Friday, August 31, 2012

Time for Yankees to show O's, Rays who's the boss

Coming into the 2012 baseball season, I never thought I would say this but the New York Yankees face a tough test against the Baltimore Orioles starting tonight.

After another disappointing performance by ace CC Sabathia, the Yankees stumbled into an off day losing two out of three games against the injury-riddled, Triple-A Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees are going to have to step up their game if they want to maintain their slim three-game margin in the American League East, with their next 10 games against the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays.

We knew the Rays would be good, with their superior, youthful starters, but who saw the O’s coming? Not me. I have to give Buck Showalter a lot of credit for the Orioles resurgence (although with his luck he will get himself fired right before the O’s win it all, as happened in both New York and Arizona). And you can’t call their rise a fluke, not when they are coming to Yankee Stadium on the last day of August with a chance to grab the division from the floundering Yankees hands.

Can the Yankees manage to take two out of three this weekend to keep the O’s at bay, then continue to play well against the Rays and the O’s again in Baltimore next weekend? I never thought I would say this, but I’m not sure. With Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira out, the only reliable bats in the lineup belong to Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher and they can’t drive themselves in all the time. Sabathia has not pitched up to his ace billing, and Phil Hughes, who salvaged the series against the Jays with another strong performance, doesn’t start again until Monday. I feel confident that Hiroki Kuroda, who has been the best starter on the Yankees over the last two months, will give the team a great chance to win, but it’s anybody’s guess if his offense will give him any type of run support.

The Yankees are in for a brutal final stretch, starting for real tonight. It’s time to step up and show the O’s and Rays who’s boss. If they can. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Soriano blows off media after shameful fan booing

I was fully prepared to use this blog today to completely castigate the idiot New York Yankees “fans” who booed Rafael Soriano off the mound following a rare blown save last night. Until I heard about what little regard Soriano has for the media and, indirectly, the fans.

This isn’t the first incident of Soriano blowing off the media, an unwise move on his part when the Yankees are one of the most closely followed sports franchises in the world and the media can drive some fans’ perception of the players. I have numerous Google alerts set up to alert me to any Yankee-related news and I read the sports sections of the local newspapers first thing in the morning, which is why I found out about Soriano dissing the Yankees media contingent so quickly.

Perhaps he didn’t want to answer media questions about the booing. If that was the reason, I can’t say I blame him there. I was pretty pissed off myself when I heard it. I thought it was a low-class move by the fans in attendance at last night’s game. The Yankees wouldn’t be where they are in the standings without Soriano almost flawlessly stepping into Mariano Rivera’s shoes.

Soriano is not Mo and he doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Mo until he closes big games in October, but he also didn’t deserve the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately booing that was heaped upon him yesterday. That booing and the entitled attitude that drove it is a key reason why other baseball teams' fans hate Yankee fans. But criticism of Soriano for not answering questions afterward is fair.

Soriano just reminded us that no matter how many games he saves, he’s not Mariano Rivera. And that’s something we should worry about in October, but it didn’t justify the despicable display at Yankee Stadium last night. However, Soriano didn’t endear himself to anyone with his behavior afterwards and alienating the media is something he should think twice about doing. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Red Sox make awe-inspiring dump of dead weight

I’m in awe of Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington’s ability to rid his team of so much dead weight in one trade.

How he managed to convince the Los Angeles Dodgers, even with rich new owners, to take on the long, expensive contracts of both Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez is beyond me. Gonzalez was a productive player for the Red Sox on the field so I can see why the Dodgers wanted him, but I can also see why the Saux felt they had to get rid of him. He clearly did not mesh with Red Sox Nation, who want their players to be accountable for their play and behavior and not leave their epic collapse in God’s hands. Crawford never truly fit in Boston and had his relatively brief stay there marred by injuries that left him underachieving—a change of scenery to the laidback West Coast might actually do him some good. And don’t get me started on Josh Beckett, who managed to blow through whatever good will he built up by being a key member of a World Series team.

