Saturday, July 17, 2010

Game Picks - Saturday: July 17, 2010

Eleven correct. Four incorrect. A good night of picking. The Braves losing was a surprise. Greinke didn't do well and the Tigers lost hard to the Indians and King Felix didn't get any run support. Other than those games, it was fun watching the scores come in and for the games to go as expected. Strasburg was very good again. Zito struck out ten. The Yankees came from behind. The Rangers beat the Red Sox again. The Dodgers lost again and the Cubs beat the struggling Phillies.

It would be great if this very successful week could keep going. Here's how Saturday looks:

  • The Phillies over the Cubs: Cole Hamels should beat Randy Wells IF the Phillies can put some runs across.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: Hard to pick against Carmona, but Verlander should get the win.
  • The Cardinals over the Dodgers: Kuroda? Nah. Not going to happen. Especially not with Wainwright pitching. Manny left early again last night.
  • The Bay Rays over the Yankees: Niemann is great. Burnett is least not consistently.
  • The Pirates over the Astros: Like Ohlendorf over Norris. The Pirates should get this one.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Good luck, Buck Showalter if you inherit this team.
  • The Reds over the Rockies: Tough game to pick. Volquez is making his first start after being on the DL with arm surgery. De La Rosa has also missed a large chunk of the season. Might be a bullpen game and the Reds are better there.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: Another tough one. Talbot is fading after a lucky start. Porcello is back from a stint in the minors and had an ERA over 6. Ugh.
  • The Braves over the Brewers: How does Narveson have a record over .500 with an ERA over 6? Doesn't matter because Hudson will shut the Brewers down.
  • The Twins over the White Sox: How weird is it that this Fan has more confidence in Pavano than he does for Buehrle?
  • The Athletics over the Royals: Cahill has been awesome. Chen has to fall some time doesn't he?
  • The Padres over the Diamondbacks: Things aren't going well for Kirk Gibson eh?
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: Got to go with Cliff Lee over Lackey.
  • The Giants over the Mets: Cain over Takashima. Could this be the third straight 1-0 game?
  • The Mariners over the Angels: Giving Rowland-Smith the nod over Saunders. Hey, it could happen.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Marlins over the Nationals: Josh Johnson is the man and should win despite Livan.

Yesterday: 11-4
Week: 25-12
Month: 102-74
Season: 761-571
Games of the Day: 46-40

Blue Skies Shining On Me...

[[switching to first person]] This was going to be a post about Dontrelle Willis. I was going to write about him because I was relating to his story on how he was on top of the world and now he's barely clinging to his career and his dreams of a major league career. I was connecting to his story because I too was on top of the world and lost it and now am lost and afraid just as I am sure he is. But then the feelings kept nagging at me until they didn't make any sense. Those feelings understood that no matter how Willis struggles, no matter how depressing his loss of control and command get, he will still be paid millions of dollars. Money can't buy happiness. We all know that. But it can make the disappointments a lot more comfortable.

There are millions of people out there who are worse off than I am. This fact I am painfully aware of and know that I could always be worse off. I could be starving. I could be living in a shack after my world was blown away in hurricane or an earthquake. My country could be torn by war and everything I had known about life could be lost in the rubble of war. But even knowing these things, my mind is troubled and my spirit sags.

I even know that there are millions in this country that have lost in the past few years. Many have homes that are now worth much less than what they paid for them. Many have lost them in foreclosures. 1.2 million people lost their unemployment benefits when Congress failed to pass an extension. The vote lost by two votes. What are those 1.2 million people doing now? Much the same as me I expect.

The difference is that they lost their jobs through no fault of their own. I gave mine up. I still think I did the right thing. But circumstances make me doubt. Let me explain. The company I helped found was bought by a larger fish. That happens every day. This company knew of my experiences and wanted me to go to Georgia. They begged me to. But there was one thing that I couldn't get past. My children. If you are a loyal reader, you may know that I lost my dad when I was ten. My children live with their mom a few towns over from here. I didn't want them to lose their dad too. Sure, I would have been well off enough to fly them down once a month or once every two months or for the summer. But what kind of parenting is that? I couldn't bear it and I couldn't do it. So I stayed.

I had it all worked out. I had started a business that I felt strongly about. I felt confident since if I had done it before for a business someone else had owned, I could do it for myself too. But despite a good plan and despite being good at at what I do, starting a business that makes things people don't really need in a deep depression when nobody has discretionary income (and those that have it are afraid to spend it) has turned out problematic. I chose a business that has high costs and when the sales aren't there, those costs are deadly.

And so I feel like I did the right thing. I turned down easy money and comfort for what I felt was the correct thing to do. And so here I am. The business isn't contributing. We are scraping by somehow on my wife's teacher's salary. I, who used to be the breadwinner, am totally dependent and contribute nothing. The thing is, I know this business can work if it had just a little more capital and the country could ease into better times. But I've run out of time.

And so the writing was on the wall and I started looking for work this week. There are no professional companies here. Well, there are two or three pseudo ones but they understand the depressed nature of northern Maine and can get away with paying well below typical wages. And even they have little use for a middle-aged, long-haired, overweight guy like me no matter what I have done in my past. There were a few good jobs in the paper. They paid 10 or 11 dollars an hour. I put in the resumes. Had an interview today and it probably went well. But none of them are what I want to do. Doesn't look like there's much choice though.

