Cliff Lee Signs With the Phillies, Leaves Yankees, Rangers Searching for Answers

December 14, 2010

Well, it is finally official.

As I predicted on my nightly radio show from Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, Cliff Lee is signed, sealed and delivered to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Including all option years, Lee was offered a total of $148 million by the New York Yankees and $161 million by the Texas Rangers. Surprisingly, the Rangers offered MORE total dollars than the almighty Yankees.

And Ruben Amaro, GM of the Phillies, is a virtual master salesman.

The Rangers brass must be devastated, while the Yankees brass (likely disappointed) are probably hard at work working the phones to try and get a veteran pitcher.

And Ruben Amaro is a genius.

How can he obtain Cliff Lee, then Roy Halladay, then Roy Oswalt and now Cliff Lee again?

And despite making three major trades for three No. 1 type starters, he still has tons of pitching talent in their minor league system with Vance Worley, Jarrod Cosart and Brody Colvin.

Not that they will need these guys any time soon, although Worley did pitch well in a brief callup in 2010. If the Phillies trade Joe Blanton, then Worley has inside tract into the No. 5 spot.

While I said that Amaro is a genius, he does make strange deals, but those deals are always when he attempts to resign his own players. Giving a three year extension to Blanton for $24 million was extremely idiotic.

Also, that extension for Ryan Howard was kind of weird, too.

When it comes to other teams guys he can work wonders.

After trading for Halladay last off season, Amaro signed the 2010 Cy Young winner to a below market extension.

Now he convinced Cliff Lee to take almost $50 million less to sign with the Phillies.

This is also not to say that Lee left all that money on the table. This new deal is supposedly for $120 million over five years with a option with easily attainable incentives.

That deal could be for $135 million or more. Plus, if his back issues hold up, Lee likely will be able to pitch after this current deal is over. That means he can make another $10-15 million.

So Lee really didn’t turn down the Yankees gazillion dollars because the Yankees didn’t even offer the most money plus Lee liked what he saw in Philadelphia when he spent half the season there in 2009.   

And now Lee gets to keep his scruffy beard.

If you want to blame Yankee GM Brian Cashman, go back to last years deadline when he refused to include Eduardo Nunez in the Cliff Lee deal with the Mariners. If Lee comes to New York last season, maybe Lee feels about his time in New York the way he felt about his time in Philadelphia.

The Phillies now possibly possess the best rotation in the National League, although the San Francisco rotation is pretty good, too. Plus they beat Halladay and Lee twice in the postseason this past year.

But the Phillies are not quite guaranteed to have a parade down Broad Street next fall. Except for the assumed Domonic Brown replacing Jayson Werth, the entire Phillies lineup is over 30 years old for 2011. Cole Hamels is the only starting pitcher under 30.

And injuries have really hit their middle infield with lower body issues to both Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, while Howard and Raul Ibanez have declined.

Plus, the lineup is extremely left handed and there is no Jayson Werth to balance out Howard, Utley and Ibanez.

I am not saying they are not going to be the favorites because they are. Everybody likes big names on paper but conveniently forget about age (except when it comes to Derek Jeter).

But funny things happen over a 162-game schedule where the game is played every day.  All players over 30 years old rarely make it through the entire season.

As I said in my piece last week from the Winter Meetings, the Phillies could try and trade Hamels for a right-handed bat and some prospects. He would bring back a boatload (especially with two seasons left of control), but after the Lee trade t Seattle fiasco last year, I don’t see Amaro making that type of mistake again.

At least until next offseason. Could the Yankees be interested?

The Phillies did not get anything of current worth back in the Lee trade last season, and now give up their first round pick to the Rangers in a very deep draft. Not a problem now, but maybe down the road.

While the Phillies shocked the baseball world early Tuesday AM, they still have lots of issues.

Can Ruben Amaro work his genius again before Spring Training?

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Arizona Fall League: Pitcher Reports on Those Who Could Make an Impact in 2011

November 30, 2010

About two weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the position players I viewed as making an impact in the major leagues, many as soon as the 2011 season.

This report is about the many pitchers I saw in the Arizona Fall League, which I attended for the first time in early November. I highly recommend talking in a week or so in the future out there watching great baseball played by rising stars in perfect weather.

That might be the trifecta.

