Circle the Wagons, Walkoffs Abound

Circle the Date, Circle the Wagons

Circle the date

The estimable Tim Kurkjian of ESPN speaks of dates on the baseball calendar where you look back and say “that was when we realized….” Tim was asked repeatedly yesterday as to whether the Red Sox 9th inning loss to the Yankees Monday night was a circle the date moment in their season. Well, after the Sox staged another comeback against New York last night, and this time held on for a 7-6 win, I think we can circle the week for both of these teams and say that this is when we realized that each team is flawed and neither team is good enough to catch Tampa.

These are the kind of words that can quickly bite you on the butt, particularly in light of the fact the Yanks host the Rays for the next couple of nights, however, there were a number of very enlightening events that have occurred that highlight the weaknesses of each of the ballclubs.

Baseball continues to evolve. After decades that emphasized the importance of a good closer, the last few years have seen the emergence of specific pitchers who are designated as “8th inning guys.” And, if teams had the arms, they would be more than happy to name a “7th inning guy” as well.

The Yankees are struggling with the inconsistency of their 8th inning guy, Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain entered the game last night, in his inning, taking over from CC Sabathia, with a 5-1 lead. He did not get the Joba done and the inning ended with the scored tied, 5-5.

Forget that there were errors and close plays that didn’t go his way, Joba is not doing what, for the most part, Daniel Bard for the Sox has been successfully doing, which is holding the lead, holding the other team in check, or holding his own.

From April 28 to May 14, Joba appeared eight times, pitched 7.1 innings gave up two hits, two walks, struck out 11, and gave up no runs as he won one, saved two, and held two. That, my friends, is what raises the hopes of Yankee Universe.

His last two appearances have been less impressive: Joba has thrown 1.2 innings giving up six hits, one walk, striking out one, while allowing seven runs, six earned, while blowing one lead and losing one game. That, my friends, is what keeps those really expensive seats behind home plate that we see on TV so empty at Yankee Stadium, in spite of the low interest loans that are probably available through Goldman Sachs to purchase a ticket.

Let’s move on to the closer spot and we can see that two of the best in the game are in a funk. Mariano Rivera on Sunday against Minnesota pitched a third of an inning and walked home a run and gave up a grand slam to hand Joba the loss. Last night, he got the loss giving up two unearned runs on two hits in one inning of work. Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon pitched 2.1 innings Saturday in Detroit and maybe that was too much for him. He had the much-discussed meltdown Monday night and last night earned the save against New York despite giving up an unearned run on a Marcus Thames error, a hit and issuing another walk. He earned the save by striking out Randy Winn with the tying run at third and the winning run at second.

Now let’s look at the paragraph for a moment, first of all it was last April when Mo had two successive appearances in which he has given up a run (earned or unearned). It was August 2007 the last tie he gave at a least a run in three successive appearances. Last May Papelbon gave up a run in two successive appearances and you have to go back to his rookie year, in 2005, to find three straight games in which Pap gave up at least one run. In addition, Papelbon averaged one walk per nine innings in 2008, 3.2 walks per nine in 2009, and is averaging 4.5 so far this season.

The story of these two teams is also one of depth. The Red Sox have been playing without Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron for most of the season. The way the team is configured, they miss the former more than the latter but the sketchy outfield defensive play by Darnell McDonald, Jonathan Van Every, and Bill Hall has not helped relievers or starters. Meanwhile, the Yankees have been without Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, Nick Swisher, and Jorge Posada for chunks of the season and their team has survived but there are times you can see the depth thinning out.

The Yankees are not suffering from the Dupont problem of chemistry that is a Boston issue. Mike Lowell has just started speaking to the media about his frustration in lack of playing time. Frustration is evident from Tim Wakefield who lost his starter’s slot to Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K and batterymate Victor Martinez engaged in verbal sparring through reporters as to who was at fault for Matsuzaka’s latest poor performance. And now Dice-K is claiming he has the answer to his frequent one bad innings, but he’s not ready to reveal it. Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre thanks to the kindness of official scorers only has seven errors. V-Mart is hitting .227 and pitchers clearly are more effective when his backup Jason Varitek is catching. Tek, who thrives when played sparingly, also has six homers in 41 at bats, which is exactly one more than Martinez who has exactly 100 more at bats. Jeremy Hermida, another role player, has 22 RBI in 88 at bats, which is third on the team. And, while David Ortiz has come to life in May, neither he nor Lowell can play the field and interleague play is around the corner.

