Monday, April 16, 2012
Weekly preview: Oh, yeah, the Yankees
By David Schoenfield
Remember one week ago? I know many of you wanted to kill off the Yankees and Red Sox. Both teams were 0-3 and in such dire straits that Bill Simmons had a special podcast with his buddy JackO -- a Yankees fan -- to commiserate in their pain.
Well, it's not so easy to get rid of the wicked witches of the East. The Red Sox pummeled the Rays over the weekend, scoring 31 runs in a three-game sweep in games started by David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore.
The Yankees, meanwhile, took two of three from the Angels to climb above .500, although they did miss Jered Weaver and Dan Haren while getting shut down by C.J. Wilson. (Hey, we don't want Yankees fans to get too comfortable.)
OK, in all seriousness, it's a reminder of the hysteria that's easy to ensue when a team with high expectations doesn't go 7-3 out of the gate. A similar sense of panic exists in Philadelphia, where the Phillies are 4-5 and scoring barely three runs a game. It's early, folks.
Before the Yankees and Red Sox meet this weekend, the Yankees will have an excellent opportunity to pad their win total with a four-game series against the hapless Twins, looking like a good bet early on to challenge the Astros as baseball's worst team. Don't expect much run support for Carl Pavano, who faces Freddy Garcia on Monday night on ESPN and ESPN3 (7 ET): The Twins have scored three runs or fewer in seven of their nine games.
Outside of Derek Jeter (.366, four doubles, two home runs) and Nick Swisher, most of the Yankees hitters are off to lukewarm starts. Robinson Cano has one RBI, Alex Rodriguez is hitting .222 with one home run and Mark Teixeira (a career .235 hitter in April) is off to his usual slow start with a .222 average and zero home runs.
But with four games against the Twins, look for Cano and Teixeira to enter their showdown with Boston with at least one home run on their ledger.
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Others have been writing Derek Jeter off for years, but he keeps going out to man the shortstop position for the New York Yankees season in and season out. Over the last 16 seasons, the Captain has played at least 148 games every year save two. When he was in his prime years, he was being compared to two other great shortstops: Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada. And while Jeter has gotten off to a hot start following the season in which he got his 3,000th hit (the first Yankee to do so), you don't hear much about the other two.
There are a number of reasons the Twins have scored three or fewer runs in seven of their nine games, but the silence from the M & M boys stands out distinctly. The lineup needs those two producing in order to function, and thus far neither player has done much of anything (other than staying on the field) to quell the concerns that surrounded them entering the campaign.
It's been weird. Just how weird? Check it out: With two hits Saturday, James Loney has a positive OPS+ for the first time this year (12). Just for fun, if you add together the OPS+ for the Dodgers infield, you get 174, which is less than the OPS+ of Andre Ethier (201). And if you tally the infield plus Juan Rivera, the sum of those five OPS+ is less than that of Matt Kemp (300).
In some regard, the Cardinals were baseball's most impressive team through the first 10 games of the schedule. They methodically took two of three from the Brewers, Reds and Cubs, as well as beating the Marlins on Opening Day. Their plus-23 run differential is the best in the majors, as is their 57 runs scored. So far, the Cardinals' bench is shaping up as a possible strength. Matt Carpenter stepped in for the injured Lance Berkman (who should return Tuesday) and has driven in 10 runs in just 22 at-bats. Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso provide flexibility in the infield. And so far, Yadier Molina (.353/.421/.735, three home runs) is showing his offensive growth in 2011 was for real.
The Reds have scored just 31 runs in 10 games. Outside of Joey Votto and Zack Cozart, the offense hasn't done much. I was worried about Scott Rolen's ability to produce heading into the season and Dusty Baker's cleanup man is off to a .121 start (4-for-33, no home runs, one walk). Baker has also given rookie catcher Devin Mesoraco just 12 at-bats, and Drew Stubbs is still having big issues making contact. Yes, Brandon Phillips missed some games, but there appear to be some red flags about the Reds' offense. The Reds can hardly afford to let the Cardinals put six games between them this early in the season, but that's what they're facing if St. Louis sweeps the series.
Halladay has been terrific while Lincecum has been terrible and is coming off the shortest outing of his career on Wednesday, when he couldn't escape the third inning in Colorado. Lincecum is 4-1 with a 2.61 ERA in nine career starts against the Phillies -- teams that had better offenses than this Phillies team, of course. Wednesday's Cliff Lee-Matt Cain matchup ain't exactly chopped liver, either. Yes, I just used that phrase.
2. Wednesday: David Price (1-1, 4.82) vs. Brandon Morrow (0-0, 2.57), Rays at Blue Jays (7:07 p.m. ET)
Tampa Bay's brutal April schedule continues with a Monday morning Patriots Day affair in Boston, three in Toronto and then a bit of a reprieve with three at home against the Twins. Price is coming off a poor stint against the Red Sox in which he had issues locating his fastball and threw 83 pitches in three innings. Morrow has gone seven innings in each of first two starts, a good early sign for somebody looking to prove he can pitch 200 innings for the first time.
Yes, please. The Tigers will prove to be a sterner test for Feliz than the Twins and Mariners. Feliz used his changeup successfully in seven shutout innings against the Mariners in his first start, less so on Sunday against the Twins. He's still a work in progress as a starter, and while nobody doubts his fastball, we'll see if his secondary stuff can catch up. Many still consider moving him to the rotation a bit of a risk, considering his strikeout rate as a closer in 2011 didn't exactly reflect domination (54 strikeouts in 62.1 innings). So far he has seven K's in 12 innings.
Billingsley has made two strong starts -- one run with a 15-1 strikeout-walk ratio -- raising hopes that the Dodgers will have a strong No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw. Billingsley suffered through the worst season of his career in 2011 as he walked 84 batters, but made some mechanical adjustments this spring. "Success breeds confidence," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt told ESPNLA's Tony Jackson. "They go hand in hand. Right now, you're seeing him totally in control. He isn't right on target with every ball he throws, but we're not seeing that wildness. I like to call them well-thrown balls, and we are seeing a lot of well-thrown balls coming out of his hand. Those are quality pitches. He just needs to do that consistently."
Heat map of the week
Courtesy of Mark Simon and Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats and Information, we have to do a Matt Kemp heat map. Baseball's hottest hitter is just the fourth player since 1920 hitting .450 with at least six home runs and 16 RBIs through his team's first 10 games. The typical major leaguer hits a home run on every nine to 10 of the fly balls he hits, but Kemp's first nine fly balls have resulted in six home runs. He's hit the ball to the opposite field six times, resulting in five hits and four home runs. And in at-bats ending in curveballs, he's 5-for-5 with three singles, a double and a home run.
Four of Matt Kemp's six home runs so far have gone to right field.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Elvis Andrus chases his man, but Denard Span says, Catch me if you can.