Friday, October 30, 2009

That's why they get the big bucks

Kudos to AJ Burnett on his excellent performance last night -- 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K. Burnett has had three very good or better starts in his four performances in the Yanks' postseason and last night's brilliance came in a crucial situation -- team down 1-0, Phillies striking first last night, first-ever WS start.

Some notes from the Yanks win:

(1) Kudos to Joey G. First, he went to Rivera for a six-out save. This should be a no-brainer, but Torre failed to do it five years ago when Francona was managing every game like it was game 7. Second, Girardi stuck with his Burnett-Molina battery even though the Yanks needed Posada's offense. Molina made the defensive play of the game picking off Jayson Werth at first after blocking a ball in the dirt. Thereafter, Burnett mowed down 11 of the final 12 hitters he faced, the crowd gained a little life and Tex banged the Yanks back into the game. Third, his intuition to play Jerry Hairston against Pedro (Hairston was 10-27 in his career against Pedro) paid off. Hairston went to the video tape in between at bats to figure out if the pitches he wasn't swinging at were actually strikes, determined they were, fought off a bunch of pitches in at bat #3 and plopped the single into right that started the Yanks' final scoring opportunity.

(2) Bad night for Charlie Manuel on a couple of questionable calls (retaining Pedro in the 7th, not sending the runners in the 8th). But Pedro's performance (6 IP, 8 H, 3 ER) was more than good enough to justify Manuel's decision to start him, especially considering that Matsui's homer in the 6th was a case of good hitting, not bad pitching.

(3) A-Rod sucks again. His swings are akin to the '05-'07 playoff A-Rod, not the '09 ALCS A-Rod. Verducci has more on this at The approach by the Yankees as a whole was wrong -- they know to look for the offspeed stuff and sit on the changeup up in the zone but largely hacked away at change-ups out of the strike zone. When they looked for the change, they did better -- like Tex's homer and Matsui's single (Matsui's homer was a good swing on a tough pitch).

(4) Welcome back Hideki Matsui. He was basically out to lunch from Game 2 of the ALDS through Wednesday, but came back last night to play a key role in the Yanks' win.

(5) Here's all you need to know about Phil Hughes right now. In the 7th, with a rested Rivera unquestionably set to pitch the 8th and 9th, Joey G. warmed up Joba in case he needed to pull Burnett.

(6) If I'm a pitcher, I don't throw Melky Cabrera anything above the knee. He's a dead high-ball hitter and quick enough to pull high outside heat. But he's clueless down in the zone.

(7) The umpires are just awful. Brian Gorman made two bad calls. One that very likely cost the Yankees, another that could have cost the Phillies. In the 7th, he ruled Damon lined out to Ryan Howard, even though Howard clearly short-hopped the ball. After Howard threw wide to second, the Yanks should have had bases loaded and one out for Tex. Instead, Damon was out and Posada was tagged out for leaving the base on a fly ball. Worse yet, the umps checked the replays after the game and still think they made the right call even though the Fox cameras show otherwise! Where was Gorman positioned? Behind Howard (who is quite large). How can Gorman make the out call like that when he can't even see the non-catch? Howard's first reaction upon getting the ball was to throw to second for a force out -- that's a dead giveaway that Howard himself didn't think he made the catch.

In the 8th, Gorman bonked the play at first on Utley's double play grounder. He was safe. This had a big impact for the Phils (it would have been first and third, two out, Howard up) but a less likely scoring chance considering that there would have been two out for Howard, as opposed to one out for Tex. Gorman later said the replays showed him a "little bit" of the ball was out of Tex's glove when Utley hit the bag. Yeah, that "little bit" would be basically the whole ball. Gorman is justifying his honks. According to this article, Gorman is "very good" on the bases, his ball/strike calls are a bit hinky and he gives make up calls. Guess who is behind the plate Saturday.

P.S. -- I like Buster Olney's insights and analysis a lot, but that Patience Index is pretty worthless. The mere fact that Brett Gardner saw six pitches in his only plate appearance is not a sign of effectiveness. The fact that he whiffed is what mattered. Ryan Howard saw 18 pitches in four at bats (4.5 per, a high total) and struck out four times. If the pitches faced can correlate to pitcher effectiveness, that's one thing (e.g., if Rivera had given up the lead in the 8th, Olney could point back to Rollins' 11-pitch walk), but just pointing out how many pitches someone faced is not particularly useful.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Empirical evidence?

OK, here's something that doesn't work: playing the Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back during pre-game introductions for the Phillies last night and the processional theme at the end of Star Wars (during the heroism medal ceremony) for the Yanks.


The YANKEES are the EMPIRE in baseball, the Phils are the rebels, and the Yanks should glory in it. Not only did the Yanks win 20 World Series in 42 seasons from 1923-64, since the advent of divisional play in 1969 only one franchise has even been to as many World Series (A's) as the Yanks have won (six). Why shy away from that? The Yanks should be the big, dark, intimidating bad a**es of baseball and embrace it, not the scrappy little rebels -- that's beneath them. And it's tone-deaf too. The Yanks should be telling the baseball world "we're back, now commence to trembling." (Of course, sucking demonstratively less against Cliff Lee would aid in projecting such aura.)

RedSax president Larry Lucchino dubbed the Yanks the "Evil Empire" and you know what? F--- him and his team. The Yanks, win or lose, are the only reason that Fox pulled NFL-level ratings for the World Series last night and they make the television rights worth the immense lucre that the Murdochs pay . . . and that pile of gold is split between the teams.

The Yanks draw, period. No matter how much ESPN and it's New Englander tilt (Bill Simmons, Peter Gammons) likes to prattle on about RedSawx Nation and shill for the sport's historically most racist franchise, which is centered in a backwater provincial city that reached the zenith of its global relevance 234 years ago, the fact is clear -- the Yankees are the top team in all of American sports.

So whine and cry as much as you want, the Yanks are the Empire, and it's a good thing too.

The disgusting president

At some point, Charles Krauthammer will be incorrect in his assessment of Obama.

This is not that point.

Click the link and watch the video.

Turned into Philets

That was the Yanks last night -- turned into witnesses to their own execution by Cliff Lee. I said the Phils have a starting staff comprised of Tom Glavines and Lee looked like either the 1995 WS Game 6 version, the 1991 Cy Young Award winner, the 1998 CYA winner or the 1992 version who led the NL in shutouts. Lee neutered everyone in the Yankees' lineup not named Jeter -- 10 Ks, three of A-Rod and two of Tex (who had hit Lee well in the past). I watched the whole game in about 45 minutes on DVR -- once I saw how Lee mowed down the Yanks in the first, I said to myself: "Self, this is going to be a long game for the Yanks."

By contrast, CC looked awful -- he struggled with location all night, walked three and rolled up a stack of 3-ball counts. It's actually a testament to his skills and pitching prowess that he only allowed two runs over seven innings -- a short homer by Utley and a bomb by Utley. But Lee made 1-0 and 2-0 leads look more like the 6-1 final than the narrow margins they were. Overall, a Yanks' loss in Game 1 of the WS that is half as bad as the beating they took from the Braves in '96 (6-1, no ER against Lee compared to 12-1, one ER off Smoltz).

Some notes:

(1) The physics conundrum of what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object is easily solved in sports: the immovable object ALWAYS wins. John Smoltz told the Great Verducci that the Phils should consider just throwing waves of pitchers at the Yanks because the Yanks work over starters so well that by the third time through the lineup, the Yanks will crush the ball off the weakened pitcher. Nice theory. But the fact remains that good pitching ALWAYS tops good hitting. The Angels were the second-highest scoring team in baseball and Sabathia turned them into AA players. The Rox are one of two NL teams with an AL-quality lineup, and Lee made them into a collection of 35th round draft picks. Remember the 2006 playoffs when the Yanks were supposed to shell the Tigers and bang their way to a title? I try not to. Remember the '95 Indians who won 100 of 144 games that season? After the Braves' pitchers throttled them in the Series, no one else does either.

