Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What a Difference a Year Makes

The Red Sox celebrate a 4-run ninth against the Phillies.
Last season was not a banner year for the Red Sox. They were 69-93, .426, 34-47 at home, and 2-10 in extra innings. This year, however, they are off to a terrific start. Apart from a lousy stretch from May 3 through 14 in which they were a dismal 2-9, the Red Sox have been one of the strongest teams in baseball. They opened with a 20-8 record and have been lights out in the past ten days. They now have six walk-off wins.

On Sunday they trailed Cleveland by three runs in the ninth. They hadn't hit a lick the whole game but they managed to load the bases and Jacob Ellsbury faced Tribe closer Chris Perez who had blown only one save opportunity to-date. But three pitches into the at bat Perez had to leave the game with an injury and Ellsbury rapped the first pitch from Joe Smith over the centerfielder's head for a three run single to give Boston an unlikely come from behind victory.

Last night they faced Phillie starter Tyler Cloyd, who brought a 2.70 ERA to the mound. Mike Napoli and Justin Pedroia promptly homered in the first inning and in the third David Ortiz, Napoli, and Stephen Drew hit doubles. Cloyd left the mound with his ERA twice as high as it had been an hour earlier (5.74).

Jon Lester, 9-14 in 2012, and Clay Buchholz, 11-8 last season, have been the big story in Beantown of course. Lester is 6-1 and has whiffed 60 batters and walked just 19 in 72.2 innings. Opponents are batting .225. Buchholz has been better. He's 7-0 and has given up just 49 hits in exactly the same number of innings. Opposing batters are hitting a measly .194. 

Buchholz was hurt in his sleep.
Buchholz, whom Blue Jay announcer Jack Morris accused of doctoring the baseball in a dominant performance three weeks ago, may have been dreaming of a 30-win season when he slept awkwardly on his right side last Wednesday night, irritating his acromioclavicular joint. A hundred years ago Boston had a pitcher named Ruth who spend a lot of nights in joints and beds he shouldn't have been in - but he never got hurt. Now players get hurt while asleep in their own bed! Buchholz missed his start in Philadelphia last night but he and the team are saying it is only a precaution.

In 21 innings Junichi Tazawa (4-2, 2.53) has struck out 27 batters and walked only three. Alfredo Aceves beat the Phillies last night for his second win against one loss. He gave up one earned run in seven innings to lower his ERA to 6.57.  He was 2-10 last season.

Offensively David Ortiz, whom MLB.com does not list as a DH, though that is what he has played 95% of the time in the past few years - including every game this year, has recovered nicely from a minor injury and is now hitting .346 with a .622 Slugging Percentage and an OPS of 1.030. Dustin Pedroia is batting .333 and has the league's third best On Base percentage. Mike Napoli is now sixth in the AL with 39 ribbies.

The Red Sox need more catches like this one by Jacoby Ellsbury.
But the news is not all good. Only four teams in the American League have committed more errors. Teams who struggle in the field do not usually win championships. Ryan Dempster, who was 2-2 after beating the Blue Jays May 2nd is 0-3 since then. He has given up fifteen earned runs in the combined twelve innings he's lasted in his past three starts. Jacob Ellsbury has five hits in his last three games but at .257 he is a long way from his 2010 performance.

Their closers, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, have combined for ten out of thirteen save opportunities. But Hanrahan, who had a less than stellar ERA (9.82) after being beaten up by the Orioles on May 10, has since undergone Tommy John surgery. Ahead of them with a much better (1.83) ERA out of the pen has been Koji Uehara.

Big Papi is the game's best DH.
Statistically the Red Sox are pretty strong. They are fourth in team batting average, second in OBP, third in OPS, ninth in Slugging but fifth in home runs. Their staff is sixth in team ERA and a mediocre ninth in WHIP. Only four teams have allowed fewer home runs. (The Tigers are way out in front in that category.)

With New York, Baltimore and Tampa Bay staying strong and Toronto showing some signs of life the American League East is regaining its reputation as one of the toughest divisions to win. It should be an interesting summer.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Are They Doing It With Mirrors?

Far ahead of expectations Vernon Wells celebrates another Yankee win.
Somehow, against all expectations, the Yankees keep on winning. A bunch of their stars are injured (heck, even Brian Cashman is on crutches) but it doesn't seem to matter. They recently passed the very successful Red Sox and are in first place.

They play a series against the Blue Jays later this week and I would have expected that New York would be in last and the Blue Jays in first, but it's the other way around.

Say, I couldn't figure out why the heck they rehired him in the first place, but when are the Jays gonna get rid of  John Gibbons?

