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July 29, 2004

Exit Light, Enter Night
by Larry Mahnken

Mariano Rivera is one of the steadiest closers in the game.  When Rivera comes in, it usually means game over.  Okay, maybe not for the past few games, but usually.

He has an opposite.  His name is Felix Heredia, and when Heredia comes in, it usually means game over.  In the bad way.

Last night, with the Yankees leading 2-1 in the eighth inning, with Jon Lieber having pitched an outstanding game, Joe Torre lifted him with two outs, after he put the tying run on, with Carlos Delgado at the plate.

It was a good decision.  Lieber had thrown 112 pitches and even if he hadn't lost his effectiveness, you still want to be careful with him.  It was the eighth inning, and though Gordon was unavailable after being used for two innings the night before, Quantrill and Rivera were available -- and Quantrill was up and ready in the pen.

But while taking Lieber out was a good decison, the other half of that move was not a good decision.  It was not even a bad decision.  It was a hopelessly stupid decision that said to the Blue Jays, "We don't want this win -- take it.  Come on, take it!"

Enter the Run Fairy, Felix Heredia.

Entering last night's game, Heredia had a .757 OPS allowed against left-handers.  Quantrill had a .672 OPS allowed against lefties.  But in came the Run Fairy, and his first pitch was in the dirt.  His second pitch was at Delgado's nose, but Delgado swung and missed anyway.  The third pitch was in the dirt, another swing and miss, and the fourth pitch was high for ball two.  Then the predictable happened, and Delgado doubled down the right field line.  Wells raced to third, and Sheffield's throw went past second, allowing Wells to score the tying run.

Anyway, Wells hit a game-winning homer in the tenth, and the Yankees lost.

What was Torre thinking bringing in Heredia there?  After the game, Torre said he was bringing him in to get Delgado out, who was hitting under .200 against lefties this season.  Yes, it is possible that Torre is insane, but there is another possibility.

On Monday, Brian Cashman told the New York Times that Heredia would not be released, because there's another year left on his contract.  Perhaps Torre was trying to send the same message he sent when he started Enrique Wilson in right field a couple of years ago: Yeah, it'd be great to have Randy Johnson, but get me something I actually need.  I need a lefty reliever.

Of course, last time that strategy got us Raul Mondesi and his mad GIDP skillz.

So, if you want to keep faith in Torre, then believe hid did what he did last night with purpose.  I just wish he could do that without having to ruin my evening.

by Larry Mahnken

I really, really want to write about the idiotic decison last night, but I'm feeling sick right now (literally).

I'll post if I wake up early enough before work, but for now, I've got to go to bed.

Until then, enjoy this Jim Caple article, courtesty of Noffs.

July 27, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Last year, the Yankees lacked quality options for getting the game to the ninth inning and Mariano Rivera.  At the start of the season they wasted their time with the likes of Juan Acevedo, then latched onto Armando Benitez's Wild Ride and former Knickerbocker Jesse Orosco, before settling the assaulterrific stylings of Jeff Nelson, with a helping of porn star Gabe White and pre-Run Fairy Felix Heredia.

All the while Joe Torre underutilized Antonio Osuna and Chris Hammond, though Osuna at least had the earned some mistrust by pitching horribly in the second half after a mid-season injury.  But Hammond was inexplicably buried by Torre late in the season, pitching only in blowouts, and being a changeup pitcher, pitching generally ineffectively after long periods of rest.

In the playoffs, it cost them.  They had to play a seventh game in the ALCS because the bullpen couldn't finish off the Red Sox -- although I'll place more blame on the 250mph windstorm that was blowing through The Stadium for that one.  In the World Series, Joe Torre was forced to go with Towelie in a tied game, making Alex Gonzalez a hero.  In the next game, when David Wells had to leave hurt, the bullpen pitched horribly (including Chris Hammond on a mere 27 days' rest).  Those two runs were the margin of the game, and that game cost them the series.

Wisely, the Yankees targeted the bullpen in the offseason.  They focused on the two best relievers available, and while they forfeited two first-round draft picks to get them, Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon gave Joe Torre two reliable non-Rivera options.

Unfortunately, that's all he's been given.  Mariano and Gordon have been the best 1-2 bullpen bunch in baseball by a wholebunchalot, but excluding Sam Marsonek, the only reliever other than the three-headed monster with an ERA under 5.00 is Bret Prinz -- at 4.91.  When Tanyon Sturtze looks like he might be your best long-relief option, someone needs to get fired.  Or at least beaten savagely.

Last year they had depth but nobody great.  This year they've got somebody great, but no depth.  The result is that they're overusing Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera.  Torre brushed off questions about overusing Rivera a couple of weeks back by pointing out that Rivera was throwing the ball well.

