Posted on: September 28, 2011 11:53 pm
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Posted on: September 26, 2011 10:25 pm
BALTIMORE -- If you don't pitch, it doesn't matter how good you feel. Doesn't matter how relaxed you are.
If your aces don't pitch, you're in serious trouble.
The Red Sox, once again, are in serious trouble, after Monday night's 6-3 loss to the Orioles. A wild-card lead that was nine games just 23 days ago has now totally disappeared, after Boston's loss and the Rays' 5-2 win over the Yankees.
All tied up, with two games to play.
Disaster looms once again for the Sox, and if you want to blame anyone, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are available.
It was Beckett who started -- and lost -- Monday. But this disaster doesn't belong to just one guy. Right now, the two biggest culprits are the two biggest starters.
When September began, someone using my name wrote that the difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees was that Boston had two top-of-the-rotation starters and New York had just one.
OK, I'll confess, it was me. And I'll admit it, I was wrong.
The last two times through the rotation, when the Red Sox needed Beckett and Lester the most, the two have combined to go 0-4 with a 9.39 ERA.
That's worse than John Lackey -- who, after his performance Sunday night (in-game, not postgame), is now Boston's most effective starter.
Lackey, Jacoby Ellsbury and the bullpen really did give the Sox a lift with Sunday's win. The pregame atmosphere in the Red Sox clubhouse Monday afternoon felt nothing like the weekend atmosphere in New York, or last week's at Fenway.
Sure enough, the Red Sox took a second-inning lead Monday night, just the second time in the last 13 games they'd scored first. Even when Beckett gave the run back in the bottom of the second, the Red Sox went back ahead in the fourth.
But on a night where they really needed Beckett to pitch like an ace, he turned the fifth and sixth into two innings of Red Sox misery.
When Robert Andino -- remember him? -- hit the first Orioles' inside-the-park home run in Camden Yards history (that's 20 years of history), the Red Sox were down four runs.
Andino's blast went off Ellsbury's glove in center field, but it would have been a spectacular catch, as he crashed into the fence. The blame goes to the guy who served up the blast, not the guy who nearly caught it.
It didn't help that the Sox didn't score after Jed Lowrie's go-ahead home run in the fourth. But this one was on Beckett, without doubt.
And the Red Sox' season now rests on the shaky Erik Bedard, who starts Tuesday, and then on Lester, now certain to come back Wednesday on short rest.
Normally, the Sox would feel good relying on Lester. They felt good relying on Beckett Monday.
Good feelings don't last around here. Right now, that should be obvious.
Posted on: September 24, 2011 8:29 pm
NEW YORK -- Was Jon Lester that bad Saturday?
Or are the Yankees that good right now?
One rival scout thinks it's the latter.
"His velocity was good," said the scout, who is advancing the Red Sox for the playoffs. "They hit good pitches. Good teams hit good pitches. And [the Yankees] are so good it's scary."
The Yankees clinched the American League East Wednesday night, but they started their "A" lineup Saturday, and it produced eight runs and eight hits in just 2 2/3 innings against Lester, the Red Sox ace.
Lester has had three sub-par starts in a row -- the other two against the Rays -- which could lead you to believe that it's not just the Yankees. It could also lead you to believe that Lester is hurt, but the scout's report and Lester's own answers say that he's not.
"I'm not tired," Lester said. "I'm not hurt. There's nothing wrong with me."
Later, he suggested that he agreed with the scout that good pitches were getting hit.
"You make a pitch on the black, and it gets hit 400 feet," he said.
The Yankees have an outstanding offensive team, and in five starts against them this year (including Saturday), Lester has give up 19 runs in 25 2/3 innings, for a 6.66 ERA. Lester's ERA against the rest of baseball is 2.98.
Still, it's shocking for the Red Sox to see Lester struggle, and the problem is two-fold.
First, Lester's poor month has made it significantly harder to clinch a playoff spot, since he and Josh Beckett are the two starters the Red Sox must count on. Second, if the Red Sox make the playoffs but Lester's problems continue into October, it's hard to see them winning.
"Watching him struggle is hard for all of us," David Ortiz said. "This guy is the heart and soul of our pitching staff."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona said that if there was one positive Saturday, it was that Lester threw just 55 pitches, and should be fine to work on short rest Wednesday, if the Red Sox need him in their final regular-season game. Lester said he figures his season isn't over, "one way or the other."