This works in every major sport except basketball, which is the only sport where good offense beats good defense because, ultimately, the defender cannot prevent a shot where the ball is about to fall in the basket from scoring. In hockey, middling teams frequently make deep playoff runs thanks to a hot goaltender (Giguere for the Ducks, Brodeur for the '95 Devils). In football, there are legends told about defenses like the '85 Bears, '00 Ravens and '08 Steelers. In baseball, one man has more control over the outcome of the game than any other player -- the starting pitcher. Even in soccer, this rule works -- just ask the Italian World Cup champions who allowed NO goals by an opponent in the run of play (the team allowed two goals in the tournament -- an own goal credited to the US, and a penalty kick scored by the French).

(2) The Yanks' bullpen is awful. They have two pitchers not named Rivera who don't suck right now: Marte and Robertson. The former has set down the last six hitters he's faced (all lefties) and the latter is a rally-killer with men on base. Robertson had an outlandish strikeout rate (63 in 43 IP) and seems to thrive in dire situations; Hughes, Bruney and Aceves have only created dire situations. The key to the series for the Yanks is to preserve a lead through seven innings and have Rivera pitch two, period. The only exception -- none or one out in the eighth and Howard up, then Joey G. can use Marte.

(3) I'm already sick of hearing about the Phillies' dynasty. They won ONE f**king World Series last year and are three wins away. Until and unless they get those three wins, they're not even a burgeoning dynasty (a dynasty really requires more than just back-to-back wins -- discuss the concept when the team wins three in a row or at least three in four years, otherwise it's just defining dynasty down).

This morning, Colin Cowherd was prattling on about how the Phils are 19-5 in the last two years in the playoffs. BFD. Through game 2 of the '96 World Series, the Braves were 20-6 in the '95 and '96 playoffs and had won their last five games by a combined score of 48-2 against the next-best team in the NL and the AL champs! Four days later, the Braves were 20-10 and watching Wade Boggs ride a police horse around a celebrating Yankee Stadium. In 1998-99, the Yanks were 22-3 in the playoffs with two World Series sweeps in a row. Even with the 2000 championship run, the Yanks were 33-8 over those three years -- that's a whole lot better than 19-5. Oh yeah, the Phils won't have Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Denny Neagle (before he sucked) on the mound in the next three games like the 1996 Braves did.

(4) If momentum is only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher, I'd feel better about the Yanks' momentum today with Pettitte than with Burnett. In 2003, the Yanks lost game 1 of each series and put Pettitte on the bump in game 2 each time. Results for Pettitte: 3-0, 22.1 IP, 3 ER, 22K in the Yanks' 4-1, 6-2 and 6-1 wins. The Phils banged around Burnett in May, but that was before AJ started pitching well in June and July. He's been on another upswing from late September to present.

From the past performance does not necessarily predict future results file: In '99, the Braves crushed Clemens and El Duque in the Bronx during the regular season (Duque gave up 4 homers in 4.1 innings!) and caused Mo's fourth blown save of the season (he then saved 28 of his next 28 opportunities, including six-for-six in the playoffs, and dropped his ERA from 3.22 to 1.83 [and 0.00 in the playoffs]); in the WS, Clemens and Duque allowed 2 ER and 5 hits combined in 14.1 IP, and Mo cut through the Braves' lineup like little leaguers in winning the MVP.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fall Classic notes

Check it out: Buster Olney eschewed the trite position by position matchup analysis for the World Series. Must be because he's one of the best baseball reporters working today.

Here are his main points (headers only, for his explanations go to the link in the title of this post):
  1. The Yankees' hitters against Cliff Lee's frantic pace. Olney says Lee works fast -- The Monk thinks the Yanks have more trouble with Lee's ability than his pace because they've been mediocre against him recently, but the Yanks kill Mark Buerhle, who is probably the fastest working pitcher in baseball.
  2. The Phillies' hitters versus Mariano Rivera's cutter. The only NL team to actually hit Rivera hard in the WS, ever, is the '00 Mess. And they faced the Yanks six times that year.
  3. The Phillies' pitchers versus the patience of the Yankees' hitters. The Monk discussed this one below. This was a huge factor in the Yanks' '99 win over the Braves
  4. Jayson Werth and Jorge Posada versus opportunity. Werth has not sucked, Posada has. Even a decent game from Posada would have meant a cakewalk win in game 6 of the ALCS.
  5. The Yankees' power pitchers against the Phillies Who Mash Fastballs. That's most of the Phils. The Phils didn't hit Sabathia well and only hit Pettitte a little back in May, but they smacked Burnett around.
  6. Derek Jeter versus Jimmy Rollins.
  7. Cole Hamels versus his recent past. Hamels worked in and out of trouble against the Yanks in May in a 6 IP no-decision. He's been slightly sharper than the average bowling ball in the playoffs this year.
  8. Damaso Marte versus the Phillies' left-handed hitters (that's you, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard). Good info from Olney here as he discusses how Marte has changed his slider grip and how that has improved the pitch. Marte is a momentum guy -- he pitches better when he has confidence that arises from his results. Howard's 2009 splits are amazing: .319 BA, .691 SLG, 1.086 OPS against righties, and just .207/.356/.653 against lefties. Utley's splits are quite different, good against righties and slightly better against lefties. For their careers, Howard's left-right splits are not far off from his 2009 numbers (BA dropoff is 81 points, SLG dropoff is 217 points, OPS dropoff is 316), Utley is slightly better against righties than lefties.
  9. The umpires versus the action. There will be no instant replay for this World Series. Hoo boy.
Other notes: the fact that the Game 1 winner has won 11 of the last 12 Series (Verducci cited this, I think) is of minimal value. After all, most "analysts" are predicting a 6-7 game series and only four of the 12 in that selection went more than five games. Of the four, the loser BLEW each one: the '97 Indians lost a lead in the bottom of the 9th in game 7, the '01 Yanks lost games 6 and 7 in Arizona, the '02 Giants completely collapsed with a 3-2 Series lead and a 5-0 lead in game 6 just nine outs away from the ring, and the '03 Yanks bonked a 2-1 Series lead when Torre let Jeff Weaver off his leash.

Only in the '03 Series did game 1 have ramifications for the rest of the contests because the Marlins broke the Yanks' record-long 10-game home winning streak in the Series that dated back to 1996 -- a crack in the Yanks' invincibility at the Stadium -- and the Fishes clinched the Series in the Bronx, which was just the third time since 1979 that a team won a World Series on the road in a game 6 (compared to the seven teams that came from 3-2 down to win in seven at home).

I also don't understand the prediction of Phils in 7 that some have made. If you think the Phils will win a close series, then it's Phils in 6, period. That's your ONLY logical pick. If you think the Yanks will win a close series, then it's Yanks in 6 or 7. Why? Because the last time a team won a game 7 on the road in the WS was 1979 (Pirates), and the roadies are 0-8 since, no matter how agonizingly close they've come ('91 Braves, '97 Indians, '01 Yanks). Then again, the '03 Yanks were the first team to come home for game 6 and lose the series since the '92 Braves (the previous six teams had won in either six or seven games), and just the second since '81 (against 10 teams that had won in six or seven games), so this team could be the one to bear the ignominy of first one to lose a WS game 7 at home in 30 years. After all, it may have four holdovers from the '96 team that beat the Braves, but it also has five holdovers from the '04 team . . .

A Classic Fall Classic?

The baseball press is almost desperate for a long and hard-fought World Series. The past five have been sweep, sweep, 4-1, sweep and 4-1. And eight of the 11 World Series since 1998 have been either sweeps (5) or over in five (3). (Those 4-1 wins for the Cards in '06 and Phils in '08 are the NL equivalent of a sweep -- no NL team has swept a World Series since 1990 and no NL team not from Cincinnati has swept a World Series since 1963.)