Well, it's time to pay up.  On Saturday, an ineffective Rivera was hit hard by every batter and gave up three runs in the ninth to save the Red Sox's season.  Last night, against the Blue Jays, he blew another two run lead, this time only allowing the game to be tied.

He's done this before.  Last year, he blew four saves in six appearances at the end of July and early August.  In 2002 he blew two straight games against Cleveland in mid-July, the second by giving up six runs in the ninth.

Hell, all closers go through this every now and then, but it doesn't change the fact that Rivera is tired.  You can see it in his decreased velocity and poor control, he's been overworked -- he didn't even get the All-Star break off.  Maybe getting a few days off might help, but what he really needs is for his usage to be controlled more tightly.  By which I mean, controlled some.

Right now, if it's the ninth inning and a save situation, Rivera will enter the game.  Whether he's needed or not.  Take aways those outings, and you've taken half a dozen appearances away from him and as many innings without impacting the Yankees' record at all.  And indeed, that's probably the only thing that the Yankees need to do to sufficiently reduce the wear on Rivera's arm.

Gordon and Quantrill are also being terribly overworked, but it's Quantrill that's feeling it the most.  Gordon's been great, but Quantrill's been only a little better than average overall.  Perhaps he's being slowed by the knee injury he suffered in Japan, and maybe it's overwork.  Quantrill loves to pitch, and would like to be in every game if Joe Torre let him.  And while that's an admirable attitude, that doesn't mean Torre should use him every game.  Yes, the other options are as appealing as a night of passion with Bea Arthur, but with a 7½ game lead in the division, not every game is that important.  Sometimes you've gotta bite the bullet and hope that one of the Gascan Gang can get the job done.

Everyone talks about the Yankees' starting pitching woes, how they need Randy Johnson.  The bullpen situation would be a lot easier if the Yankees had starters who consistently went seven or eight innings, and who wouldn't want Randy Johnson?  But the more fixable problem is middle relief, and if the Yankees can add a couple of okay relievers, not even particularly good ones, they can get by with what they've got -- assuming Brown and Mussina come back healthy and effective.

That's not something they should have a problem pulling off after the deadline, and nobody's going to ask for great prospects for a middle reliever, so it's likely only a matter of deciding to do it, and choosing the right guy.

Anyway, the Yankees did ultimately win last night.  It looked like it would be easy at first, as Jorge Posada clubbed a Grand Slam in the first, but that was all the Yankees got until the ninth, as the Blue Jays were able to score three runs off of Vazquez and tie it off of Rivera.  They took the lead back on a Clark double in the tenth, and Rivera was able to hold it this time.

A win, I guess, is a win.

July 26, 2004

New Domain
by Larry Mahnken

I've accquired two domains for my website, as I prepare to move off of blogspot and onto a new server: and

I am able to create email addresses for these domains, so if anyone would like a email address, let me know.  It's free, I can forward it directly to your current address (so you don't need to worry about having "too many mailboxes to check").

I've "only" got 150 mailboxes, but unlimited forwarding addresses, so I'd prefer if you forwarded it to your current email.

by Larry Mahnken

Did the Yankees open the door and let the Red Sox back into the AL East race?  No.  But they did miss an opportunity to put the Red Sox away, maybe knock them out of the playoff race, and eliminate a dangerous postseason opponent.

But then, so what?  If they don't have to play Boston in October, then they have to play Anaheim, Oakland, Texas, Minnesota or Chicago -- all quality teams, all just as capable of knocking off the Yankees as the Red Sox.  Yeah, if the Yankees lose to the Red Sox, it would be especially painful, but it's gonna suck if they lose anyway.  Boston might be the toughest potential opponent for the Yankees, but there aren't any easy opponents.

Saturday's game was a terrible disappointment in the end, but considering that I had expected them to lose, I got over it pretty quickly.  I think Joe Torre managed the game poorly, as if they had to win, and finally got bit in the ass for overusing the back end of the bullpen.

The brawl was idiotic, and if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended a single game for his participation, I'll be pissed.  Varitek escalated the incident from words to violence (A-Rod said "come on" to Varitek, but you don't say that except in response to a threat), and Rodriguez's actions were as justified as Pedro's were last October when Zimmer charged him.  Varitek should get a suspension, Sturtze should get a suspension, and perhaps Trot Nixon, too (though I really don't care all that much, I'm a fan of anyone who kicks Sturtze's ass).

Sunday, Jose Contreras turned back into a toad, putting the Yankees out of it before the game had hardly begun.  They did almost come back, but Derek Jeter killed a rally in the eighth by running on the wrong side of the line (See?  He ain't perfect!).

