19 May 2007

Running Subway Series Blog: Yankees @ Mets, Game Two

This has been a weird year (or at least a weird month and a half) for the New York Yankees, so it seems only fitting that the first Interleague matchups between the Yanks and their cross-town rivals, the Mets, should be a little left of center as well.

After last night's pitching duel, a 3-2 win by the Mets, today's game looks like it's going to be a long one, with plenty of runs for both teams, perhaps.

First Inning: Tom Glavine and his 294 career wins in the major leagues toed the rubber against the Yankees in the first, but he has not looked sharp at all today. He walked Johnny Damon on five pitches to start the game (and to be fair, the one strike he got was a gift) and gave up a single to left to Hideki Matsui. In between those, he struck out Derek Jeter, but again, on some very questionable pitches. Jeter had been hitting .360 with two homers in 25 career at-bats against Glavine, so hopefully that was just a fluke.

Glavine then walked Alex Rodriguez as well, not a wise move given that A-Rod's been hitting only .242 with one homer in the month of May. Jorge Posada, surprisingly leading the American League with a .370 batting average as he entered the game, managed to drive in the game's first run on a fielder's choice to short. Bobby Abreu, hitting a dismal .211/.219/.296, with a sub-Neifi .515 OPS in May, flied out to end the threat.

Yankees starter Darrel Rasner cranked one all the way up to 84 (Jamie Moyer, eat your heart out) before he left the game in the first inning. Rasner was hit by a batted ball, off the bat of Endy Chavez, which broke his right index finger and ended his day. Broken fingers usually take 4-6 weeks to heal, so we wn't likely see him before July. For the second time in two weeks, the Yankees have called on LOOGY Mike Myers for long relief. (On May 4th, he made the longest appearance of his major league career, allowing one run in four innings of relief in that 15-11 slugfest against Seattle.)

Unfortunately, Mike Myers hasn't been much relief. In the first inning, with two on and nobody out, he gave up a sac fly to Carlos Beltran, no great sin there, and then struck out Carlos Delgado, exactly what a lefty specialist is supposed to do. But then he gave up a homer to 3B David Wright, making it 3-1, before getting Shawn Green to ground out to second. Unfortunately, Green was safe at first when Robinson Cano botched the grounder, throwing wide of first. Nevertheless, Myers got Paul LoDuca to fly out to right to end the inning.

Second inning: FOX is broadcasting, and they have a reputation for inflating thair radar gun readings to make the game more exciting, but if they’re doing that toda, you ca’t tell. Glavine hasn’t thrown a pitch above 81 mph through the second inning (as I’m writing this).

Cano did his best to appease the baseball gods for his defensive miscue by hitting Glavine’s first offering (a hanging curve) into the right field seats, making it 3-2. Glavine probably won’t be throwing many more curveballs.

Josh Phelps then singled, but was thrown out at second on a fielder’s choice when Myers (with one previous career at-bat, way back in 1999) tried to choke up and push one through the brought-in infield. Can’t blame him for trying.

Damon then singled, and Myers got to third when Jeter grounded to third base and Wright threw Damon out at second. But first and third with two outs was as close as the Yanks would get in the second. Matsui could not replicate hs success against Glavine in the first, and despite being 6 for 8 against Glavine in his career before that, he grounded out to first. Three grounders in the inning. I guess however fast he’s throwing, Glavine’s keeping the ball down.

In the Mets’ half of the second, Damian “You Know it Don’t Come” Easley singled and got pushed tosecond on a Glavine sacrifice. (Interesting sidenote: Tim McCarver pointed out that Glavine has more sacrifices than anyone in history. He was wrong of course, but then first, seventy ninth…who’s counting, right?)

Jose Reyes then reached on an error, Cano’s second of the game, and stole second (again) and wnet to third when Endy Chavez singled (again), scoring Easley. Fortunately, Jorge Posada nailed Chavez trying to steal second, and Myers got Beltran to fly out to deep left. Mets 4, Yankees 2.

