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May 31, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Every loss offers a life lesson, and yesterday's lesson was this:

When you're trailing 6-0, it's still too close to bring in Tanyon Sturtze.

It didn't seem like too bad an idea when Torre brought him in to start the seventh, since the Yanks had only mustered 3 hits and no runs. He even got through the seventh in order, but then the Yankees started to come back.

Four runs in the eighth, and it was a ballgame again. With A-Rod, Sheffield and Matsui due up in the ninth, the Yankees had a good shot to tie the game. They've done this sort of thing before this season, so Torre had to know they had it in them.

But back out came Sturtze for the eighth, and with one pitch he made it a three-run game. And as it turned out, that was crucial. The Yankees scored two runs in the ninth (and they probably still would have scored them if it was 6-4), but Jorge Posada struck out with the tying run on, and the Yankees slipped back into second place.

For a day. Boston got crushed today, so the Yanks are right back on top of the division (by .004 percentage points). The loss still stings, though, since the Yankees really should have done better. But you have games like that, and the Yankees have had a few. But they've also had a few games they pulled out that they probably shouldn't have won, so maybe it evens out.

No, no it doesn't. I'm still bitter.

But I'm feeling good about the Yankees. Since The Sweep, they've gone 22-8, and the offense has been spectacular. The pitching hasn't been that great, but the talent is there, and they'll do somewhat better, I'm sure.

Boston's keeping pace with the Yankees despite injuries to their star shortstop and star right fielder. But they've also had an easier schedule than the Yankees--a much easier schedule. But now the tables have turned, and the Yankees have the easier schedule the rest of the way. Jeter's bat has woken up, Sheffield's ripping the ball lately, Giambi's coming back next week, and Steve Karsay might be on the way, too. Boston's overall depth hasn't impressed me very much, either. After Schilling, Pedro and Wakefield, their starting pitching has been at least as bad, and maybe worse, than New York's, and while their bullpen has been incredible, there's not much of an advantage over the Yankees there. If the Yanks and Sox played the ALCS now (with Nomar and Nixon back), I think the Yanks wouldn't even have to go to seven games to take them.

In a few weeks, I might be a little more pessimistic about things. A serious injury isn't out of the realm of possibility, and the Yankees don't have anyone like Tony Clark to replace Sheffield, A-Rod, Posada or Jeter. But if the Yankees can make a trade for a decent second baseman, or bring in a passable fifth starter (or Contreras turns it around), then I'll be feeling even better.

by Larry Mahnken

I volunteered to work this morning because the normal opener is a veteran of the Pacific war, so I wanted him to have the day off (I knew he wouldn't ask for it off). Problem is, they had me work last night, too, so I'm exhausted. I'm going to take a nap now, and then come back and write this afternoZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

May 30, 2004

Opening Shift
by Larry Mahnken

I'm working 4am-9:30am tomorrow, so I won't post until noonish (unless I'm asleep). Come back around then.

May 28, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Just in case you were wondering, Oriole Park at Camden Yards has decreased run scoring for the Orioles and their opponents eight consecutive seasons. If these games had been played in, say, Kansas City, then we would have seen some real run scoring!

Yesterday didn't start out too well for the Yankees. As Sidney Ponson more or less breezed through the first four innings (a single and a walk to start the second was immediately followed by a double play to kill the rally), Jose Contreras was pitching his way into trouble. A pair of two-out homers by Miguel Tejada and Raffy Palmeiro in the third put Baltimore up 3-0 going into the fifth.

Godzilla led off the fith with a single to left-center, and Tony Clark followed Bernie's fly-out with a single of his own, sending Matsui to third. Enrique Wilson hit a sac fly, and the Yankees were on the board.

But they didn't stop there, Kenny Lofton singled to right, and Derek Jeter crushed a ball off the left-centerfield wall, and the game was tied.

Two pitches later, the Yankees were in the lead, when Alex Rodriguez topped Jeter with an opposite field homer. Sheffield singled, Posada singled, Matsui doubled to score two more runs, Bernie singled to score him, and suddenly it was 8-3.

Contreras responded by walking Palmeiro on five pitches, but settled down to hold the Orioles at 3 through six innings. In the seventh, the Yankees exploded again, tacking on six more runs and more or less sealing the victory.

But the first two baserunners reached against Contreras in the bottom of the seventh, and he was done for the night.

The Yanks put up another three in the eighth, and one more in the ninth to total 41 for the series, matching their total from the 2002 series in Colorado, which is a slightly better hitters' park than Camden.

While Contreras didn't pitch very poorly, he didn't pitch that well, either, and with slightly worse luck would have been knocked out of the game early. While the Yanks got the sweep, the only good pitching they got out of the series was from Lieber, Gordon and Rivera.