It seems like forever since the Jays had a crew that got clutch hits. It is interesting that they have three of the leaders in home runs. Encarnacion, Arencebis, and Bautista, respectively are tied for first, 5th, and ninth. But where are they in RBIs? They are 8th, 36th, and 27th.

The Yanks are winning with just one star performing as he usually does, i.e., Robinson Cano. Ichiro Suzuki is recovering from a terrible start. Francesco Cervelli got off to a surprisingly good start and then broke his hand, to join Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Granderson on the DL.

Jayson Nix congratulates Lyle Overbay on a home run
that gave him two of his five RBIs against the Royals on Friday.
Up steps Chris Stewart to take his place and hit better than he's supposed to. Jayson Nix has done pretty well at shortstop, though he is no Jeter. Vernon Wells is hitting a lot better than I thought he would. He's tied for the team lead (.299) with Cano and has nine homers and 22 ribbies. In his last two seasons out west he hit .218 and .230 and he already has almost as many homers as he had all last year.

Lyle Overbay has also hit better than expected and Travis Hafner, who's thrilled not to have to play the field, has been Mr. Consistent with a .999 OPS and a .582 Slugging Average.

Hiroki Kurado
It’s not any one thing you can point to. The Yanks are 3rd in home runs and ninth in Slugging, but fourteenth in Runs Scored, fifteenth in average, and sixteenth in OPB. Their staff is fourth in ERA, however, and they lead the AL with 17 saves (Rivera has 15 of those).

Their big three have been excellent. Hiroki Kurado is 5-2, with a 2.31 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. C.C. Sabathia is 4-3, 3.23 and ancient Andy Pettitte is 4-2, 3.83. Even Joba Chamberlain, fresh off a dustup with Mariano Rivera, is pitching well.

"I still think we have a lot of good players," says Joe Girardi. "Maybe not the names of the guys we're used to having her, but guys that have had big years. They're playing extremely well. It seems to be a different guy every night finding a way to get it done for us."

Worse news for the rest of the league is that Curtis Granderson had eight hits in five rehab games with the Scanton Wiles-Barre Rail Riders last week and appears ready to return.

Final Note: Is Miguel Cabrera planning to win back-to-back Triple Crowns? He's second in average at .369, first in runs batted in (40), and only a few back of the lead in home runs.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Does EVERYTHING in the MLB have to revolve around money?

“And this pitching change is brought to you by…”

As you no doubt know if you’ve been around Late Innings for awhile, I prefer to listen to baseball on the radio. You might think I’m being old-fashioned or clinging to ancient habits, but let me assure you, that’s not the case. I like using my mind to imagine what’s going on. I find camera work in games often gets in the way of how the game is actually going. If the radio broadcasting crew is a good one (and for Jays games, it is very good), you don’t need no stinking camera to know what’s happening.

Since I’m often at my computer when games are on, I subscribe to the MLB radio channel. (Forget about their TV channel. If it’s a home game, you’re blacked out. What good is that for around 100 big ones per season?)

I’ve been a subscriber to the MLB radio service since its first year, but starting last year, the amount of advertising I’m subjected to if I happen to look in at their Gameday screen while listening has gotten absolutely ridiculous. It’s at the point where it’s impinging on the actual screen view with ads bracketing the “scoreboard” that change every minute much like the ads you now see behind home plate at the ball park. There’s currently one particular one in a look-at-me shade of hot pink that actually hurts my eyes. There are ads between innings, ads before you’re allowed to watch a video highlight clip once the game is over. It’s just ridiculous.

Last night, I had enough and just flipped off the whole thing (it didn’t help that the Jays were busy imploding yet again). I may just go back to my radio broadcasts and forget game day.

Out at the old ball yard, I feel as if I’m in the middle of a pinball machine. This is not me being an old fart, either. I like cutting edge advertising. What we have now are pixel board technology run rampant. From my seat at a recent ball game at the Rogers Centre, I counted over 50 ads on these boards and on “static” ads, and I obviously couldn’t see all of them (those behind me and below me). If you want your birthday mentioned, you pay. Everything is sponsored from the broadcast booths to the on-deck circles. Stadiums have naming rights that bring in huge amounts of money.

Mlb.com is no different.

My question is this: do they really need advertising dollars that much? We pay a lot of bucks to come to the ball yard, and while I expect there to be a fair bit of advertising, it’s just gotten completely out of hand, to my mind. The Gameday feature on all major league sites is free, but I doubt there are many who watch it without paying for the radio broadcast.

How about giving ball fans a little break from the constant bombardment of (repetitive) advertising?

“And that grounder to short is brought to you by…”