The really bad thing was that the Yankees' pitching was exposed badly.  Not that it surprised anybody, and Boston's isn't a typical lineup, but the Yankees had Saturday's game in hand, and couldn't hold on.  They need more starters, and they need more middle relief.  The first problem will be alleviated by the return of Brown and Mussina, and the second perhaps by the demotion to the pen by... well, it's probably going to be Contreras, but might be El Duque or Lieber.  The eventual return of Karsay, who had a "setback" in not being comfortable throwing in back-to-back games should help, too.  This setback doesn't seem too bad to me, if the Yankees can only use Karsay every other day, that's enough to please me, but he probably won't be around for a few weeks at the very earliest anyway.

A trade would really help things, but the Yankees don't have much of anything to trade for anybody who would really help.  Bringing in a new lefty reliever and taking The Run Fairy out into the woods would help, and is probably the most likely trade to happen.

And they may need a new first baseman.  Best of luck, Jason, take your time.

July 24, 2004

Stolen Win
by Larry Mahnken

Well, I for one had yesterday's game marked down as a loss.  In ink.

Jon Lieber has had his good outings this year, and he's had his bad outings.  Curt Schilling has had his bad outings, too, but fewer of them, and more great ones than Lieber.  It would have been insane to expect the Yankees to win.

And if they were going to win, you'd expect it to be because Lieber pitched almost flawlessly, because they weren't going to beat up on Curt Schilling.  But that's exactly what they did, and while they couldn't hold that lead, it led to the winning run being scored off of Keith Foulke, making the victory even sweeter.

That you didn't expect this win makes it that much sweeter.  It was a game that didn't really mean that much to the Yankees, and meant a whole lot to the Red Sox, and the Yankees won it.

At game's end, Schilling was alone in the dugout, head in his hands, apparently sobbing, certainly disconsolate.  Although I may have to get flogged by Yankee Nation for this, I really did feel for him then.  The guy has won a World Series and Series MVP, has made more money than he could have ever dreamed of, and yet he cares that much about a loss in July.  He knows he let the team down -- and while his defense let him down, he knows he's the type of pitcher that should be able to make the defense irrelevant.

In a sport where you see so many players acting in an arrogant, unsportsmanlike manner, overcelebrating when they accomplish things of relatively little importance, it is inspiring to see a player care that much about doing what they're there to do.

July 23, 2004

Dodger Thoughts
by Larry Mahnken

Jon Weisman solicited some words on the 2004 Dodgers to celebrate his second anniversary (congrats Jon).  "Enjoy" my contribution.

I don't get it, either.

Turn Out The Lights
by Larry Mahnken

I certainly didn't see it coming, but the Yankees might have found the new starter they needed this season in the old starter they decided they didn't need last season.  Traded in a roundabout way to the Expos last season to keep Bartolo Colon away from the Red Sox, Orlando Hernandez has returned, and the Yankees have won every game he's started.  He's allowed 5 runs in 17 innings, he's struck out 21, he's only walked 7.

El Duque is back.

But as great as Hernandez's start was today, it wasn't enough for the Yankees to win, as Joe Torre stuck his crap lineup out there (out of necessity, of course), with no Jeter, no Giambi, no Posada, and no runs for the first 8 2/3 innings.  But finally, with two outs in the ninth, Ruben Sierra clobbered one over the centerfield fence, and the Yankees won 1-0.

With Boston splitting a doubleheader against the Orioles Thursday, the Yankees added another half-game onto their lead.  Barring a Boston sweep, I'm willing to declare the AL East race more or less over.  If the Yankees aren't dropping games with all the problems they've had lately, they've probably got the division pretty well in hand.

But of course, this is New York, and who the hell needs another division title?  The Yankees need to be concerned about the playoffs, and they're gonna need some decent pitching to do well in October.  Well, hopefully they'll have a healthy Mussina and Brown then, Vazquez will get his recent struggles worked out, and Contreras and El Duque will keep up their recent sucesses.  Jon Lieber may find himself out of the rotation in a couple of weeks, and he's actually been pretty solid in the past few starts.  That's the nature of the Yankees' rotation: they aren't loaded with great pitchers, but they have several pitchers who are sometimes pretty good, and sometimes pretty bad.  In recent weeks, they've had more pretty bad than pretty good, but it seems to be turning around very recently.

Looking forward to tonight, I recall something I didn't think of back at the beginning of the month.  All through last season, I had a feeling of dread about the Red Sox.  I knew they were a really good team, but I also felt that they might very well be a better team than the Yankees.  The Yankees won the season series 10-9, but the Red Sox seemed to completely dominate in their wins, and the Yankees seemed to sneak by in theirs.  The whole day before Game 7, I felt like there was an axe over my head waiting to drop.  The Red Sox were going to win, and it wasn't until Aaron Boone hit it that I really believed that they could win -- that's why it was and still is such an emotional moment for me.  It didn't feel like a tied game, it felt like they were already behind.