From Jimmy Rollins' perspective, his Phils in 5 prediction is a bit optimistic, to say the least (Benny Agbayani of the Mess made a Mess in 5 prediction in 2000 and was half right). After all, no Jeter-Rivera Yankee team has won fewer than two games in a best-of-seven. And The Monk is hoping that the Yanks double up that two win minimum in the next week or so.

So how does the Series really break down?

The Monk disdains the position-by-position analysis that so many writers use. Johnny Damon is not playing head-to-head against Raul Ibanez nor will Jimmy Rollins go toe-to-toe with Derek Jeter. It's the wrong frame of reference because it's not like Derek Jeter needs to make a play against Jimmy Rollins for his team to score. A position by position comparison of the '98 Yanks with the '86 Mets looks good for the Mets (they'd "win" the corner outfield spots, catcher and get at least a push at 3b and 1b) and that team couldn't hold the '98 Yanks collection of protective cups.

The relevant questions are entirely different.

How will the Phils fare against four starts minimum from Yankee lefties in the Series and how will the Yanks fare against the Phils' precision starters who don't have blow-by fastballs but just PITCH well? The Phils' staff is a collection of Tom Glavines, the question is what era -- Lee is the HOF-quality Glavine from the 90s and early 00s, Hamels is capable of doing the same, Blanton is a righty equivalent who has gone from innings-eating midlevel starter in the AL to a #2-3 quality starter in the NL. And Pedro will junkball the Yanks for as many pitches as he can -- he's not the 1990s-early 2000s pitcher who dominated opponents with the 96 mph fastball and the 77 mph changeup. Can the Phils make the quality pitches necessary to get the Yanks out against a team that led the AL in walks? Will the Yanks actually have some decent hitting by players who do not play on the left side of their infield? Will the Phils patchwork starting staff (Lee excepted) resemble the parade of horribles that the '04 Yanks and '09 Dudgers put out, or will it resemble the '96 Yanks, which had 5 quality starts in 15 postseason games but won the World Series?

Can the Yanks' staff, which led the AL in strikeouts, confound the Phils and their free swingers (Howard cut his strikeouts down to 186 from 199(!), Werth had 156, Ibanez 119 in 134 games, Feliz doesn't walk)? The Phils led the NL in homers and have four players who hit at least 31. Can the Yanks keep the Phils in the park in two of the most homer-friendly stadiums?

Will the starting pitching even be the key to the Series? Look at how the Braves pitched in the 1996 WS -- five good to great starts in six games but they lost three of the five and unearned runs were the difference in two of the three losses that their starters suffered.

Whose bullpen will come to the fore? Last year, the Phils won two games against the Rays' 'pen. This year they won two games against the Rockies' 'pen in the NLDS and another against the Dudgers'. The Yanks won twice against the opposing bullpens in the playoffs and their supposedly superior bullpen took both losses in the ALCS. Lidge was awful in the regular season, solid in the playoffs while Madsen has been shaky in the postseason and top-notch in the regular season; Hughes, Chamberlain and the lefties are a question mark for the Yanks after Hughes' lights-out performance as a set-up man in the regular season, but Mo is still Mo.

And one more: which manager will foul up a key situation? Manuel survived his only bad call in the NLCS because the Dudgers sucked; he survived a bad decision in game 4 of the NLDS because Huston Street imploded. The joke after five games of the ALCS was that the series stood at Yankees 3, Girardi 2. Even Mike Scioscia, who would win best manager in baseball by acclaim just about every year from the press, made a colossal bonk by yanking Lackey in game 5. No need to discuss Torre -- his pitching decisions just failed, failed and failed again in the NLCS.

These are the relevant questions. I just want the answers to add up to Yankee title #27.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Restoring partial order to the universe: the Yankees' 40th Pennant

Five years after TheChokeHeardRoundTheWorld and the TorreFiringThatShouldHaveHappened, the Yankees are back in the World Series.

About time.

The why is easy to determine: (1) the Yanks had 5 quality starts in six games, including two top-notch starts from ALCS MVP CC Sabathia; (2) Jeter and A-Rod scored 11 of the team's 33 runs and A-Rod hit .429 with 3 HR and 6 RBI in the series; (3) Mark Teixeira, for all his high suck level at the plate, made about a run-saving play per game; (4) Chone Figgins (13-39, 1.025 OPS), Bobby Abreu (11-35, 8 RBI in 9 games), and Kendry Morales (12-32, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 1.147 OPS), who killed the Yanks in the regular season were 7-48 with 1 HR, 7 RBI and 5 runs combined in the ALCS, (5) the Yanks have Mariano and the Angels don't. The absence of a top-end closer in the postseason has been deadly to the Dodgers, Cards, Angels and Rockies. The presence of top-end closer who fails to pitch up to his ability killed the Twins and eliminated the RedSux (Nathan and Papelbon are two of the three best closers in the AL, the third is in the World Series).

The Monk will have some more World Series information tomorrow and Wednesday. But here are some observations from the ALCS and NFL.

(1) The Yanks need better protection for A-Rod. If I'm Charlie Manuel, I seriously think about giving him the 2002 Barry Bonds treatment. Matsui has been poor in the postseason, Cano's inability to hit with RISP is almost legendary in scope (.320 average, .520 slugging, .872 OPS overall; but .207 AVG, .332 SLG and .574 OPS with RISP), and Swish still can't hit a lick in the postseason. And Posada was absolutely AWFUL last night. Jorge made the last out of three innings. He hit into two double plays. He left 10 men on base. He was 0-5 but accounted for 7 outs. He bounced into an inning-ending DP in the fourth with bases loaded, one out and the Yanks one hit away from blowing the game open up 3-1. Posada's horrendous night came batting right behind A-Rod, who had two hits and three walks and was on base every time Posada was at bat. Matsui wasn't better (0-4), but because Posada was so bad, Matsui only had one at bat with A-Rod on base even though Matsui batted right after Posada.

(2) The relievers need to suck less. Kudos to Joba, who had been atrocious, for getting two weak grounders to end the seventh and set the stage for Rivera in the 8th.

(3) AJ needs to toughen up. The Yanks need someone other than Sabathia to be able to finish the 7th. Pettitte had his super-glare last night and pitched a fine game. I don't blame Joey G for giving Andy the hook with one out and one on in the 7th because Pettitte had a tough sixth inning and dodged trouble and rough innings cost the pitcher more energy than just a high pitch count does.

(4) Give credit to Swisher on defense last night -- he made a good running catch and throw to first to pick off Vlady (who stupidly wandered halfway to second on a short fly to right) and he made a nice sliding catch. For a guy who plays the outfield because he hits his way into the lineup, Swish has made three nice defensive plays in the last 9 innings he's been in the field.

(5) Kudos to Pettitte for setting the record for most playoff wins by a pitcher. He has 16, John Smoltz had 15. Pettitte also has more wins in the LCS and World Series (10) than Smoltz (8). And Pettitte also set the record for most playoff wins by a pitcher starting games where his team could close out the opponent. The others: '96 ALCS game 5, '98 WS game 4, '01 ALCS game 5, '09 ALDS game 3.

And on another topic -- the NFL.

First, The Monk cannot remember a year in the salary cap era where there were so many blowouts and so many suck teams. The Raiders are awful, the Browns are horrid, the Bucs are terrible, the Rams are horrendous. They lost 38-0, 31-3, 35-7 and 42-6 yesterday, respectively. But the blowouts between seemingly evenly matched teams (Bengals 45, Bears 10) are also surprising.