Most of the time out in the AFL, the pitchers are sent to increase their innings, work on certain pitches or see what they can do against better competition. Some organizations use the AFL to assess whether certain pitchers are worthy of Rule 5 protection by adding them to the 40-man roster.

As a rule, the AFL teams carry about 18-20 pitchers, but only seven are active on any one day. That is the one reason why the Phoenix Desert Dogs and manager Don Mattingly had to stop their game early in late October. Also, the starters rarely go longer than four innings, so relievers dominate the rosters.

There were very few impressive starting pitchers in the AFL this season. I only had an opportunity to see Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Mike Montgomery once (in the Rising Stars) game, getting him on a bad effort. I did not see Danny Duffy or Casey Kelly at all.

STARTING PITCHERS

1) Manuel Banuelos—You already know how I feel about ManBan. Good fastball touching 95, plus change-up, a pretty good curve, which he can throw to both sides of the plate and outstanding mound demeanor. He can be a top of the rotation guy and is still only 19 years old.

2) Mike Montgomery—As I mentioned earlier, I only saw Montgomery once and that was in the Rising Stars game. He started the game (opposite Banuelos) and was a little nervous, showing very little command of his fastball (which hit 96) or change up (81-82), bouncing a few but not with any swings and misses. He also hung a few curves, which weren’t tight. He has a smooth delivery and a good frame, standing a lanky 6’5″. Like Banuelos, he isn’t afraid to throw back-to-back change-ups or start hitters off with off-speed pitches.

He had some elbow issues this year but his dominating performance in the Pan Am games and his high velocity AFL appearances have lessened any injury worries. Montgomery obviously is much better than he showed in the Rising Stars game, but I would like to see better consistency in his off speed pitches.

I also feel his stride could be lengthened to develop even more velocity but would not affect his overall delivery.

3) Alex Cobb—The Rays are taking their usual one level at a time approach with Cobb (like they did with Jeremy Hellickson), and he was out in the AFL to boost his innings. I saw him versus the Phoenix Desert Dogs (PDD), and he did well but against an inferior Desert Dogs lineup, clearly the worst in the AFL. He was behind the count on many occasions but then overpowered the weak lineup.

Cobb was hitting low-to-mid 90s repeatedly with a good change-up, but all over the place with his fastball. His walk rates in his career are OK, but his command needs to be there in order for him to succeed. Will start in Triple A Durham but has no shot at the majors in 2011, based primarily on organizational philosophy.

4) Josh Collmenter—Accurately nicknamed “Iron Mike” because of his straight over-the-top delivery. I saw him pitch this game, also against the PDD, and he was dominant.

His fastball was never above 90, but generated lots of swings and misses, mostly on high fastballs. He has that deceiving delivery in which he hides the ball well, then before a hitter realizes, the ball is on top of him.

Collmenter literally tilts his upper body and throws straight over the top. Many of his swinging strikes were on high fastballs out of the zone, but appear to be strikes coming out of his delivery. He had a curve ball with good downward break, and he was able to throw it for consistent strikes. He was also not afraid to throw it behind in the count or as a first pitch offering.

Collmenter utilizes what I call “reverse sequencing” pitching. That is getting ahead with soft stuff and, when the hitter has two strikes and looking for junk, gets a moderate fastball blown by him. This method is better utilized by pitchers who do not throw hard.

While he will not be a top guy in any rotation, Collmenter will get his shot sometime this season in Arizona. After his AFL performance, he was placed upon the team’s 40-man roster.

5) Eric Hurley—After missing all of 2009 and 2010 with shoulder (labrum) surgery, this former major leaguer threw his first meaningful pitch in two seasons out in the AFL. He much sharper later in the AFL, showing good arm strength and said he had no fears about going all out.

If the Rangers do not re-sign Cliff Lee, Hurley has an opportunity to make the Rangers staff this season.

RELIEF PITCHERS

1) Brad Brach—I am very partial to this kid because he is a local Jersey Shore product. He has exceptional numbers during his career, including a great 2010 campaign in the heavy hitting High-A California League where he recorded 41 saves to go along with a stellar 2.47 ERA. He continued his dominance in the AFL with a 2.87 ERA and .873 WHIP.

He only allowed a base runner in five of his 11 AFL appearances, and although he did not strike out many, he showed pitches which moved and commanded well. During the Rising Stars game, he allowed a runner to reach third base on a two base error and a wild pitch.