Have you ever had the feeling that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing but nothing seems to work out? It kind of feels like Ralph Cramdon on the old Honeymooners show. I've hit a wall. I think I write a really good blog. I work hard at it. I spend hours on research. My grammar is good. My voice is least if I look at it objectively. But I'm stuck on you forty wonderful readers that seem to come every day. And it isn't that I don't appreciate you. It's just disappointing there aren't more. It's kind of like the Tampa Bay Rays. They appreciate their loyal fans. There just isn't enough of them to pay the bills. The blog has hit a wall. But I still believe in my ability and I am not going to quit. Besides, it keeps me close to what I love. Baseball.

The same is true for my business. Even if I get a job [[sigh]] I'll work long into the night making books. All I need is one hit, right?

My wife is the bomb. She is indefatigable. She is not a churchgoer, but her faith is amazing. She still believes in me and in us and in our future. I wish I could shine back to her that same faith. But the truth is that my heart hurts. It's hard for a man. So much of our self-esteem is based on our earnings and being able to make our own way in this world. I am wayward and lost at the moment. My faith is a tiny slip like holding on tenaciously to a greased pole. But I'm not going to let go. I can't. It's not in me to have nothing to believe in.

I think I am depressed too. It's hard to keep on task and that's a sure sign. But that makes me mad because that's stupid. I can't afford that right now. I am beating those thoughts with a stick because I don't have the time for it.

So why am I pouring all this stuff on you faithful readers? I don't know really. I just needed to let them all out because I tend to internalize everything until it eats my insides out. And writing is what I do best so the best way to communicate my internal struggles is to type them. A famous writer once said, "How do I know what I think until I see what I wrote?" That resonates with me. Besides, a part of me is afraid of pouring these things out to my wife. I don't want to damage her faith and her resolve.

Many of you have become friends to me. I know you are out there and I write these posts in hopes that I will make it worth your trip. That's probably not the case with this opus, but you'll have to forgive me for that. If prayer is a part of your life, please pray for me as I feel very lost. If that isn't your bag, at least send warm thoughts in my direction and that would be appreciated.

I promise tomorrow's posts will get back on their merry way...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Game Picks - Friday: July 16, 2010

Five correct, two incorrect. Not a bad start to the second half. The Cardinals and the Angels tripped this picker up, but that's not bad considering the uncertainty of who would start yesterday.

At last Friday gives us our first full slate of games since Sunday. Here's how the Fan sees 'em:

  • The Cubs over the Phillies: Ted Lilly should keep the Phillies bats in check while Blanton has a 6.41 ERA.
  • The Tigers over the Indians: If the Tigers have any chance for the post season, they have to improve their ghastly road record and beat teams like the Indians.
  • The Astros over the Pirates: Myers is having a pleasant and surprising season while Zach Duke has regressed.
  • The Yankees over the Bay Rays: Yankees at home with Sabathia. Shields is something of a mystery.
  • The Nationals over the Marlins: Here's a real test. Strasburg is pitching. Will any fans show up in Miami?
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: The Orioles were playing well before the break. Soon their best players will be elsewhere. Romero goes for the Jays.
  • The Reds over the Rockies: The Reds have been great at home. Arroyo over Hammel.
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: Lewis should be better than Doubront, right?
  • The Braves over the Brewers: The former Milwaukee team beats the current one. Hanson should be better than Wolf.
  • The Royals over the Athletics: Greinke is back of late. That should be enough.
  • The Cardinals over the Dodgers: The Cards are nearly unbeatable at home and the Dodgers aren't starting well in the second half.
  • The Twins over the White Sox: Thinking that Liriano comes up big after getting a nice rest.
  • The Mariners over the Angels: Felix Hernandez has to pitch a big game for this game to be remotely correct.
  • The Giants over the Mets: Zito and Niese are a wash. The Giants are better at home than the Mets are on the road.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Padres over the Diamondbacks: The D-Backs are 13-30 on the road this season. That alone cancels out Haran and helps Garland.

Yesterday: 5-2
Week: 14-8
Month: 91-70
Season: 750-567
Games of the Day: 45-40

Okay, It's Time to Put Out a Post for Steinbrenner

[[switching to first person]] Losing George Steinbrenner was like a death in the family of that powerful old grandfather that people alternatively respected and loathed at the same time. He's been a part of this Fan's life for 37 years now. There were so many times when he infuriated us and so many times he touched us as well. But Steinbrenner was a bottom line guy. That bottom line was mostly about winning. But it was also about piling up the most income in baseball too. The latter is what most people hated. But the former endeared him to Yankee fans who grew up through the awful CBS times before 1973.

I have written several times in this space about growing up in New Jersey and how my whole world as a youngster was the New York Yankees. Yeah, I try to remain neutral in this blog because I want you to commiserate with a passionate fan of baseball. I want you too to share your passion and that includes all of you with favorite teams all along this continent. Some times that actually hurts this blog as the team-centered blogs seem to have more loyal followings. But it's impossible to deny that experience of youth and those allegiances. The Yankees were it for me.