Second, Cris Collinsworth showed last night why he earned his post as Madden's successor. He sussed out one of Eli Manning's snap count tricks (calling "Omaha" at the line changed the snap count) and pointed out why the Giants' receivers were failing in their route-running through bad technique. Listen to the Sunday night football broadcasts and you'll learn more about the game.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Disaster or delay -- the ALCS game 5 honk

The Yanks failed last night, and Joel Sherman makes the best possible case that Girardi blew yet another game in the ALCS: nine outs away from their 40th pennant with a rested bullpen and a clean slate to start the bottom of the 7th, Girardi could have gone to Hughes and Rivera for nine outs with no problem and did not. On further review, although I said last night that I thought Girardi was right to give Burnett the ball in the 7th after only 80 pitches or so, I see Sherman's point -- it was lockdown time and the Yanks failed to lock down the Angels.

Or did they? Buster Olney's blog entry on the game (behind a subscription wall) makes a credible case regarding how good Burnett was in innings 2-6 -- 20 batters, 17 retired (one DP), 70% first-pitch strikes (59% is average), and 80% of batters with two strikes made outs (72% average). Why not think he could continue that?

And Hughes has been erratic, at best, in the postseason (see below). Maybe he gives up two bloops and a blast and we're at 7-6 anyway. The only sure thing in the Yankees' 'pen is Rivera. Contrast that with the previously erratic Phillies, who have Madsen, Happ, Eyre and Park pitching well in getting 6-7 outs before the rejuvenated Lidge.

This is how teams lose pennants. Tom Verducci makes the point that of the last 12 times the Yanks have been nine outs or fewer from victory in the playoffs, they've lost four games including THREE in which they could have closed out a pennant. Not good. And if the team loses game 6, winning game 7 may prove pyrrhic. The Yanks' postseason rotation is built upon the NEED for Sabathia to pitch three times in a seven-game series and do so on short rest. If the Yanks win in 7, they start the Series in New York Wednesday. If tomorrow's game is rained out and the Yanks win in 6 or 7, they start the Series Wednesday. That means Sabathia in game 2 on short rest or Pettitte, and possibly a four-man rotation for the Series. If Pettitte pitches well in the close-out game and the Yanks win tomorrow, it's the all-Indians reunion of Lee-Sabathia on Wednesday.

Then again, as important as the rotation is to the Yanks, the matchups are not that crucial -- Lee is the Phillies' ace right now, but the other three starters (Hamels, Pedro, Blanton) are essentially interchangeable because Hamels is not his 2008 self.

Some other failures from yesterday:

(1) Nick Swisher is terrible at the plate now. He has no clue. Credit him for a great play on a potential sac fly in the 8th -- he charged the fly ball and immediately threw home with accuracy, keeping the speedy Reggie Willets at third and the game a 7-6 deficit.

(2) The first batter to face Joba in his relief appearances has doubled more often than made an out. This is relief? Joba has allowed 7 hits in 2.2 IP -- that's about 25 per 9 IP. Hughes has allowed 9 hits and 2 walks in 4.2 IP for a 2.36 WHIP. These are Tom Gordon 2004 numbers. They're also Exhibit 1 as to why Rivera must pitch the 8th AND the 9th for any saves in the rest of the playoffs. The only relievers not named Rivera doing their jobs are (shock) Damaso Marte and Dave Robertson.

(3) Mike Scioscia had a bad game. First, he yanked his ace with bases loaded and two outs and a 4-0 lead. Lackey is the best pitcher the Angels have, keep him in. First pitch from Darren Oliver to Teixeira = three-run double. A walk, single, triple followed and it's 6-4 Yankees. Second, he bunted with Figgins against Marte with runners at first and second and none out in the 7th. Figgins is too fast to get doubled up on a grounder, even as a righty. He makes decent contact. He walks alot. Why give up the out? The tactic only worked because Hughes failed.

(4) Whoever made the call to throw Vlady Guerrero a fastball in the 7th owns the loss. Hughes threw five pitches to Torii Hunter when he came into the game -- four fastballs for balls and a slider for a 3-0 strike. Hughes missed on his first pitch (fastball) to Guerrero and got strikes on a slider and curve. With Guerrero set up at 1-2 and two on, Hughes shook off two signs and Posada set up for a high fastball. WHY? Hughes couldn't hit the target with his fastball all night, if he misses up, Guerrero could create a three-run souvenir. Hughes could spot the slider and curve and Guerrero will swing at anything. Sure enough, Hughes misses the target low, Guerrero smacks a single, tie game. And a 2-0 fastball to Morales = Angels 7-6.

And now, two more days of hearing all the 2004 ALCS nightmares revisited and the press wondering if the disaster will hit again. It's possible. In '04, Jon Leiber pitched very well except for a fluky opposite-foul-line homer by Bellhorn in game 6, and the Yanks lost. And as cliche as it seems, anything can happen in a game 7.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Monk: an NLCS prophet

Did I say five-game sweep or what?

Honestly, this year's Dudgers put on a worse performance in the NLCS than last year's Dudgers. Other than a freakishly good outing by Padilla last Friday, the Phils whacked the Duds starters and knocked the whole Western Blue pitching staff around -- a 35-16 aggregate run total in the Phils' favor after just a 25-20 total win last year.

Unlike the '08 NLCS, the Duds' lone win came from fortuity -- last year they smacked the Phils around in game 3 and were doing the same in game 4 before Torre stupidly lifted Derek Lowe, the Artfuls' bullpen crumbled and the team faced a 3-1 hole from which Cole Hamels would not let them dig out. This year, the Duds were whomped twice.

How exactly did the Duds lead the NL in wins and the majors in run differential? This is more Torre smoke and mirrors, for which he is well-known and rightly lauded and can work wonders with over the course of a long season in which each pitch and each at bat means far less than it does in the playoffs. Remember, this is the manager who coaxed a combined 25-8 record out of Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon and rookie Chien-Ming Wang in 2005.

The Duds lacked a starter with more than 12 wins and had only two pitchers with 10. They relied on scrap heap pickup Padilla to fortify the rotation at the end of the year (and stave off the Rockies). Their two best postseason starts were from Padilla -- only once in six other starts did the Duds' starter pitch into the 7th inning. These are the types of pitchers that the '05 Yankees relied upon. But if your team lacks pitchers with pure stuff and top-end ability (Kershaw has the former, not the latter), postseason success is difficult. The Phils' pitchers not named Lee were far from spectacular and the Dodgers couldn't even put a small roadblock in their season. Instead, Colorado-Philly was the de facto NLCS.

The LA of LA's biggest problem is development. The team is young, and its best pitchers are kids (Kershaw, Billingsley). Torre often has problems with pitchers -- look at how much better Jeff Weaver, Ted Lilly, Javy Vazquez, Kenny Rogers and Jose Contreras have done after they left the Bronx. Billingsley imploded this year, even though he has top of the rotation ability. Kuroda completely biffed in his NLCS cameo.

And the Phils look tough. This team failed to win 98-100 because the bullpen sucked during the year. In the playoffs, it's been a team strength. They have an AL quality lineup with four players who whacked 30+ homers and another with more than 20 (with an AL capable DH for the World Series in Matt Stairs). And they're a lot more intense than the Dudgers. Just ask Jonathan Broxton . . .

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reporters can't count

Here's a classic. Can you find the problem?

Winning back-to-back pennants in the National League is a feat not easily accomplished. The last team to do so was the Atlanta Braves in 1995-96; they also did it in 1991-92. In the last half-century since the Milwaukee Braves won back-to-backers in 1957 and ’58, NL teams have reached the World Series in consecutive seasons only four times: Los Angeles (1965-66 and 1977-78), St. Louis (1967-68) and Cincinnati (1975-76). Winning the World Series twice in a row is even more rare: No NL team since the Big Red Machine in the mid-’70s has done it.

So Gordon Edes says NL teams have won consecutive pennants four times since 1958: the '65-66 Dodgers [that's 1], '67-68 Cards [that's 2], '75-76 Reds [that's 3], '77-78 Dodgers [that's four], '91-92 Braves [that's four again?] and '95-96 Braves [that's four a third time???].

OK, maybe that's 6 repeat winners of the NL pennant since the '58 Braves.

