Monday, May 20, 2013

How Did Cashman Know, and Those Pesky Blue Jays Not Know?

After dropping 2 of 3 at home to the Seattle Mariners -- who are now, as Bob Uecker might say, juuuust a bit below where they were from 1995 to 2001 -- the Ynakees needed to announce their freakin' presence with authority this weekend against those pesky Toronto Blue Jays.

(See? Even in this blog, Major League can't get away from comparisons to Bull Durham.)

On Friday night, Hiroki Kuroda started against Mark Buehrle, the former Chicago White Sox pitcher, one of those big new pitching acquisitions that led a lot of people to think the Jays were going to contend for the American League Eastern Division title, and the only one of those with significant AL pitching experience.  But it hasn't worked out for them.

Buehrle gave the Jays 6 solid innings, but Kuroda was masterful, and the Yankees led 2-0 going into the bottom of the 7th.  Trailing by only 2 runs, with your starter pitching well, you don't take him out unless he tells you he's tired or hurt.

(Unless, of course, you're Joe Girardi and you do whatever your Binder tells you to do.)

And the Yankees got to Buehrle in the 7th.  Rookie outfielder David Adams led off with a ground-rule double.  Ichiro Suzuki bunted him over to 3rd and beat it out, still fast at age 40.  Austin Romine, who should be the Yankees' 3rd-string catcher, came through with a double to score Adams.  A pitching change didn't help, as Brett Gardner singled to left to drive in Ichiro.  And Jayson Nixon hit a sacrifice fly to get Romine home.

That made it 5-0 Yankees, and Kuroda in the 8th and Preston Claiborne in the 9th made it stand up.  Claiborne looks like a keeper.  But Kuroda was the story.  He went 8, allowed no runs on 2 hits and just 1 walk, striking out 5.  He's now 6-2 on the season, and his ERA is down to 1.99.  In the American League.  In the American League East.

Yeah, there should be a New York pitcher starting the All-Star Game -- but it should be Kuroda, not Matt Harvey of the Mutts.

Buehrle fell to 1-3, and his ERA is 6.33 -- and, remember, he's the one with AL pitching experience.


On Saturday afternoon, the Yankees sent David Phelps to the mound, hoping he'd continue to do well in the rotation spot of the injured Ivan Nova.  At this rate, the spot may not be open to Nova when he returns.  They say an athlete should never lose his job due to injury, but Nova wasn't getting the job done before, and Phelps is. 

Phelps (2-2) sure got the job done on Saturday, going 7, allowing just 1 run on 6 hits and 3 walks.  His ERA is now 3.83, which, by AL East standards, is good.  David Robertson allowed a run in the 8th, but at that point it didn't matter, as the Yanks again had a 5-run lead.  Which even Boone Logan couldn't blow, as he pitched a perfect 9th.  (Sure, with no pressure on him... )

The Yankee bats got what Phelps needed.  Nix opened the 3rd with a single to center.  Adams grounded out but moved him over.  Romine lined out, but Gardner singled Nix home.  And then Robinson Cano, don't ya know, hit one out off Brandon Morrow (1-3).  3-0 Yankees.

The Jays pulled a run back in the 4th, but in the 5th, with 1 out, Romine singled.  Gardner flew to left, but Cano launched a 2nd homer.  (He now has 12 on the season.)  5-0 Yankees.

The Jays got a homer from Edwin Encarnacion in the top of the 8th, but in the bottom of the inning, with 1 out, Vernon Wells reached on an error, and Travis Hafner knocked one out of the park.  (His 7th homer.)  That made it 7-2 Yankees, and that was the final.


Yesterday's game was rained out, which is probably the best thing for the Jays.  I can say that, because look at the AL East standings, with 7 of the season's 26 weeks gone -- that's 27 percent, more than 1/4 of the season:

New York Yankees 27-16
Boston Red Sox 27-17, 1/2 a game back, 1 in the loss column
Baltimore Orioles 23-20, 4 back
Tampa Bay Rays 23-20, 4 back
Toronto Blue Jays 17-26, 10 back

Now, this doesn't mean the Jays will end up 40 back, or 38, or whatever it prorates to.  It does mean that they really blew it in the off-season, and the Yankees did what they have, so far, needed to do -- instead of the other way around, as was widely predicted.

General manager Brian Cashman really brought in the right newcomers.  Batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage/OPS, home runs, RBIs.  Let's start, appropriately enough, with the two ex-Blue Jays:

* Vernon Wells.  .286/.343/.506/.850, 10, 23.  Also, 4 stolen bases.  Remember, the season is only 1/4 over.

* Lyle Overbay.  .259/.297/.475/.772, 6, 24.

* Travis Hafner.  .260/.378/.530/.908, 7, 20.

* Kevin Youkilis.  Injured at the moment, no surprise there.  But look at what he did before he got hurt: .266/.347/.422/.769, 2, 7.

