Friday, July 26, 2013

Strikeout Soriano Returns, Putting Damper On Fine Kuroda Performance

Once upon a time, the Yankees had a player named Alfonso Soriano.  He looked like the next great star.  He could hit for average.  He could hit for power.  He could run.  He was exciting.  He was going to be a part of the next Yankee Dynasty.  And he was only 28.

(No, the cover in that photo is not a photoshop, reflecting what could happen over the rest of this season.  It's a real one, from 2002, and if you're wondering about the "strike" reference, a strike was very narrowly avoided on August 30.)

There were two problems: He struck out too much, and he couldn't field any position.

You think I'm kidding about the strikeouts? Okay, look at this:

Player A: 126, 125, 120, 113, 112
Player B: 171*, 161*, 156*, 142*, 141*
Player C: 160*, 157, 153*, 130, 130*

All 3 are players who played for the Yankees and were said to "strike out too much." These are their 5 highest single-season strikeout totals.  However, in seasons in which these totals were with teams other than the Yankees, I have put an asterisk.  If you including only their Yankee seasons, then...

Player A: 126, 125, 120, 113, 112
Player B: 133, 129, 122, 107, 82
Player C: 157, 130, 125, 15, 3

Suddenly, Player B looks a lot better -- although it should be noted that the 82-K season was strike-shortened 1981, so he was on pace for around 120.  You can also guess that player C was only a Yankee for 5 seasons, including 2 in which he spent most of the season in the minor leagues.

Player A is Mickey Mantle.  By today's standards, Mickey didn't strike out all that much.

Player B is Reggie Jackson.

Player C is Alfonso Soriano.

On February 16, 2004, the Yankees traded Soriano and a player to be named later to the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez and a rejiggering of A-Rod's contract.

The PTBNL turned out to be Joaquin Arias, then a 19-year-old infielder in A-ball.  He was an infielder who wouldn't reach the major leagues until 2006, and had played only 41 big-league games by the end of the 2009 season.  No great loss, right?

Actually, he is now the backup 3rd baseman for the San Francisco Giants, and in 60 games is batting .282.  Maybe the Ynkees could use him now after all.

As of right now, Soriano has 389 career home runs -- as many as Johnny Bench, 1 less than Graig Nettles, and more than such legendary slugers as Frank Howard, Jim Rice, Ralph Kiner, Johnny Mize, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio.  He also has 458 doubles, more than Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams and Don Mattingly ended up with.

But this season, Soriano is batting .254, with an OPS+ of 102.  That means that he's been 2 percent better than the average hitter.  Two percent.

He has 17 home runs and 51 RBIs -- on pace for around 25 and 75.  This was done while playing his home games at Wrigley Field, usually a hitter's park.

And he's 37 years old.  And he's already struck out 89 times -- on pace for around 135.  And he still can't play any position well enough to not DH him.

According to Mark Feinsand in today's Daily News, the Yankees will only give up a mid-level prospect for Soriano.

If this doesn't work, Brian Cashman should be unemployed by Halloween.

And in order for it to work, Soriano will have to put up a performance that will erase our last memory of him, the 2003 World Series, when he batted .227 and struck out -- how many times, Mr. Rooney? "Nine times!" After batting .133 and striking out 11 times against the Red Sox in the ALCS that ended with a home run by Aaron Boone, who was playing 3rd base, mainly because Soriano couldn't.

If this is the Yankees' only noticeable move before the trading deadline (this coming Wednesday), it could come back to haunt us.

*

Oh, there was a game yesterday.  And in it, again, the Yankees didn't hit much.

But this time, it didn't matter, because Hiroki Kuroda pitched like the ace of a contending team.  He went 7 innings (okay, maybe not an ace by the standards of my youth), 6 hits, 1 walk, and no runs (okay, that is an ace by anyone's standards).  David Robertson pitched a scoreless 8th, and Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless 9th.  In other words, what you would hope would be "the usual."

Austin Romine had the first 3-hit game of his career, including a double to lead off the 6th inning.  Ichiro Suzuki sacrificed him to 2nd, and Brent Lillibridge doubled him home.  With 1 out in the 8th, Robinson Cano doubled, Vernon Wells singled him over to 3rd, and Eduardo Nunez grounded into a forceout to get Cano home.

That was it.  But, this time, it was enough.  Yankees 2, Rangers 0.  WP: Kuroda (10-6).  SV: Rivera (33).  LP: Derek Holland (8-6, and if I didn't hate Dallas I'd say he deserved a better fate).  The 4-game series was split.

*

So with the Yankees 6 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox (6 in the loss column), the surging Tampa Bay Rays half a game back (even in the loss column), and the Baltimore Orioles 4 back, the Yankees come home to face the Rays, while the Sox visit the O's.

The Rays have won 8 o their last 10, but are only 26-23 on the road.  Granted, we're only 28-23 at home, but we should have the advantage.

Projected pitching matchups:

Tonight, 7:05: CC Sabathia vs. Jeremy Hellickson.  We need the Big Fella to be an ace again.

Tomorrow, 1:05: Ivan Nova vs. Chris Archer.  Nova has pitched pretty well lately, let's hope he can do it again.

Sunday, 1:05: Phil Hughes vs. Matt Moore.  Moore is 14-3, and a pretty good candidate for the Cy Young Award.  But Hughes has also snapped out of it recently and pitched well.

So all 3 of these games look winnable.

The Rays' website has the slogan "WELCOME HOME." As if they are desperate for fans to come to their games.  All that winning they've done since 2008, and they still can't draw flies to that stupid dome.

Well, they're on the road this weekend, so they can't do anything about it now.

*

Six and a half games back.  There are 9 weeks (plus this weekend) left in the regular season.  And there are 10 games remaining against the Sox.

It's not that hard.  We've come back to finish 1st before.  Especially against the Sox.

But is Soriano the answer? If so, Brian Cashman may not have heard the question correctly.

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