Friday, May 25, 2007

Yankees' Notes

May 25, 2007
By Anthony Tripicchio

Derek Jeter is incredible. Last year, he was MVP worthy, but he’s been even better this season. Jeter’s improved on his average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage from last year and his strikeouts are down. He recently passed Joe DiMaggio for fifth on the all-time Yankees’ hit list and he’s on pace to be first in three years. Build his monument now.

Micah Owings (3-1, 4.10 ERA) notched a complete game win against Houston in his last start, the best of his young career. Who is Owings you ask? Owings is the pitching prospect that GM Brian Cashman should have acquired in the Randy Johnson deal instead of Ross Ohlendorf. Ohlendorf is currently 1-3 with a 5.19 ERA in AAA Scranton.

Cashman has proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he has no clue about pitching. His long list of pitching futility is scary: Jeff Weaver, Kevin Brown, Steve Karsay, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, and Jaret Wright to name a few. Those moves alone would have cost most GMs their jobs by now, but not Cashman. The Boss is on the right track. Brian Cashman should be gone, not Joe Torre.

Carl Pavano’s heist is complete. After official word that the fragile right-hander will have Tommy John surgery on his elbow, he will in all likelihood, never throw another pitch for the Yankees. Pavano successfully swindled $40 million out of the Yankees for 19 games.

The fact that other teams were bidding on Pavano doesn’t excuse the Yankees from signing him. Pavano was injury-riddled for years prior to his two healthy years in Florida. In fact, those two years mark his only seasons in which he threw 200 innings or more. At the conclusion of those years, Pavano still had only won 10 games or more twice. Four years and $40 million later, the Yankees have an expensive arm on their shelf. It should lead to a GM on the chopping block too.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Yankees Avert Disaster

May 24, 2007
By Anthony Tripicchio

Put your white flags away…for now.

The Yankees did what they had to do: they took two out of three from first place Boston in their latest series. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Yankees took advantage of favorable pitching matchups.

Both Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte gave them quality starts and, for a change, they won both games. Pettitte, who must be scratching his head with only three wins to show for a 2.66 ERA, pitched particularly well in a pressure packed rubber game of the series. He got the toughest draw of the three games in Curt Schilling, but still cruised to an 8-3 victory.

On paper, Mike Mussina versus converted reliever Julian Taverez seemed like a sure thing for the Yanks on Tuesday night. It didn’t turn out that way. If it had, they would have swept the Red Sox and put a dent in the deficit. They only delivered a ding with two out of three.

The only alarming sight of the series, for New York, was Mussina as they began to scale the mountain of a deficit in the division (which has now been trimmed to 9 ½ games). Mussina hasn’t helped them climb that mountain thus far and didn’t on Tuesday night either.

"I don't feel like I know what I'm doing or where the ball is going that much," Mussina told the New York Post. "It's frustrating when you don't feel like you know what you're doing out there, and that's a bad thing."

It’s a bad thing all right. Mussina is usually a joy to watch pitch because he works quickly, throws strikes, and paints the corners. Lately, he’s had no movement on his off-speed pitches and his fastball doesn’t have the velocity to get big league hitters out consistently. He’s quickly becoming another guy that will tax the bullpen with his short starts. Roger Clemens and Phil Hughes will be members of that club when they arrive for different reasons; Clemens because of his advanced age and Hughes due to pitch counts which will keep him on a short leash. At first sight of a hangnail, Hughes especially will be lifted from any game. You can attribute Mussina’s brief outings to ineffectiveness, however.

The 38-year-old control pitcher has been rocked in his last two starts and now sports a hefty 6.52 ERA for the year. He’s averaging less than five innings per start and opponents are batting .313 against him. Mussina’s struggles are a surprise after such a solid 2006 season, but he’s someone to watch closely over the next two months.

We were already watching the sleeping bats last week. Scoring 30 runs over the past five games, it’s safe to say that the bats have awoken from their slumber. Namely, Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui came alive to make contributions to a desperate lineup. Cano was 5-11 with three runs scored in the series and Matsui had a vital two-run-homer off of Schilling on Wednesday to propel the Yankees to an early 3-0 lead.

After the three game set at Fenway to kickoff June, the Yankees won’t see the Red Sox until late August. Some winning baseball in between now and then will chip away at Boston’s lead. Don’t wave those white flags just yet.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Baseball Banter

May 21, 2007
By Anthony Tripicchio

One of the great aspects of baseball is the fact that there is always somebody you’ve never heard of ready to burst onto the scene. These are a few guys who are making names for themselves this season:

1. JJ Hardy, SS, Milwaukee (.320, 14 HR, 41 RBI). I’m sorry Mets' fans, but Hardy has been the best shortstop in the NL this season. Easily the biggest shock of the 2007 campaign, Hardy has exploded onto the scene after two ho-hum seasons. He’s the main reason behind the Brewers’ turnaround and should (but won’t) start the All-Star game.