But I've also written about how that experience came at a price. For much of my childhood, the Yankees were terrible. They were absolutely miserable. Sure there were great stories, but some of them were more weird than glorious. A movie is in the works about the famous Fritz Peterson/Mike Kekich wife swap. We had a guy named Joe Pepitone (the original Broadway Joe) who could have been a great player except he was a fool by most people's standards (including his own) and threw away his career being a ladies man and a bad boy.

As is the case with most bad teams, it started at the top. The Yankees were bungled at every level. They were purchased by CBS, which had no idea what to do with the team and the President of the club was a former mayor who was pretty good at running New York City, but was way clueless when it came to running the Yankees. The team became a joke and drew less than a million fans to their seats on several occasions, which is astonishing since NYC has a tremendous population from which to draw from, not just from the city, but also from Long Island and New Jersey which in many cases were populated like NYC, but had a bunch more trees scattered about.

And then along came George Steinbrenner. Long before it was understood what good management was, we cheered because we innately understood what bad management was and that the Yankees were Exhibit A. Steinbrenner had to be better than that. And he looked impressive and imposing and dashing and we hoped he would get things going again.

Yeah, there was the Nixon thing, but anyone who believes that Steinbrenner stayed away from Yankee business during that suspension is misguided. And the results were nearly immediate. The team came in second in 1974. 1975 was a setback year, but Steinbrenner brought in Billy Martin the second half of that year and from 1976 to 1981, the team made it to the post season in five of those six years, won two World Series and appeared in two others. It was like we had died and gone to heaven. We had gone through the Horace Clarke/Gene Michael/Tom Tresh/Lindy McDaniel years and loved the team though they never had a chance to win or even compete and suddenly our favorite team was valid and feared and successful.

But there was always stuff. There was Billy Martin stuff and Yogi Berra stuff and Reggie Jackson stuff and Bob Lemon stuff and even the good years were filled with tension and cringing.

But hey, all that stuff made headlines and our Yankees, who were nobodies for so long, were headline news all the time. It was exciting even in the times when it was distressing. It was a heck of a lot better than the moribund days of 2-0 losses in bland shades of gray. Steinbrenner gave us validity and color.

But then a pattern was formed that would repeat itself. After the championships came upheaval as George couldn't keep his fingers out of the pie and kept buying players that didn't fit and the period from 1982 to the early 1990s were bad ones. The same thing happened after 2000 when the Yankees had a flood of Jeff Weavers, Robin Venturas and Rondell Whites.

Another thing happened that pissed us all off at the time was the beginnings of Yes as a network. The Yankees were always on free television. WPIX, Channel 11 showed all the games and suddenly, they were half gone with many of the games on this pay network that many of us couldn't get. That development led to the untold riches that is the Yankees today, but at the time, it sure took a lot away from most of the fans in the metro area.

So, yeah, Steinbrenner was that patriarch in the family that gave our family relevance while at the same time tickled us hard until it hurt and we couldn't breathe. Trust me, coming from an Italian family, that archetype was familiar. But he made the Yankees big again. He made them front page news all the time. He gave us championships after so many futile years. He also made us wince and shake our heads. Poor Dave Winfield and Dick Howser and Lou Piniella. But all of that was worth it because we mattered again.

We loved the Yankees when they stunk and nobody else did. We loved them when the entire infield batted .220 or lower. We loved them when you could go to the stadium cheap and wait until the fourth inning (when the ushers left) and we could get close to the dugouts and see our favorite but awful players. But after all that, George Steinbrenner gave us carbonation in our drinks. He gave us Fizzies when all we had before was Koolaid. And it sure was exhilarating.

And then toward the end, he gave us softness. He cried when the Yankees won in 1996 and 1998-2000. He was grateful and satisfied. And so were we.

I wouldn't have missed all of it for all the anger and vehemence he caused from fans across the country. He built my generation a legacy, which much like America's was a very flawed one, but it was the best show on earth.

Thanks, George, and this here Fan hopes it won't be much of a shock when those angels in that great big outfield don't jump at your command.

Not a Good Night for Old Starting Pitchers

There is angst tonight for the older generation. Two pitchers who are at least within fighting distance in age with baby boomers across America are the only players in Major League Baseball that the older generation can still relate to. They may be the only players in baseball who might know who Johnny Carson was. Oops! Can't forget Omar Vicquel, who is 43. But both Jamie Moyer and Tim Wakefield were wrecked tonight and for each, it was the second such performance in succession.

Both Wakefield and Moyer pitch for proud contenders that are fighting for their lives in their respective divisions. Both teams are behind by more than a couple of games and both have a couple of teams ahead of them in the standings. The Phillies and the Red Sox can ill afford to have games where they don't have a chance at winning and that doesn't bode well for our aging heroes.