Now Cherington has the money to spend on the guys that he wants, not the collection of selfish, foolish or underachieving players that his predecessor Theo Epstein left behind. But this is more than about money. Cherington can fill his clubhouse with good players and solid men he thinks will change the toxic clubhouse for the better. In one major move, he has managed to put his stamp on the Red Sox.

The other clear winner is Bobby Valentine, who will now get to impose the discipline he obviously felt was lacking in the Boston clubhouse without interference from players who think they should be running the show (assuming management keeps him around, which I think they will for at least another year). Seriously, any player who dares challenge Valentine is going to find themselves with a one-way ticket out of town, which is something perhaps some of the players actually want.

Despite the talent exodus, this deal is going to make the Red Sox a much better team, which should be a major concern for the New York Yankees.

Thanks to Timspastimes via Wikimedia Commons for the Cherington photo.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bayless gets 15 minutes of fame with Jeter PED insinuations

Accusing Derek Jeter of using performance-enhancing drugs is a good way to get a lot of attention.

I think anyone who plays for the New York Yankees is going to come under suspicion, even the great Derek Jeter, normally viewed as infallible. The Yankees have been the poster child for PED usage, with numerous current and former players outed as cheaters. Jeter’s name has never remotely been connected to PED use. But someone was bound to try to make the connection, particularly with Jeter’s renaissance season in which arguments have been made that he should finally win his first regular-season Most Valuable Player award at age 38. Skip Bayless turned out to be the guy.

It’s fair to wonder how Jeter has been able to pull off his brilliant performance in a year when he is leaving baseball immortals in the dust on his climb to the top of several key baseball categories. But I can truthfully say that I’ve never once thought that Jeter might be using drugs to get ahead. Of course, I could have said the same thing about Andy Pettitte before he admitted to using human growth hormone.

In all honesty, I had no idea who Skip Bayless was until this story broke. But I have to give it to him—he chose his target well. Bayless knew that anyone connecting Jeter to PEDs was going to get a lot of free publicity, and as they say, there’s no such thing as bad press. But some things are truly unfair, such as insinuating that any player, let alone Derek Jeter, is trying to cheat the system with nothing in the way of evidence.

Bayless knows that Jeter can’t really fight back, no matter how angry and annoyed he may be that his integrity is being questioned. Jeter is a public figure so he really has no options to combat such unfounded accusations. He, as always, chose to try to deflect and minimize the situation. But I can only imagine how livid he must be right now.

Bayless got what he wanted: his 15 minutes of fame. Let’s just end it there. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Baseball cannot escape its drug problem

Major League Baseball just can’t get a break in its quest to rid itself of its drug problem.

Bartolo Colon becomes the latest baseball player to get caught cheating, earning a 50-game ban after testing positive for testosterone. It’s a major blow for a surprisingly competitive Oakland A’s team. But it’s not at all shocking that Colon was busted. There were suspicions about his turnaround performance going back to last year with the New York Yankees. (The suspension news is a vindication for the New York Times, which published an article last year that stopped short of accusing Colon of cheating, but investigated a questionable procedure that he had undergone without uncovering direct evidence of wrongdoing.)

Last week, it was Melky Cabrera being punished for using a banned substance. Both Colon and Cabrera are former members of the Yankees. It’s not a coincidence. To my great annoyance, the Yankees have become the poster child for performance-enhancing drug usage in baseball. It’s no surprise that two former Yankees have gotten busted. But it is a black mark, not just for these guys and the Yankees, but for all of Major League Baseball.

Neither player is as famous or infamous, as Roger Clemens, who is making a baseball comeback for an independent team. Clemens, who has already beaten government prosecutors trying to make an example out of him, could target MLB next by trying to return to the sport. A return to the big leagues could be a smart move on his part because it would restart the clock on his Hall of Fame candidacy, putting more distance between his alleged misdeeds and the time when the baseball writers have to cast their votes for or against him.

Not that I think many writers will forgive or forget the damage he has done. But a Clemens comeback would just rub MLB’s failure to control its drug problem right in the faces of Bud Selig & Co. Not that they need a reminder from Clemens. They’re getting plenty of reminders that their drug problem is not ancient history, no matter how much they wish it was, from the guys still trying to game their system.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

For Major League Baseball, good news comes with the bad

Luckily for Bud Selig and Major League Baseball, Felix Hernandez pitched a perfect game yesterday.