Well, in July, for the first time in a couple of years, the Red Sox didn't scare me.  The Yankees won the first game handily, the second game was a tight one that they probably shouldn't have won, but the third game, while close, was really all Yankees.  Now, the pitching matchups this weekend don't inspire confidence, but I don't feel terrible about the Yankees' chances.  I feel like they can take this team, even at far below full strength.  And even a sweep (unless it's three routs), won't shake that confidence.  For now.

July 20, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Jose Contreras had simply horrific numbers on June 26th.  He had a winning record, at 4-3, but with the Yanks scoring 6.55 runs per game when he started, he'd have to be pretty bad to not have one.  He was pretty bad, with a 6.18 ERA, and a DIPS ERA that didn't look much better at 5.61.  His .874 OPS against would have been the fifth highest on the Yankees -- the best hitting team in baseball.  He had a .357 OBP against and a .517 SLG against.
He wasn't doing good.
But on June 27th, things may have turned around.  Indeed, they may have turned around a few days earlier, with the arrival of his family from Cuba, but on June 27th, we got the first glimpse of what Jose Contreras may have become.
Against the Mets, he pitched six scoreless innings, giving up only two hits, walking four, but striking out ten.  Was this the new, improved Big Enigma, or just a tease?  The next Saturday, the answer appeared to be "tease", as Contreras was terrible againt the same Mets, giving up seven runs in five innings, and giving up three home runs.
But with yesterday's win, Contreras has now reeled off three consecutive great starts, including an 8-inning performance against Detroit last weekend that may have been better than his win against the Mets.  Since June 27th, Contreras is 4-0, with a 2.76 ERA (3.71 DIPS), with a .552 OPS against.
Has he finally turned the corner, or is this just the result of some weak competition?  Well, the Tigers are a good hitting team, and the Mets are roughly average -- Tampa Bay is plain bad, though.
Well, his next start is against the Red Sox, so if you ever wanted a test, there it is right there.
I had a theory about Contreras, that perhaps his struggles were due to being caught by John Flaherty.  I don't know if Flaherty speaks Spanish, but Jorge Posada certainly does, and there's something to be said for being able to speak the same language as your pitcher.
The stats at first seemed to support this: 5-1, 4.23 ERA with Posada, 3-2, 5.54 ERA with Flaherty.  But if you take out the last five starts, you get completely different results: 2-1, 7.04 with Posada, 2-2, 5.46 with Flaherty.  The Yankees did, however, score 2.42 more runs per game when Posada started (more than the difference in ERAs), and 1.76 more when the last five starts are included.  Obviously, it's always better to have Posada instead of Flaherty, but I think in this case, it's especially true.  If Contreras is starting the day game after a night game, it might be a good idea to have Flaherty start the night game, to match Posada with Contreras.
But the numbers aren't that clear on this issue, so starting Flaherty in his normal pattern isn't that bad.
Hopefully Contreras is at the point -- or can get to the point -- where it doesn't matter who's catching, he can pitch a great game every time.  If that happens, who needs Randy Johnson?

Dropping the ball
by Larry Mahnken

If you're the centerfielder, everything you can catch, you catch.  If you're the left fielder, and you can catch it, you call, "I got it", or "Yo la tengo", or something, and unless the centerfielder says he's got it, catch it.  But if the centerfielder says he's got it, he's got it.  If you're the centerfielder, everything you can catch, you catch.
Kenny Lofton's been playing center for fifteen years, and Hideki Matsui played center back in Japan -- they should both know this.  And yet, when both called for a fly ball to left-center in last night's game, both pulled up, expecting the other to catch the ball.  It was Lofton's fault, of course, but that's incidental and not particularly important, as the ball dropped, two runs scored, and... guess what?  The Yankees lost by two runs.
That the Yankees were even that close at the end was something of a surprise, considering how badly they started out.  Alex Graman, who got bombed by the White Sox in April, promptly got his ass handed to him by the Devil Rays, giving up five runs and recording one out.  Say goodbye to Alex Graman, folks.  That's the end of his major league career.
What's odd is that Graman was the pitcher called upon to start, and not Brad Halsey.  Halsey had a couple of lousy starts, but he also had a couple of outstanding starts -- even outpitching Pedro Martinez.  Graman had been given a 7-0 lead before his first major league pitch in April, and couldn't even get out of the third.  Halsey should have been the pitcher of choice, and if Tanyon Sturtze, and not Halsey, gets the start on Saturday, there shall be much anger in Fairport.  All emanating from me.

