and that reminded me of a brief encounter I had with sports talk radio earlier today. The caller to Sirius-XM’s midmorning show argued that what the Yankees needed to do to beat the Red Sox was hit them with more pitches. We seem to hear this sentiment every time the Yankees drop a series to the Sox: the Sox intimidate the Yankees but the Yankees don’t intimidate them. It sounds pathetic. I can never remember the old saying correctly — is violence the first refuge of the incompetent of the last? It seems to work either way. Whichever the case, such sentiments are an example of it. The way the Yankees will beat the Red Sox is to win some games. I know it’s a novel idea, but if they hit better than .150 with runners in scoring position against Boston, they’ll score some runs, maybe even more runs than Boston scores. Engaging in a beanball war is not going to achieve much more than getting players suspended at best and hurt at worst. These teams see each other a lot of times this year, and the last thing either of them needs is to see sporting competitiveness spill over into violence.

The thing that really struck me about the call, after its ignorance, was its super-ignorance. The Yankees have hit EIGHT Red Sox this year. The Red Sox have hit TWO Yankees. Don’t you have an obligation to watch the actual games before making so reckless a recommendation? Couldn’t the Yankees try hitting a few home runs before starting a fight? All we are saying is give peace a chance. Or at least common sense.

As I put the pen down on this particular entry, it is the top of the sixth. The Rays have two on and one out after a Jason Bartlett sac bunt (Bartlett had struck out in his two previous at-bats, so the bunt sorta kinda makes sense). Burnett is already over 100 pitches, and I see someone loosening in the bullpen. “Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.” Maybe it’s howling at Jose Veras. Wouldn’t you?

———-

SCENES FROM A BALLPARK ( 7:23 p.m.)
The Pinstriped Bible comes to you from the Bronx, New York this evening, where the Yankees and Rays are about to joust. Let’s see… The Rays thrashed the Red Sox, the Red Sox thrashed the Yankees, so next in the sequence is… Yankees thrash Rays? My boss is in the seat next to me, so I’m sticking with that line. Not good to look too curmudgeonly and pessimistic in front of the guy who signs the checks.

Despite the tough losses of the last few days, there was a lot of animated good spirits on display on the pregame field. Bernie Williams was on hand, joking with Derek Jeter, then chatting with Melky Cabrera behind the cage. I couldn’t make out what they were talking about — the ballpark amps were at 11 — but I hope it was some insight about growing at the major league level or how to hit from the right side, and not the best way to shift to an F#m chord from a D#7 diminished chord without breaking your fingers. Reggie Jackson was also on hand, in uniform (Williams was in civvies), watching over batting practice and chatting eagerly with some reporters (off the record ad strictly personal, natch). A few feet away, John Sterling was interviewing Joe Girardi, but somehow Joe was doing a lot more listening than talking.

I briefly tried to imagine that it was 1927, and the Yankees taking batting practice were Ruth, Gehrig, Meusel, etcetera, but quickly gave up: it was too bloody loud. In 1927 batting practice must have sounded like batting practice: the crack of the bat, a few people shouting on the field and in the stands.

CRACK

Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

CRACK

Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

CRACK

It must have been pure heaven.

swisher_pblog_050609.jpgAs Nick Swisher came out of the cage, Girardi asked him a question. I assume it was, “How did you feel hitting today?” or something like that. Swisher made a face, shook his head, and must have said something sarcastic, because Girardi bopped him over the helmet with the mitt he was carrying. Swisher isn’t tall, but Girardi had to do a little hop-step-jump in order to pull off the gesture.

Angel Berroa and Brett Gardner took extra batting practice. Berroa caught my eye when he cracked a ball far deeper into the stands than any of the Yankee regulars had–you’ll note that whereas every Yankee starter could put on a show in batting practice, most of them are more applied in their work, drilling line drives in one turn in the cage, pulling balls in another, and so on. Berroa was hitting deep flies, and one traveled deep into the right field bleachers, landing just short of the back row, just in front of the “26 World Champions” sign. This seemed like a wasted drill–Berroa is not going to be cranking balls out of the park under game condition. It’s just not a skill he has. Few hitters achieve any kind of consistency when uppercutting the ball and trying to hit home runs, and Berroa won’t be the first. Why not try to develop a skill that will keep you on a Major League roster instead of one that won’t?