If King Felix hadn’t come through, not only for the Seattle Mariners but for his sport, all the baseball-related talk today would be completely focused on Melky Cabrera’s 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. Instead, the genius of Felix’s performance in his 1-0 perfecto and his charm in his post-game interview is the talk of baseball, as it should be.

Unlike his former New York Yankees teammates, I’m not at all surprised about Melky’s suspension. Cabrera was clutch for the Yankees, with numerous walk-off hits in 2009 and the first cycle hit for by a Yankee in 14 years. But Cabrera never became a superstar, which Yankee coach Kevin Long attributed to his bad habits and lack of work ethic. Supposedly, he had turned his life around. But in my mind that never explained why he all of a sudden became one of the best players in the league. Now we have the answer to that riddle.

I do give Melky some credit for accepting the punishment and expressing remorse for his actions, unlike Ryan Braun who dragged the sport through the mud on his way toward getting off on a technicality. But that’s where my praise ends as Cabrera’s name will forever be added to the list of baseball cheaters.

In contrast, Hernandez has now achieved baseball immortality. Unlike Philip Humber, who no one will remember through a perfecto too after this year, Hernandez’s perfect game cements his status as the best young pitcher in baseball, on his way to even greater things. We all knew how talented he is, which is why so many Yankee fans are desperate to see him in pinstripes. But his brilliance did more than just lift his teammates to victory yesterday. He also lifted up his sport.

Thanks to ChicagoMayne via en.wikipedia for the Felix Hernandez photo.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

For Red Sox, things go from bad to worse

A bunch of bitchy players is apparently not enough to sink Bobby Valentine, at least not yet.

We now know why Boston Red Sox management recently felt compelled to give Bobby V a vote of confidence. The Red Sox hierarchy knew that news of a meeting in which Red Sox players complained about Valentine’s managerial style would soon become public. So they tried to get ahead of it by expressing support for the manager, despite the many criticisms of his players.

But this latest news symbolizes the dysfunction of the Red Sox. Sure, Bobby V has made mistakes. Picking a fight with popular Kevin Youkilis, which forced the Saux to eventually trade him, was probably not a wise move. But Bobby V isn’t the one on the mound getting his ass handed to him every other start. That would be supposed ace Josh Beckett. And since when do these baseball players have a right to question his decision to leave Jon Lester in a game? It used to be that a starting pitcher was congratulated for taking one for the team if he stayed in a game despite getting hammered. Apparently that is now just something else for an unhappy team to bitch about.

It seems like things are only going to get worse as the disappointment and frustration of their sub-.500 record and general lack of competitiveness weigh on some of these Red Sox players (it seems to have already gotten to Dustin Pedroia), many of whom were ill prepared to deal with this much losing after winning two World Series in the last decade. As recently as mid-July, I still thought that the archrivals of the New York Yankees might have had a chance to turn things around, but that’s clearly not the case. For the dysfunctional Saux, 2012 is already a lost season. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hughes’ disappointing outing adds to Yankee blues

I was bummed that the New York Yankees could not sweep the Triple A Toronto Blue Jays this weekend, even more so because Phil Hughes was the main culprit.

After two months of strong pitching, it is completely baffling why Hughes has all of a sudden lost it again. His last two outings have started off fairly well, but he has run into major trouble in the fourth inning, jams he simply cannot get out of, even with two outs in the inning. It does not bode well for his next outing against the Boston Red Sox, a team he has struggled against in the past although he had a solid performance against them the last time they were in town.

The Yankees could have strengthened their position by sweeping the hapless Jays and remaining six games ahead of their nearest competition before starting what will be a tough week against the defending American League champion Texas Rangers and the Red Sox. They are already at a disadvantage by not having CC Sabathia available to start things off against the Rangers with his unexpected second disabled list stint of the year.