Moyer and Kendrick have basically battled for the same rotation spot all season and the Red Sox will have Beckett and Buchholz back shortly which might cost Wakefield his rotation spot. In some respects, Moyer has had a remarkable season as his WHIP, his BB/9 are the best in a very long time. But he's also given up 1.74 homers per nine innings with his 22 so far this year. There is some debate as to Moyer's Hall of Fame possibilities. He's now given up 511 homers in his career, which means that he's the reverse Mel Ott. Moyer's two bad outings in a row have pushed is ERA up to 4.88. How long will the Phillies stick with the 47 year old marvel.

Wakefield has looked older this season to this observer. He doesn't move as well off the mound and he looks creaky. But his pitching stats are pretty much in line with last year. In fact, they are nearly identical. But last year's efforts landed him with an 11-5 record. This year he is now 3-8 and his ERA is up to 5.65, which is the only number that is much higher than last year.

While this isn't an obituary by any means, both pitchers have had two straight bad outings and that is cause for alarm.

But the news isn't all bad. The 40 year old Billy Wagner pitched another perfect ninth for another save. Chipper Jones, who is a baby compared to the others mentioned in this post, hit a game winning homer. The 43 year old, Omar Vizguel, went two for four.

But then again, Jose Contreras, who may be or may not be 39, gave up five earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Braves and Blue Jays Swap Shortstops

The last week and a half sure has had its share of surprises. Cliff Lee ended up in Texas where few of us ever expected to see him go. And now the Braves have dumped Yunel Escobar, their once promising shortstop, on the Toronto Blue Jays for Alex Gonzalez. The trade had other parts which we'll get to in a minute. But, first, let's try to figure out just what happened here.

First, this isn't about defense. Gonzalez is solid, but Escobar is a really good shortstop. Escobar has Gonzalez on fielding percentage, range and efficiency. Plus, he's a heck of a lot younger.

Secondly, this isn't really about offense, or at least it shouldn't be. Escobar is having a bad year at the plate. In his first three years with the Braves, the former second round draft pick (2005) has posted OPS+ totals of 118. 103 and 116. This year, he's at 70. Ugh! Escobar usually averages around 11 homers a season and around 66 RBI. He doesn't strike out much and usually has good OBP. In fact, this year, he's walked more than he has struck out. But he just hasn't been hitting. His .234 average is by far the worst in his career. His .337 OBP is also the lowest of his career. And he hasn't hit a single homer thus far. His slugging percentage is a turgid .284. Ouch.

On the other hand, Gonzalez is having a productive season. He's surprisingly hit 17 homers and added 25 doubles. But before we get all giggly over his offense, his batting average is only .259 and his OBP is under .300. Gonzalez has walked only 17 times all season. His current OPS+ is sitting at an impressive 112 almost entirely because of his slugging percentage of .493, by far the highest of his career. In fact, his 112 OPS+ is the first time in his long career that Gonzalez has been over 100...ever. His career average is 81. So you can't really expect his performance to continue and if it does, it's certainly an outlier.

So if Escobar's defense is better and his career batting is better, why did the Braves make this trade? Well, it may be that they see something in Gonzalez is doing that leads them to believe he's suddenly turned himself into something he hasn't been his whole career. That's possible. But it doesn't smell right.

The Fan has the sneaking suspicion that either Escobar has fouled by Bobby Cox or by his teammates or both. All of that means that the Blue Jays are taking a chance that they can get Escobar to fit in somehow and turn him around. That's slippery though, right? The Blue Jays also got Jo-Jo Reyes, a good arm that hasn't figured out yet how to get big league hitters out and the Jays gave the Braves two middle of the pack prospects who rank 17th and 19th in the Jays prospect pecking order.

No, the Blue Jays are trying to accumulate a future with young players and they had to feel that Escobar has the tools to be a great player and he does. But he is 28 and this should be the time when he is peaking and he isn't. Perhaps Escobar will freshen up with the change of scenery. Perhaps Gonzalez will continue his outlier with the Braves. But the take here is that the Braves tired of Yunel Escobar and took the best shortstop a non-contender could offer. This has all the earmarks of a cancer removal.

Dodgers Give Up on Sherrill

Funny how precarious relief pitching can be in Major League Baseball. Several years ago, Craig Nettles had one of the best lines in the history of baseball when the Yankees acquired Goose Gossage the winter after Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young award as a relief pitcher. Nettles said, "He went from Cy Young to syonara." The latest to ride that roller coaster is George Sherrill. The Dodgers put the left-hander on waivers meaning that any club who claims him can have him. It wasn't long ago that Sherrill was an All Star.

And it is easy to understand why the Dodgers did that. Sherrill has given up 16 runs in 19.1 innings of work this year. In those innings, he's given up 28 hits. Plus, Sherrill's strikeouts per nine are way down and his walks are way up. His 2.237 WHIP certainly isn't pretty.

But Sherrill's had success in his career and perhaps some of those hits are based on luck. His .371 BABIP this year certainly appears to be unlucky and despite only giving up two homers this season, his batting average against on fly balls is an absurd .458. One would never call the Dodgers a great fielding outfielder team.

Here's an idea: The Yankees should give him a try. He's still effective against left-handed batters with a .211 batting average and a .695 OPS against. Marte hasn't done the job for the Yankees and they could use a lefty out of the bullpen. He is fairly cheap and if their very good pitching coach can spot a flaw or two, perhaps the walks can be put under control and he can regain the form which made him an All Star. It's worth a shot, right?