In the AL, there have not only been repeaters but multiple repeat pennant winners: six multiple repeaters -- '60-64 Yanks, '69-71 Orioles (yes, the Orioles were once a good team), the '72-74 A's, the '76-78 Yanks, the '88-90 A's and the '98-'01 Yanks all were multiple repeat pennant winners, and the '92-93 BluJs were single repeat AL champs. Unlike the NL, where only the '75-76 Reds won back-to-back titles, the AL has had five repeat World Series champs since the '58 season: '61-62 Yanks, '72-74 A's, '77-78 Yanks, '92-93 Js and '98-00 Yanks. And that seems a bit odd that the AL would have so many more repeat champions, considering that the AL edge is just 26-23 in the World Series since 1958. The NL has pulled off far more upsets in the Fall Classic ('60 Pirates, '63 Dodgers, '64 Cards, '69 Mets, '71 Pirates, '79 Pirates, '88 Dodgers, '90 Reds, '95 Braves, '03 Marlins, '06 Cards) than the AL ('66 Orioles, '85 Royals, '87 Twins, '96 Yanks).

Good thing I'm not a reporter, my ability to count would be completely shot.

Umpirical evidence of awful

The umpires this year have given umpirical evidence of awful officiating. The baseball playoff officiating has been so bad, with so many obvious blown calls, that the NBA's title of worst-officiated American sport (no sport is more poorly officiated than soccer) is in serious jeopardy. Even Big T(elev)en football and basketball officiating is not this bad.

Phil Cuzzi's failure in game 2 of the ALDS will be the paradigm failure. But C.B. Bucknor's calls in the Sawx/Angels ALDS were bad and last night was just horrendous.

The Yanks-Angels game had 3 major gaffes and a minor one (Fieldin Culbreth called Juan Rivera safe on a bang-bang play at first, but Rivera was out). Worse yet, two of the three were by Tim McClellan, reputedly one of the best umpires in the game.

In the 4th inning, with one out, two on, Yanks with three runs in, Scott Kazmir thisclose to getting ripped up and the Yanks going into cruise control, and Jeter up, Nick Swisher was picked off second base. Not close -- his lead hand was more than a foot away from the bag when Erick Aybar tagged Swish ON THAT HAND. Second base ump Dale Scott was four feet away from the play and looking directly at the tag . . . and called Swish safe.

After Jeter walked, Damon whacked a fly ball to centerfield. Swisher tagged up at third base, left AFTER Hunter had caught the ball, and trotted home with a 4-0 lead . . . or not. The Angels appealed to McClellan that Swisher left early and McClellan called Swish out. Replays showed clearly that Swish left after Hunter made the catch. More importantly: McClellan was looking at Hunter catching the ball, and was positioned so that Swisher was BEHIND McClellan when Swisher left the base. McClellan had no clue when Swish left and still called him out. Swish was called out on an appeal play last month, in a similarly spurious call, so this is pure reputation.

Finally, in the 5th, after he failed to score on Cano's double, Posada was at third and Cano at second with one out. Swish hit a bouncer to the pitcher. Posada was running on contact and the Angels caught him in a rundown. In that situation, the burned runner must play for time and the trail runner must take the next base. Thus, if the burned runner cannot score, both should end up ON third base, the fielder with the ball tags both and the ump calls the lead runner out. Here, Cano stopped short of third and Posada overran the base. Angels catcher Mike Napoli tagged the both and BOTH idiots should have been out. McClellan called Cano safe and Posada out.

Awful umpiring.

Except home plate ump Jerry Layne. He's the ump who did NOT give Aybar the "area play" on a double play attempt in game two (the shortstop or secondbaseman gets credit for the out at second just by being in the area of the base). On all previous double plays, Aybar had clearly stepped on the base (the Yanks bounced into three). And we saw why Layne made the calls he did.

FOX, to its great credit, showed Layne talking with Angels manager Mike Scioscia between innings and discussing how his view of the balls and strikes was not as clear when the Yanks were batting because Mike Napoli's stance impeded his view. Layne said he didn't ask Napoli to get lower, but if he wanted to that would be up to Napoli. Scioscia told Napoli what to do, and the Angels adjusted. With a clearer view of the low strike for Layne, the Angels seemed happier with the zone. Then again, Layne's zone was so consistent that the FOX Box strike zone graphic looked like it was designed by Layne's calls.

One other note: I think Tim McCarver has cut down on the cornpone and bad punnery this year. That's good. He's easily the best color commentator in the game when he's not being a buffoon and he was sharp last night in describing why Posada failed to score on the Cano double and why McClellan so badly whiffed on the Swisher sac fly run.

Pennant #40 is just one win away . . .

Even Girardi couldn't screw this up. As CC Sabathia made a mockery of the "three-days' rest" concerns and the Yankees FINALLY got some hits with runners in scoring position, the only decision Girardi had to make was whether to let CC pitch a complete game. He made the right choice, giving Chad Gaudin a taste of the playoffs and live game action, which may be beneficial in the near future. (And The Monk wonders if the Yanks will have Gaudin back next year as a fifth starter candidate -- he's earned the chance.)

For the rest of the night, the Yanks were a lineup that looked like the one that led baseball in scoring. The problems were minor: Matsui was a black hole (0-5, 3K, two bonks with RISP), Swisher hasn't had a hit since sometime in August. The biggest of the big hitters, A-Rod, was 3-4, 3 runs, 2 RBI, a stolen base and caused an Angels' error. Melky Cabrera expiated some of his previous failures with a two-run single that gave the Yanks a 3-0 early lead and two hits with RISP. Damon banged the two-run homer that iced the game.

A good night all around for the Yanks except for THREE baserunning idiocies: (1) Swisher getting picked off second in the 4th; (2) Posada getting suckered by a half-hearted decoy by Torii Hunter and failing to score on a double in the gap; (3) Cano failing to stand on third base after Posada got his own dumb a** caught in a rundown. None of this is rocket science or even advanced baseball strategy. Posada is a catcher, so he's slow. But he's been in the majors for 12+ years. There's no excuse for his horrible baserunning skills. Contrast him with Teixeira, who won't compete with Usain Bolt any time soon, but certainly runs the bases with intelligence, which means extra bases, more runs, fewer outs.

For now, the Yanks are one win away from the World Series and a date with the Phillies (who will likely win the NL pennant tonight). Hopefully Girardi won't overmanage this into a seven-game series . . .

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Girardi tactics leading to Yankees' tee time

That's the Yankees' situation in a nutshell. Girardi's overmanaging in the playoffs is going to lead this team, which is the best in baseball, to a failure. Girardi's attention to detail is impressive and if the Yanks do win World Series #27 this year it will be legendary. But yesterday, it helped cause a failure that pushed the Yankees from the brink of a 3-0 series lead to a 2-1 with Sabathia on three days' rest (which should not be that big of a problem) and Angel ace John Lackey looming in game 5.

Here's where the Yankees failed as a team: 0-8 with runners in scoring position, three failures by Melky Cabrera, two failures by Nick Swisher to score the runner from third base with less than two outs, Jeter 0-5 after his leadoff homer, team was 0-6 in extra innings. They were 0-8 with RISP on Saturday too. That's ok if the team hits 5 sac flies and 3 solo homers in one game, not if six of the team's last eight runs over two games have come on solo homers. Right now, the Yankees' offense has a governor on it holding the team to four runs (in five straight games). Not good.

Here are Girardi's questionable moves, in game order, and whether they were right or wrong AT THE TIME.

(1) Mound conference with Pettitte and Posada with a 2-2 count on Vlady Guerrero and a runner on base. WHY NOW? Pettitte and Posada have 27 years of Major League experience and have worked together for NINE seasons. If Joey G wanted to have a chat to reinforce the game plan, he should have done it before Vlady stepped in the batters' box. First pitch after Girardi departed = homerun, tie game. The pitch didn't seem that bad, but the result bit.