2. James Shields, SP, Tampa Bay (3-0, 2.94 ERA). And you thought Scott Kazmir
was the only pitcher you needed to know on Tampa Bay. Well, let me introduce you to James Shields. The 25-year-old right hander has 62 strikeouts in 67 1/3 IP and a miniscule WHIP of .92. When all is said and done, he might have a better career than Kazmir. Either way, Tampa Bay has two excellent young starters at the top of its rotation.

3. BJ Upton, 2B, Tampa Bay (.309, 7 HR, 25 RBI). Two Devil Rays in a row? This must be a typo. A highly touted prospect drafted out of high school, Upton struggled in parts of two seasons in the majors. This year he’s made the most of getting regular playing time and is one of several talented youngsters in the Devil Rays’ lineup. His strikeout numbers, however, are worrisome with 54 in only 139 at bats. Still, Upton is a guy you’ll be seeing in the All-Star game sooner than later.

4. Jack Cust, DH, Oakland (.306, 8 HR, 20 RBI). Talk about a grand entrance. Acquired from San Diego less than three weeks ago, Cust was called up and has belted eight homers in 49 at bats. Now 28, Cust languished in the minor leagues for several years as he routinely hit 20 homers or more in five seasons. His problem was his lack of a position. He now DHs and hits cleanup in the A’s lineup. This guy doesn’t look like Roy Hobbs, but he sure hits like him.

5. Jhonny Peralta, SS, Cleveland (.275, 10 HR, 31 RBI). Peralta had his breakout year in 2005, but followed it up with a miserable 2006. Now he’s rebounded and is on pace for his best season in 2007. Although he’s often lost in the midst of a potent Cleveland lineup, pitchers around the league are beginning to fear him. He’s already a top five shortstop in the AL and by the end of the year, you may slot him in right behind the Yankee Captain as number two.

6. Tom Gorzelanny, SP, Pittsburgh (5-2, 2.43 ERA). Gorzelanny is turning heads in Pittsburgh, that is, if there is anyone watching. He’ll be 25 in July and he’s surpassed Zach Duke as the top lefty on the staff. I was debating between him and teammate Ian Snell, but since Gorzelanny has an extra win and the lower ERA of the two, he gets the nod.

7. Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati (.292, 8 HR, 25 RBI). For years it seemed like Phillips was a bust, but he finally stepped up last year. Even though Josh Hamilton has stolen his thunder this year, Phillips is establishing himself as a top five second baseman in the NL. Turning 26 in June, Phillips still has time to improve his OBP, which is lower than you’d like for a guy that runs as well as he does.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Slumber Continues for Yankee Bats

May 17, 2007
By Anthony Tripicchio

The Yankee bats are still in bed hitting the snooze button. Joe Torre must feel like he’s dragging a teenager out of bed to get to school in the morning.

No, you can’t have five more minutes if you want to catch the surging Red Sox. Don’t forget your lunch and your Daisuke Matsuzaka scouting report.

With the notable exceptions of Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, the hitting has been abysmal of late. Even A-God has hit a slide after the third baseman’s immortal April. Logic said that once the pitching got healthy the team would start winning, but the bats have failed to cooperate. Such is the case after a 4-1 defeat to the White Sox today, dropping the Bombers to a paltry 18-21 record.

In all of their last six losses, the Yankees have scored three runs or fewer. A major culprit of the hitting woes, Robinson Cano, is 1-20 with one run scored in those games.

That is unacceptable and so is the rest of Cano’s season thus far (.234, 1 HR, 16 RBI). Cano doesn’t walk, hit for power, run, or field well so when his average is down, he’s not contributing much to the team. His free-swinging nature is diametrically opposed to the Yankees’ ideal of patient hitting during the late 90’s. The kid has never seen a pitch he didn’t like. Now, that may be ok when you’re a slugger or even hitting for the high average that Cano has hit for in the past, but its certainly not when your OBP is .276. The fact is, he’s a one dimensional player and this year he’s been less than that.

The outfield also has to shoulder a large portion of the blame. Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu, the corner outfielders, have each started off slowly. Judging by each of their track records, it’s just a matter of time before they hit.

It better be sooner than later for Abreu because the Yankees won’t resign him in the off-season otherwise. Hitting third in the lineup for the majority of the season, Abreu has recently been moved to the leadoff spot. Seven extra-base-hits in 161 ABs isn’t going to get it done as a three hitter. Gary Coleman has more power than that. Abreu’s patience and speed should allow him to be a solid leadoff man once he gets going. If not, he’ll get going to another team.

You can’t expect much more than what Doug Mientkiewicz has given them offensively so far, especially considering this guy was signed for his glove. Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi could be ripe for injury-riddled years as they both have struggled with various ailments. Add all this up and your sum is trouble.

Jeter, Arod, and Posada can’t carry the offense by themselves all year. Posada and Jeter are numbers one and two, respectively, in the AL Batting race and the Yankees are still under .500. The maligned trio of Cano and the corner outfielders has to contribute. Otherwise, they can keep pressing the snooze button until next year.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mangenius and Mr. T Strike Again

May 14, 2007
By Anthony Tripicchio

For more than three decades, the Jets were synonymous with incompetence and disappointment. Something is finally different in East Rutherford, NJ.