Game Picks - Thursday: July 15, 2010

This picker is in serious withdrawal after three days of not having any games to consider. Well Thursday it's back and thank goodness. It's funny how a little break outside of the routine can mess you all up. Well, this picker isn't messed up, but BallHype is a mess as they have no games scheduled for the rest of the week. Um...WAKE UP! Heh. But there are other ways to find the day's games.

But wait! The teams have all had three days off but half the teams are off one more day! What!? The wimps. So there are only seven games to consider. Here they are:

  • The Braves over the Brewers: Jurrjens had a real rough outing last time, but it was really a bad inning and not the whole outing. Bush is pitching for the Brewers.
  • The Rangers over the Red Sox: This pick will probably blow up in the Fan's face, but Wakefield looks his age lately and the Rangers should hit him. Hunter wasn't great last time out, but he should keep the Red Sox below what Wakefield gives up.
  • The Cubs over the Phillies: The Phillies haven't announced a pitcher yet for Thursday. Dempster is pitching for the Cubs. The Phillies are just under .500 on the road. The Cubs do better at home.
  • The White Sox over the Twins: Danks has been fantastic lately. Slowey hasn't been.
  • The Dodgers over the Cardinals: The Cardinals haven't announced a pitcher yet. The Dodgers pitch Kershaw, which should be enough.
  • The Mariners over the Angels: No pitcher announced for the Angels. The Mariners are going with Fister, who has had a good year.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Giants over the Mets: Lincecum should be terrific and Dickey should bend enough to give the Giants the win.

[[cracking knuckles]] That felt good. Enough idleness now.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Another All Star Game in the Books Plus Observations

The National League finally won one. The American League had not lost in thirteen years (including the infamous tie eight years ago) but Matt Thornton, who has been a killer for the White Sox this season, was a killer of a different sort as he inherited two runners from Phil Hughes and allowed both of them to score--along with one of his walked runners--to blow the game. That means the National League automatically has home field advantage for the World Series...which does matter.

2010 has been the year of the pitcher and the All Star Game was certainly a reflection of that as power pitcher after power pitcher came in and blew hitters away. Andy Pettite was probably the slowest pitcher up there with his 91 MPH fastball but he had an easy inning too. The American League's only run was unearned in one of the comical moments of the game when a squibber to the mound with runners on first and second prompted Dodgers' reliever, Kuo, to airmail the throw about ten feet above the first baseman. Except for the Thorton/Hughes inning, the NL batters looked just as feeble.

Most of you probably watched the game, so there is no sense giving a blow by blow account of the game. You can always go to one of the major sports outlets if you want that kind of thing. Instead, here are a few observations:

- During Jose Valverde's inning of relief where he struck out the side on the strength of his freakish forkball (or split fingered fasball, whichever you prefer), the Fan kept singing, "I put a spell on you." The guy is a nut.

- Okay, the Fan was wrong about David Ortiz being finished, but after getting thrown out at second on a single, he is definitely a lard ass.

- If Girardi wasn't going to bat A-Rod, shouldn't he have used him to run for Ortiz? But then again, his run wasn't that important. It just looks bad in retrospect because Ortiz is...well...uhh...a lard ass.

- Is Fox going to get every major televised event forever? Buck and McCarver were at least tolerable during the telecast. But the Fan sure is sick of Fox broadcasts.

- How about that question to Torii Hunter at the end of the game? Paraphrased: "After you basically choked big time twice with runners in scoring position, didn't you want to succeed?" Kudos to Hunter for not wanting to strangle the guy.

- Kevin Millar is even more annoying with a mic in his hand than he was as a player.

- Speaking of Fox, was it absolutely necessary for the game to start at 8:50 ET ensuring that any East Coast viewer would have to stay up until midnight on a workday?

- Colbie Caillat sang an enjoyably different version of "God Bless America," but that gal from Fox's "Glee" sure ralphed on the "Star Spangled Banner." She sang too many Mariahs and not enough melody, Dog.

- The Fan and his wife sure had fun shouting, "CLANK" after every replay of the ball hitting and bouncing off of Holliday's glove. hehehe It's the little things in life that make a marriage.

- David Price should be thrilled with his first All Star experience. He's a fun kid to watch on the mound and in the dugout.

- Wasn't it a hoot for Yadier Molina to get a hit which interrupted Buck's description of Molina having a bat year with the bat?

- After talking about Sheppard and Steinbrenner dying this week, Buck said there will be two new monuments in centerfield for the Yankees next year. Sheppard already has one. Oh, and not everyone gets a monument. Most get just plaques. Oops.

- Michael Bourn's one at bat sure did a lot for those who insist that it's stupid to make sure every team is represented at an All Star Game. If he had a hundred swings, he never would have touched the ball the way he was swinging.

- Brian Wilson, the Giants' closer, sure is a well-kept secret. He's nasty.

- The Fan thinks Joakim Soria should have pitched instead of Verlander. Verlander can be a lot more hittable than Soria.

- The Fan wonders if A-Rod is pissed.