But the biggest positives from this series were Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. Sheff hit .500, Matsui was 6 for 9 with 6 walks and a HBP, and Jeter was 7 for 15, raising his batting average 22 points in two days, getting over .210 for the first time since the series before The Sweep. I think I already declared the slump over a few weeks ago, so maybe I shouldn't do it this time... but 22 points in two days!

Matsui is having a month that's not quite comparable to his June last year, but has still been great. He's turned into a very disciplined hitter, walking more than he strikes out, is hitting the ball in the air more (though he's still a ground ball hitter), and only has one GIDP this year.

I'd say more, but it's 2am, and I'm barely awake.

May 27, 2004

Winning Ugly
by Larry Mahnken

Boy, did Derek Jeter ever need that game. Gary Sheffield, too. To illustrate how early it still is, Jeter's AVG jumped 11 points yesterday, and Sheffield's went up 16 points, and they gained 30 and 43 points of OPS respectively. To hit .300 this season, with the number of at-bats he's on a pace to get, Jeter has to hit .338 the rest of the way. Not likely, but not unreasonable, either, especially considering that he's only batting .200 right now.

Anyway, the Yanks got a win last night the hard way, falling behind early, coming back to take the lead, giving the lead away, then taking it right back. Jeter got three hits, Sheffield four and a homer, Matsui cracked his fifth homer this month, and Enrique Wilson continued to be surprisingly useful, smacking the game-tying single in the seventh.

The pitching wasn't very good, as Mussina struggled early, settled down for a few innings, and then lost it in the sixth. Without the rain delay, he might have ended up with seven decent innings, instead his ERA jumped back up to 5.00 and he got a no-decision. Quantrill made his 83rd appearance of the season and was terrible, giving up a homer to B.J. Surhoff to bring the Orioles within one, then following it with a single by Matos, who would eventually come around to tie the game. White was little better, allowing the tying run to score and leaving the game having retired only one batter and leaving two men on. Tanyon Sturtze proceeded to let both of those runners score before getting Rafael Palmeiro to ground out to first, mercifully ending the inning.

But the Yanks came right back. Godzilla led off the seventh with his seventh homer, and Ruben Sierra lined a ball off the top of Miguel Tejada's glove for a single. After Sierra moved to second on a high bouncer to short by Clark, Enrique Wilson slapped a 3-1 pitch to left field, and Sierra got home just before the tag, tying the game. Bernie got a pinch-hit single to bring Enrique around, Jeter doubled over the first baseman to move him to third, and after an intentional walk to A-Rod, Sheff ripped a single past a diving Palmeiro to bring two home.

Gordon shut the O's down for the next two innings, and Mo closed it out in the ninth. Tanyon Sturtze was given the win, and it was one of the least-deserved wins all seasons. The only reasons I can think of for the official scorer to give him the win are laziness or ignorance of the rules. Sturtze was the pitcher of record when the Yankees took the lead, but Rule 10.19 (4) states:
Do not credit a victory to a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when a succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain the lead. In such cases, credit the succeeding relief pitcher with the victory.
Gordon was the rightful winning pitcher, but Sturtze got it anyway.

And why was Sturtze in the game anyway? Hell, I would have brought Felix Heredia in before him. Sturtze should be used strictly for mop-up.

Gabe White's terrible performance probably got him sent back to the doghouse for a couple more weeks, though one has to wonder if not having pitched for ten days before Tuesday hurt his effectiveness. Well, Joe Torre certainly isn't going to wonder about that. He doesn't care about sample sizes, he likes to play the "hot hand", which is what he's doing at second base.

I can't really advocate that strategy. Like every player, Wilson is capable of being useful in short spurts, but you'll never know when those spurts will be. Cairo's clearly a better hitter than Wilson, and neither is a particularly good defensive second baseman. Cairo should be the one starting. In these past few days while Wilson has hit well, the Yankees have been better off, but how long are these past few days going to keep Wilson in the lineup after he starts hitting like himself again, probably by the end of the week? I suspect that when the Yankees get a new second baseman (if they do), they'll have ended up with worse production from second base by "playing the hot hand" than they probably could have expected by playing Cairo every day. It sure would make for an interesting study.

* * *

Computer problems abound; my PC keeps locking up, so my sister bought me a new motherboard and rebuilt my computer. But there are many other problems arising from the new setup, which we won't be able to fix for the next couple of days. Hopefully I'll get a blog post up tomorrow night, but don't count on it.

