Monday, July 7, 2008

The Better Late Than Never Sox/Yanks Recap Post

It's been almost 24 hours since last night's game between the Sox and Yankees ended with Brett Gardner's game winning extra inning single of Jonathan Papelbon, and I apologize for not getting to this post sooner. Crazy day. Last night's game is still freshly etched in my mind so it should be easy to talk about.

Brett Gardner's at bat against Papelbon was classic. He fought off the best that Papelbon could throw and finally connected when he got his pitch. It was great to see the rookie come through like that. I definitely wasn't expecting it. Not sure that anyone was. I got the feeling after he fouled off the 2nd pitch that Brett had a decent chance. Like I mentioned, he fought off everything Papelbon threw. It was only a matter of time. I think Gardner will develop into a fine major leaguer. He reminds me of Jacoby Ellsbury with his speed, though has bat isn't yet on that level. I think with time that will come around. Question is, can he develop that on the major league level, on a contending team? Not sure now is the time. But with how poorly Melky Cabrera has been lately, he might as well get a shot.

Mariano Rivera. What can I say? He's continuing to have his best season ever, and that's saying a lot considering how long he's pitched and how great he is. He's perfect in save opportunities (23 for 23). His ERA (1.12) is currently lower than any full season ERA he's ever posted (1.38 in 2005). His WHIP (0.64) is also lower than any WHIP he's ever had in a full season (0.87 in 2005). And he's currently holding opponents to a batting average of .164. His best season was in 1999 when he held opponents to an average of .176, narrowly beating 2005 (.177). It's hard to believe that the best closer ever has gotten better 14 years into his career. The highlight of yesterday's 2 inning performance was the strikeout of Manny Ramirez. It didn't look like Manny even cared to be there as his bat never left the shoulder on 3 straight pitches. To Mo's credit he pretty much nailed the corners. Ah Mo, what would we do without you?

Joba pitched pretty well. He made 1 real mistake and that was walking Ellsbury in the 5th. He got himself into a huge hole allowing the 1st 3 runners to reach base but promptly worked himself out of trouble by striking out Lugo and Kevin Cash. He needed to finish off Ellsbury to get out of that mess but I think he tried to get too cute with his location and it ended up biting him in the rear. He was on cruise control up until that point. Had he not thrown a passed ball that scored Youkilis, it would have likely been bases loaded with 2 outs when Ellsbury stepped in. Joba came oh so close to getting out of that jam but like I said, he got too cute with trying to locate. Credit to Ellsbury for not chasing. And that of course opened up the door for one of the hottest hitters to knock in 2. Dustin Pedroia is having a great season. He's been the man at the plate over the last 2 weeks or so. DP would be the best 2nd baseman in the league of not for Texas' Ian Kinsler. Kinz is flat out the man. If you check the stats for AL 2Bs you'll see he's the leader in pretty much every statistical category. He should be starting the All-Star game but that's for a whole other debate.

I don't think it's any secret that Joba and Kevin Youkilis don't like each other. Youkilis came in with a hard, and clean, slide on Joba when he scored on a passed ball. I didn't really think it was that bad. Joba follows that up with a pitch behind Youkilis. Youk of course immediately looked like he was going to throw a tizzy. Ah the rivalry. I'm not a big Youk fan, but Joba didn't really have a reason to throw that pitch. I'm sure he thought the slide was a little much but it looked clean to me. A bad slide would be the one that Coco Crisp pulled against Tampa Bay a few weeks back. Now that was bush. He should have taken the hit and walked to first base when he got plunked by James Shields. His slide was a little over the top.

Despite the win and the 5 runs, I'm still feeling underwhelmed by the offense. I credit the comeback yesterday more to Boston's bullpen being bad than the Yankees lineup being good. The biggest bright spot continues to be Robbie Cano. I think it's safe to say the corner has been turned. His average is up 25 points since June 22, and 35 points since 6/13. In his last 12 games, Robbie is 19 for 48 (.396) with 7 multi-hit games and 11 RBI. He's finally showing signs of life at the plate. It took way too long. The Yankees need Robbie to be productive if they want to make a run at the postseason. It's amazing how abysmal this offense is. There isn't really a good excuse for their poor performance. Their biggest problem is when they don't play their game, which is being patient at the plate, taking pitches, working counts, and swinging at the right pitches. The aggressive approach hasn't worked. Then again, the patient approach hasn't exactly led to a lot of runs either. It's a head-scratcher. The pitching was supposed to be the weak point. Not the offense.

This is hard to say but the division leading Rays are coming to town. The Rays hold a 8.5 game lead over the Yanks, which isn't insurmountable by any means, but it's going to be real tough to catch those guys. They're just too good. If you want to see what a baseball team should be, look at the Rays. They're playing good, fundamentally sound baseball. Great pitching. Great hitting. Solid defense. I don't see them letting up. The under-performing Yanks can win these ball games. If history repeats itself, which it usually does, the Yanks are on the verge of tearing the league apart. Over the last several seasons, the Yanks have started out poorly and finished stronger than anyone. As the weather heats up, so do the Yanks. Last year after 89 games, they were 45-44 and 9.5 out. They won 94 games and the wild card. In 2006 they heated up much more quickly then they did this year or in 2007. In 2005, they were 48-41 after 89 games, 1 game better than this year. A few months later, they finished atop the division with 95 wins. They could be in a lot worse shape. Fact is they're only 3 games in back of Boston in the loss column. That's nothing. I'm amazed that they're in the position they're in and that's a good thing. It should be a fun and interesting 2nd half. Hopefully Cashman goes out and gets some reinforcements because now is not the time to sell. They're in good shape.

Peace, love and Pinstripes,