Steinbrenner's Death

The passing of the Yankees' principle owner was a shock and provoked a lot of strong emotions; more emotions than a post right now can handle. The Fan is going to have to percolate about that news for a while. But expect a post soon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Whew! THAT Was a Long Day

We woke up at 3:45 A.M yesterday and left Mom's by 5:15 for the airport. The first plane took off at 7:00 and landed in JFK at 9:30. Then we had to wait around that very boring airport until 1:30 P.M. and then boarded a flight to Portland. We landed in Portland at 2:55 and called the motel (we did a park and fly) to come pick us up. At 3:30 they did and by 3:45 we were in our car and headed north. After picking up our dog in Houlton at his doggy hotel, we got home at about 10:15 P.M. Man, that's a long day.

Along the way, the Fan had lots of time to think and one thing kept coming to mind, the Fan's brother's reaction to the Posada post the other day. The Fan's brother was also vacationing with Mom this year and his first day overlapped with the Fan's last day, which was nice. But he blew up when we discussed Posada. "He's the best offensive catcher in the history of the game and you want to sit him!?" The Fan wilted and did not respond to such an emotional outburst.

But isn't that typical? Fans of teams latch onto biases and never let go. There are probably a lot of fans in Milwaukee who think that Prince Fielder is the best first baseman in baseball. There are a lot of fans in Florida who think that Hanley Ramirez tries hard and concentrates every game. There is no way to refute that kind of thinking.

But then that thought led to a new one. It's no wonder that the Yankees are so hated. Sure, we've already seen that fans are passionate and they are biased about their own players. But there are simply more New York fans than there are...say...Tampa fans. They also probably have triple the media outlets of most teams. So the biases of the fans and the bias of the media overwhelm all others. That forces the biases to go mainstream and thus cause smart baseball fans everywhere to say, "Yeah, right."

Posada isn't even close to being one of the best offensive catchers in the history of the game. He might be one of the best offensive catchers during his career. Though guys like Ivan Rodriguez (in his prime), Joe Mauer were probably better than Jorge Posada in his youth and now at his old age. But guys like Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and others blow away Jorge Posada offensively. And every other catcher mentioned so far in this piece had one thing that Jorge Posada has never had: Defense.

But Posada has five rings. That's impressive. This Fan has been a Fan of Posada. No doubt. But there has always been this huge and nagging doubt about him. That doubt has been crystallized by stats that supported good reason for the doubts. The facts at the end of the day are that Posada has had his share of clutch hits in crucial situations for the Yankees over the years. His defense has probably cost as many runs as he's driven in though. The Fan cringes to type this, but the Yankees have probably won five rings more despite Posada than because of him. His defense, his game-calling skills, his receiving of pitches, his passed balls, his throwing, his blocking of balls at the plate are all sub-standard.

Look, the Fan loves Posada. Truly. But that's the Fan's heart. The Fan's head is looking forward to the day when Posada is in the Hall of Fame and the Yankees have a star catcher that can actually catch and that the pitchers actually enjoy throwing to.

Monday, July 12, 2010

First Half in the Books

One of the things that comes with age is that if nothing else, time and experiences teach an old fellow that nothing can be determined in only one half a season in baseball. The baseball season is such a long one and so much can change between the end of the first half and the end of the second half. The 1977 Yankees were 14 games behind the Red Sox and led to the Bucky Dent game. The 1951 New York Giants were the same amount of games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers before the eventual "Shot Heard Round the World" by Bobby Thompson. Pennant contenders crumble. Teams in the middle of the pack go on unpredictable runs and nothing is ever what you think when the All Star Game comes around.

Certainly, some patterns have already been established and based on probability statistics that are so easy to obtain in this day and age can give us a hint at what should happen. It's a pretty good bet, based on their history that A-Rod and Josh Hamilton will drive in 100 runs or more by the time the season. But they can just as easily get hurt (God forbid!). You just don't know. Right now there is some team out there with the pieces already falling into place that will make a run that will surprise us all. The Mets? The Marlins? Maybe. Maybe not. But some team will surprise us. Another team that seems to be a lock to contend all year may suddenly drop like a rock. The Reds? The Dodgers? Maybe. Maybe not.

All we can do is make some educated guesses. But it will be amazing how many of them will be wrong. A lot of people were predicting that the Mariners would compete this year for the AL West. Many also thought the same of the Cubs. Both of those educated guesses sound pretty silly right now. But the Fan makes predictions every day, so this writer is pretty used to looking silly. Here are some educated guesses on some things concerning the second half.