May 26, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Coming into the season, we were all so worried about Jon Lieber--and with good reason. He was a control pitcher coming off of Tommy John surgery, and control is the last thing a pitcher regains after that procedure. Without control, wouldn't Lieber be either be walking guys all over the place, or pitching batting practice? And what was his upside? A right-handed David Wells? That's upside to be sure, but probably not enough to justify the risk.

A risk that was exacerbated by the lack of a net. Jorge DePaula was gone before Lieber had thrown a regular season pitch, and the other options--Donovan Osborne and Alex Graman--didn't inspire a shred of confidence. Orlando Hernandez would have to prove he could still pitch, and he was a few month from being ready for the majors, anyway. The struggles of Jose Contreras made it even worse. If Lieber wasn't going to be any good, then the Yanks would have to find two starters--and they didn't seem to even have the resources to come up with one.

It looked like the Yankees were going all in with a Royal Sampler. But it looks like the bluff paid off, because Jon Lieber's been great.

A part of me had looked back at something Will Carroll had been saying over the winter. Tommy John surgery ain't what it used to be, and Lieber was ready to pitch last September. Instead of having to spend the start of this season regaining his control, Lieber had recovered it over the offseason, and was close to being what he was in Chicago the first time he took the mound this year. Whatever you think of Carroll--he himself admits that sometimes he's just repeating information available from other sources--he was absolutely right on this one.

Lieber's second start, against Seattle, was terrible. But in his four other starts he hasn't just been good, he's been great, with a 2.43 ERA--and only two walks! So much for control worries...

Lieber's even getting out left-handed batters, something he's always struggled with in his career (they have a .305 batting average against him, compared to .239 for righties). This year lefties have a .226 batting average against him, righties .246 (.566/.627 L/R OPS split). That probably won't keep up, and it probably has a lot to do with facing lineups without great left-handed hitters, a .226 batting average and .566 OPS, even from weak hitters, can't be spun as anything but a good thing.

Lieber's been fun to watch and I think it's safe to say, after five starts, that the Yankees now have three or four starters they can rely on to pitch well, if not great. Mussina might still have some struggles, but a bad Mussina will probably still be a solid starter, just not the ace the Yankees expected. I guess we'll get a better idea of what he's got left tonight.

There was more good news yesterday as Steve Karsay threw 45 pitches in a three-inning simulated game down in Tampa (only giving up two hits), and is slated to pitch in a game on Saturday. A couple of weeks ago Karsay had suffered a setback, and Joe Torre himself said, "I don't think we're going to get anything out of him. If he shows up here, it will be a bonus."

Tampa's still a long way from the majors, but 45 pitches is still an enormously positive sign. If Karsay can come back and be anywhere near as good as he was in 2002, the Yankees' bullpen, while still very righty-heavy when it comes to quality pitchers, will be about as scary as any in the game.

Speaking of quality left-handers, Gabe White has actually pitched pretty well, despite his 5.17 ERA. Take out the terrible 13th inning against Seattle, and his ERA drops below two, and his DIPS (adjusted with last year's park factors) is 3.46 (ESPN reports it at 3.39 because they don't adjust for lefties or park factors--I've forwarded my spreadsheet to see if that'll help them). But Joe Torre has buried White, using him last night in a blowout for the first time in ten days, while using Felix Heredia two times over the weekend in Texas. Heredia did pitch better than White during their time as Yankees last season, and Heredia didn't give up a 2-run homer to Trot Nixon in Game 6 of the ALCS last year--the same Trot Nixon with 9 career regular season HRs against lefties, and a .641 OPS.

I can see why Torre might be more inclined to use Heredia as a LOOGY, though I don't agree with it. But he shouldn't be relegating White to a mop-up role, especially considering how important he's going to be against the Red Sox this year, to hopefully neutralize Nixon and Ortiz. He did the same thing to Hammond last year, who couldn't get lefties out, but would have been useful against Florida if he hadn't been shelved for a month.

Hopefully White will dominate when he gets a chance to pitch, and work his way back into Joe's good graces, because I don't think it's likely they'll find themselves a better lefty reliever.

Anyway, there was a game last night and everything, and the Yanks came out on top. I don't think Lee Mazzilli made a particularly good decision bringing in a 21-year old rookie from AA to pitch in a 2-0 game, or bringing in Mike DeJean to follow him when it was 6-0. It probably wouldn't have mattered, Lieber probably wouldn't have given up any runs if he hadn't thrown that ball into left-center, and they probably would have tacked on a couple more runs anyway.