Brach proceeded to get two strikeouts sandwiched around a weak ground ball to short and got out of the inning.

Brach throws a sinking 91-92 MPH fastball with good movement and located the ball well on both edges of the plate, often coming inside to lefties. His slider is a true out pitch and is rarely hit hard. He throws strikes with a career SO/BB ratio of 7.00. But he does throw across his body some which could lead to arm issues down the line.

Although Brach is more of a fly ball pitcher, it has yet to haunt him (career 7 HRs allowed, 6 in the Cal League) and should play well in spacious Petco Park.

I can see him (who will be 25 next season) starting in Double A but getting some time in San Diego late this season if he continues performing.

2) Jeremy Jeffress—Everybody was buzzing about Jeffress hitting 101 on the gun in the Rising Stars game, but he also threw 21 pitches that inning, only 10 for strikes. Although this sounds bad, his command in the AFL was much better than when I saw Jeffress back in July in the Florida State League.

There he showed the power FB (up to 97), but as I wrote back then in my notes, “can’t locate to save his life.” Reminded me of Daniel Cabrera without the height.

In the AFL however, Jeffress dropped in some hearty breaking balls for strikes, and if he can continue to throw the curve for strikes with upper 90s heat, he may have a shot to stay in the majors. Personally, I never want guys who can’t locate pitches, but with an arm like that and an effortless delivery, Jeffress will always be given tons of opportunities.

However, give me a guy with less “stuff” but with command and ability to pitch any day.

3) Chris Carpenter—Showed great velocity and command of his fastball (hit 99-100 MPH) in rising Stars game, but overall walked almost a batter per inning out here. He has a career walk rate of 4.0 per 9 IP.

While working as a starter most of his pro career, Carpenter was relieving in the AFL. His change-up was not good, but his slider was devastating on several occasions and weak on others. However, like Jeffress, if he can not locate his fastball and get ahead in counts, the plus pitches do not matter much.

The Cubs say this guy will stay as a starter but with a hard fastball and two other average pitches, his future role is definitely as a reliever who can be given time in Chicago this season.

4) Craig Heyer—I wrote about Heyer in the AFL here. For an unknown reason, Heyer was left unprotected by the Yankees for the Rule 5 draft, and I anticipate him being selected by another organization. With the way Kevin Towers likes to build solid bullpens, I can’t see Heyer passing by Arizona. Heyer’s ground ball tendencies will play well in cozy Bank One Ballpark.

5) Ramon Delgado—This is my sleeper guy. Delgado is a complete strike throwing machine. Saw him in my first game out in the AFL, and he was first pitch strike all the time. He can throw any of his three pitches (FB, sinker, slider) for strikes and will throw them in any count.

But mainly Delgado is first pitch fastball at the knees come right at you type of guy. The first time I saw him pitch, he got through the inning in six pitches. Delgado is a quick worker (funny how that happens when you throw strikes) who throws from a low 3/4 slot and gets good ball movement. The movement is tough to “square up” for hitters.

Very similar to Heyer in that he also was left unprotected, but Delgado did get some work this season at Double A, where he posted a 1.10 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 16 IP.

This is a guy who is quietly efficient. He throws strikes with great career walk and strikeout rates while keeping the ball in the park. Who couldn’t use a pitcher like that in their bullpen?

I would also grab this guy in the Rule 5 next week. Look for the Texas Rangers (his AFL pitching coach Brad Holman loved him) to grab him if he lasts that long.

There were other pitchers who I saw and liked including starter Daniel Merklinger (Milwaukee)—good curve and change, also saw him in July in the FSL and was placed on the Brewers 40 man roster this month; Josh Zeid (Philadelphia)—nice fastball, slider combo, throws strikes; Josh Fields (Seattle) – throws heat but lacks command; Josh Lueke (Seattle)—good fastball and biting slider. However, teams with teeth (and big rocks) would need to overcome his background.


Cliff Lee, World Series 2010: How San Francisco Giants Took Lee in Game 1

October 28, 2010

Last night’s game was not the total shock many people think. I figured the San Francisco Giants would score a couple runs early against Lee, but was surprised the way they knocked him around.

The Giants pitchers also neutralized Mickey Mantle Jr, I mean, Josh Hamilton.

The Giants game plan with those two players were the key to winning Game 1. 