The Yankees followed Graman with Sturtze, The Run Fairy, and Juan Padilla before bringing in Paul Quantrill in the ninth.  $185 million, folks.
But Sturtze pitched fairly well for a few innings, giving up Graman's fifth run right away, but keeping the game there until the Yankees could come back to tie it at five.  But Torre stuck him out there again for the sixth, and he gave up a leadoff double and a single.  Enter Run Fairy.
Heredia promptly gave up a single, scoring the go-ahead run, before falling behind 3-0 to a guy who was trying to intentionally make an out -- who then still went ahead and intentionally made an out!  He struck out Carl Crawford, and then appeared to get out of the inning with a fly ball to left-center.
(See first two paragraphs.)
The Yanks got back within one when Ruben Sierra hit another home run in the eighth, but Quantrill gave up another in the ninth, and that was too much for the Yankees, as they went down quietly.
Much of the sting of the loss was removed for me by the outcome on the West Coast, Seattle winning over Boston 8-4 -- not because of the result, but the manner in which it came about.  Boston lead 4-2 in the ninth, when Miguel Olivo and Edgar Martinez hit back-to-back one-out homers to tie it, and then in the 11th, Bret Boone hit a walkoff Grand Slam to win it.  Having expected Boston to win the game up until those three homers, Seattle's win almost felt like the Yankees had won one.  And the Yankees stay 7 games up -- no ground lost in the last week.
And with the condition their pitching staff is in, the Yankees better hope that they don't lose any ground the rest of the week, either.  The series with Boston this weekend looms, and a very possible sweep by Boston would bring them uncomfortably close again.

July 16, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

For Jose Contreras, it's do or die time. With Orlando Hernandez back from Columbus, Kevin Brown on the way back, and rumors about some sort of Unit of Unusual Size being perhaps available for trade, Contreras needs to start pitching really, really well.

If he pitches okay, that will help the Yankees win, but it won't instill confidence in his ability to keep pitching okay. He needs to completely turn it around to if he wants people to forget his first half 5.64 ERA. Facing the Detroit Tigers, who have been one of the best hitting teams in baseball so far, he had his hands full.

He didn't do himself any favors to start off, walking the leadoff batter on five pitches -- the only strike being a foul ball on a pitch out of the strike zone.

But that would be the only walk Contreras would give up, and he'd go on to strike out seven in giving up only 1 run in 8 innings. Contreras had exactly the type of start he needs to save his season and career in pinstripes, and never was he more impressive than when he struck out the side after giving up a leadoff triple to Dimitri Young, and didn't allow the run to score.

His opponent, Jeremy "Chall" Bonderman (There's an inside joke for long-time RLYW readers...) and the Detroit bullpen held the Yankees to only five hits. But all five of them landed on the happy side of the fence, one each for Lofton, Jeter, Matsui, and two for the Inanimate Carbon-Rod. It wasn't the most balanced offensive attack, but it was more than good enough, and the Yankees won 5-1.

Over the All-Star break, Randy Johnson rumors shitfted away from the Bronx somewhat more towards Beantown (despite the fact that Arizona still hasn't put Johnson on the market).  The Boston rumors involve Nomar Garciaparra going to a contending team, which is certainly a bargaining chip the Yankees are incapable of matching, but if that's the trade, I've gotta say I don't mind Boston making it.  Yeah, Johnson/Schilling/Pedro would be a killer rotation in the postseason, but if Boston's giving up Nomar, I think that hurts their chances of making the postseason.  And they probably won't be able to keep Pedro next year, either--and they'll have a very talented, but very old front of the rotation next season.
Now, the immediate reaction to the rumors of Johnson going to the Yankees was hositility towards the Yanks and Yankee fans.  Such a sense of entitlement!  How dare we pursue another superstar!  The Yankees already have enough, and they already spend enough.
And while the Yankees are the most talent-laden team in baseball, the difference between them and their nearest competitors isn't nearly as large as the standings might make one believe.  If Boston was to add Randy Johnson for the right price (i.e., less than Nomar), I think it might make them better than the Yankees.  The same might be true for other teams, as well.
I've said many times before that the point of assembling a baseball team isn't to have "enough" talent, it's to win the World Series.  It doesn't matter how many you've won in the past, the point is to win going forward.
To win the World Series, you have to try and field the best team within your means (and if you really think this is the year, perhaps a bit beyond your means).  If the Yankees have the opportunity to accquire Randy Johnson, why shouldn't they?  Because other teams are more worthy of having a great player than the Yankees?
What a sense of entitlement you have!  Go Cheney yourself.

July 14, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Last night I joined some of the other Hardball Times writers for a chat during the All-Star game. Aaron transcribed it (edited it down obviously), and put it up for public consumption. For those of you who read the Game Chatters on Baseball, Think Factory, this should be nothing new for you.

I'm just weird, I guess.

July 9, 2004

Durp durp durp
by Larry Mahnken

No sooner do I say that there's no chance in hell of Randy Johnson coming to the Yankees, than the stories start coming out that Johnson has said he'll waive his no-trade clause to come to the Yankees.