Derek Jeter looks terrible. His batting average is below .190, and at this point the Yankees would be getting more production out of a Enrique Wilson-Miguel Cairo middle of the infield. His defense has definitely been better, he has the second-best SS Zone Rating in the league, third best in baseball. Why it's been better is as inexplicable as why his bat is missing, but it sure seems to be real. A couple more months of defense like this, and we could even reasonably justify a Go... no, let's not even go there yet.

But as for his bat, Joe really needs to get over his loyalty, and drop him down in the lineup. I don't see how you can have a policy of "playing the hot hand" at second, when one of the choices has established himself as a sub-replacement-level player, and then keep Derek Jeter at the top of the lineup when he's been sub-replacement-level for two months.

May 24, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Well, the Yanks lost their first series in four weeks, lost first place, and lost their best hitter for two weeks. But hey, at least Enrique Wilson (or as sjohnny dubbed him, "Enweakque") popped two homers, probably ensuring him a spot in the lineup well into July!

I didn't really get to see much of the first two games this weekend because of work, I forgot to tape the game Friday, and I saw all the Texas runs Saturday. I didn't see Jose Contreras pitch very much, but it appears that while the numbers looked good, he didn't pitch that differently from his previous starts, throwing a lot of pitches out of the strike zone, and relying heavily on the aggressiveness of the Rangers (please correct me if I'm wrong; as I said, I didn't see most of the game). Tom Gordon blew the game, not so much because he pitched particularly badly (though he didn't pitch well), but because he threw to second base badly--twice. That horrible call at first didn't help, but that wasn't why they lost.

Kevin Brown was pretty terrible Friday, but the near-comeback in the ninth was a bit exciting. Unfortunately, Jason Giambi twisted an ankle rounding first after an RBI single in that rally, and went on the DL. That'll give him a chance to rest his knee and back, and if he feels better for a while when he comes back, it might be a good idea to give him a couple of weeks off in September if the Yankees are going well, to keep him healthy for the playoffs.

Yesterday was a game the Yanks really needed. They hit well, Vazquez pitched well, and they avoided the sweep.

I noticed that they aren't scheduled to play any Monday games until July--their only Monday game, in fact, was the Patriot's Day game. They're not even playing on Memorial Day, how stupid is that? At least they've got a double-header on Labor Day.

May 21, 2004

Doug Pappas (1961-2004)
by Larry Mahnken

One of the most eloquent voices in the field of Major League Baseball labor relations, Doug Pappas, passed away from heat stroke while vacationing at Big Bend National Park.

This is a terrible loss for all baseball fans, and I am personally stricken with an overwhelming grief. Doug was one of the most influential writers for me in the past three years, and without him I would have never become as interested in sabermetrics or baseball labor relations as I am now, and probably would not be writing this weblog.

My heart is broken tonight. Rest in peace, Doug. You will never be replaced.

No updates
by Larry Mahnken

Sorry for the lack of updates. These west coast games are wearing me out, and I've had to work earlier than usual this week.

May 19, 2004

DIPS Stats... from a reputable, reliable source
by Larry Mahnken

I don't know how long it's been going on, but ESPN is now tracking DIPS on it's site. My spreadsheet was pretty much hopelessly screwed up, so that's a relief to me. If I ever get it fixed, I'll start tracking DIPS again, but until that time, we at least have access to the numbers.

May 17, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Every year, the village I live in has a three-day festival, "Canal Days", with bands and food and vendors of every type. About a month before Canal Days, they put signs up around the outskirts of the village advertising the festival. Over the past few years I've seen these signs, and wondered why nobody ever had done the obvious, but sure enough, this year someone--high school kids I'd assume--finally painted over the "C".

That had nothing to do with baseball, just wanted to share it. I wonder if that change will increase or decrease the popularity of the festival...

The Yankees kept winning over the weekend, taking two out of three from the Mariners, and could very easily have swept, if they had been able to get a fly ball in the ninth, or had a close call go their way in extra innings. But they didn't play great baseball, and had they played this way against a better team than Seattle, they might have lost two of three, or even been swept. They were outhit every game, winning largely thanks to a tight strike zone that rewarded their patient approach on Friday, and a great outing by Kevin Brown on Sunday, upping his record to 5-0.

Partial blame for the team's offensive woes can be put on Joe Torre's unveiling Friday of his "suck" lineup, featuring Tony Clark at first base, John Flaherty catching, and Ruben Sierra batting cleanup. There are good reasons for the first two players being in there, with Posada having broken his nose last week and Giambi suffering from a hip injury caused by overcompensating for his sore knee. Sierra's insertion into the cleanup spot had no logical explanation, for as well as he's played this season, six dozen at-bats in the past two months do not trump 600 at-bats in the past three years, especially for a 38-year old who was never anything special in the first place.

