Saturday, October 31, 2009

The End of an Era in Baltimore

It wasn't hard to see this day coming as the Baltimore Orioles have declined to pick up Melvin Mora's contract making him a free agent. It seems all but clear that Mora's tenth season with the Orioles was his last. Mora, from Venezuela, will turn 38 in 2010 and will hope to catch on with a contending team, something that has eluded him as a player. He made his displeasure public in 2009 when he got off to a bad start, was injured and was not given his starting job back after his return.

Mora had some good years in Baltimore. He was better suited for the outfield where he put up some stellar defensive numbers. While he had a great arm at third, his RTOT consistently came up in the negative column as an infielder. Just two years ago in 2008, Mora drove in 104 runs while compiling a 114 OPS+. That was worth the nearly $8 million the Orioles were paying him. But this year's decline to a 77 OPS+ made the $8 million option untenable to pick up.

Depending on his attitude at taking a lesser role at this point in his career, Mora could be a useful backup for somebody. He can play multiple positions and has had some good years at the plate. He certainly has more skills than someone like Miguel Cairo. The question is if he can accept that kind of role after playing nearly every game for the Orioles for eight years.

It would be easy to see a team like the Angels, Rangers or Tigers picking him up as he hit those teams really well in his career. To be sure, the Red Sox will miss him as they play the Orioles in 2010. He only had a .689 OPS against them over the years.

Mora's best years were 2003 and 2004 when he put together back to back years with an OPS+ of 143 and 155, especially 2004 when he had a career year and set personal bests in all offensive categories including a .340 batting average.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Yankees Even It Up

Now that was a great, nail-biter of a game. Game 2 of the World Series pitted Pedro Martinez for the Phillies against A. J. Burnett of the Yankees. After the Phillies took care of Sabathia and Game 1, the Phillies had to look in good shape going into this one, especially after Pedro's press conference where he pulled out all the stops and stopped only short of calling himself the best pitcher that ever lived...even if he could be right by saying so.

Of course, at age 38, Pedro bedazzles more with guile than the power pitching machine he used to be. It sure seems that he gets into the minds of the apposing batters. He'll have them blinking in silence at 88 MPH fastballs right down the middle and then after the batter is thinking, "What the heck, why wasn't I ready for that meatball," Martinez throws a sloppy curve into the dirt and makes them swing. It's downright entertaining unless of course, you are a Yankee fan.

But like Dorothy pulling the veil down from the great magician in the Wizard of Oz, Mark Teixeira pulled the magician's hat off of Pedro's head on a change up over the outside of the plate. He absolutely crushed it into the Yankee bullpen. The next thing you know, the magician is handing out hearts and courage with another homer by Matsui and a later run to get the magician out of the game.

Meanwhile, Burnett, who puts more fear into Yankee fans than into the other team had a better time of finishing off Phillies' at bats than usual. So far in the playoffs, he would always start 0-2 or 1-2, then throw a couple of curves in the dirt and walk the guy. Then he would be all off and start throwing wild pitches all over the place. Thursday night, he got the two strikes and then finished the guy off to the tune of nine strikeouts and seven innings with just the lone run.

Mariano Rivera finished it off by pitching two innings for the save. If his arm doesn't fall off this series, the Yankees have a chance. He bends, but he hasn't broken and once he gets through the eighth inning, the ninth is money. Although that first out to Howard was at least six inches outside.

It was a game the Yankees had to have and it was a game the Phillies could have really put the cuffs on. But the Yankees go to Philadelphia with a tie. The Phillies have been a weird team this year and have been better on the road than at home. The Rockies took a game from them in Philadelphia and then the Phillies rocked them at Coors. It will be interesting to see what happens. Cole Hamels will face Andy Pettitte on Saturday night.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It Was Over Quickly

C. C. Sabathia was good. He was determined and despite not having his best stuff, he pitched a hell of a game. His only problem was twice running into Chase Utley's bat. Two solo homers and the way Lee was pitching, it was over. It wasn't pretty later when the Yankee bullpen imploded, but it wouldn't have mattered. Other than Derek Jeter, who hit Lee like he's always hits Lee, the Yankees were defenseless.