But one scout advancing the Red Sox figures Boston's season won't go past Thursday. He joked that he was going home Saturday night, "because they're not making the playoffs."
If they don't, Jon Lester will be one of the reasons.
Posted on: September 24, 2011 7:11 pm
Edited on: September 24, 2011 10:11 pm
NEW YORK -- Is this a collapse?
Check back in a few days.
Is this what a collapse looks like?
Fly balls that could have been caught but aren't. Ground balls that could have turned into outs but weren't. The one starting pitcher you can count on coming up smallest in his biggest start of the season.
Yeah, that's it.
That was the Red Sox on Saturday. And that was just the second inning, in a miserable 9-1 loss to the Yankees.
By night's end, after the Rays finished off their 6-2 win over the Blue Jays, the Boston lead in the American League wild-card race was down to just 1 1/2 games, down from nine games three weeks ago.
That sounds bad, but in any normal situation, up 1 1/2 with just five to play really shouldn't be that bad a place to be. Then again, the Red Sox are starting Tim Wakefield and John Lackey in Sunday's day-night doubleheader against the Yankees.
Up 1 1/2 with five to play isn't bad, if you figure you can win even two or three of the five games. But the Red Sox have won just two of their last 10 games, and just three of their last 16.
The Red Sox are 5-17 this month. They're an incredible 1-17 in games where they don't score 12 runs. They began September in first place in the American League East, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees, and now they're eight games back of New York.
"What you've got to do right now is laugh, just to see if you can fool someone," said David Ortiz, who wasn't laughing.
"We got in a funk," Ortiz said. "We've just got to find a way out."
Sure, with Wakefield and Lackey pitching Sunday.
Saturday, with ace Jon Lester on the mound, was going to be the day they found a way out.
But just as the Red Sox haven't looked like a playoff team this month, Lester hasn't looked like an ace. And just as the Red Sox looked like a collapsing team Saturday, Lester looked like the lead collapser.
He pitched just 2 2/3 innings, in his shortest start of the season and the fourth shortest of his career. He gave up six runs, all in the second inning, just the second six-run inning he has allowed in 153 career starts (and nearly 1,000 career innings).
A day after the Rays' home loss to the Blue Jays had seemingly eased Red Sox concerns, Lester raised those concerns sky-high again.
He wasn't alone.
In that six-run inning, the Sox failed to get an out on an Andruw Jones ground ball to short. Two batters later, Russell Martin hit a fly ball to left field that $142 million man Carl Crawford could have caught.
It would have been a nice catch, but not spectacular. It's a play you'd like to see your big free-agent acquisition (signed in part for his defense) make.
Crawford didn't make it. And Lester followed it up by serving up an opposite-field three-run home run to Derek Jeter.
It was 6-0, and it was basically over.
And the Red Sox were left hoping for more help from the Blue Jays, or more help from the Yankees (who go to Tampa Bay for three games starting Monday night), or for a decent start from Wakefield (one win, 5.83 ERA since the middle of August) or Lackey (a major-league worst 6.49 ERA for the season).
It's not a collapse yet, not unless they complete it.
But it already looks like one, doesn't it?
It sure did Saturday.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 8:55 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 11:48 pm
The Phillies' goals for the rest of the season would seem to be simple.
Stay healthy (or get healthy). Get rested. Figure out a playoff rotation. Try to break the club record for wins (it's 101, and after a win Thursday the Phillies need just a 10-10 finish to break it).
This week, as the Phillies have faced two potential playoff opponents, manager Charlie Manuel threw another goal out there:
Intimidate the opposition. Look as unbeatable as possible.
"If you play really well, it could discourage them," Manuel said, in advance of this weekend's series in Milwaukee.
The Phillies will likely open the playoffs against the Diamondbacks, who were 2 1/2 games behind the Brewers entering play Thursday. In that case, their second-round opponent would be either the Braves or the Brewers.
The Phillies swept the Braves in a three-game series. They opened a four-game series against the Brewers with a 7-2 win Thursday night.
The games barely matter in the standings, with both teams far ahead in their divisions. Manuel thinks they could matter in the minds of the players, especially if one team dominates the other.
"When I managed in the minor leagues, I had some big hitting teams," he said. "I always liked it when the other team watched us take batting practice. It scared them."
So Charlie, someone asked, does that mean you don't want your pitchers watching when Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder take BP?
"My pitchers can," he said, laughing. "My starting rotation can watch them."