At least it wasn't, as Bernal Diaz at Baseball Prim...uh, "Think Factory" (click on the link) termed it, his "blows" lineup or "crap" lineup, which would have to include Enrique Wilson.

Indeed, it's far from the Yankees' worst possible lineup, which would be, I think:
CF Lofton

RF Matsui
DH Sierra
1B Clark
C Flaherty
3B Cairo
SS Wilson
LF Crosby
2B Bush
And to think--we're only four injuries away from that lineup...

But while complaining about victories is par for the course around here, they did win two of three, and the loss was, until the end, very entertaining. And there were some very positive things: Bernie Williams' OPS when up 130 points during the homestand, and he clubbed two home runs. Hideki Matsui, who had a poorer year last year than his .788 OPS indicated (Monthly splits starting in April: .690/.655/1.157/.763/.717/.758), has been better so far this season. He's still hitting more ground balls than fly balls, but he's improved a little bit on that ratio so far this season, and has hit into only one double play. So far this season, he's shown better plate discipline and slightly improved power, and on the whole he's been a good player this year, even for a left fielder.

The pitching has been more of a concern than I thought it would be, with Mike Mussina struggling mightily and Javier Vazquez having trouble putting up consistent performances. Jon Lieber looks pretty good, and Brown of course is great, but the last spot in the rotation has been a complete mess. The Yankees will turn next to Tanyon Sturtze, for whom it would be a pleasant surprise to get a solid outing from. Until Jose Contreras returns, the Yankees are entering those games at a disadvantage. As for Contreras, he struck out 12 in 7 innings in Columbus yesterday, giving up 2 runs and 4 hits. Oh, and he also walked four, threw two wild pitches and plunked two batters. The Yanks are going to give him another start down there, which looks like a good idea. Hopefully, he'll be back for the start after Sturtze's loss.

May 13, 2004

Yankees 7, Angels 4
by Larry Mahnken

Maybe getting swept by the Red Sox 2½ weeks ago, and losing 6 of 7, was ultimately a good thing for the Yankees. Maybe it woke them up, and made them feel that they couldn't wait until they got in a groove to start winning, that every game was going to count. That they could never give up on a game, and no matter what the deficit, they had to try and win.

Or, you know, maybe they're just a supremely talented team that has just happened to fall behind early several times in the past couple of weeks, and if they had held on for the win on Patriots' Day and scored a run in the extra inning Saturday game, they would be 4½ games up on Boston right now.

Whether or not The Sweep was a wakeup call or merely a low point isn't really that important, what's important is that the Yankees have proven they're better--much better--than they looked that weekend.

There's something to be said for strength of schedule, as the Yankees beat a slumping Oakland team, a poor Seattle team, and a hurting Angels team. But they faced some very good pitchers over that stretch, too, and have hit .296/.374/.498/.872 over the past 15 games. 5 regulars have had a .900 or better OPS over the stretch, and Ruben Sierra has been inexplicably Bondsesque (maybe he read my criticism of him at THT), hitting .472/.500/.833/1.333.

They're not going to play .800 ball the rest of the way, or even .700 ball, but they've proven they're good. Really good.

Yesterday, they didn't have to come from behind, and except for the fourth inning (and maybe the ninth), were completely in control of the game. They jumped out to 2-0 lead right away in the first, and Jon Lieber retired the first 11 batters he faced, throwing first pitch strikes to all but one of them.

But with two outs in the fourth, the Angels broke through with two singles and a Jose Guillen homer to right field, tying the game at 3. Casey Kotchman followed with a single to center, but just as it seemed that Lieber might get knocked out of the game, he said "that's enough of that", and retired the eleven batters.

He got the lead right back, too, as Sierra smacked a homer in the bottom of the fourth, Matsui went deep in the sixth, and Bernie ended Anaheim starter John Lackey's day with a homer in the seventh.

Hideki Matsui's RBI double looked like it would keep Mariano Rivera out of the game in the ninth (in Joe Torre's mind, save situation = MUST HAVE RIVERA IN GAME!!!), but Tom Gordon couldn't finish the Angels off, and Rivera had to come in. Anaheim scored and got the tying run on, and Rivera wasn't quite dominant, but he struck out two batters to end the game, and the Angels left town having lost two out of three.

Without Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon and Brendan Donnelly, these aren't the Angels the Yankees would have to face in October, but the Angels will also have Darin Erstad back then, so that should even things out a bit, and the Angels don't have very impressive starting pitching, so a healthy Yankees lineup should be able to slug it out with them.