(2) Overuse of Chamberlain. Joba has been erratic at best this year. Now he's in a different pitching role as the "7th inning guy" and his stuff is off. Tim McCarver noted on Saturday that his slider was hanging up in the strike zone (that's called batting practice) and yesterday he got whacked around. Chamberlain's unwarranted ascension to 7th inning guy has pushed Aceves, the regular season's 7th inning guy, into extra inning duty only, where he has struggled. Chamberlain's only clean (no hits, walks, HBP) outing in the postseason came in game 1 against the Twins, when the Yanks had a big lead and Girardi was emptying his bullpen to give the young guys a taste of the playoffs. Yesterday, Chamberlain gave up the go-ahead run in about 5 pitches and got hammered so badly that Girardi had to yank him early for Marte.

(3) The abysmal 8th inning substitution. Girardi has two speed guys on his bench: Freddy Guzman and Brett Gardner. Guzman has one purpose -- pinch run and run fast. Gardner is a late inning defensive replacement for Damon or Swisher. So when designated hitter Matsui (who runs like a Molina brother) walked in the eighth inning, Girardi did the right thing in replacing him for a pinch runner. But HE USED THE WRONG MAN. Girardi should have used Guzman, but he used Gardner in a close game where the Yanks could need a defensive replacement in the outfield. If Girardi substituted Gardner for a fielder, the Yanks would lose the DH.

(4) Sending Gardner on an 0-1 count to Posada. With Gardner in the game, he had to steal, so that's the right call. On Saturday, Gardy did not steal and the hitter bounced into a double play on pitch number 4 or 5. But Scioscia likes to pitch out on 0-1 counts. McCarver said this on Saturday, and Girardi has to know this because the Yankees' scouts are very good and Girardi is such a stat geek he makes me look slipshod. Result, 0-1 pitchout, Gardner out at second. Two pitches later, Posada banged a homer to tie the game.

(5) Substituting Marte with Coke. The Monk is no fan of Damaso Marte, but he can often get lefties out and can terrorize switchhitters who are weak righties. He retired Chone Figgins to end the 7th and had Abreu (lefty hitter) to start the eighth . . . but Girardi replaced Marte with Coke. Coke is prone to give up homers, and his stuff is not as deceptive to lefties as Marte's. And the conventional wisdom is don't replace a lefty with another lefty. The move worked ONLY because Abreu made a baserunning mistake after whacking a double off Coke, but it needlessly burned the remaining lefty in the Yankees' 'pen.

(6) Sticking with Hughes, and yanking him. Girardi was right to both stick with Hughes through the 9th and yank him in the 10th after he allowed the leadoff double to Mathis. I'd prefer Rivera to hold the line in a playoff game, which he did thanks to Teixeira.

(7) Replacing Gardner with Hairston at DH. Girardi did this instead of having Gardy face Brian Fuentes. This had little purpose because if Girardi was going to end up blowing the DH, he should have done so with his best outfielder, not Hairston, and Hairston was not a threat to take Fuentes deep or to the gap -- the only ways the Yanks would have scored with two out and A-Rod on first.

(8) Replacing Damon with Hairston in LF in the bottom of the 10th with a runner at third and none out. This meant the Yanks lost the DH position, had a pitcher's spot after Jeter, and two light-hitting catchers on their bench (Molina, Cervelli) and the throwing arm upgrade from Damon to Hairston is far less than the upgrade from Damon to Cabrera or Gardner (Gardner usually goes to CF and pushes Melky to right or left, depending on who Girardi replaced).

(9) Replacing Robertson with Aceves. This made no sense at the time and is worse in hindsight. Robertson had cakewalked through the first two hitters in the bottom of the 11th. He's been excellent since the All-Star break (Aceves has been mediocre) and pitched out of HUGE trouble (bases loaded, none out) in game 2 against the Twins. He has better pure stuff. He can go more than one inning. Both are righties and so were the next and on-deck batters for the Angels. But Girardi liked the matchup of Aceves v. Howie Kendrick. Kendrick hit a seeing eye single, but the light-hitting Mathis whomped Aceves' offering into the gap, game over. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

If CC dominates and the Yanks win game 4, this matters less. If CC struggles or sucks and the Yanks lose, this matters a lot. And if CC pitches well but doesn't get through the 7th inning, then we go to the bullpen merry-go-round all over again. That's not good.

The Monk's call is that if the Yanks have a narrow lead and CC is running out of gas with 8 or fewer outs left for the Angels to tie it, use Hughes for four outs and Mo for four. Other than Robertson, the rest of the 'pen is not dependable or not good.

There's not much difference between these teams right now. The composite score is 12-9 Yanks. The starting pitchers are 1-0, 20.1 IP, 6 ER for the Yanks and 0-1, 17.2 IP, 7 ER for the Angels. The vaunted Yankee 'pen has allowed more earned runs (3-2) than the supposed Achilles' heel bullpen of the Angels. So managerial decisions have large consequences. To a large degree, Girardi is managing from fear, not strength. If he has the superior team, he should act like it and use its strengths effectively, not just manipulate matchups for their own sake.

* * *

P.S. -- I wonder how much Joe Torre misses Mo. For the second straight year, Torre's Dodgers were thisclose to winning game 4 of the NLCS and tying the series, and for the second straight year Jonathan Broxton lost the game. Last year, he failed to preserve an 8th inning tie by allowing Matt Stairs' bomb that went halfway to Bakersfield. Last night, he got the last out of the eighth inning and then completely bonked the ninth, giving up two runs with two out after putting one of the runners on by hitting the batter.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Joe's own worst enemy -- is he in the mirror?

Here's The Monk's question of the day: Is Joe Girardi his own worst enemy?

The Yanks have a 2-0 lead in the ALCS, which they've achieved four times in 8 ALCS since 1996 (1999, 2001, 2004, 2009). In 1999 and 2001, they won in five games after losing game 3. We don't discuss 2004 here.

In the ALDS, Girardi established a pattern with his pitchers: have the starter pitch 6 or more, use Coke for the first lefty in the 7th, use Joba for righties in the 7th, use Hughes in the 8th, use Rivera in the 9th. Problems: Hughes was ineffective, so Rivera entered in the 8th; Coke and Joba were erratic even though they worked out of trouble.

In game 2 of the ALCS, Girardi reverted to that same formula. Burnett pitched 6.1 and left after Cano's error put a runner on, Coke issued a walk and got a strikeout, Joba gave up an infield single hit and struck out Guerrero in a 15-minute at bat with about 10 conferences between Joba and catcher Jose Molina. Even though it was a tie game and Joba could have pitched another inning, Girardi again used Hughes in the 8th and again for 2/3 of an inning (although Hughes would have pitched the full 8th if Jeter hadn't bonked a double play ball). Then, on came Rivera for 2.1 IP.

I'm unsure which of this is what Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan called Girardi's misuse of the bullpen. I thought it was when Girardi actually used Damaso Marte . . . but Joey G. got away with it. Maybe Passan didn't like the use of Rivera . . . but this is the playoffs and winning managers don't leave the closer in the bullpen just because it violates a "Rule" in "The Book."

My concern going forward is what Joe is going to do if presented with the same situation he had in games 2 and 3 of the ALDS: a starter with plenty of gas left (Burnett was at 95 pitches, Pettitte at 81) and game in the 7th inning. I'll take Pettitte for another 25-30 tosses, Burnett for another 10-15 (I have no problem with Girardi giving him the hook on Saturday, Burnett was at 115). Girardi went to the 'pen early and often. I hope that doesn't turn out wrong later in this, or another, series.

P.S. -- The MLB Network's breakdown show seems pretty good. I watched for about 10-15 minutes after Saturday night's/Sunday morning's game and was impressed by Wild Thing Mitch Williams' breakdown of Burnett showing why A.J.'s balance and breaking ball is so much better when he pitches from a full wind-up than from the stretch and discussing the importance of a good balance/gather point for a tall lanky pitcher like Burnett. Williams' co-analyst (didn't get his identity) also rightly observed that when A.J. throws a wild pitch, he misses left or right, not short or high.