* Brennan Boesch.  .209/.244/.419/.663 doesn't look that good, but in just 43 at-bats he's got 2 homers and 5 RBIs.  Prorate that to something close to a full season, 430 at-bats, and it's 20 homers and 50 RBIs.  Not bad for an emergency fill-in.

* Francisco Cervelli.  A backup the last 2 seasons, had to be the starter this season.  Until he got hurt, .269/.377/.500/.877, 3, 8.  That's in 52 at-bats.  Prorate that to a full season, 520 at-bats, and that's 30 homers and 80 RBIs.  That's more than Russell Martin gave us: In his 2 seasons, he hit 18 and 21 homers, with 65 and 53 RBIs.  Certainly worth having, but Cervelli was on a pace to do better.

* Chris Stewart.  This season, he was only meant to be the backup catcher, and is now injured himself, but he was getting the job done, too: .265/.307/.397/.704, 3, 6.

* Throw in last season's late emergency pickup, Ichiro Suzuki, and here's what he's done so far in 2013: .241/.281/.328/.609 doesn't look too good, but he's contributed 4 doubles, 2 homers, 8 RBIs and 5 stolen bases.  He's still plenty capable, as seen with what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt that he managed to beat out.

* Pitching.  Look, out of Preston Claiborne, Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren, none of them may develop into a long-term Yankee success.  But here's their short-term performance so far: Between them, 33 1/3 innings, 3 runs, 0.81 ERA, 1.050 WHIP, 25 strikeouts against 9 walks, 2-0 record.

Not too shabby.

Contrast that with the Jays' starting rotation, including 4 new acquisitions.  Record, ERA, WHIP:

* R.A. Dickey, new.  3-5, 4.83, 1.35.

* J.A. Happ, already there.  2-2, 4.91, 1.55.

* Brandon Morrow, already there.  1-3, 5.16, 1.46.

* Mark Buehrle, new.  1-3, 6.33, 1.48.

* Josh Johnson, new, now injured.  0-1, 6.86, 1.88.  His spot in the rotation has been, well, rotated among the following:

* Aaron Laffey, new, although he had previously pitched for them -- and for the Yankees, and for the Mets. 0-0, 6.75, 2.63, left his only start due to injury.

* Ramon Ortiz, a 40-year-old emergency pickup, roughly equivalent to what Cashman didn't have much choice but to do, who didn't pitch at all in 2012: 1-1, 2.35, 1.43 -- easily the best of the bunch.

* Chad Jenkins, already there.  1-0, 3.60, 1.60.  Not a bad ERA, but a very high WHIP.

* Ricky Romero, already there.  0-2, 12.46, 2.77.  Atrocious.

* So the Johnson spot in the rotation, overall: 2-4, 47 innings, 5.55 ERA, 1.85 WHIP.

And remember: As bad as the Blue Jays' defense is, that doesn't affect either the the ERA or the WHIP.  None of that counts unearned runs.  Although the Jays' D has been an F (or whatever Canadian schools call a failing grade), the only way it contributes to bad ERAs and WHIPs is if it rattles the pitchers involved.  And if that's the case, then these were rattleable pitchers who should never have been brought in.

So Yankee GM Brian Cashman got it right, and Blue Jay GM Alex Anthopoulos got it wrong.  Really, really wrong.

Maybe it's time to give Cashman a break.  And stop acting like other GMs -- Anthopoulos, Billy Beane in Oakland, Theo Epstein of the Red Sox and now the Cubs -- are all that smart.

Look, I'm not saying Cashman is a good guy, or that all of his acquisitions have worked out -- although, that sure seems to be the case lately.  I am saying, as those old ads for the New York Times sports section said, "Give the kid a break!"


As for the rest of baseball, after 7 out of 26 weeks:

The AL Central is led by the Cleveland Indians.  The Detroit Tigers are 2 games back, the Kansas City Royals 4, the Chicago White Sox 6, and the Minnesota Twins also 6 (5 in the loss column, but in last place by .002 behind the ChiSox).

The AL West is led by the Texas Rangers.  The Oakland Athletics are 6 1/2 back (7), the Seattle Mariners 9, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 12, and the Houston Astros a whopping 17.

The National League East is led by the Atlanta Braves.  The Washington Nationals are 2 1/2 back (3), the Philadelphia Phillies 4 1/2 (5), the Mets 7 (6), and the Miami Marlins 13 1/2 (14).

The NL Central is led by the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Cincinnati Reds are 2 1/2 back (3), the Pittsburgh Pirates the same, the Chicago Cubs 10, and the Milwaukee Brewers 10 1/2 (10).

The NL West is led by the Arizona Dimaondbacks.  The Colorado Rockies and the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants both trail by 1, the San Diego Padres by 4 1/2 (4), and the Los Angeles Dodgers, for all their payroll, by 7 (6).  The talk that Don Mattingly's job as manager is in danger continues -- as if he had been the one making the high-priced acquisitions.

If the current standings hold until the end of the season, the AL's Wild Card entries will be the Red Sox and the Tigers loser.  The NL's will be the Reds and the Pirates.

The Yanks are now in Baltimore to start a 3-game series against the Orioles.

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