With Toronto's victory over Boston, the Yankees are in sole possesion of first place for the first time this season, and while the Red Sox left New York with a 4½ game lead and a much easier schedule than the Yankees' ahead of them, the Yankees have gone 12-3, while Boston's gone 8-9. I guess things have evened out.

May 12, 2004

An Affair To Remember
by Larry Mahnken

The Angels came into last night's game with the best record in baseball, a nine-game winning streak, and a legitimate claim to being the best team in baseball. And right away, they showed why.

Chone Figgins (is there a sillier name in baseball?) got the first hit of the game with a pop-up to short center in the first inning, which Kenny Lofton inexplicably pulled up on, and it fell right at his feet. A Vlad double scored him one pitch later, and Troy Glaus hit a long homer two pitches after that.

But three runs wasn't going to bury the Yankees, and in the bottom of the third, the Yankees pushed across two runs to get back within one, before rain stopped the game in the top of the fourth with one out and a runner on third. The Angels scored the run after a moderate delay, and the game was promptly delayed for nearly two hours after only two batters.

The delay looked like it might be a killer for the Yankees, as it took starter Kelvim Escobar, who they've had great success against, out of the game, and brought on the dominant Angels bullpen.

But while the Angels' relievers are great, they also hadn't faced a lineup like the Yankees yet, and in the fifth inning, the Yankees scored two runs off of Kevin Gregg, who entered the game with a 0.42 ERA. The tie didn't last long, as Vladimir Guerrero hit a leadoff homer off of Brown, who stuck around after the rain delay.

Scot Shields shut down the Yankees into the eighth, when the Angels turned to Francisco Rodriguez, who entered the game with ridiculously great stats--0.00 ERA, 28/4 K/BB in 17 IP, and only nine hits allowed.

Rodriguez looked just as dominant as usual at first, sandwiching a fly-out by Matsui and a pinch-hit strikeout by Bernie around a single by Sierra. But Kenny Lofton slapped a single into left-center, and Derek Jeter ripped a base hit into center field to tie the game. Alex Rodriguez then gave the Yankees the lead when third baseman Shane Halter muffed his hard grounder, and he just barely beat the throw.

It was another great comeback for the Yankees, but Mo couldn't make it stick. He wasn't able to put the back end of the Angels' lineup away, and Bengie Molina smacked a two-run homer over the right-field wall to give the Halos a 1-run lead, and with Troy Percival looming in the ninth, the win.

But last night was a strange night, and Percival couldn't finish the job, either. Jorge Posada dunked a base-hit into right, Matsui walked, and Ruben Sierra continued to make me look like an idiot by nearly tearing Percival's head off with a line drive base hit to center, scoring pinch-runner Homer Bush.

Tom Gordon was able to get through the 10th without giving up a run, and the Yankees finished it off in the bottom of the inning, as A-Rod singled with one out, and Sheffield hit a line drive to deep left, which Jeff DaVanon tried to catch, only to miss and have it bounce off the wall, past him and back towards the infield. Rodriguez raced all the way from first to score the winning run, and the Yankees' were victorious again, 8-7, and improved to 11-2 since The Sweep.

It was their eighth come-from-behind win during that stretch, and the fifth in which they've come back in the seventh inning or later. While they shouldn't have to come back as often as they have, these types of victories are more satisfying, and inspire much more confidence than a wire-to-wire win.

As great as this win was, the Angels team they beat was hardly the Angels team they may have to beat in October. Garret Anderson, Jose Guillen and Tim Salmon didn't play, and Darin Erstad is out, too (not that losing Erstad is necessarily a negative for Anaheim). Francisco Rodriguez pitched three innings on Sunday and may have been tired last night, so the Yankees can't expect to get to him again. But then Kevin Brown wasn't throwing his best, so the Yankees might not have to.

It was a great game between great teams, and we can only hope that tonight lives up to what we saw yesterday.

May 10, 2004

Take your lead and shove it
by Larry Mahnken

The great thing about the way the Yankees have been playing lately is that the game is always worth watching--even if they fall behind early. Even if they fall behind by a lot. As long as there are outs left, there's a chance.

Even the games they've lost in the past two weeks (all two of them), they had a chance to tie or get within a run with one swing very late in the game. It would be really nice if they could get a lead early and hold on, but it would probably be less fun. And that they're coming back from these types of deficits more often than I remember any Yankees team since 2001 coming back, that's an encouraging sign for the long haul.

There was another bad start yesterday, this time by Donovan Osborne. I knew that Osborne wasn't very good, but I still held out some hope that he could be effective in a start. Maybe he will, but I doubt it. Lieber was terrible Friday, Contreras is in Columbus, Mussina has struggled far more often than he's been solid. Moose looked good Saturday, but not great.