It was claimed coming into the season that perhaps the biggest Red Sox problem was too much starting pitching. In many ways, the pundits are correct; they just left out the word “mediocre.”

The Sox starters have a 14-11 record with a 5.18 ERA. In 241.2 innings they have given up 22 homers. By the by, the Sox relievers in 124.1 innings have given up 22 homers and have a 4.49 ERA.

The Yankees starters, who were not regarded as strong as Boston’s, have a 19-8 record with a 3.48 ERA. In 240.2 innings they have given up 25 homers. And the NY relievers in 98.1 innings have given up 14 homers but have a 4.21 ERA.

The Tampa Bay Rays starters have a 21-6 record with a 2.58 ERA. In 255 innings they have given up 24 homers. And the Rays relievers, supposedly their soft spot, in 102.2 innings have given up 10 homers and have a 2.98 ERA.

Forget the calendar, after all is said and done that last paragraph is what needs to be circled. The Yankees need to play their game and play for the wild card slot. As for the Red Sox, to win the 95 requisite games, which is what a team at least needs to have to come out of the AL East, the Sox need to play much better ball and fast. The Bostons are a .500 team at 20-20 and that is an imperfect vision of what they need to be. With 122 games remaining, the Sox need to win at least 75 of them. Not impossible, just implausible. This does not look like in any way, shape, or form like a team that is right now capable of playing .615 ball for the rest of the season. And even if they do, they still might fall short of the Rays who are currently playing .718 ball and the Yankees who are currently playing .641 baseball.

Smarter than the average baseball writer

To paraphrase Yogi, it’s getting late early this season.

Meanwhile…

The Blue Jays (24-17) won again behind Shaun Marcum (3-1) defeating the Twins, 11-2 and hit four more homers in the process. The Jays lead the majors with 65 dingers which is more than, get ready, this is a good one, which is more than the Astros (20), the Indians (22), and the Mariners (22) combined.

Caught Between a Rock and a Ramirez

The Florida Marlins are in a miserable situation as the face of their franchise has embarrassed himself, his teammates, and his manager, Fredi Gonzalez.

Nothing good has happened since Gonzalez pulled his star shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, Monday from a game for not hustling and there has not been a moment in this episode that Ramirez has either looked good or has not made the situation worse. If Hanley ran after the ball he booted with the same intensity he has been running his mouth there would be no issue.

Ramirez, a two-time All-Star and the 2009 NL batting champion, has been benched by Gonzalez until he either apologizes to the team or the manager and every report indicates that that is not coming soon.

“It’s his team. He can do whatever,” Ramirez said, mixing in an expletive. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

“That’s OK. He doesn’t understand that. He never played in the big leagues,” he said.

Responded Gonzalez: “He’s right, but I know how to play the game.”

“I played six years in the minor leagues and I know what it takes to play this game and I know the effort it takes to play this game,” he said.

It seemed unlikely Ramirez would say he was sorry.

“We got a lot of people dogging it after ground balls,” he said. “They don’t apologize.”

“I think Skip needed to do what he needed to do, which was take Hanley out of the game at that time,” Florida second baseman Dan Uggla said. “Does that mean we love Hanley any less? No, we have all made mistakes. We’ve all done things like, ‘Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have done that.’ But you move on, you move forward you get past it.”

Here’s the problem, Ramirez is the Marlins’ highest-paid player after signing a $70 million, six-year contract in 2008. Ramirez is the face of a franchise that moves into a new ballpark in 2012. No wait, here’s the problem: Hanley knows it.