Now, the way I see it, the only way that this could happen for the Yankees is if he only wants to come to the Yankees, and makes enough of a nuisance of himself to make Arizona have to trade him. That would probably lower the price into the Yankees' range -- Contreras and one or two of Navarro, Duncan and Cano. Maybe Halsey, too.

Still, it's a longshot that any of this will ever happen. But now we know that there's a chance in hell that it could.

by Larry Mahnken

Having been swept by the Mets and losing the last two to the Tigers, the Yankees needed a good start by Jose Contreras -- and they got it. The Big Enigma had one of his wacky fun innings in the fourth, giving up a hit and two walks, throwing a Wild Pitch, allowing two stolen bases, and throwing 30 pitches in

But he only gave up one run in that inning, and on the whole, was pretty darn good. The Yankees' offense didn't wake up until the seventh, but they put up two runs in each of their last two at-bats, and won going away, 7-1.

Will that stop the mini-slide? As it is, the Yankees' slump since sweeping Boston hasn't been terribly damaging -- you can't spin a 2½ game drop in the standings positively, but it's hardly a death spiral, and they still have a fairly sizable lead on the Sox. But they have to stop the slump now, and win at least two of the next three going into the All-Star break.

And they need to get good pitching from the guys they're supposed to get good pitching from. A good start from Contreras or Lieber is a plus, but they need Mike Mussina to at least give them Quality Starts -- something he's only done five times this season, and not once since getting pulled against San Diego. Vazquez has been pretty reliable, and Kevin Brown is expected back after the break, so that should help a little.

Something that exacerbates the problem is the lack of effective long relief. Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera are spectacular at slamming the door shut, but what the Yanks are missing in the pen is a reliever or two who can keep the game close enough to make a comeback possible when their starter struggles. Colter Bean deserves a shot in the pen, but he's almost certainly not the guy for that specific role. Tanyon Sturtze sure as hell isn't, either. I don't know who it's going to be, though Steve Karsay might fit that long relief role very well.

When Brown comes back, the Yankees' rotation will probably settle down a little bit. They'll have two starters they should expect regular good starts out of, and three starters who are capable of giving them very good starts, though they've been quite shaky overall so far. Brad Halsey gives them a starter they can call up from the minors if needed, and while he's alternated very good starts with terrible starts in the majors, he's proven he's capable of pitching very well against very good teams.

But, of course, the Yankees are going to look outside the organization for help. Everybody needs to shut the hell up about Randy Johnson: he's probably not leaving Arizona, and he's sure as hell not coming to New York. Kris Benson looks more likely to me, though of course the Yankees are going to give up too much for him, and he probably won't be what they're hoping he will be. But I suppose he could be solid in the back half of the rotation.

The Yankees will play better than this past week, and they'll start doing it soon -- perhaps last night was the start of that. But this past week did serve as a slap in the face to the ignoramuses who declared the AL East race over a week ago. Last week wasn't Pickett's Charge, it was Sharpsburg -- it was an important victory for the Yankees, but it didn't decide the war. We haven't heard the last from the Red Sox this year, or even necessarily this month.

July 5, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

At first, it looked like the Yankees would have a challenge on their hands Monday. They'd be facing a pitcher who was 5-0 in his last eight starts with a 2.65 ERA, and sending out an inconsistent starter against a lineup that, when adjusted for park, was one of the best in baseball.

Or not. The Yankees locked the win up pretty early last night, scoring seven runs in the first two, not giving up a run until the seventh inning, when it was 9-0. Lieber was excellent, and they got homers from A-Rod (New fun nickname from sjohnny: Inanimate Carbon-Rod), Sheffield, Bernie and Sierra. Everybody got on base, and while Jason Giambi only got two singles and a walk, he hit two long foul balls late in the game that were inspiring: after playing an entire game, he still had pop in his bat. His strength is coming back, and he could be an offensive force again soon.

Now, while Giambi hasn't played anywhere near his peak since 2002, the treatment he's gotten from the fans and media since Day One has been somewhat ridiculous. Since signing as a free agent he's put up: .277/.418/.549/.966 (.325 GPA), which sure as heck isn't the .330/.458/.617/1.075 (.360) he put up in his final three years with the A's, but he's been the best hitter on the team for each of the past two seasons (and still has time to be that this year).

Oh, how we long for Tino! Tino, who had a .279 GPA as a Yankee, and a .268 since then (and that's including his .288 GPA this year)! And he was so clutch! Unlike that Giambi character, who never did anything clutch... except hit that 14th inning Grand Slam in 2002, and those two homers off of Pedro Martinez in Game Seven.

He was no Super-Tino, with his .245 postseason GPA with the Yanks, or his .257 World Series GPA. Much better than Giambi with his .304 postseason GPA with the Yanks, and .302 in the World Series!