So while the Yankees are hot, the optimism needs to be tempered. At least some of the success lately has to be due to facing and Oakland team in free-fall, and a Kansas City and Seattle team stuck on the bottom of the standings. If the Yankees are gonna keep this up (well, not THIS--they'd win almost 130 games if they kept this up), they're going to need to get some better pitching.

What's to be done. They could hope that Mussina gets better, Lieber has more starts like the one against Kansas City and less like the one against Seattle, and that Contreras comes back strong. That's a risk at best, foolish at worst. Some team might be looking to move an expensive starter in exchange for little more than payroll relief. While the Yankees are highly unlikely to get a starter of any especial quality out of such a deal, they could get consistent, solid innings from someone--just for way too much money.

They could also go to a four-man rotation. Yeah, that means going with Lieber every four days instead of every five days--but that's probably better than going with Lieber and Osborne two out of every five days.

There are two reasons that I don't think the Yankees should consider this, let alone do this. The first is the health of the starters. Lieber's coming back from Tommy John Surgery, Brown has a very poor history, Vazquez has a ton of innings the past few years, and Mussina is getting up there in years. The last thing they need is more stress on their arms, so the Yankees should aim to keep them in a fairly constant rotation.

The other reason is lack of depth. If one of the starters goes down, then you're back with Osborne in the rotation, and for a quarter of the games instead of less than a fifth. If another goes down, they you've got Alex Graman, and after that you're getting to the back end of Columbus' rotation. And Columbus isn't a very good team.

I'd say the Yankees should explore trade possibilities, but prepare to stick it out with what they've got. If they can make to October with this team--and I'm pretty sure they will--the really just need Mussina to turn it around to have about as good a rotation as possible. That should be enough.

Anyway, the Yankees face a test tomorrow when they go up against the equally hot Angels. How they do will tell us a lot more about how far they've come since The Sweep than the last 12 games did.

May 7, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Well, the law of averages finally caught up with the Yankees. Okay, that wasn't it, Rich Harden pitched great after a poor start (that kid's gonna be a great pitcher soon), and Javier Vazquez didn't have very good command. So much for the eight-game winning streak.

I'd write more, but I've gotta go to work.

May 6, 2004

The Truth About Productive Outs
by Larry Mahnken

Dear Mr. Olney,

Next time, do your own damn research. You'll save yourself the time of writing a stupid article, and save me the time of proving you're an idiot.

Larry Mahnken

by Larry Mahnken

Pardon me for sounding like an asshole...

I'm suddenly very confident in this team. Not to the point where I'm arrogant enough to think "No team can stop them!", or to the point where I'm shaken by every loss . It's at that perfect level, where I think that they'll win before the game, that they'll come back if they fall behind, and if they lose, that they'll just win tomorrow. It gives me maximum enjoyment of the game.

It's certainly a product of the eight-game winning streak and the late-inning comebacks. and a losing streak could destroy that faith, but it's the feeling that every baseball fan wants to have.

Anyway, last night the Yankees came back on the A's again. Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, they tied it with a Giambi homer, and trailing 3-2 in the ninth, they tied it with a leadoff homer by Alex Rodriguez. They kept it going and pushed across the go-ahead run, and held on to win in the bottom of the ninth. It wasn't as dramatic as Tuesday's win, but it was still pretty great.

With Boston's win, the Yankees are still tied for first, but now that the Yankees have made up the 4? game deficit, we can lay off of the scoreboard watching for a while. Not that I wouldn't mind leading the division, but it doesn't really matter right now.

* * *

Jose Contreras got sent down to A-ball yesterday, where he can work with Billy Connors and try to fix his pitching. The Yankees did the same thing with Contreras last season (after Torre told him he was going to Columbus--remember that controversy?), and he pitched pretty well after coming back before getting hurt. It's a pretty good idea, Connors can give Contreras more attention and figure out what's wrong with him. The bad news from this is that the Yankees have to rely on Donovan Osborne to pitch effectively, and while he's done well enough out of the bullpen, expecting him to keep that up is hoping for quite a bit.

Anyway, last night's game was late, and I'm tired. That's all for today.

May 5, 2004

Nine Days
by Larry Mahnken

There were some in Red Sox Nation who started counting unhatched chickens after The Sweep. The AL East was originally expected to go down to the wire, neither team was expected to win the division by a very large margin. If finishing five games better than the Red Sox over 162 games was an unlikely outcome for the Yankees, playing five games better than Boston in 143 games might be impossible.

It took the Yankees nine days to erase the lead. You'd think Red Sox fans would know better than to gloat, especially in April, but there you go. The Yanks are back in a tie for first place; they've won seven straight, Boston's lost five straight, and we've all learned a valuable lesson.