Nothing will scare Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee et al, Manuel figures, probably correctly.
But there is some thought in Philadelphia that the one team that would really concern the Phillies would be the Giants, who knocked them out of the playoffs last year and also won two of three in Philadelphia in July (although the Phillies then won three of four in San Francisco).
The Phillies lost two of three to the Brewers in April, but the Phillies don't look at the Brewers the way they look at the Giants.
Not yet, anyway.
If the Brewers play really well this weekend, maybe the Phillies could be the team that gets discouraged.
On to 3 to Watch:
1. With Josh Beckett's ankle injury, the Red Sox have reason to worry about their starting rotation. They don't have to worry about making it to the playoffs. Right? Uh, I think that's right, but I also noticed that Boston's wild-card lead over the Rays shrunk to 6 1/2 games on Thursday night. And I noticed that the two teams have seven remaining head-to-head meetings, starting with Red Sox at Rays, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Tropicana Field. Great pitching matchup Sunday, with Jon Lester going against James Shields, but especially with Beckett out, the Red Sox might be more focused on what happens Friday, when John Lackey faces Wade Davis. Of the 140 pitchers that have started at least 15 games in the majors this year, Lackey (6.11) is the only one with an ERA over 6.00.
2. For the last three weeks, the Angels have had an easier schedule than the Rangers, and that's no doubt one reason why the Rangers' lead in the American League West shrunk from seven games to 2 1/2 games. But the schedule turns starting this weekend, when the Rangers begin a homestand against the A's and Indians, followed by a trip to Seattle and Oakland. Meanwhile, in Anaheim, it gets tougher, including Yankees at Angels, Saturday night (9:05 ET) at Angel Stadium. At least the Angels have their top three starters set for the series, with Jered Weaver facing Bartolo Colon on Friday, Dan Haren against CC Sabathia on Saturday and Ervin Santana against Freddy Garcia on Sunday.
3. When someone asked Manuel the other day if there's any way Vance Worley could find his way into the postseason rotation, the Phillies manager said: "I think that's a question that should be asked." While the Yankees and Red Sox wonder if they have enough pitchers they would want to start in October, the Phillies seem to have too many. Worley has been outstanding, but it's still hard to see Manuel using him ahead of Roy Oswalt, especially since the manager is on record saying he expects Oswalt's velocity to pick up in October. Worley gets another chance to make his case in Phillies at Brewers, Sunday afternoon (2:10 ET) at Miller Park. It's an interesting case, as the Phillies have won each of Worley's last 14 starts. If the Phillies win Sunday, Worley will tie the Philadelphia club record of 15, set by Steve Carlton in 1972, his 27-win season. The last longer streak in the big leagues was by the 2005 Cardinals, who won 17 straight Chris Carpenter starts.
Posted on: August 28, 2011 8:49 pm
Edited on: August 28, 2011 9:03 pm
Of all the pitchers who have ever made 90 or more career starts for the Yankees, A.J. Burnett has the worst ERA (4.82).
Of all the pitchers who have ever started 11 or more games in a season for the Yankees, Phil Hughes has the seventh highest ERA (6.46).
Good thing the Yankees don't really need to beat the first-place Red Sox this week, with Hughes and Burnett starting two of the three games.
Oh, they'll tell you that they do. They'll talk about the importance of winning the American League East, and of home-field advantage in the playoffs.
But the real importance of this week, and the real importance of every other week until the playoffs begin, is for the Yankees to figure out which of their shaky starting pitchers they can possibly hope to rely on in October. Boston is a good place to try to start figuring, in part because the Red Sox may be the team the Yankees eventually need to beat, and also because in 12 games against the Red Sox this season (10 of them losses), Yankee starters have a 7.54 ERA.
At the moment, Burnett would seem the least reliable, given his 11.91 ERA and 1.142 opponents OPS (Jose Bautista leads all major-league hitters at 1.092) in August.
In fact, with manager Joe Girardi once again promising that the Yankees will go from a six-man rotation to a five-man rotation after the series in Boston, Burnett is the leading candidate to be dropped.
The Yankees would like to think that Hughes is less of a concern, given that in five straight appearances heading into last week, he had a 2.08 ERA. Then Hughes was awful against the light-hitting A's (2 2/3 innings, six runs), and followed it up with the strange comment, "Hopefully I won't face the A's again for a while."
Instead, his next start is against the Red Sox, who lead the majors in scoring.