1) Cliff Lee vs. Giants Hitters

The key in getting to Cliff Lee is to be aggressive in the batters box. I have long discussed that on this site. Hitters cannot continue to take early strikes, get behind in the count and then have to react to any on of four different pitches he throws with two strikes.

Lee starts most hitters off with a fastball. He then mixes in cutters, curves and an occasional change up. He is also more likely to throw his curve ball with two strikes.  

And why not? It is harder to control that either the fastball or cutter and you do not have to throw it over the plate with two strikes, just get in low in the zone and you can be successful.

But the Giants are a very aggressive group of free swingers. They like to hack at lots of pitches early in the count, both in and out of the strike zone.

Against Lee, the Giants were aggressive, but mostly on pitches inside the strike zone, more specifically right over the middle of the plate.

They did not chase the high fastball. One of Lee’s important pitching traits is that he moves the ball around, changing the eye level of the hitters.

He works low and away, then up and in. He will throw the two-seamer or curve low, then throw a normal 91 MPH fastball up, many times out of the zone.  

But unlike the Yankees hitters, the Giants lineup did not chase the pitch up and out of the zone. The right-handed hitters also did not offer at the many pitches Lee threw just off the outside corner. That is why Lee probably threw very few changeups.

This forced Lee to work from behind in the count, and then have to come over the plate with his pedestrian fastball.

And that usually gets hit…and hit hard. While there were many hard hit balls, especially in that fifth inning, there were even more fat pitches which the Giants aggressively attacked yet fouled back.

Andres Torres, Juan Uribe and Cody Ross all missed fat fastballs over the middle. Lee threw too many pitches over the middle of the plate. The Giants hitters were also looking to hit the ball the other way, with right handed hitters hitting the ball to the right side.

That allows the ball to travel deeper and the hitter can see the ball longer. Going to right field hurts Lee’s pitching game plan. He thrives on teams like the Yankees who are looking to pull the ball, but the pesky Giants hurt him. Another reason why Lee likely threw very few changeups.

The Giants aggressive nature works well with pitchers who throw lots of strikes. That is why the Giants have beaten Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and now Cliff Lee in this postseason.

Watch for the Giants to continue to be aggressive on pitches in the zone, and their key to winning is to stay off the pitches out of the strike zone. Even Uribe took two pitches before hammering his three-run home run.

Credit the Giants hitting coach, Hensley Muelens, for putting together a good game plan for the hitters last night and will likely have another good one for tonight.

Tonight’s starter, C.J. Wilson, has one of the highest walk rates in the American League. The Giants will continue to be selectively aggressive.

2) Josh Hamilton vs. Giants pitchers

Right now Josh Hamilton has a long swing. He doesn’t have very quick hands and mostly swings with his arms. Does it have something to do with his rib injury from a month ago?

Since most teams pitch him away (like the Yankees always did in the ALCS), Hamilton continuously looks (and leans) out over the plate.

But the Giants pitches have worked Hamilton differently. They have thrown lots of off speed pitches away, but they also challenged Hamilton. 

And they challenged him inside where his long swing can not catch up even with a normal major league fastball.

In Hamilton’s first at bat, Tim Lincecum had to pitch to him with men on first and second.

But Lincecum got Hamilton to meekly ground out on pitches away.

Next time up, Lincecum jammed Hamilton on an 89 MPH fastball up and in.

Third time up, Hamilton was worked outside again and weakly grounded out back to Lincecum.

Fourth time up, Casilla blew an up and in fastball right by Hamilton then got him to fly out again on a fastball in.

The Giants pitchers got Hamilton out twice away and twice in, moving the ball around and not just trying to keep the ball away all the time.

Like the Yankees did, Joe Girardi worked scared against Hamilton. Most of the hard hit balls Hamilton had were on pitches out over the plate when the pitchers were constantly working away.

Look for Matt Cain tonight to continue to pound Hamilton inside with fastballs, but also showing him some stuff away for effect.

The Giants neutralized both of Texas‘ main weapons, Lee and Hamilton, and won big in Game 1. If they continue to play smart baseball and do the same things they did in Game 1, they will have an good time in Game 2.

Except for his high walk rate, C.J. Wilson is a similar type pitcher as Lee and can be approached the same way. Wait him out to come over the plate.

And the job of Cain and the able bodied bullpen is to bust Hamilton inside.

He can’t handle that pitch, and the Giants will continue to exploit it.