Third Inning: Nothing doing for the Yankees, three up, three down, though Posada did get a single in the middle there. Abreu, not content to make only one out per plate appearance, made sure to ground into a double play this time up. Apparently Glavine doesn’t need to be able to throw harder than 81 mph, at least not to get the Yankees out.

Myers could do nithing right in the bottom of the third inning, allowing a leadoff single to Delgado, another homer to Wright, and a walk to Shawn Green. Green’s had something of a resurgence this year, hitting .324/.383/.514 coming into the game, after seeing his annual stats in those areas dropping for several years in a row. Of course, this is only six weeks worth of baseball we’re talking here, and just like I don’t think Abreu will keep hitting .230 all season, I don’t think Green will hit .320 all season either. In any case, hard-throwing righty Luis Vizcaino came in to relieve Myers, and got three straight outs to end the third.

Cano messed up a double play ball, which doesn’t show up in the boxscore because “you’re not allowed to anticipate the double play” (an archaic old rule that should have been changed years ago), but it was his third defensive screw up in three innings. Mets 6, Yankees 2.

Fourth Inning: Cano, again trying to make up for his error, singled to start the nnin, but was quickly erased on a DP grounder by Phelps. Luis Vizcaino, like Myers, with only on previous career at-bat in the majors, struck out to end the inning.

Back on the mound, Vizcaino managed to contain the Mets’ supposedly greatest threat by getting Jose Reyes to pop up, but then he surrendered the third hit of the game to Chavez, a single to Beltran, and an RBI double to Delgado. Wright was then intentionally walked (at least he didn’t hit his third homer of the game), setting up a force play at every base and potentially a double play. However, Green’s grounder to second (no error by Cano this time) led to only one out, which meant that Beltran scored. Fortunately, Luis got Paul LoDuca to ground to short and end the fourth. Mets 8, Yankees 2.

Fifth Inning: Glavine’s medium-ball continues to mow the Yankees batters down. Damon and Jeter grounded out to Glavine and Wright, respectively. Matsui hit one kinda hard, but right at Jose Reyes, who doesn’t seem to have the same aversion to catching baseballs that Cano does.

To start the Mets’ half of the fifth inning, the Yankees brought in Bergenfield’s Ron Villone, and the Jersey Lefty wasted no time in showing up his comrades in the bullpen. He got Easley, Glavine and Reyes to ground out to Second, short and third, respectively. Since there aren’t any other players on that side of the infield, I expect he’ll start by inducing a grounder to first in the next inning. Mets 8, Yankees 2.

Sixth Inning: A-Rod pops up, but then Posada and Abreu both single to give the Yanks two men on with only one out. Have no fear, Robby’s here! Cano grounds into a double play to end the top of the first. On the plus side, Abreu’s single was a clean, hard shot pulled through the right side, and may be a sign that he’s feeling a little better at the plate. He ad hit only .224 against Glavine in 67 career at-bats entering the game, so 1-for-3 is an improvement.

With their turns, it looked like the Mets might get to Villone like they got to Myers and Vizcaino, but in the end, Bergenfield’s Pride held his own. An automatic double (NOT a ground rule double, as Joe Buck called it) by Endy Chavez gave him the first four-hit game of his career, but a pop-up by Beltran and a fly-out by Delgado put a damper on that. David Wright was then walked intentionally for the second time in the game, and Villone got Shawn Green to line out. So I was wrong about Villone starting the sixth with a grounder t first, but I was righ that Green’s hot streak wouldn’t keep up. So there. Mets 8, Yankees 2.

Seventh Inning: Glavine comes out to start the seventh with almost 100 pitches already thrown, but he would throw only six more before leaving. Phelps reached on an infield single, and the Mets’ manager Willie RAndolph pulled a double switch, putting Chris Gomez in right field and substituting Scott Schoenweis for Glavine. Apparently the soft-tossing lefty thing was working pretty well, so they figured they’d stick with it. No secret to Glavine’s success: he leaves with a 13-3 ground ball/fly ball out ratio.