A couple of observations early. Lee was leaving some first pitch strikes right in the middle of the plate early in the game. One to A-Rod, one to Damon and one to Teixeira come to mind. Lee isn't one of those pitchers you try to tire out with long at bats. He throws strikes so it isn't going to happen. If you get to him early, he can blow up in lightning speed. That happened a few times after his great start after the trade when he won a bunch in a row. After that streak, teams started getting to him early. That's probably a scouting report thing. The Yankees should put that in the memory bank and look for fat fastballs early in the game. Lee is a very good pitcher. But he isn't THIS good.

A couple more observations. The Phillies are a seriously cocky team. Of course, it is completely impossible for this writer to be objective, but between Rollins' prediction, Utley's "Look at me, ain't I pretty" look after his homers and Lee's demeaner on the mound on the pop up and comebackers, all looked like a team pretty full of themselves. Keep that in mind as we go along.

One last observation that is completely subjective--impossible for the Fan to be objective here--it didn't seem that the Yankees and the Phillies had the same strike zone. Again, the Phillies flat out beat the Yankees, but the Fan is just saying.

So, it's 1-0 Philadelphia and it doesn't look good for the Yankees.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Astros Make a Solid Choice

From this Fan's perspective, the Astros dodged a bullet by losing out on the Manny Acta sweepstakes (for gosh sakes) and today named Brad Mills, Boston's bench coach for the last six years, as their new manager. For the story, click here.

Here is why the Fan likes this move: First, the Astros get someone who has been a part of a winning culture...ahem...unlike the guy that got away. Second, Mills has had a front row seat to one of the best managers in the business for six years. Francona is solid. He knows how to face pressure. He knows how to handle the media and he knows how to handle his players. And apparently, he knows how to delegate, a secret every good manager in any business, needs to have.

Francona's words speak for themselves: "I have given Brad more responsibility than I have ever seen a bench coach have. He totally runs spring training and he handles all the communication with the players." That my friends, is high praise. The best thing a manager does is give his charges the opportunity to succeed and have enough personal confidence to have his under-managers grow in their responsibilities.

The only question that remains is if Mills will have enough clout to help turn the Astros organization into one that mirrors Boston's. You may love them or you may hate them, but there is no smarter organization that Boston's. They just get it. Does that mean that everything always falls into place? Well, 2009 proves that it doesn't. But if you run your organization correctly, you never fall into the depths of hell and stay competitive throughout. And that's all a fan base can really ask for: a realistic chance to compete every year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

For Some, the Off Season Has Started

The early off season moves have started and they seem to have begun with non-players. The Indians got a new manager...the one that the Astros wanted. The Padres have a new General Manager. Tony LaRussa decided to stay with the Cardinals and now the big news is that perhaps Mark McGwire will be his new hitting coach.

Let's start with the Indians. They announced that they have hired Manual Elias Acta as their new manager. Umm... Do you think the Indians' fans are thrilled by that choice? As they were out there wondering who would replace Mr. Wedge, could you see them pondering Bobby Valentine or Buck Showalter or some big name like that? Perhaps they could pry LaRussa from the Cardinals. Something splashy and all, you know? And they hired Manny Acta. It's a given that a manager is given too much credit for when a team wins and when they lose. Even so, Manny Acta's major league record as a manager is 158-252. His .385 winning percentage is 285th on the list of managers of all time, slightly better than Alan Trammell and Art Fletcher. Preston Gomez has a better all-time winning percentage. So does Larry Rothschild and Dave Trembley. Can you feel the collective thud of enthusiasm in Cleveland?

Okay, so Acta managed the Washington Nationals. Yeah, they were a mess. But now he is being asked to take another team that is currently a mess and do what he couldn't do in Washington? This Fan doesn't get it. And the funny thing is that the Astros wanted him too and only didn't get him because their owner wouldn't give him a three year contract. Would you? Well, the Astros can rejoice because the Fan is sure that Trembley or Rothschild are available. And Acta is from the Dominican Republic. It's cold in Cleveland in the spring. He better pack his long johns.