MLB Rumors: Texas Rangers or New York Yankees? Why Cliff Lee Ends Up In Texas

October 19, 2010

After last night’s performance, there is no way the Texas Rangers can let Cliff Lee walk as a free agent.

Even winning the World Series this season would not be worth it to the franchise if Lee walks, goes to a rival playoff team like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or even their division rival Los Angeles Angels*.

*I mean why not the Angels? They could sign Lee, then move the Dan Haren contract if they want. Then they would have a rotation of Lee, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joel Piniero and Scott Kazmir. I say they can move Haren because I do not believe anybody would take Kazmir, or Piniero. Both are free agents after this year anyway, so the Angels would save on those contracts in 2012.

I also think Lee would get a kick out of dominating a weak A.L. West many more seasons.

But the Angels probably can use a solid bat in the middle of the lineup rather than another arm.

But how would Texas feel if Lee signed with the Yankees, as is expected by almost everybody on the planet?

Terrible. Like the rest of baseball.

That would then make the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies the odds on favorites again next season to reach the World Series.

The Rangers need Lee to have the bonafide ace at the top of their rotation, and for him to keep working with C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, three more lefties in Texas.

It is not just Lee who does well when he is there. The other young pitchers also improve. Imagine Lee with another full season working with Wilson and now Holland?

With the combination of their current roster—plus one of the top minor league systems—if Lee stays, Texas will be tough to beat over the next five plus seasons.

But, as I said, most people believe that the Yankees are going to sign Lee. After what Lee has done over the last two post-seasons, it is a head scratcher if a team like the Yankees do not sign him.

They have the big market, the bigger money (they have many, many monies!) and good friends in CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett already on the roster. I even wrote a piece some time ago singing the virtues of such a marriage.

Now I firmly believe it will not happen Yankee fans.

One, Texas will want him back very badly. With their ownership situation stabilized and a new T.V. contract signed, they also have many, many monies.

And Lee being from Arkansas appears to fit in nicely with the other southern boys in Texas.

But another reason why Lee will not be in pinstripes next season is that the Yankees can’t afford him on a seven year, $160 million Sabathia type contract. How many nine figure contracts can one team have? Even if they are the Yankees?

The Yankees have $145 million already tied up for next year, add $40 million more for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and probably Andy Pettitte. Andy is not retiring, not after a game like he pitched last night. It is very tough to leave a game you played for so long, especially when the player is still performing at a high level.

And with the various arbitration cases of Phil Hughes, Joba and others, that is a lot of cash already spent. Plus Burnett’s contract is like an albatross around the Yankees luxury tax necks.

Adding another $20 million for seven more years of Lee pushes next years payroll to $205 million. Funny, but every time I saw Lee pumped his fist and smiling last night, I envisioned him counting higher and higher during winter negotiations.

And there could be lots of dead money for the Yankees next year, too.

What last night’s game solidified for me is that Alex Rodriguez can not play an adequate third base anymore.

He literally can not move to his left one foot to attempt to reach a ground ball in the hole. Several ground balls last night were not even hit that hard and got through there without Alex getting close.

Maybe that is one reason why Jeter seems to have limited range up the middle. He needs to compensate more to his right due to Alex’s limited range to his left. I did read this year that scouts have seen Jeter position himself in different spots this year, the first time all career he has done that.

Do not be surprised if Alex has more work done this off season on his surgically repaired right hip.

So if Alex has limited abilities in the field, he will need to be a DH sooner than expected, which limits his value for the money he receiving.

More somewhat dead money.

Too many older players on the roster already, more legendary Yankees to be signed this off season and too much dead weight money for Burnett and Rodriguez.

Doesn’t sound like it would be wise to add a 33-year-old pitcher to a $160 million contract guaranteed to age 40.

Brian Cashman is smarter than that and will try and work a trade for a younger, but still well established pitcher rather than try and sign Lee.

But rest assured, he will “remain in the bidding” to drive the price up for whoever lands Lee’s services.


New York Yankees: Looking to Do What the Tampa Bay Rays Could Not

October 18, 2010

Before the pennant races concluded, many people thought, and wrote, that the Yankees did not want to win the American League East because they did not want to to possibly face Cliff Lee twice in a five game series.

Once again, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

And the Yankees now have it.