Phil Hughes could have made things a little easier by helping the Yankees solidify their lead against diminished competition, but he couldn’t do it for whatever reason. Hopefully, this is just a blip and he can get it together against the hated Saux. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dysfunctional Red Sox falling apart again

The Red Sox have been known to be a dysfunctional team at times, but this really takes the cake. Or rather, the beer.

The Red Sox have been accused of giving up on their baseball season as they linger near the bottom of the American League East division. One piece of evidence, according to a Boston columnist, was the sight of the injured John Lackey double fisting beers after a tough loss. The Boston media is notoriously bitchy, but they may have a point here.

Technically, Lackey didn’t break any rules by having a beer in the road clubhouse, but that really isn’t the issue. It’s just a poor decision by a guy who, along with other teammates, started the chicken-and-beer controversy last year, one that highlighted the clubhouse dysfunction that cost the Saux a playoff berth. You would think the Red Sox players would go out of their way to avoid any behavior that might remind people of last year’s collapse. Apparently not.

I definitely appreciate the instinct of Lackey’s teammates to defend him from what they see as unfair and unnecessarily harsh criticism. They pointed out his habit of picking up meal and cab bills for his less fortunate teammates. I bet his wife doesn’t think he is such a great guy, with Lackey filing for divorce while she was battling breast cancer. I wonder if he was as generous with her in the divorce proceedings as he is with his teammates.

The fact that the Red Sox are struggling badly this year and still a dysfunctional mess proves that last year’s collapse wasn’t all Terry Francona’s fault, despite the media hit the Saux management put out on him after he left the team. One thing you could say about Francona is that the Red Sox managed to be a more professional team during most of his tenure, which helped them win the World Series not once, but twice, finally besting the New York Yankees and breaking the curse.

Bobby Valentine was hired to be a law-and-order manager after last year’s late-season shenanigans. Even though Lackey didn’t violate Valentine’s rules, he clearly isn’t buying into the program. Neither are some of the other Saux players, prompting that vote of confidence from the Red Sox hierarchy trying to stave off another controversy.

As the old saying goes, you never know what you have until it’s gone. Francona is probably feeling some vindication from the safety of the ESPN booth (if it was me, I’d be laughing my ass off). How much do you want to bet Valentine wants to trade jobs with him again? But I doubt even Francona could fix this mess or even want to try.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the John Lackey photo. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Joe Girardi shows some fire

I’ve never seen Joe Girardi as angry as he was yesterday. It was truly awesome.

If you haven’t seen Girardi’s post-game interview, I insist that you immediately stop reading this blog and check out this link to the YES Network website. Not only did the New York Yankees manager rip third-base umpire Tim Welke a new one on the field, he continued his verbal assault in an epic tirade after the game.

We normally don’t see the Yankees manager that worked up, unless he is fighting with a reporter who dares to question him, particularly when it comes to AJ Burnett (come to think of it, with Burnett gone, I can’t remember seeing Girardi fight with any reporters). I know Girardi was still angry about Welke’s stubbornness, but I couldn’t help cracking up as he took shot after shot at him.

But Girardi’s central point is a fair one: that the umpire made a mistake that could have easily cost the Yankees the game, especially with the rain that may have forced an early end. After admitting that he initially called a fair ball foul, Welke should have been more understanding of Girardi’s argument that the runner should be sent back to third base rather than letting the go-ahead run score (he then made the situation worse by refusing to let the Yankees manager protest the game). That’s clearly why Girardi was so angry. With the Yankees struggling in recent weeks, it was an important game for them to win.

Girardi’s outburst on the field may have awakened his slumbering ballclub. Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez hit back-to-back home runs that gave the Yankees a lead that they did not relinquish. You can’t say for sure those homers were related to Girardi’s angry display, but it can only help motivate baseball players who know that their manager completely has their back.

Girardi is clearly going to pay for his post-game tirade, but I’m sure he couldn’t care less about the fine coming his way. I can only hope his fire is contagious and sparks a Yankee winning streak. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Crisis averted for New York Yankees

Balance is restored to the Yankees Universe, at least temporarily.