Well, Tino had that homer in 2001. In a series they lost. In which he had 3 other hits, all singles. And there was the Grand Slam in Game 1 in 1998. In a tied game. In a series they swept. Yes, they were both clutch hits, but how much did they really change?

Now don't get me wrong, I was a Tinophile back then, too. He was an important part of their title run -- but he was, except for 1997, an average first baseman, at best. If the Yankees had kept Tino Martinez instead of Giambi, they would have won 10 fewer games over the past two seasons -- a little more than if they had replaced Derek Jeter with Cristian Guzman. They certainly wouldn't have beaten Boston last year, let alone Florida, and they wouldn't have gotten past Anaheim. And while Tino's doing okay this year, his GPA is .0002 better than Giambi's this year.

Even more nonsensical is the concept that Tony Clark has rendered Giambi almost unnecessary, by playing good defense -- AT FIRST BASE!!!

Now, Clark has made some outstanding plays at first, and is much better at throwing the ball than Giambi (not that it's saying much), but first is the position where you almost always choose offense over defense, and considering that Giambi has a .288 GPA to Clark's .261, this isn't even something that deserves consideration. If Giambi's feeling healthy enough to play first, he should play first -- and Bernie should DH.

Is Giambi overpaid? Yes. Is his performance disappointing? Yes. But the former problem is the Yankees' own fault for paying him what any sensible analyst could see was too much, and the latter is due to injuries, and somewhat unrealistic expectations.

People keep analyzing Giambi at his worst, and ignore him at his best. It's not fair to him, and it's not what's best for the Yankees.

by Larry Mahnken

It's easy enough to blow off this weekend's sweep: the Yankees were ripe for a letdown after whipping Boston, the games meant more to the Mets, Boston lost two of three, so the Yankees are still 7½ games up.

It's easy enough to do that, but you shouldn't. The Yankees should take what happened this weekend with deadly seriousness, and approach tonight's game against the Tigers as if their playoff hopes were riding on it. The Yankees can't afford to get complacent, because if they do, the next thing they know, you're heading into Boston on September 24th with the season on the line.

7½ games is a large enough lead to crow about -- it's a larger lead than any team but Oakland and San Francisco has over the 4th place team in their division -- and it's a large enough lead that you can, say, wait out the Giambi and Brown parasites a couple of weeks without having to make a move. But it's not a large enough lead to go into cruse control. Boston's not the 28-31 team they've been since May 1st, and they might be able to catch the Yankees on their own, just by playing insanely red-hot baseball. The Yankees sure as hell don't need to be giving them any favors.

The Yankees now only have nine off days for the remainder of the season -- and three of those are next week for the All-Star Game. If serious injuries are going to start taking their toll, this is when it's going to happen, when they don't have time to rest up. To say the division race is over is nonsense, and ignorant of history. The Yanks are in great, great shape, but they can still lose.

Moving on to happier things, the Yanks had six players named to the All-Star Team:

1B Jason Giambi (.238/.377/.460/.837, .285 GPA)
SS Derek Jeter (.278/.340/.453/.793, .266 GPA)
3B Alex Rodriguez (.273/.367/.506/.874, .292 GPA)

Gary Sheffield (.300/.401/.489/.890, .303 GPA)

Tom Gordon (2-3, 2/4 Sv/Opp, 21 Hld, 1.66 ERA, 2.27 dERA)
Mariano Rivera (0-0, 29/30 Sv/Opp, 0 Hld, 0.86 ERA, 2.92 dERA)

Giambi, of course, is wholly unworthy of the honor this season, and Jeter really isn't, either, though if he keeps up the last month's worth of hitting through the break, he'll be a defensible pick.

A-Rod and Sheffield, are, of course, no-brainers (even though they're both playing below their standards this season), as are Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera.

I'm a little surprised that Hideki Matsui (.280/.383/.495/.878, .296 GPA) didn't at least get voted in by the Japanese fans, who enthusiastically voted for Ichiro!, with his .265 GPA, but I guess even Japanese fans are blinded by batting average (last year, Matsui wasn't as good at the break, but had a .299 BA).

I'm also surprised that Javier Vazquez (9-5, 3.50 ERA, 4.38 dERA) didn't make the cut, but I suppose he might be called on as a fill-in if someone drops out.

And then there's Jorge Posada (.267/.410/.507/.917, .311), who might not be quite as worthy as Pudge and Victor Martinez, but his track record and overall great numbers this year indicate that he should at least be on the team. If you want to say someone on the Yankees got snubbed, then Posada's your man.