They are in the same situation as the 2010 AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays were: Since they split the first two games in Arlington, they are now in a five game series against the Rangers.

And Cliff Lee is starting Game 1 and, if necessary, will start in Game 5.

Most Yankee fans thought they were getting a break when Lee had to pitch Game 5 in the ALDS and could not start Game 1 in Arlington.

I marvel at all the people who say that the Yankees should be happy that they got a split in Texas, “which is all they really needed, anyway.” Actually, the opposite is true.

When you win the first game on the road, nothing short of winning two should be acceptable.

It seems that Yankees fans (and many in the media) are already throwing in the towel in Game 3, assuming Lee will keep his masterful pitching performances going.

That may be the case, but it also can be far from the truth.

Lee has faced the Yankees three times this season, and is 2-0, 3.09 ERA. In the first game, Lee threw a complete game, allowing four runs while striking out only two hitters.

In his second start against New York, the Yankees rallied late, beating the Rangers in Texas. Although he struck out 11, Lee also gave up four runs this game. In his third start, Lee won 4-1, but walked three, his season high.

Twice in his three starts against the Yankees this year, Lee allowed four runs—so the Yankees have gotten to Lee this season. The issue in all three of those games this season was the Yankee starting pitching was atrocious.

Dustin Moseley, Javier Vazquez and Phil Hughes all were hit around by the opposition.

Even last year during the World Series, the Yankees lost twice to Lee, but after getting dominated in Game 1, they scored five runs off Lee in seven innings in his second start.

Again, by scoring five runs off Lee in Game 5 last year, they should have won the game, but A.J. Burnett was pretty bad that day.

I have all the confidence in Andy Pettitte tonight. The major league’s all-time winningest postseason pitcher is coming off a tremendous performance in the ALDS, but it was 11 days ago.

Unlike CC Sabathia, who has no command after longer rest, as he has gotten older, Pettitte is much better with longer rest between starts. Over the last three years, Andy is 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA on six-plus days rest, better than his overall numbers. 

Looks like a good pitching match-up to me, a game the Yankees can win. In Lee’s 28 starts this year, Lee has allowed four or more runs in 11 games. And in those games, the opposing team was not patient at the plate, working the count, but were aggressive early in the count.

Lee threw primarily fastballs the first time through the order in his two games in the ALDS. In Game 1 at Tampa Bay, he threw only fastballs in the first inning when the Rays loaded the bases.

At that point, the Rays stopped being aggressive and did not score.

If the Yankees are aggressive early, and look to attack the first pitch fastball, they can score runs. You can not “pitch count” Lee out of the game, but need to bang him around and knock him out.

If the Yankees get four runs off Lee, they will win tonight.

Be aggressive early and let Pettitte do his thing.


New York Yankees Comeback Reveals Rangers Manager Ron Washington’s Weaknesses

October 16, 2010

I am 100 percent confident that C.J. Wilson does NOT give up five runs in the eighth inning if Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington allows Wilson to stay in the game.

He gave up two runs on two hits in that inning, and was pulled in favor of Darren Oliver following a Derek Jeter RBI double.

But the Yankees would probably have only scored those two runs (or maybe just the one already in) had Texas manager Ron Washington avoided being like Bobby Cox and Bruce Bochy.

When you try to over-manage based upon matchups, you end up losing most of the time, like Bochy and Cox in the NLDS and now Washington in Game 1 of the ALCS.

I have to give oodles of credit to YES announcer and ESPN radio host Michael Kay, who has constantly said that Joe Girardi will out-manage Washington. Girardi has proved Kay to be prophetic.  

Girardi made a good move by using Joba Chamberlain in the fifth inning, but I applaud Girardi for throwing a nice changeup and bringing in Dustin Moseley for the sixth and seventh innings.

I am not a big Moseley fan (in fact he stinks), but bringing him in after Joba was throwing 95-96 MPH heaters was a stroke of genius.

The Rangers hitters were completely off-balance on Moseley’s 89 MPH fastballs (acting like a change to Joba’s and C.C.’s heat) and were more off-balance when Moseley threw his rinky-dink high 70’s breaking pitches.

Dustin’s two-inning scoreless effort allowed that Yankee comeback to occur. Sandwiching him between two fireballers in Joba and Kerry Wood made Moseley more effective and probably made Wood’s fastball appear even quicker.