Some fans of the New York Yankees were on the verge of nervous breakdowns before the Yankees took the final two games from the Detroit Tigers. Granted, the Yankees have given them a lot of reason for their fears, playing terribly during a recent three-week stretch and watching their seemingly insurmountable 10-game lead dwindle in half. The Yankees themselves were starting to become concerned with their poor play, with Eric Chavez bravely voicing what others in the Yankees clubhouse were probably worrying about, but didn’t dare say publicly.

But the Yankees managed to escape Detroit with a split thanks to a turn-back-the-clock performance this week from Chavez, filling in nicely for the injured Alex Rodriguez, decent starts from CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda following poor outings by Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes, and a frustrated and angry Joe Girardi forcing the umpires to eject him and firing up his team in the process.  

Does that mean the Yankees are over the hump? Not in the least. They got lucky that the Tigers fell short in their comeback attempts these last two games. And they have to seriously hope that moving him down in the order is exactly the tonic Curtis Granderson needed to get over his slump.

Despite his recent struggles, I’m incredulous at the notion that Yankee fans would turn the ire they normally direct at ARod to the affable Granderson, but that’s what the New York Post said is happening (and, of course,  everything in that newspaper is gospel, according to my friend Scott). Sure, I was frustrated by Granderson’s weak pop up to end Tuesday night’s game and his numerous strikeouts, but the man does have 30 home runs, 66 ribbies and 78 runs scored so it’s not like he’s been a bust this year. And I seriously doubt he’ll ever take steroids or kiss his reflection in the mirror so I don’t think he deserves the level of scorn usually reserved for ARod.

I’m happy the Yankees took these last two games, but I’d feel a lot better about them if I see them sweep the Toronto Blue Jays up north before they come back to New York for a brutal 7-game home stand. They have four games against the defending American League champion Texas Rangers and three against the Boston Red Sox, who can always put up a good fight against the Yankees despite their dysfunction. It’s going to be a tough week for them and I’d like to see some signs that they can handle it. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Arrogant Barry Bonds just doesn’t get it

Barry Bonds thinks he deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I don’t and I hope a majority of baseball writers agree with me.

Bonds gave an interview to in which he reflected on the five-year anniversary of his record-breaking home run, even though many baseball observers, myself included, still consider Hank Aaron the true home run king. Time and distance from the game hasn’t softened Bonds one bit, as evidenced by his defiant attitude about his Hall credentials and his unabashed happiness over his “good friend” Roger Clemens beating the government when Bonds himself could not.  

Unlike Clemens, Bonds was actually convicted for a crime although his legal team is appealing the conviction. But his flippant “so what” comment about his conviction proves that the arrogant Bonds doesn’t care at all that what he did was wrong and significantly damaged the game of baseball. And that, and the fact that he was an infamously difficult guy, will cause a lot of baseball writers to keep him off their Hall ballots. I’m not a big fan of writers taking things into their own hands and applying their own rules to the Hall analysis, but I think those that refuse to vote for any of the cheaters, including Bonds and Clemens, are completely justified.

We’ll know soon enough how the writers decide. Bonds’ name will appear on the ballot this winter and the initial vote total will be fascinating. If it’s above the 40-50% mark, it’s likely that Bonds will make it into the Hall eventually as the memory of what he did fades away. But if his number is well below that mark, Bonds will likely suffer the same fate of Mark McGwire, the man whose single-season home run record Bonds broke, who will never set foot in the Hall without buying a ticket.

Barry Bonds just doesn’t get it. Or probably more accurate, he simply doesn’t care. Perhaps keeping him out of the Hall will finally get his attention.

Thanks to Jim Accordino via Creative Commons for the photo. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hughes comes through for Yankees again

Despite all the haters out there, nobody is harder on Phil Hughes than Hughes himself.

If I hadn’t seen Wednesday’s game, I would have thought that he had gotten smacked around Yankee Stadium from the way he evaluated his performance in his post-game interview. The old Hughes might have been in for a rough day if, as Phil said, he didn’t have his best stuff. But the new and vastly improved Hughes managed to get out of several jams en route to pitching six-innings of one-run ball in a game that the New York Yankees desperately needed to win to preserve their sanity and that of their fans.