The amazing thing is that the Yankees are playing this way -- on a pace to win 103 games -- or 108 if they keep up their pace since the April Sweep, without anyone other than perhaps Posada, Rivera and Gordon having great seasons by ordinary standards, and even with them, there's nothing that amazing about what they've done by their own standards. Does that indicate that the Yankees should play even better, or that they'll decline in the second half? We'll see.

July 2, 2004

Fiction Is Dead
by Larry Mahnken

Last night's game was so great, I had to give my thoughts to a larger audience. My recap and comments are at The Hardball Times today, so go read them there.

8½ games!!! I don't know how I can sleep...

July 1, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Well, we're now two-thirds of the way towards a sweep, and six games short of the midpoint of the season, the Yankees have--and we can safely say this--a commanding lead on the American League East.

7½ games! Think... the Yankees could lose every game through next Thursday, Boston could win every game, and they would be tied! The Yankees haven't led by this much this early since 1998, and they've gained 12 games on Boston since The Sweep.

But it ain't over. It ain't even close to being over. Boston's no longer leading the Wild Card race, but they can still win the division. A realistic scenario has the Yankees playing like the Red Sox the rest of the way (48-39), and the Red Sox playing like the Yankees to catch them at season's end.

But they are unlikely to catch them any time soon, and they're unlikely to pull away at all. The Yankees can breath easy for now, they don't have to look at the scoreboard. They don't have to make any trades, they can survive minor injuries.

The Yankees are 7½ games up, even though Kevin Brown's on the DL, Gary Sheffield's shoulder is falling apart, Mike Mussina has been medicore, and Jason Giambi has worms. It's not the worst than can happen to New York, but it hasn't been a smooth ride--but there they are, ahead big.

Yesterday they won a game they probably shouldn't have won. Not on paper, and not in performance. Jon Lieber and Tim Wakefield have each struggled lately, but Wakefield has had the Yankees' number lately. Sure enough, Lieber's control was off early on, and Wakefield was untouchable... well, all night. But Lieber got off easy, getting out of the first with only one run and out of the second without any thanks to two double plays. It stayed 1-0 until the sixth, when David Ortiz homered.

The game turned in an dramatic and unexpected fashion in the top of the seventh. Lieber hit Kevin Millar and gave up a single to Doug Mirabelli, and reliever Bret Prinz was unable to get the ball over the plate--walking Pokey Reese, who was trying to make an out. And then... entered The Run Fairy™.

Heredia entered the game with a 7.45 ERA in 19.1 Innings. He had walked 10 and struck out 9, had a .305 batting average against. In the 18 games he had appeared in, the Yankees had lost 11. This did not bode well.

But he got Johnny Damon to hit a sharp grounder to Tony Clark, forcing pinch-runner Gabe Kapler out at home. Then Mark Bellhorn popped to medium left field, too shallow for Mirabelli to risk, and David Ortiz was struck out looking. Improbably, the Yankees had gotten out of the bases-loaded jam with no outs.

But they still trailed 2-0, and Wakefield was still pitching. But the knuckleball giveth, and the knuckleball taketh away, and so it was in the seventh. Wakefield's first pitch of the inning hit Gary Sheffield, and after striking out Alex Rodriguez, Wakefield walked Hideki Matsui--the last pitch getting away from Mirabelli as Sheffield stole second... and moved right on to third.

As tough as Wakefield has been, Terry Francona was unwilling to let Wakefiled fall apart with the game on the line, and did what Grady Little had failed to do 8½ months earlier, and went to the bullpen.

Scott Williamson came in and struck out Bernie Williams, but in walking Jorge Posada, he strained his right forearm, and Mike Timlin was brought in to face Tony Clark.

Clark didn't waste any time in grounding out to first, but the ball was hit hard and got past David Ortiz, scoring two runs, and tying the game.

With the game tied, the result was in the hands of the bullpen, and with Tom Gordon and his 1.65 ERA on the mound, things were in good hands with the Yankees. Gordon struck out two, and retired the heart of the Red Sox lineup in order, and it went to the eighth.

Again, Boston's defense let them down, Nomar Garciaparra fielded a Kenny Lofton ground ball deep in the hole, and made an off-balance throw into the stands, sending Lofton to second with no outs. Derek Jeter laid down a sacrifice bunt--because when you're hitting the crap out of the ball, outs have no value--and Gary Sheffield fouled off seven straight pitches before ripping a double down the third base line. After an A-Rod groundout, Hideki Matsui dropped a single into center, giving the Yankees a two-run lead.

With three outs remaining, and Mariano Rivera entering the game, Boston's chances were slight--and they were quickly nil. Rivera struck out the side, and the game was over.

Today, the Yankees look for the most improbable win of all. They've beaten Pedro Martinez in the past with great starting pitching, but today they've got Brad Halsey going. Halsey could give the Yankees a good outing, and they have Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera all available for the latter half of the game, should it still be close. They might win, but I'm going in expecting a loss.