The dual news that LaRussa is staying in St. Louis and could perhaps be bringing Mark McGwire back to the majors as a coach is double-the-fun news. Anyone who has read this blog for long knows that the Fan has a healthy dislike for Mr. LaRussa. He is an arrogant SOB if you ask this writer. But you know what? If he brings McGwire back and thumbs his nose at the upper echelon of baseball, he's a hero. McGwire may be a paragon for what we abhor about what we now know about PEDS and baseball, but he's a good guy too. And you may not agree, and no doubt many of you don't, but if 70% of the guys were using, how come they didn't hit 70 homers too? The Fan loves the guy. Always will. Who can blame the guy for not wanting to perjure himself? Look what it got Clemens and Tejada? Lying to congress will cost you a bit. But this Fan will never forget that Labor Day weekend when McGwire hugged his son and made the world a fun place to be. You go, LaRussa! Hope you get to the World Series next year. The only question remaining is if Duncan will still be there.

The Padres hired a GM from the Boston Think Factory. Not a bad idea. It's refreshing that someone with Hoyer's pedigree in sabermetrics and smarts got him a job like that. It shows good signs in San Diego and their fans should be encouraged.

The Fan's Been Sick

{{Switching to first person}} I got a call from my son on Sunday. He said that he'd heard I'd been sick. "Yes," I wheezed. Sometimes he and his wonderful lady friend, who he should hurry up and marry, were supposed to come over for dinner, but I politely asked if he could let the old man moan and groan on the couch alone for the weekend. He understood. But then he mentioned that I hadn't written my blog for a day or two. I guess that's what happens when you write over 550 entries in a baseball season and miss a day or two. I should be thankful that he reads regularly. It's kind of a bonding thing. But then the pride kicks in a little bit and the thought occurs to me that he's written two whole entries in HIS blog in five months and he's making me feel guilty? Puh! Oh well. That's life.

I was thinking about that as I semi-watched the Yankees clinch the American League pennant. By semi-watched, I mean that I watched a few of the early innings, but after the Angels scored the first run and the Yankees started leaving men on base, I retreated to the basement to play Hearts. I have become such a stress coward. I can't seem to take it for some reason. But to be like that is to miss so much of what makes baseball such a grand game. I need a sports psychologist I think. Do you suppose John Smoltz would refer me to his? Doubtful.

As I was thinking about what my son said about the empty blog days, the other thought occurred to me that I built some momentum with all those blog posts. Readership tripled over the summer. They have dwindled down again some. Do the big-time writers worry about that stuff? Do they pour over the web reports and see who came and who didn't and in what numbers and what the trends are? Do they write stories they think will bring more people to the site? Nah. Couldn't be. But I have to admit that I think about that when considering what I am going to write about. It's a losing proposition I have concluded. You can only write what you are passionate about and in the end, the whole will be valued over the parts. At least that's what I think now. Next week might bring different conclusions.

Okay, so what about the Yankees and the Angels? Well, there is good news and bad news for the Yankees. The good news is that Sabathia is spectacular and A-Rod has come into his October prime. Pettitte is reliable and is money when the going gets tough. Jeter is still Jeter and does the little things that sometimes turn the tide. The bad news is that A. J. Burnett is as reliable as those pilots who somehow missed the Minneapolis airport. Swisher, Cano and Matsui were terrible in the clutch. And Phil Hughes has lost his mojo. The sort of good news is that Mariano Rivera still gets it done but it is a bit worrisome that he topped out at about 89 MPH in that last game. Mo is like the wall of a great old city against the franks and other hordes. The people depend on that wall and have for a long time. But sooner or later, you know that wall is going to come down. Perhaps it will wait until some time after this world series. One can hope so.

It was kind of sad the way the season ended for the Angels. They are such a solid team, but when it came down to the end, they just kept messing up: errors, base running blunders...things you wouldn't expect them to do. Personally, I don't think those two runs the Angels gave up in the 8th would have made any difference in the final outcome. Rivera had no trouble with the last three batters who went 1-2-3. But even so, from a mental standpoint, to see a guy like Kazmir, who hadn't been to war with the club all season, at least until the end, kick that bunt into right field had to be a morale crusher. I mean, if one of your tried and true warriors from the entire season messes up, well, he's family, you know? And how mad would you have been after Jeter's comebacker when Kazmir then makes a point of throwing his best fastball to first? The butthole.

As for the World Series, I'm just glad Jeter, Mo, Posada and Pettitte will get to taste it again. It would be nice if they could win it. But I'm just happy they put some ghosts to bed and got there.