  • The Mets will stay in the race in the second half. Their pitching is coming together, they get Beltran back after the All Star Game. The Braves, Phillies and Mets will all be involved all season.
  • The Rangers won't be that much better with Lee because they are still a hitter or two short. But they will have no competition in the AL West.
  • The Padres will not win the NL West. Their pitching can only get them so far. Sooner or later, they have to fall.
  • The Reds will not win the NL Central. The Cardinals have been hugely disappointing, but they'll figure out a way to win the division.
  • The Yankees and the Bay Rays will make it ot the playoffs. It doesn't matter which one comes in first. The Red Sox miss out.
  • The White Sox will win the AL Central (okay, so the Fan was wrong). The Tigers and Twins simply can't match the White Sox and their pitching.
  • The Cubs will fire both Piniella and Hendry, but it won't happen until after the season.
  • The Dodgers will win the NL West. Don't know how. But Joe Torre will figure it out somehow.
  • Jason Heyward will come back in the second half and amaze us. He'll be the rookie of the year.
  • Josh Hamilton will win the AL MVP.
  • Johan Santana is already showing that he will be awesome in the second half.
  • Ubaldo Jiminez will win 23 games and his second half will be called disappointing.
  • Boesch will be the AL rookie of the year.
  • The Blue Jays will trade at least two of their veterans for prospects.
  • Prince Fielder will get traded.
  • Pablo Sandoval will be hut down and told to come back next year in much better shape.
  • Roy Oswalt will end up with the Dodgers.
  • Nobody will want Berkman.
  • Sabathia and Pettitte will both win 20.
  • Aramis Ramirez will have a great second half.
  • A couple more hot prospects will make striking debuts. Hellickson? Aroldis Chapman?
  • Robinson Cano will hit in the .330s but will not win the batting title.
  • Adam Dunn will be traded.
  • Beckett will come back strong for the Red Sox.
  • Wainwright will win the Cy Young Award.
  • Hanson will have a much better second half than his first half. Derek Lowe will fall off.

And this Fan will be amazed at all the things that will happen that were never expected and at least half of these guesses will end up looking really stupid.

Childhood Icon Dies

A big part of my childhood and one of the great memories of my baseball past died on Sunday. Bob Sheppard was such a part of the experience when entering Yankee Stadium. His voice matched the majesty of that storied place and the historic team. In many ways, Sheppard was the constant piece of glory that tied one Yankee team to another and one generation of fans to the next. Many others have already written tributes far more worthy than this one, but one of his biggest Fans couldn't let the moment pass. What follows is a reprint of a post I wrote several months ago. It's the best that this old Fan could do...

Robert Leo Sheppard

[[switching to first person]] As many long-time readers may know, the Yankees were a big part of my childhood. From the dark years of the 1960s until I left New Jersey for New England in 1975, I spent many happy days at Yankee Stadium or watching the Yankees on WPIX Channel 11 on television or listening to the team on my transistor radio.

The radio was a gift from one of my sister's boyfriends, a mechanic named Guy Grease (no lie, is that an ironic name or what?). The radio had the logo of the gas station and was shaped like their gas pump. I took that thing everywhere and loved listening to Phil Rizzuto, the wonderful Yankee announcer, and also gloried in the Knicks' championship years with Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and company. I loved that radio.

One of the constants through all those years, whether at the stadium, watching the game or listening to the radio was the imperious tones of the Yankees' PA announcer, Bob Sheppard. The guy did his job from 1951 to just a few years ago. That era spanned 4500 MLB games, 22 Yankee pennants and 13 World Series titles. Reggie Jackson once dubbed him, "The Voice of God," and it was an apt moniker. He was in a class of his own.

The thing about Sheppard is that he wasn't like many of the PA announcers over the years who gave an extra padding of excitement when they announced the home team players. Who can ever forget the way Kirby Puckett was announced in Minnesota? But Sheppard was imperious and mono-tonal and announced each player on each team the same. He truly was in a class by himself.

I could go in more detail about the man's life, but you can always find that here. The main point in writing this post was to just tip a Fan's cap at the life and career of a guy who never played a game, but who was as much a Yankee as any other legend that ever played in New York. We loved the guy, absolutely loved him. And what made him so grand was that once he started speaking, you just knew you were observing or listening to a Yankee game.

Personally, Derek Jeter is the soul of the Yankees and their fans. He gets the heritage he is involved in and he gets the mystique of his uniform. It says volumes that whenever Jeter comes to bat, he insists on being announced by a recording of Bob Sheppard announcing his name. You've got that right, Jeter. Absolutely.Bob Sheppard will turn 100 in 2010. He's lived a full and wonderful life and for an a guy who is a little more than half Sheppard's age, the "Voice of God" will forever be ingrained in the memory bank. He was first rate and pure class. And no matter what kind of team the Yankees threw out there and no matter what ugliness may have been in the clubhouse or in the front office, Sheppard made it inconsequential. Once he spoke, it was the Yankees and it was official.

Game Picks - Monday: July 12, 2010

Two things ended on Sunday: the first half of the baseball season and the Fan's stay in Florida. It's just as well that the Fan is traveling all day tomorrow as there will be no games to fret over or to be interested in. The All Star break is fun and a curse. The first half ended well for this picker with nine correct and six incorrect. It's not a great day, but it's not a bad day.