Quote of the day

James Morrow in response to White House Communications Director Anita Dunn's citing Mao Tse-Tung as one of her favorite political philosophers:

the Obama White House is rapidly becoming a big tent for the sort of cranks who set up card tables on the fringes of growers' markets and pass out hand-xeroxed fliers.

A five-game sweep?

In 2004, the Detroit Pistons whupped the Lakers in the NBA Finals 4-1. The Pistons' four wins were by an average of 13+ points; the Lakers' lone win came after a miracle game-tying shot that forced overtime. Sports journos called it a "five-game sweep" because of the Pistons' dominance.

The NLCS is shaping up to be the same. The Phillies can pound the ball, their starters have pitched 15 consecutive scoreless innings, and even the Phils' bullpen can hold an 11-0 ninth inning lead. The Dudgers won Friday thanks to some poor fielding and surprisingly decent pitching. But the Phils have four or five solid starters, the Dudgers couldn't hit Pedro Martinez (who now throws like a right-handed Jamie Moyer) and the series is out of the California sun until Friday . . . if it goes that long.

The Dudgers are fighting history. Since the advent of divisional play in 1969, the same two teams have met in the NLCS in consecutive years four times. The previous year's winner won twice, the loser gained revenge once, and the Phils are halfway to repeating. The one time since 1995 that the same two teams matched up in consecutive NLDS, the winner repeated (2004-05 Astros over Braves).

In the AL, the prior year's loser has fared worse in the rematches. When the ALCS has been a repeat of the previous year's matchup, the prior winner is 5-1. When the ALDS has been a repeat of the prior year's matchup, the prior winner is 4-2 (and the eight times the Redsax were not involved, the prior winner was 8-0). Total for the two leagues: 12-4 advantage for the prior year's winner, and we're halfway to 13-4.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Team of the Decade -- who will it be for MLB?

This is a debate for every decennial -- which one is the team of the decade for the sport? The 2009 World Series will be the last of the decade and the answer is . . . still up for grabs.

The sine qua non of any "team of the decade" is championships. Championships means sport titles, not conference titles or pennants, not most times with the best record, not division titles (although these factor into ties), not best record of the 10-year period. The Lakers are the team of the '00s in the NBA because they won 4 titles, San Antonio (with a better overall record) won 3. The Stars aren't in the mix for NHL team of the decade for the '90s despite various President's Trophy wins (best record) because the Penguins and Red Wings won more Stanley Cups.

In baseball, the Team of the Decade in the World Series era has been clear cut in seven of the ten decades to date. Here's a list, along with best team (to win the WS) and honorable mentions:

1900s = the Cubs (2 titles, 3 pennants including the WS wins) of all teams. Honorable mention = Pirates (1 WS, 2 pennants), Tigers (3 pennants). Best team = 1909 Pirates (110-42) because the '06 Cubs (116-36) lost in the Series.

1910s = the Red Sawx (4 WS). Yuck. Honorable mention = Philly A's (3 WS, 4 pennants), Giants (4 pennants). Best team = 1912 Sawx (105-47), led by Tris Speaker and Joe Wood (34-5 in 43 starts!).

1920s = Yankees (3 WS, 5 pennants). Honorable mention = Giants (2 WS, 4 pennants). Best team = the 1927 Murderers' Row Yankees (110-44) that had four Hall of Famers in its starting lineup (Combs, Lazzeri, Ruth, Gehrig), two in its rotation (Hoyt, Pennock) and a third who should be in (Shocker).

1930s = Yankees (5 WS). This will become a pattern. Honorable mention = Cardinals (2 WS, 3 pennants). Best team = 1939 Yankees (106-45) who outscored their opponents by 411 runs! Compare that to the 1975 Reds (254 run differential). No contest.

1940s = Yankees (4 WS, 5 pennants). Honorable mention = Cardinals (3 WS, 4 pennants) -- this was the Cards' decade until the '47 and '49 Yanks won. Best team = '42 Cards (106-45).

1950s = Yankees (6 WS, 8 pennants). This is no contest. Honorable mention = Dodgers (2 WS, 5 pennants). Best team = '53 Yankees (99-52) by default because no WS winner won 100 games in the regular season, although a pair of WS losers ('54 Indians, '53 Dodgers) did.

1960s = Dodgers and Cardinals (2 WS, 3 pennants each). Honorable mention = Yankees (2 WS, 5 pennants). The Yanks had the longer list of accomplishment, but lost to both the Dodgers and Cards in the WS. The Dodgers had one of the most dominating WS wins ever in '63 over the Yanks, and took probably the worst beating ever in '66 from the Orioles (shut out three times). Best team = '61 Yanks (109-53).

1970s = A's (3 WS). Honorable mention = Reds (2 WS, 4 pennants, 6 division wins); Yankees (2 WS, 3 pennants); Pirates (2 WS, 6 division wins). This is why championships matter. Fans always talk about the Big Red Machine, but the A's won the most titles. Best team = '75 Reds (108-54) and '70 Orioles (108-54). Unlike the Reds, the Orioles led their league in pitching as well as hitting and the O's had some decent players (Palmer, B. Robinson, F. Robinson). The Big Red Machine is continually overrated because it had a modern AL-quality lineup in the NL, but the pitching was not notable. Think the Reds could beat the '98 Yankees? Think again -- the '75 Reds bonked 5-1 (5-2 after 6 innings) and 6-3 leads against the RedSawx in two different games of the '75 WS; the Mariano-era Yanks don't blow those leads.

1980s = Dodgers (2 WS). This is pure default and fluke. The Dodgers are the only multiple winner of the '80s. And for half the decade, the Dodgers sucked. If the Yanks had used anyone other than George Frazier in key relief situations in the '81 WS, baseball might have had 10 different winners. Honorable mention = Cards (1 WS, 3 pennants); A's, Royals and Phils (1 WS, 2 pennants each). Best team = '84 Tigers (104-58); yes, they were better than the '86 Mess (108-54).

1990s = Yankees (3 WS). This is especially great because in '95 the Braves had their WS rings engraved with "Team of the Decade" on them and the Yanks beat the Braves twice in the Series: once by grit and good fortune ('96), and once by whipping a** ('99). At the time the Braves had their rings engraved, the Blue Jays had won more titles (2-1). There's a deadly sin for that . . . Honorable mention = Toronto (2 WS); Braves (1 WS, 5 pennants). Best team = '98 Yankees (114-48). They're the best team since the end of WWII and it's really not close (Tom Verducci had a great piece on this).

2000s = currently RedSax (2 WS). And that's where the fun is. If either AL team wins the WS, there's a legitimate debate. The Yanks will have 2 WS, 4 pennants and 8 division titles; the Angels would have 2 WS and 6 division titles. The Red Sax have 2 WS and one division title. And although the Redsux would be 3-1 in playoff series against the Angels, they've split two with the Yankees. The Phils would get a close second to Bostin if they go back-to-back because they only made the playoffs three times; the Massholes have won six playoff berths ('03-05, '07-09), although their actual participation in '05 and '09 is subject to speculation as to whether it really counts as participation. Best team = '05 WhiteSax (99-63) -- they had the best playoff run (11-1) and the most impressive pitching performance in a series since the '96 Braves when their starters threw 44.1 of 45 possible innings in a 4-1 ALCS wipeout of the Angels.

Now we know the stakes.

As for predictions: the Yanks SHOULD win, but who knows what will happen. Lackey and Saunders match up well with the Yanks, the Angels 'pen is weaker than it was when the Angels beat the Yanks in '02 and '05 -- the game is longer than six innings now. And for all the chatter about how the Angels own the Yanks in the postseason -- the Angels survived in '05 by about 5-10 feet -- the distance by which Matsui's blast with two runners on in the 9th inning of a 5-3 ALDS game 5 went foul.