Quick Question

Which is bigger news, the Pirates beating the Phillies, 2-1, Zach Duke winning the game, or Roy Halladay taking the loss?

Still Streaking

With the Dodgers defeating Houston, 7-3, LA has won nine straight and Houston has lost five straight. Russell Martin extended his hitting streak to 13 games.

I Love Walkoffs

Maybe it was the pie in the face that caused Wright's wild throw

I love walkoffs even when result comes about because of poor play and that surely was evident in Atlanta’s walkoff 3-2 win over the Mets.

Brian McCann opened the 9th with a single off Pedro Feliciano (1-2), and was replaced by pinch runner Brent Clevlen. Yunel Escobar fouled off two attempts at a sacrifice bunt against Jenrry Mejia, but worked out a walk. Melky Cabrera fouled off two more bunt tries and then hit a high chopper toward third baseman David Wright who threw the ball away allowing Clevlen to score and tested my love for walkoffs.

I Love Walkoffs

The Reds love the walkoffs

I love walkoffs even when result means something sad. The Reds scored three in the 9th to defeat Milwaukee and hand the Brewers their eighth straight defeat. We haven’t gotten to the sad part yet.

Scott Rolen hit a tying, pinch-hit, two-run homer in the 9th and Joey Votto hit a walkoff single off the wall to give the NL Central leaders a 5-4 victory. It was their 10th win in their final at-bat.

What is sad is that once again the hitting was off Trevor Hoffman who at 42, and 999 pitching appearances, may have finally hit the wall. Hoffman has given up 19 earned runs and 21 hits in only 13 innings this season and blown half of his 10 save chances. In 14 appearances this season only six have been scoreless and in only five has he held the opponent hitless.

In 14 appearances, he has pitched 13 innings and has an ERA of 13.15.

Sad.

I Love Walkoffs

Soupy doesn't deserve the Orioles and Royals, does he?

I love walkoffs even in games between the Orioles and the Royals. Wow, I must really love walkoffs, huh?

Nick Markakis singled in the winning run in the 10th inning, giving the Orioles a 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals and a split of the two-game series between the teams with a combined record of 28-52.

I Love Walkoffs

I love walkoffs and they never feel old to me. What does feel old to me is the fact that the Seattle Mariners are the ones walking of the field as the home team celebrates. Kurt Suzuki hit a two-out walkoff single in the 10th off Brandon League to give

The A's may love the Mariners, but I'm sick of pie today

the A’s a 6-5 victory. It was Suzuki’s eighth career walkoff hit (this is Kurt mind you, not Ichiro), and his second this year against Seattle.

It was the sixth walkoff loss of the Mariners miserable season, including three against the A’s in Oakland. Seattle is now 0-5 in extra-inning games and 4-10 in one-run games. They lost six of eight on their roadtrip and are 11 games under .500 and are one miserable ball club.

The Schedule

AL

Rays (Wade Davis) at Yankees (A.J. Burnett), 7:05

Royals (Gil Meche) at Indians (Justin Masterson), 7:05

Twins (Scott Baker) at Red Sox (Clay Buchholz), 7:10

Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie) at Rangers (Rich Harden), 8:05

Angels (Joe Saunders) at White Sox (John Danks), 8:10

Tigers (Justin Verlander) at A’s (Dallas Braden), 10:05

Blue Jays (Brett Cecil) at Mariners (Doug Fister), 10:10

NL

Mets (R.A. Dickey) at Nationals (Livan Hernandez), 7:05

Cubs (Tom Gorzelanny) at Phillies (Jamie Moyer), 7:05

Brewers (Randy Wolf) at Pirates (Brian Burres), 7:05

Reds (Aaron Harang) at Braves (Kenshin Kawakami), 7:10

Rockies (Greg Smith) at Astros (Felipe Paulino), 8:05

Marlins (Anibal Sanchez) at Cardinals (Jamie Garcia), 8:15

Giants (Todd Wellemeyer) at Diamondbacks (Ian Kennedy), 9:40

Padres (Jon Garland) at Dodgers (Ramon Ortiz), 10:10