Gardner’s BP seemed, to my weak, rhino-like eyes, to be a mixed bag. On some swings he used the lower half of his body to pull crisp line drives to right, including one which carried out of the park. On a few other swings, he lunged with his upper body as he has been doing in games, and hit something weak the other way. As he finished, he turned to Kevin Long and asked, “How was that?” I didn’t catch Long’s response, as at just that moment, the scoreboard kicked off the Graig Nettles “Yankeeography” at such volume that John Sterling could have been chastising the Hebrews for their dalliance with the Golden Calf, or threatening to turn Sodom into a parking lot. At one point I looked up and saw an image of Tommy Lasorda as big as an aircraft carrier. “Surrender, Dorothy!” he screamed. I dropped to my knees. In doing so, I narrowly avoided being run down by the entire Rays roster, which was engaged in a pregame stretching exercise in which they hopped, skipped, and jumped down the third base line singing, “Three Little Maids from School Are We.” Okay, they didn’t really sing that, but they could have — they were skipping to the proper rhythm.

This should in no way be construed as a comment on the collective masculinity of the Rays. The only point, if there is one, is that grown men rarely looked dignified when hopping and skipping. It’s also a good way to lose your wallet.

Landing Big Tex a big win for Yanks


Teixeira-12-24-250.jpgTEIXEIRA!
In the 2004-2005 offseason, the top free agent on the market was Carlos Beltran, the switch-hitting, slugging center fielder. It happened that the Yankees had a need in center field, as Bernie Williams, 35, had just completed his second subpar season in a row, and his defense had long since passed the point of no return. Beltran reportedly had a great deal of interest in playing for the Yankees, but for reasons that were unclear then and remain unclear, the Yankees passed. That meant not only leaving Williams in center for another year, but it also meant that when Williams finally had to be wedged out of center field, they had to go to the best available player, which meant Johnny Damon. Damon has had two good years in three for the Yankees, but he is not the player that Beltran is, is far older, and soon proved that he was no longer a center fielder.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Yankees’ decision to pass on Beltran so as to use their monetary advantages that winter primarily on pitching help–which came in the dubious forms of Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, plus the aged but still viable (and cranky) Randy Johnson–has played a key part in their failure to win a title in the years since. Had the Yankees passed on Mark Teixeira, a player who perfectly suited (as was suggested here in this space on Monday) three of their needs simultaneously, age,offense, and defense, they would have repeated the same error.

They did not. All credit to Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner family, to the former for playing it cool and then making his move, to the latter for opening their wallets and spending big–and to all three for not just spending, Wright- and Pavano-style, but for spending it on the right player, maybe the “rightest” player that they’ve acquired since Alex Rodriguez. If only they don’t try to move Teixeira to another position so a defensively inferior player can play first. Nah, that would never happen.

There is one point in the above worth repeating: all the dollars that accrue to sport’s wealthiest organization mean nothing if they are not spent wisely. Too often, the Yankees have settled for something other than the choicest cuts of meat. This time, it’s filet mignon all the way.

The Yankees are not perfect. The defense is still poor. The outfield defense could be very shaky depending on the alignment the Yankees pursue. They could choose to let a meaningless spring training battle decide center field instead of letting the evidence of a full major league season inform their choices. They could give Xavier Nady more playing time in right field than Nick Swisher. Derek Jeter is losing range even as we speak. Jorge Posada may or may not be able to throw–

–And that reminds me to revisit another point, as a major metropolitan newspaper published a column castigating the Yankees for closing off first base to Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada. Here we go:

This year, major league first basemen hit .272 /.353/.464.
Two years ago, they hit .276/.357/.463.
Three years ago, they hit .285/.363/.488.
Over the last five years, they hit .275/.355/.468.
Over the last ten years, they hit .276/.359/.472.

No doubt you’re starting to get the picture. Now, this is the average. If a team is getting these rates from its first baseman, it’s breaking even in comparison with the league. You could have Albert Pujols and do a lot better. You could have Doug Mientkiewicz and do a lot worse. Heck, your manager could give Miguel Cairo the odd start at first base. Some of these first baseman, like Albert Pujols and New Yankee Teixeira, not only hit but can field the position. While the standards are set where they are, there is no plausible reason that the Yankees should pass on a 29-year-old MVP-level player so they can reserve first base for aging former stars who will struggle to meet even the average level of production for the position and will almost certainly not be defensive assets. That is a formula for losing. And, oh yeah, the contracts of both Damon and Matsui are up at the end of the season. Unless the Yankees are as misguided a year from now as they were intelligent in signing Teixeira, what to do with those players at age 36 and up will be some other club’s problem.

Thus endeth the lecture. For now, suffice it to say that the Yankees have given their fans a great early Christmas present. More importantly, they’ve done the right thing competitively. Before the Red Sox became the favorites in the bidding, Teixeira was a move the Yankees should have made. Once the Red Sox became involved, it was a move they had to make, lest their rivals to the North unveil their own version of Murderer’s Row. As I said above, it was the right-est move the Yankees have made in years.

And with that, I wish you a happy and healthy holiday, whatever holiday is your holiday of choice. Enjoy it, and when you sit down to dinner with your family, don’t forget to scratch out Teixeira-ified batting orders into the mashed potatoes.