Monday, July 12, 2010

First Half Juxtapux----Day 1

  • An All Star Break recap unlike any other:

I'm well aware that the "word" in the title of this posting is misspelled. It's my homage to Chris "Mad Dog" Russo----he used to be on the radio----when he, I think, tried to use the word juxtaposition and it came out, "juxtapux".

Close enough I guess. For Russo.

Be that as it may, you'll see the dullards presenting their "first half award winners" and whatever else their addled minds are capable of formulating. The creativity is sorely lacking except when they're presenting their "rumors" about and stories detailing "very nearly completed" trades and transactions that never happen.

First half awards are boring and everyone who knows anything will have the same "winners". Ubaldo Jimenez as NL Cy Young Award winner? NO KIDDING!!!!

Let's just see what pops out of my cabeza as to the stuff actually worth talking about from the first half of the season.

The fall and rise of the White Sox:

Indicative of the crisis-a-day nature of the way stories are reported in a reactionary and panic-stricken fashion, the White Sox were said to be on the verge of cleaning house of every veteran and their longtime manager Ozzie Guillen. The rift between Guillen and GM Kenny Williams had grown so vast that the two could no longer co-exist; and because the team was playing so poorly after they were expected to contend, it appeared to be the end of the road for the duo.

That lasted until the White Sox started playing up to their capabilities.

Had they been in the American League East, there would've been reason for Williams to throw his hands up in the air and start making deals for 2011 and beyond; but they're not; they're in the AL Central. The Twins haven't played up to their expectations; the Tigers are up-and-down; and the White Sox were never "dead".

The decision to toss a season isn't to be taken lightly and judged based on two months of poor play, rampant underachievement and infighting; putting the situation into context, the White Sox were 9 1/2 games out of first place on June 9th, but considering the way they'd played (they were 25-33 at the time) and that they had the talent to go on a good run and climb back into contention in a division in which no other team had taken command, it was silly to blow the whole thing up.

The one thing they were missing throughout the year was one big power bat and it turned out that they got it from within when Carlos Quentin stayed healthy and started hitting the ball out of the park. The team conveniently got hot once they had another productive bat in their lineup along with Paul Konerko.

For most teams, the confluence of issues would've required a change in the manager's office and something drastic to be done with a veteran player or ten; but the White Sox have always played better when everyone is at each other's throats. I wouldn't recommend it for almost any other organization, but it's what's worked for them year-after-year.

Some teams are swallowed up by controversy; others use it as fuel.

The White Sox are the latter.


Carl Pavano has rejuvenated his career.

Even Yankee fans----who have every right to spit venom at Carl (American Idle) Pavano----have to admit that he's pitched well for the Twins this season. His stuff is nowhere near what it was when the Yankees signed him, but he's become efficient, poised and successful for the Twins.

The cynic will suggest that Pavano is kicking it in gear just in time to get himself another big contract as a free agent this winter, but barring the perennial "one stupid owner", I can't see anyone giving him more than a 2-year contract after the disaster he was with the Yankees; two seasons of health and success don't overtake the four lost years he spent in pinstripes (on the disabled list), and out of pinstripes (on the beach).

He's shown tenacity in games that, by all rights, shouldn't have been as easy as they were. Pavano pitched back-to-back complete games in Philadelphia and New York as the Twins made their tour of the NL East; and he's only pitched fewer than 6 innings in two starts this season.

With the way their team was constructed around a powerful lineup, a deep bullpen and serviceable, strike-throwing starting pitchers, the last thing you would've thought before the season that it would be Carl Pavano who functioned as the anchor to the starting rotation.

But that's exactly what he's been.

The Angels template:

Scott Kazmir was allowed to remain in the game on Saturday despite having surrendered 8 runs in the third inning; he subsequently gave up another 5 in the fifth.

That's 13 earned runs.

Kazmir's been awful and it's getting to the point where we don't have to say that he's "been" awful; it's almost okay to say he "is" awful----as a starter anyway.

But this isn't about Kazmir.