With one improbable playoff appearance already under their belts in their first year at the helm, Eric Mangini and Mike Tannenbaum should have the full confidence of Jets fans everywhere. The duo plans on being here for a long time and the 2007 NFL Draft serves as further evidence.

Though they were overshadowed by the Patriots and Browns on Draft Day, the Jets solidified two positions of need with the selections of Darrelle Revis and David Harris. Revis is regarded by most as the best corner in the draft. Rather than sit back at pick 25 overall, the Jets were proactive and pounced on Revis with a trade to move up to 14. Harris, a linebacker picked in the second round after another trade to move up, was rated as a first round talent on many draft boards. Throw Thomas Jones into the mix and you’ve had yourself an excellent first day at the draft.

They did sacrifice their middle round picks in order to make waves in the first two rounds, but if both Revis and Harris add to the Jets corps, they’re well worth the price. The key to building a winning program is to continue to add young players to the corps, while sprinkling in veterans to show youngsters the way. Mangini and Tannenbaum, more so than any Jets’ brain trust in the last decade, get it.

Lets take a closer look at the recent leaders of this team. Bill Parcells’ three-year tenure with the team was a disappointment. He was 29-19, but you always wondered when he was going to leave town. Parcells’ groceries, with the exception of Curtis Martin, were mostly TV dinners. They looked good and got you through a few meals, but they were quick fixes.

Parcells cleaned up Rich Kotite’s 1-15 mess, but left one of his own. His handpicked successor, Bill Belichick, stayed on as HC of the NYJ for a fraction of Paris Hilton’s jail sentence. Al Groh, another Parcells’ disciple, ran away to Virginia after a late season collapse in 2000, his only year as head coach.

Before Herm Edwards’ five year run as head coach provided the franchise stability, something it desperately needed, the Jets were in disarray. Parcells, although a Hall of Fame coach, always seems to leave teams that way. Bet the farm that Mangini and Tannenbaum’s reign ends dramatically different.

Look at this team. The two anchors of the offensive line, Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, are ready to start their second years. Injury plagued QB Chad Pennington has Kellen Clemens as competition for the starting job. Laveranaues Coles is showing Jerricho Cotchery the way at WR. Veteran RB Thomas Jones is complemented by a neophyte speed back Leon Washington.

The defensive side of the ball, with its revamped line and tweaked linebackers and secondary, looks ready to rumble. Kenyon Coleman, Andre Wadsworth, and David Bowens were all signed to the line in the offseason. The linebackers and secondary should both see marked improvement with the additions of Harris and Revis.

Mangini and Tannenbaum have their fingerprints all over this team already. Parcells was operating with a corps of players that were here long before he ever took the job. The Jets are nowhere close to the Patriots yet, but Mangini and Tannebuam just turned on the stove. I know I want to stick around for this meal.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rocket Returns

May 10, 2007
By Anthony Tripicchio

What? Roger Clemens took the most money and signed with the Yankees? That’s about as shocking as Pacman Jones at a strip club.

Lets be serious, no one is surprised that Clemens went to the highest bidder. Sure, $4.5 million per month is asinine, but the Yankees are as desperate as they’ve been during the Joe Torre era. Suddenly, they’re also more compassionate towards Rocket’s family needs as well.

Pssst, Roger. No one cares if you go to Tibet in between starts, as long as you win games. There’s no need to play dumb at the press conference. You knew the clause was in the contract.

As I was saying, the Yankees need Clemens. Even with the top three starters Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, and Chien-Ming Wang all healthy, the backend of the rotation is in a constant state of flux. I think I’m next in line to be called up after either Darrell Rasner or Matt DeSalvo passes through the turnstile. And after the Red Sox smoked Roy Halladay last night, they now lead the Yanks by seven full games in mid May. There’s no need to panic yet, but it is cause for concern.

The Yankees need to realize that Clemens isn’t going to come in on his white horse and save the day, though. Granted, he’s one the best pitchers of all-time, but he’s also going to be 45-years-old in August. Judging by the theatrics of last Sunday, the Yankees might be disillusioned enough to think that Clemens can be their knight in shining armor.

I apologize Suzyn Waldman, but your enthusiasm for the moment he returned was borderline scary (here it is for you brave souls who haven't heard it: First, because I didn’t know a human could sound like that, and second because this guy is well past his prime.

Will he contribute? Yes, there’s no doubt that he will, but he won’t be close to the ace of the staff. This is a guy who averaged less than six innings per start last year in the NATIONAL LEAGUE. Throwing to Big Papi instead of the pitcher should jog Clemens’ memory about why his ERA was nearly a run lower after he left the Yankees for Houston in 2004 (3.91 in 03 to 2.98 in 04).

Even when he pitches well there will be nine outs or more left for the bullpen to secure the win. Mariano Rivera has struggled mightily thus far (1-3, 7.71 ERA), and the rest of the pen is begging for a breather. They won’t get it when Clemens is on the mound.

The Yankees are definitely improved with Clemens on the roster, but the team is in grave danger if he needs to be the hero. You can see him galloping in on his horse now, but his armor is faded.