The Yanks need to pitch well and not fall into traps: (1) worrying too much about the Angels' running game; (2) going completely by-the-book with 7th, 8th and 9th inning roles for the relievers. Torre would use Mo to START the 8th with a day off to follow and Girardi needs to be ready, willing, and able to make that call.

The Dodgers and Phils will be interesting but I'm thinking the Dodgers win. Bullpens are crucial in the playoffs and the Dodgers' 'pen is far superior to the Phils'. Just ask the '92 and '96 Braves how much a superior bullpen can mean to the team with inferior starting pitching.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

RINO stampede

After Olympia Snowe fell victim to her own stupidity, Susan Collins followed and now says she will support some sort of sweeping health care overhaul. Both are Republicans (in name only) from Maine and should da*n well know better considering that Maine's highly regulated and nearly universal coverage state system is a disaster (like Massachusetts' system is, and TennCare in Tennessee was before it was discontinued).

This means that to prevent the US from becoming a European-style statist cooperative in health care, the Republicans need to pick off three Democrats in the Senate. Lieberman is one, Lincoln is being pressed into pulp to adhere to her party line even though it will cost her reelection in 2010. The next best hope may be Ron Wyden of Oregon, who actually has a plan that does not completely suck.

Elections have consequences. Minnesotans who voted for a clown, New Hampshirites who voted for a statist liberal (in the highly libertarian Live Free or Die State) and Alaskans who voted for notTedStevens will be among the 300,000,000 of us who pay the price.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Colossal playoff bonks

As a modern closer in baseball, you have one job. Get the last three outs and seal the win for your team. Despite the specialization of pitching roles and the narrow task of getting those final outs delegated to the fresh-from-the-bullpen closer, the incidence of losing leads late in the game is no lower since the advent of the modern one-inning closer in the mid-80s than it was when guys like Lefty Gomez would throw 25 complete games in 34 starts in the '30s or Bob Feller would throw 370 innings.

The first time a team blew a ninth-inning lead in game 7 of the World Series and lost was 1997, when closer Jose Mesa did it. Such failures had happened in the League Championship Series -- in 1977, the Royals lost a 3-2 ninth inning lead to the Yanks but that dissipated with starters in relief; in 1992, the Pirates blew a 2-0 lead in the ninth inning of NLCS game 7 to the Braves and their starter took the loss.

So even with the closer as a specialty position, teams have not been better served with the fresh arm out of the 'pen late in playoff games. Instead, more closing opportunities has led to major failures: Rivera in the '01 WS, Mitch Williams in the '93 WS, Eckersley in the '88 and '90 WS.

But some bonks are simply bad. Those are the ones where the closer has a multi-run lead and starts the ninth. Worse than the bonk is when the stakes are high. On Sunday, Jon Papelbon gave up 3 runs in the ninth with two out to the Angels . . . and did the Angels' comeback eliminated the Redsax. It was the first time a team allowed a comeback from 2 or more runs down with two out in the last inning of an elimination game in the playoffs and lost. Yesterday, Huston Street had two out, two on, and needed only one strike against Ryan Howard to get the Rox to game 5 of the NLDS. Double, single, three runs and the Rox are setting up tee times. As the closer roles have become more specialized, so have the approaches that hitters take in the ninth inning to the closer -- more careful, more apt to battle the pitcher to force him to throw lots of pitches because the one-inning closer burns out after 18-20 tosses.

Stretching a closer to even four outs is anathema to most managers. Last year, when he set the record with 62 saves, Frankie Rodriguez had ZERO appearances all year of more than one inning. By contrast, Mariano Rivera had nine saves of 4+ outs in 2003 (out of 40), and five more in the playoffs. This year, even as the Yanks have essentially babied him, Mo had seven 4-out saves. Papelbon had six of 4+ outs.

And the Yanks will need more out of Mo. Phil Hughes has looked like Tom Gordon (career postseason = 21 IP, 17 ER, 6 HR, 7.06 ERA). Joba is unsteady. And Girardi, for some daft reason (overconfidence in his 'pen), has had a quick hook (Burnett = 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 95 pitches; Pettitte = 6.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 81 pitches) even though his starters allowed 3 ER in 19 innings with 22 K against the Twins. If that bites Girardi and the Yanks against the Angels, you'll have heard it here first.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Empire Disgrace

The Empire State Building was lit up in garish red and yellow Wednesday night.

Ostensibly to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

It also celebrates two generations of the most murderous regime in the history of man.

Presumably it's ok now because China is strong and up-and-coming and we all want to do business.

Aside from the visceral disgust my first thought was this classic line from Carl Fox [Martin Sheen] from the movie "Wall Street":

"I don't go to bed with no whore, and I don't wake up with no whore. That's how I live with myself."

9-1 > 0-8? The AL East Champs again

In June, following the Yanks' humiliating three-game sweep in Fenway, I said the team lacked character. Since then, I've either been proven wrong (which I hope) or the RedSawx are just terrible (which I don't believe).

Through the first half of the year, the Yanks were 51-37. That's pretty good.

They were 10-8 against the NL East, which is uninspiring.

They were 39-17 against everyone but Bahstin and the LA Angels of Knott's Berry Farm, which is very good.

They were 2-12 against the Sawx (0-8) and Angels (2-4), and that sucked.

Since the All-Star break, the '09 Yankees have played even better than the '98 Yankees did: 51-20 (compared to 53-28) and have blasted their two bitterest rivals by winning 12 of 14 against the Sax (9-1) and Angels (3-1). How?

First, the Yankees learned to pitch at the Stadium. The "bandbox in the Bronx" has been a haven for the team (57-24) and after a shaky 6-7 start in the new home, the Yanks have won 51 of 68 games there -- that's 75%.

Second, the Yankees figured out the Rays by winning 8 of 9 games against the other AL East contender since early June.

Third, the Yanks flummoxed the Sawx at the Stadium. In the seven post All-Star break games between the teams at the Stadium, the Sawx have scored 15 runs and nine in the last 60 innings. The Yanks are 7-0 and FINALLY beat Jon Lester. When the Yanks won a Friday night game 2-0 in 15 innings, it was the first time all season they'd held the redsux to less than four runs.
Fourth, warm weather means warm CC. Sabathia established himself as an ace with his effort in a loss to the Sawx in June and his attitude against the Chisax in an August game where the Yanks were trying to stave off a four-game sweep. After coughing up an early lead, Sabathia shouted "that's it, that's all they get." The Yanks won that game and all 10 CC starts since then (each a quality start, 8 wins, only once allowing even 3 ER, only once going less than 7 IP).

Fifth, the Yanks have one of the best long relievers in baseball, Alfredo Aceves, to get the team through the sixth and seventh innings before the season's best game-ending duo since perhaps the '96 Yankees take the mound -- Hughes (5-1, 1.24, opponents OPS of .430 as a reliever) and Rivera (yawn, 44 saves, 46 chances--that's three bonks in the past two years).

Yeah, the Yanks have a question mark as their No. 4 starter . . . and the 2006 Cardinals won game 1 of the World Series with Anthony Reyes (5-8, 5.06).

Sure, they're older than most teams . . . and the Rays flopped in July.

And AJ Burnett is a question mark: from iffy in April/May to Cy Young caliber in June and July to inconsistent in August, to sharp in late September . . . but he has almost the same quality start percentage as CC, and is a power/strikeout pitcher -- the type that is crucial to postseason success.

So congrats to the Yanks, who have once again assumed their proper spot atop the AL East. Joe Girardi should be AL Manager of the Year. CC Sabathia should be 3rd in the Cy Young ballot. Jeter and Teixiera should be Nos. 2 and 3 in the AL MVP ballot. And hopefully the team will win 11 games between October 5 and December 31, 2009. That's what I'm wanting.