Hughes should know that; in three appearances against Boston this year, he has a 16.20 ERA.
Even when Hughes had good numbers, scouts weren't overly impressed.
"He was better," said one scout who watched him in a good performance. "But that's not the same Phil Hughes from when he was really good."
Hughes starts Wednesday night. Burnett, 0-4 with an 8.71 ERA in eight starts for the Yankees against the Red Sox, starts Thursday.
So the Yankees might want to win the first game of the series, behind ace CC Sabathia, on Tuesday.
And that, if nothing else, will make this feel just like a Yankee playoff series.
On to 3 to Watch:
1. The Diamondbacks ended the weekend with a four-game lead in the National League West (their biggest yet), which means they're guaranteed to enter September -- and next weekend's big series in San Francisco -- in first place. First, they'll play three games against the Rockies -- the team that was supposed to be challenging the Giants -- beginning with Rockies at Diamondbacks, Monday night (9:40 ET) at Chase Field. Monday's game also features Alex White, one of the two pitchers the Rockies got in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade.
2. At this point, it's probably worth pointing out that Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in his four starts against the Red Sox this year, and also that his 4.95 ERA in August is easily his highest for any month this year. But there's no doubt that the Yankees trust Sabathia about 10 times more than they trust any of their other starters, so they'll expect him to win, in Yankees at Red Sox, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. Sabathia faces the unreliable John Lackey, with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester going against Hughes and Burnett the next two nights.
3. The Yankees talk about home-field advantage, and it's true that they're 41-26 at Yankee Stadium this year. But that's nothing compared to the Brewers, who have a 50-16 home record, with 17 wins in their last 19 games. That record has helped the Brewers turn the National League Central into a runaway, and has greatly diminished the importance of this week's series against second-place St. Louis. The Brewer record for home wins in a season is 54, and they could get close in the series that ends with Cardinals at Brewers, Thursday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Miller Park. Yovani Gallardo, who is 9-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 13 home starts, will be on the mound for the Brewers. One more thing about the Brewers: Despite playing in the smallest market in the majors, they'll sell their 3 miilionth ticket sometime this week.
Posted on: August 4, 2011 9:09 pm
Edited on: August 4, 2011 10:16 pm
The teams with the two best records in the American League meet this weekend, and it means next to nothing.
Baseball's top rivalry resumes this weekend, with first place on the line, except that in this case, second place is basically as good as first.
If commissioner Bud Selig has the best interests of baseball in mind, he'll forget about Alex Rodriguez's supposed poker games, and do the one thing that would make this version of Yankees-Red Sox truly important.
Can we get the second wild-card team added for this year?
I realize it can't happen. I realize baseball is heading towards adding the second wild-card team in 2012, and that's the best we're going to get.
But if you're one of those who still don't believe in the concept, just look at what the current system has done to a series that should be great.
The Red Sox and Yankees have been separated by no more than 2 1/2 games in the standings since the middle of May. The Red Sox have dominated the first nine head-to-head meetings, winning eight of them, but the Yankees have done better against everyone else.
The Red Sox have been winning like crazy, but so have the Yankees.
It's a great race, except for one thing: They're both going to the playoffs, and there's only a minimal reward for winning the division rather than the wild card.
In fact, if the season ended today, the division winner would play the Tigers, which means facing Justin Verlander twice in a five-game series. The wild card would play the Rangers, who may be better overall, but don't have a Verlander-like ace.
A second wild-card team solves most of this.
With a second wild-card, winning the division means avoiding a one-game play-in against a team like the Angels. It means not just an extra day of rest, but also the chance to save your best available pitcher for the first game of the Division Series.
Yes, the Yankees already want to beat the Red Sox, and vice versa. But in the current system, in a year like this, with both teams nearly guaranteed a playoff spot and little distinction between a division winner and a wild card, there's very little penalty for not winning the division.
And that's too bad.
On to 3 to Watch:
1. When the Yankees didn't trade for a starting pitcher at the deadline, general manager Brian Cashman suggested that Bartolo Colon would be as good a No. 2 starter as anyone he could acquire. So let's see how Colon matches up against Jon Lester, his mound opponent in Yankees at Red Sox, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. Lester has won both his starts against the Yankees this year, despite giving up seven runs in 12 innings. He's won his last five starts against the Yankees, dating back to last year. Colon has lost both of his 2011 starts against the Red Sox, despite going 10 1/3 innings and allowing just three earned runs.