It's about the Angels.

On paper and with the way they've played, the Angels don't have any right to be in the position they currently occupy----4 1/2 games out of first place. Functioning with a horrible back-end of the starting rotation; a shaky bullpen; and injuries that could only be described as so ridiculous that they heretofore only happened to the Mets (Kendry Morales was lost for the season jumping on home plate after a game-winning homer), Mike Scioscia applies his plan and keeps his team above water and hovering until they can strike.

It's as if the Angels ignore results to get what they want out of their players. By that I mean they intend to get a certain number of innings and pitches from the likes of Kazmir and Joe Saunders and are going to get those pitches and innings from them one way or the other; and if that means blowing their ERAs up into the stratosphere and watching them take a brutal beating, so be it; the individual numbers are secondary to what the team needs.

The appearances of the relievers are doled out very evenly and there's never a knee-jerk demotion based on the last outing. Sometimes this leads to an over-exaggeration of loyalty and sticking to the game-plan (as they did when they refused to alter their strategy to account for the increased power they had in their lineup when they acquired Mark Teixeira in 2008), but for the most part, the Angels way of doing things----slow and steady wins the race----works.

It helps that the fans trust the architects of the club that they know what they're doing and the pressure is limited in the insistence that they "do" something. Success gives leeway; but the Angels wouldn't be affected one way or the other by outside influences.

The Rangers are looking like a sure bet to pull away in the AL West now that they acquired Cliff Lee, but the Angels have a tendency to loiter around and put a scare into the teams in front of them regardless of how streaky and weak they've looked throughout the year.

Their final four games of the regular season are in Texas against the Rangers. Don't be surprised to see them terrify entire Rangers organization as they walk into Texas three or four games out of first place after making a late, desperate run back to within range of stealing the division.

It's what they do.

Yankees fans are revolting...

...against Joba Chamberlain.

I'm not going to defend Chamberlain's performance; truth be told, he's not the most likable guy in the world with the fist pumping after meaningless strikeouts and his other theatrics, but the media and fans are being notoriously unfair with him as he struggles in the role of set-up man.

A large segment of the baseball-watching public (myself included) felt he belonged in the bullpen. The Yankees were split on the matter themselves from the front office all the way through the clubhouse. Now, he's a reliever, he's not doing well and is being savaged.

It's not fair.

I've gone on about how the Yankees have misused him and that the innings/pitch limits/babying have hindered his development; but he's in the bullpen now; he's been in the bullpen all year long without even the suggestion that he'll start in 2010; and because he hasn't been the Category 5 hurricane he was in 2007, he's seen as a "failure".

He's still only 24; he still has to learn his craft; and it's still unclear as to where his long term future lies. The argument to make him a starter is far more acceptable now that he's been mediocre (at best) as a reliever.

I'd love to hear GM Brian Cashman's take on the idea that the club would've been a thousand times better off had Chamberlain not made that nuclear splash he did in 2007; had he stayed in the minors and not been placed into the savior position complete with the mythical aura; Roger Clemens-build; 100-mph fastball; Joba Rules and everything that went along with the emergence of a phenom.

It's turned into a curse and the worst part of it all is that the midges in Cleveland cost the club the one thing that would've made the whole Joba mess worthwhile----a World Series win.

Here's a thought----since the Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee, would the Diamondbacks be interested in a deal centered around Chamberlain for Dan Haren? Think about it. It'd be pure entertainment to see Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy reunited in Arizona. Would a similar package of minor league prospects as they offered for Lee----and Chamberlain----be enough to get Haren?

Haren is locked up long-term at a very reasonable rate (a guaranteed $29 million through 2012); plus Haren's two years younger than Cliff Lee. Rather than chasing Lee this winter, they can have Haren and go after Carl Crawford.

Chamberlain is in limbo now. A trade is not something to dismiss out of hand because I don't believe Chamberlain to be untouchable as a chip anymore.