Anyway, I think I learned that lesson myself last year, when the Yankees had a 10-game lead in mid-August, and Boston pulled within two at the start of September before the Yankees finally stopped them.

For those of you that, you know, are normal and had to go to sleep last night, you missed something fantastic. Last year, the Yankees were sorely lacking in exciting victories, at least until Game Seven. They didn't have many big comebacks, and they usually didn't come back late. In the past week, the Yankees have now had two thrilling late-inning comebacks against the A's, coming back from a 6-run deficit last night to win 10-8. The offense had a truly outstanding game, as everybody who came to the plate got on base at least once. Finally, we're seeing what this lineup is capable of--and it is truly frightening. This wasn't a Royals' AA reliever they did this against, this was Mark Mulder, who may well have won the AL Cy Young Award last season if he hadn't been hurt.

There were a couple of bad things last night: Jose Contreras was terrible again, giving up two homers and struggling to find the plate, quickly putting the Yankees in a position where it seemed unlikely that they would come back. Contreras seems to finally trust his fastball enough to throw it when Posada calls for it, but perhaps he's too concerned with hitting spots, instead of trying to blow it past hitters. There may be something mechanical that can be done to improve his control and make him the pitcher he's trying to be, but he would probably be more successful if he just threw fastballs in the strike zone, rather than to a specific spot in the zone. His difference-making pitch is his splitter, and he should try to get to counts where he can use it, rather than trying to throw unhittable pitches every time.

The other bad thing was the leg injury suffered by Ruben Sierra while running to second on his game-winning double. How serious the injury is is unknown, but the way Sierra's swinging the bat, and with Lee out for perhaps the entire season, Sierra suddenly has value. Sierra's recent run is likely an abberation like Raul Mondesi's April last year, but regardless of why, Sierra's one of the big reasons for this streak.

After last night, I'm starting to feel a way I haven't felt about the Yankees since 1999. It's almost like every game is a win, unless the Yankees do something to lose it. Last night, we caught a glimpse of how great this team can be. They may not win the World Series, but man, this is going to end up a fun season.

* * *

There was an error in my DIPS Report worksheet in how DER was calculated (I had neglected to include errors. Duh.) The fix wasn't too hard, but it wasn't too easy either. Unfortunately, there's a problem with the file and I can't access it. It may just be that my crappy little computer doesn't have enough memory, but it's highly likely that I'm going to have to start over from scratch.

Anyway, I might need some help entering data in the sheet if I start over, so if anyone wants to help out by doing some data entry for me (it's really easy, just time-consuming if I do it all myself), send me an email, and I'll let you know what help I need.

May 3, 2004

What a difference a week makes...
by Larry Mahnken

Well, the Yanks are back where they were before that second Red Sox series, 1? games out of first place. All that talk about the Yankees having to play five games better than the Red Sox, and how tough that would be, has been exposed for the foolish overreaction that it was. Now the Yankees only have to play two games better than Boston, and I think they can probably manage that.

There was nothing bad about this weekend, at least on the field. It looks like Travis Lee and Steve Karsay are out of the season, which is very disappointing. Considering the loss of Lee, and how Sierra has hit lately, I guess it's okay for Sierra to play DH every now and then. Really, Bernie should be playing DH, but Joe has blinders on when it comes to his defense, so if they're going to stick someone else there, it might as well be him--though I'd put Clark in there against lefties.

Vazquez was again outstanding on Friday, Jon Lieber was impressive on Saturday, and while Moose was shaky yesterday, he seemed to settle down once Giambi's homer tied the game. The Yankees aren't playing at their very best, but they're playing very well.

Going into last Tuesday's game, I felt that the Yankees had a good chance to win, if for no reason other than I couldn't see their losing streak extending to five games. But I wasn't extremely confident, and when they trailed going into the eighth inning, I sighed, and waited for the inevitable.

But the inevitable didn't happen, and the Yankees strung together several soft hits and scored six runs, coming back and beating the Oakland A's (who, for what it's worth, are in a terrible slump of their own). The emotional win helped me get over The Sweep, and I think it helped the Yankees, too. After cruising to victory on Wednesday, I started to feel something I hadn't felt since the start of the season: a confidence that the Yankees were going to win, rather than a hope. I'd sit down and watch the game with the expectation that I was going to watch a Yankees win.

Well, the Yanks now have an off day as they head west to take on the A's again. I've noticed a terrible flaw in my DIPS Report, which is why it hasn't been updated in the past few days. I'll spend today trying to fix it, and hopefully it'll be updated tonight. I'll be moving it to THT soon, also.