Most people are saying that Washington did not use his hard-throwing closer Neftali Feliz in that eighth inning. That is a valid point once the decision to remove Wilson was made.

But why did Washington remove Wilson in the first place? Don’t give me that bull about pitch counts, matchups, that Wilson was finished or “you want to remove him with a lead and feeling good.” Total garbage.  

There are no pitch counts in the postseason. As NFL head coach Herman Edwards has said, “You play to win the game.” Wilson was dealing very well at that point.

He gave the Rangers the best chance to win at that moment, certainly better than Darren Oliver or Clay Rapada. No need to remove Wilson. He allowed a weak ground ball single to Brett Gardner and then a hard double to Jeter.

The end of the world? Hardly. Lose with your best on the mound, not with your middle relievers. The best at that point was Wilson.

When Alex Rodriguez came up with the bases loaded in that inning, TBS commentator  Ernie Johnson said that Alex was “0-for-3 with two strikeouts.” That was against Wilson, and Rodriguez had not even come close to catching up with Wilson’s fastballs.

Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira had not done much of anything off Wilson either.

At that point in the game, the Yankee two (Swisher), three (Teixeira) and four (A-Rod) hitters were 0-for-9 with three strikeouts.

So why the need to take out your starting pitcher when he has dominated all game long?

I was watching Game 3 of the NLDS between the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants. Jonathan Sanchez was on the hill in the eighth inning (that fateful inning again) for the Giants, winning 2-1. With one out and a man on first, he had dominated a very weak Braves lineup.

Cox brought in right-handed hitting Troy Glaus to hit for lefty-hitting Rick Ankiel against the lefty Sanchez. Bochy went to his bullpen for RHP Sergio Romo.

Again. Why? I texted about a dozen people at that time saying how terrible a move that was. Sanchez had dominated up to that point, so why remove him? After the pitching change, Eric Hinske pinch hit for Glaus and powered a go ahead, two-run home run.

Bochy is lucky that Cox was even more idiotic in the top of the ninth, and the Yankees are lucky that Washington is more of an idiot than either two of those N.L. managers.   

From the seventh inning on, why do managers feel the need to remove starting pitchers after one hitter hits the ball hard?

But since Wilson WAS removed by the inept Texas manager, why not bring Feliz into the game? Your best pitchers need to be in the game late, not Oliver and Rapada.

Rapada was added to the ALCS roster for this series to face lefties like Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, but Rapada had not pitched in a REAL GAME against REAL HITTERS since Oct. 2.

This is a little known secret. Throwing more bullpens between appearances to stay “sharp” is of very little benefit when facing guys with bats in their hand.

To put Rapada in last night’s game on national TV to face Cano, who hits left-handers just as well as right-handed pitchers, is akin to pulling the switch on an execution.

I prefer the dominating starting pitch to remain, but if you want to bring in your top reliever, that is less of a quibble.

In Game 1 of the 1972 World Series (a day game by the way), Oakland A’s manager Dick Williams brought in his best relief pitcher, Rollie Fingers, in the SIXTH inning with no outs and the tying run on second. Fingers stranded Johnny Bench at second and the A’s won.

Williams also brought Fingers in the FIFTH inning of Game 5 that series. Fingers shut the door early before allowing the tying run in his THIRD inning of work that day. That thrilling game was the last weekday day game played in World Series history.

Once the decision was made to remove Wilson, Washington managed last night’s game based upon the save statistic and not to win the game.

Often times during important games, the big inning is not the ninth inning, but an inning earlier in the game when men are on base and a potential game-tying rally is forming.

If the manager wants to make a move, that is when your best relief pitcher should be brought in the game. However, I wouldn’t have made the move.

Washington managed that game not to lose, but he ended up getting what he deserved.

A well-earned loss.


Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays Game 5: Price vs. Lee, Battle of the Aces

October 12, 2010

Tonight’s Game 5 final game of the ALDS is also the battle of each teams bona fide aces. Oh, and by the way, according to MLB.com, tickets are still available.

This is the first time since the 2003 ALCS between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox when each teams aces were starting a final game of a postseason series. Pedro started that great game—a game I was at by the way—going up against Roger Clemens.

That game made Aaron Boone a hero.

Interestingly, the Red Sox had one of these games in the 2003 ALDS Game 5 when Pedro also faced off against Barry Zito.  

In 2001, the Game 7 matchup also pitted Clemens who went up against Curt Schilling.