2. One of those pitchers the Yankees passed on, and the only one who realistically could have slotted as a No. 2 starter, was Ubaldo Jimenez, who debuts for Cleveland in Indians at Rangers, Friday night (8:05 ET) at Rangers Ballpark. He faces Derek Holland, who has three complete-game shutouts in his last five starts, and also shut out the Indians in June at Progressive Field.
3. The Phillies broke their five-year string of trading for a starting pitcher at midseason, in large part because they knew Roy Oswalt was coming back from the disabled list. The Phillies also decided against trading for a reliever, in part because Oswalt's return means that either he or Vance Worley can move to the bullpen for the playoffs. Oswalt returns from the DL in Phillies at Giants, Sunday afternoon (4:05 ET) at AT&T Park. Tim Lincecum, the guy Charlie Manuel said was "good, not great," starts for the Giants.
Posted on: June 16, 2011 9:49 pm
Maybe I'm weird, but I love watching American League pitchers hit.
Read that carefully, because I didn't say I love watching American League pitchers strike out. Or ground weakly back to the mound.
I love it when they hit . . . which doesn't happen often.
But if I could name one highlight from 14-plus years of interleague play, it might be CC Sabathia's 440-foot home run at Dodger Stadium in 2008.
So if there's one thing I'm looking forward to this weekend, as interleague play resumes, it's watching Sabathia hit at Wrigley Field.
I know, he's done it before, going 0-for-2 with a sacrifice when he was pitching for the Brewers. I know, Sabathia has come to the plate 101 times in the big leagues (about half of them during his half-season in the National League), plus five more times in the postseason.
And I know, American League managers fear these interleague road games, worrying that a pitcher could get hurt while hitting or running the bases (as the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang did in (also in 2008).
But just as I loved talking to Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson about his hitting, I love the idea of Sabathia swinging for the fences Sunday night at Wrigley.
No AL pitcher has hit a home run since 2009, when Josh Beckett homered in Philadelphia and Mark Buehrle hit one in Milwaukee.
In the 14-plus years of interleague play, American League pitchers have hit 16 home runs (none by a Yankee). Only Sabathia and Beckett have hit more than one, with two apiece.
Sabathia owns a .258 batting average in his 97 career at-bats, which means he has a higher career batting average than Dan Uggla . . . or Andruw Jones . . . or B.J. Upton.
And with three career home runs (he hit one in the National League with the Brewers), Sabathia has more than Francisco Cervelli or Chris Getz.
Anyway, there was a point this week where we all wondered if this weekend's Wrigley highlight would be the Yankee shortstop getting to 3,000 hits. Now, the highlight I'm looking for is Sabathia's 26th career hit -- but only if it's his fourth career home run.
On to 3 to Watch:
1. We interrupt all this talk of pitchers hitting to talk about a matchup of two pitchers who were traded for each other: Edwin Jackson, who went to the White Sox, and Daniel Hudson, who went to the Diamondbacks. They meet up in White Sox at Diamondbacks, Friday night (9:40 ET) at Chase Field. So far, since the trade, Jackson is 8-7 with a .383 ERA in 24 starts. Hudson is 14-6 with a 2.83 ERA in 25 starts. It's more one-sided than that, because Jackson is making $8.35 million and a free agent after this year. Hudson is making $419,000 and isn't even arbitration-eligible for another year. Oh, and Hudson is a .214 hitter. Jackson's career average is .147.
2. If Sabathia is the most successful AL pitcher at the plate, Justin Verlander is the least. In five years' worth of at-bats with the Tigers, Verlander is 0-for-16, with 10 strikeouts (although he does have five successful sacrifice bunts). He has never walked or been hit by a pitch, so his OPS is a perfect .000. Jon Lester is just behind him at 0-for-15, but Lester had a walk and a sacrifice fly last year. Verlander gets another chance at the plate in Tigers at Rockies, Sunday afternoon (3:10 ET) at Coors Field. He also gets another chance at the mound, which means he gets another chance to prove he's now the best pitcher in baseball -- which means a little more than his lack of success with the bat.
3. I probably shouldn't be getting your (or my) hopes up about watching Sabathia hit. He started two games in National League parks last year, and went 1-for-5 (a single), with three strikeouts. The year before, he went 1-for-4 (also a single). So no guarantees when he starts against Randy Wells in Yankees at Cubs, Sunday night (8:05 ET) at Wrigley Field.