Since there are no games on Monday, all that's left to do is to bring you the results of the Fan's efforts to this point. The Fan hasn't missed a single day and hopes not to all season:

Yesterday: 9-6 (60%)
Week: 9-6
Month: 86-68 (56%)
Season: 745-565 (57%)
Games of the Day: 44-40 (52%)

Have a wonderful second half!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Joba Question

Joba Chamberlain lost another game last night for the Yankees. Javier Vazquez pitched brilliantly for seven innings without giving up a run and turned the ball over to Chamberlain with a 1-0 lead. These are the kinds of games that last year, the Yankees always won. This year has been an adventure. Chamberlain came in and promptly gave up four runs on a grand slam and the Yankees lost 4-1. It was Joba's fourth loss, all in relief. The big question is whether the Yankees can go as far as they want to go with Joba bridging the gap between the starter and Rivera? The answer has a surprising conditional answer.

Joba Chamberlain is facing what happens to relief pitchers who have bad outings. The lack of innings compiled allow a couple of bad outings to blow up their ERAs. Joba still has 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He still has an almost three to one strikeout to walk ratio. He has given up 39 hits in 36.1 innings pitched, which is too high for a high power relief pitcher. But his BABIP for this season is .369 which shows that he's unlucky so far. Last night's grand slam was the first homer he's allowed all season.

Regular readers of this blog are going to groan at this next statement because the Fan has harped on this all year. Part of Joba's problem depends on who is catching him. Yeah, there is a difference when Chamberlain pitches to Cervelli and when he pitches to Posada. When Joba pitches to Cervelli he has a 3.71 K/BB ratio. When he pitches to Posada, that figure drops to 2.33. Joba's OPS against is .649 with Cervelli and .766 with Posada. This simply continues a trend that is over two years long which the Fan has proven over and over again.

And what about Javier Vazquez's beautiful performance last night? Is it a coincidence that it occurred because Cervelli started the game behind the plate? No. Vazquez has a 3.28 ERA pitching to Cervelli and a 7.52 ERA pitching to Posada. It's not a coincidence. The Yankees have to know this stuff right? Do they have high powered statisticians in their organization? This Fan doesn't know. But either way, the evidence is overwhelming.

The Yankees will win if their pitching holds up. Plain and simple. The playoffs and World Series are all about who pitches better. The Yankees have spent millions to get the pitching they need. So why then do they throw that pitching to a catcher who doesn't do them any favors? If the Yankees would want to maximize their pitching, then put Cervelli as the number one catcher and put Posada at DH without delay. There are questions on whether Cervelli can hit long term. Doesn't matter. They need to pitch well and they will have enough offense.

Oh, and in case you think this is a new phenomenon, remember the first time Vazquez pitched for the Yankees? Remember how that didn't go so well? That was 2004 in case you've forgotten. That year, Vazquez pitched 28 times to Posada. His ERA was 5.23 in those games. He pitched five games to John Flaherty in 2004. His ERA in those games was 3.31.

So where did this post go wrong? It probably got lost because this is a subject that frosts the Fan's hide like no other because it is so obvious. If this writer can at least finish it up with Joba and tie the post up in a bow, that would be nice. Okay, here goes: Joba has had a few bad outings, but his stats are still impressive and he can still dominate. Stick with him (as there are few other options out there anyway) and at the very least, bring Cervelli in for a defensive replacement in the late innings and things will work out just fine.

Game Picks - Sunday: July 11, 2010

Eleven correct, four incorrect. That's a good day. The only blemishes were the Mets, who can't stop the bleeding against the Braves; the Twins, who can't stop the bleeding against the Tigers; the Dodgers, who lost big to the Cubs (the Fan can't figure them out) and Rangers. Cliff Lee made his debut for the Rangers and lost to a pitcher who came into the game with an ERA over 7. That's the way it goes sometimes.

Sunday features the last fifteen games of the first half. It will be weird not having any games to pick for three days:

  • The Twins over the Tigers: If the Twins were going to win one game of this series, this would be it. Pavano faces Oliver, who hasn't fared well since his call up from the minors.
  • The Red Sox over the Blue Jays: Dice-K versus Litsch. The Red Sox eat up guys like Litsch with patience.
  • The Mets over the Braves: Santana versus Lowe. In a perfect universe, Santana would win this match up every time.
  • The Phillies over the Reds: The Phillies have showed a lot of spunk in this series. Hamels over Maloney.
  • The Nationals over the Giants: The Fan gets burned whenever he picks against Livan.
  • The Bay Rays over the Indians: Niemann is one of the toughest pitchers in baseball right now.
  • The Astros over the Cardinals: Wandy has made great strides lately. The Cards counter with Hawksworth. Ugh.
  • The Royals over the White Sox: Greinke verus Hudson, making his debut.
  • The Brewers over the Pirates: Randy Wolf versus Brad Lincoln. Wolf should win.
  • The Rangers over the Orioles: Wilson versus Arrieta as some semblence of order is restored.
  • The Padres over the Rockies: Francis hasn't been pitching well. Richard has been. Edge: Pads.
  • The Athletics over the Angels: Great match up of Cahill versus Weaver. Think Cahill will be better.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Marlins: Enright versus Sanabia. Uhh..
  • The Cubs over the Dodgers: Silva should be better than Padilla, though Padilla likes pitching on national television.

And the Game of the Day:

  • The Yankees over the Mariners: C. C. Sabathia should easily beat Rowland-Smith

Yesterday: 11-4
Last Week: 57-41
Month: 77-62
Season: 736-559
Games of the Day: 43-40