Hughes got a more positive review from his manager Joe Girardi, who thought his pitcher did a good job of managing innings and minimizing the threat with runners on base. Girardi is obviously willing to criticize one of his players, as he chastised Ivan Nova for his dreadful performance and loss of focus on Tuesday evening. The Yankees manager seem thrilled that Hughes did what Nova could not, get past the feeling that his stuff was not up to par and pitch a good game when his team staked him to a sizeable lead.

How ironic is it that Hughes, despite all his struggles and the calls to trade him away, is the one keeping the Yankees afloat during this rough stretch? The Yankees have won two games during the current home stand, both of which Hughes started. He lost a tough luck game to a hot Oakland A’s team despite a strong outing the week before. But this week he managed to do what the Yankees’ top starters CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda could not: beat a division rival, two times no less. Hughes should give himself a little credit for that. But he won’t.

Hughes’ performance against the Baltimore Orioles was overshadowed in the news by the offensive outburst of the Yankees and the long-awaited return of Joba Chamberlain. But I’m sure his teammates appreciated his effort. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Joba Chamberlain a sight for sore Yankee eyes

Joba Chamberlain was a sight for sore eyes.

Watching Joba standing on the Yankee Stadium mound yesterday warmed my heart. He didn’t pitch particularly well, which was to be expected given his long pitching layoff and the jumble of emotions he must have been feeling. Not that it really mattered how he pitched. Just seeing him on the mound was a testament to his perseverance.

His manager Joe Girardi talked about how he never had any doubt that Joba, a famously quick healer who didn’t even feel his elbow coming apart before his Tommy John surgery, would pitch again this year, even after the grotesque ankle injury. I genuinely believed Girardi when he said that, not always the case to be honest. I had been following Joba’s recovery as closely as possible and his determination to return to the pitching mound and prove all the doubters who said his career was over wrong was evident. Not only did he heal more quickly than expected, he was lighting up the radar gun during his rehab assignments and I have no doubt that he will be lighting up the Yankee Stadium gun once he gets comfortable again.

Despite his rough first outing, the New York Yankees are confident that he can solidify the bullpen, much as he had done last year before his unexpected and unfortunate elbow injury. They are so confident in Joba that Brian Cashman felt comfortable trading away Chad Qualls for some bench help before Tuesday’s deadline. The Yankees, overly cautious in their handling of Joba at times, were so sure that he was healthy that they called him back up to the big club rather than sending him to Trenton for a scheduled rehab assignment, no doubt disappointing a lot of New Jersey-based Yankee fans hoping for a glimpse of Joba.

But it was a thrill watching him pitch in a big-league game again, something a lot of people suspected he would never do, even if Joba himself never doubted it for a second. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Yankees right not to panic at trade deadline

I was afraid the New York Yankees would panic and make an unnecessary trade after Mark Teixeira’s injury but luckily that was not the case.

The Yankees made a minor move to shore up their bench ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline, trading away Chad Qualls (bye, Chad, we hardly knew you!) for Casey McGehee. I suspect such a small move for a platoon player happened only because the MRI test for Tex came back negative. If the Yankees were to lose him for an extended period of time, Brian Cashman could have been forced to make a bigger move. You can’t go two months without your big guns at first and third base and we already know we likely won’t see Alex Rodriguez until mid to late September.

But as Cashman mentioned, the price was high for any player of value (more so for the Yankees, who have some strong prospects in the minor leagues) and aside from the Philadelphia Phillies, they weren’t that many sellers in the market this year with the expansion of the wild cards. So I think he was smart not to overreact to the team’s recent poor play and the loss of ARod and Andy Pettitte.

To be honest, the Yankees had already made their big move with the trade for Ichiro Suzuki after their rough weekend in Oakland. Giving up a couple of kids for an aging, but future Hall of Famer is just want the old Yankees, led by George Steinbrenner, would do. But I don’t consider it a bad move in the sense that the Yankees didn’t give up much to get Ichiro.

The Yankees are simply going through a tough spell right now, but they will right the ship and I have every confidence that they will survive it and take the American League East division title. There’s no need to panic, folks. Luckily, Brian Cashman didn't.