All three of those games turned out to be classics.

Before the massive changes in regards of starting pitchers, this Game 7-type matchup would happen quite often.

David Price won 19 games with a 2.72 ERA this season and is one of the leading candidates for the American League Cy Young Award.

Cliff Lee was acquired by the Rangers for this exact moment. I wrote back in July that the Rangers would be the team to beat based upon their lineup strength and the acquisition of Lee.

I felt that C.J. Wilson was pretty good, and the young Tommy Hunter would be improve enough to be tough to beat come October.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Kudos there to a huge baseball fan. This was one of the great hits back when I was a young teen.

Anyway, both teams are in a position they would have paid dearly for back about a month ago.

In Game 1, Price was victimized by lack of command of his primary pitch, the fastball. It was all over the place, mostly right over the middle of the plate.

But never on the corners where he pinpointed control was mostly evident during the regular season. Not in regards to walks, but in the way hit attacked the edges.

Nor was his high fastball thrown out of the zone where hitters usually chase that pitch.

Most major league players can hit the mid-to-high 90’s fastball, including Price’s if it is over the plate. Price threw fastballs 80 percent of the time in Game 1, too many to a really good fastball hitting team.

To be effective tonight, Price has to get a feel for his fastball. If he can locate and get swings and misses plus some weakly hit balls, he can stay with that pitch at 80 percent. But if he is not locating, he must mix in his slider more often just to show that pitch.

Lee was good in Game 1, throwing his usual high percentage of strikes at 73 percent. And of course, he did not walk anybody.

Many of the times which Lee was hit hard over the season, lineups would approach him by attacking the first pitch strikes thrown their way. They knew that if if they got behind by “working the count” to such a control artist, they has no chance versus his array of changes and curve balls.

I wrote about this a few months ago, too. You can not always take pitches early against Lee.

You need to attack early on his first pitch fastball. But in Game 1, the Rays were more tentative then they were back on May 5 or August 16. During both games, the Rays scored their runs when they attacked Lee early in the count, especially when men in scoring position.

But in Game 1, the Rays were taking pitches early and it cost them, especially in that first inning when they left the bases loaded.  

As I said earlier, both teams want their aces on the hill with a chance to win a postseason series.

But the big controversy was when Rays manager Joe Maddon entrusted the “crucial” Game 2 to his A.J. Burnett clone, the inconsistent James Shields.

First off, in a five-game series, heck even a seven-game series, ALL GAMES ARE CRUCIAL. It did not matter if Shields threw in Game 1, 2, 3 or 4.

The important thing is that Shields actually was pitching, so Game 2 was not an issue. It is funny that I read lots of “Matt Garza came through big” articles after he “saved” the Rays in Game 3.

Either way Maddon set up his top three rotation, and based upon how everyone pitched, the Rays were going to be down 1-2 after three games anyway. Doesn’t matter if Garza pitches great in Game 2 or Game 3.

It was idiotic why there was so much talk about Maddon going with Shields in Game 2. They all were going to throw anyway, so why not have Garza available for a really crucial Game 3. The important game whether the series was even or the Rays were up two or down two.

Maddon threw Shields in Game 2 because he was a better than a full run at home this season than he was on the road. His HR and strikeout rates were also much better in the Trop than on the road.

Maddon also probably did not want to throw his two power guys in Price and Garza back-to-back but instead wanted to intercede his change-up, off speed guy. And don’t even talk about the second-year guy Wade Davis. He was never going to get a start ahead of Shields.

Imagine if the fly ball pitcher Shields was to pitch in the homer haven, Ballpark at Arlington? We still might be in the middle of that third game.

I have also heard many whiners crying about how they want the Rays to win, so the Yankees do not have to face Lee.

Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it. The Rays have come back to win two games on the road and are a very formidable team. Just because Shields has not thrown well lately does not mean that he can’t throw well against the Yankees.

He already has this year, at home in Tampa.

And either way, the other teams ace will not be able to throw three times in the ALCS, and will likely throw Games 3 and 7. And at that sequence, they might not even get the chance to make their second start.

So both managers want this spot in Game 5 with their aces on the mound.

Price needs to locate his fastball better, mix in his off speed stuff if he needs to and be left in the game if he is dominating. And the Rays must attack Lee early in the count to have a chance to win.

It has worked before and will work again tonight.