  • Viewer Mail 7.12.2010:

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE the Mets:

Now that Lee is safely out of the way till the winter, there's a little relief on my part. I've been so consumed with the Mets transitioning to the younglings I really didn't want to see any of them go.

Who knows...maybe the Wilpons can come up with enough money by December to buy Cliff Lee. But I'm happy with these kids and I want to see the Mets continue working them in and phasing out the old.

My relief stems from another domino being knocked down to prevent the Mets doing something stupid. As I said yesterday, Omar Minaya has been more savvy a trader than people give him credit for; because he fractures the English language and isn't a stat zombie, a large number of critics take that as a means to eviscerate him. In essence, they signed Santana as a free agent because they gave up absolutely nothing in terms of players to get him. I'm sure the Twins will tell you now that they'd have been better off hanging onto Santana for 2008 and taking the compensatory draft picks after he left.

There's a certain pride that comes from having players your own organization found and developed coming to the big leagues and having success; that was one of the more endearing aspects of the Yankees dynasty in the 90s; and the Phillies were built largely through the farm system. The Mets have the basis for a perennial contender now----and a reasonably priced one to boot.

Joe writes RE John Lackey:

For the same reason I won't criticize Jason Bay for Slugging .424 thus far, we shouldn't criticize the Lackey signing yet. It's been HALF A SEASON. I admit he's been bad, as I don't even care about win/loss record. But he could have a good second half and up with solid numbers by seasons end. Or, he could post good numbers in year 2, or , 3, or 4....You get my point. Too early to criticize the contract.

What I find fascinating about you Joe, is that I'll say ten positive things about the Red Sox and you latch onto the one negative (and accurate) thing at which to pick.

Bay hasn't hit, but I'm getting the idea that he's going through a similar adjustment period to Citi Field as David Wright did and will revert to his normal production in 2011; that doesn't help much now, but he's playing solid defense and adding other unappreciated aspects to his game like speed to help a bit while he's slumping. Perhaps Carlos Beltran's return will spur a hot streak for Bay.

With Lackey, he's always been more than the sum of his parts. With stuff that isn't dominant, he's willed his way into wins assisted by the earlier mentioned Angels' way of doing things. Lackey was seen by other teams that might have been interested in his services as way overpriced. The Yankees paid A.J. Burnett off his career year with the Blue Jays and because his stuff is among the best in baseball; the same cannot, nor could it ever, be said about Lackey.

The Red Sox can afford to pay it and he's stayed healthy and gobbled innings; but he has not been good in any way other than that.

What would concern me if I were a Red Sox fan is that the Angels value starting pitching above all else and didn't feel their own player----a post-season horse like Lackey for a team that's in the post-season hunt every year----wasn't worth the money to keep.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Cliff Lee and Joba Chamberlain:

With Lee getting lit up last night by the O's, I don't feel quite as bad about not getting him. What I feel bad about is JOBA!

It will be very interesting to see how Lee responds to the friendly confines and hitter's haven that is Rangers Ballpark. He's never pitched particularly well there----link----and even with his rep as the Stone Cold Killer and success in the bandbox in Philadelphia, it's not something to ignore based on recent greatness.

You can chalk up his bad first start to the overwhelming 36 hours he'd just spent expecting to be a Yankee and then winding up in Texas, but the numbers are what they are and have to be looked at before thinking he's automatically going to do well where other pitchers have failed.

Ah, Joba...Joba, Joba, Joba.2010BaseballGuideCover.gif

There, there.

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Joe said...

Ubaldo Jimenez? Josh Johnson and maybe even Halladay have been better.

She-Fan said...

You're right about Joba - he's only 24 and has never really been given the time and innings he needs. And his meteoric rise in 2007 probably hurt him in terms of expectations. I don't know what to say about him at this point except that I cringe when he comes in with a one run lead.

Jeff said...

Hard for me to feel sorry for Joba -- considering how much of a child he is -- but I agree that the NY media machine has been a bit harsh.

I'm super charged for the Rangers. I really hope they go to the playoffs. Their fans are great folks that deserve some good news after all these years.