Schoenweis looks as good as Glavine had been, at first anyway, getting Doug Mientkiewicz (pinch-hitting for Villone) and Johnny Damon to ground out, but each of them moved Phelps up in the process. Derek Jeter, only 5-for-21 against Schoenweis in his career before today, singled to center, scoring Phelps, and getting the Yanks their first run since Cano’s leadoff homer in the second. Hideki Matsui hit another one hard, but right at a Mets infielder, this time David Wright, to end the top half of the seventh.

The Mets, who could do little with finesse lefty Ron Villone’s ifferings for two innings, found that they could do even less with he hard righty cheese in Brian Bruney’s arsenal. Bruney got LoDuca to fly out to center, then struck out Easley. He then walked Chris Gomez, but struck out Reyes to end the seventh. Mets 8, Yankees 3.

Eighth Inning: Whatever Schoenweis had in the sixth, he must have left it there, as Alex Rodriguez homered to deep left to lead off the inning, and then Jorge Posada hit one out to right center, an opposite field shot against the lefty pitcher. That was A-Rod’s first homer since May 8th, and only his second since April 23rd, a two-homer game against Tampa that tied him for the most April homers of anyone in history. Hopefully that means he’s feeling his oats at the plate a little more, too.

After walking Bobby Abreu, Schoenweis was relieved by lefty Pedro Feliciano. Pedro immediately demonstrated how he’s held lefties to a miniscule .205 batting average from 2004-06, getting Cano to ground out, though he did advance Abreu to second. Josh Phelps, a righty, got his third hit of the game, a double to left center, scoring Abreu. For reasons I do not understand, Joe Torre then pinch hit for Brian Bruney with Jason Giambi, who hit only .243 against lefties from 2004-06, and only .147 overall this month. That’s right: One-forty-seven.

Meanwhile, Miguel Cairo and Melky Cabrera, both of whom can hit right handed and neither of whom strikes out much, sat on the bench. Not surprisingly, Giambi grounded oout to the shifted-over firstbaseman, moving Phelps over to third. Feliciano then walked Johnny Damon, but reliever Aaron Heilmann got His Clutchness to ground out to end the inning. Nevertheless, some damage had been done, and the Yankees were within striking distance again. Mets 8, Yankees 6. But not for long…

Since Jason Giambi can’t even hit, much less pitch, Torre called upon Kyle Farnsworth to start the bottom of the eighth inning on the mound. Farnsworth, to his credit, did everything he could, but didn’t get much help. He got Endy Chavez to ground out to himself, the first Yankee pitcher to retire that pesky Met all day, but then he walked Carlos Beltran. He did get the other Carlos (Delgado) to ground out to second, which moved Beltran up a base. He then issued the third consecutive intentional walk to David Wright, which put things in place to get a double play, if possible, but the Mets executed a double steal to take that away. Then, with 239-year old Julio Franco pinch hitting for Heilmann, Cano made his third error of the day. Cano dove for a grounder to his right, but rather than holding onto the ball when he didn’t have a play, he tried to throw it while on his backside in the outfield grass, and it ricoheted off his right foot into right field, allowing both Beltran and Wright to score. Farnsworth then struck out LoDuca to end the inning, but not before the Yanks found themselves in a four-run hole once again. Mets 10, Yankees 6. But not for long…

Top of the Ninth: The Mets bring in Billy Wagner to pitch the ninth, despite the four-run lead and non-save situation. Just to give us Yankee fans a false sense of hope, McCarver and Buck remind us of Wagner’s melt-down last year when he came in to protect a four-run lead in the ninth against the Yankees and allowed the Yankees to tie the game.

That didn’t hapen today.

Hideki Matsui swung at the first pitch and flied out to center, but then A-Rod and Posada hit consecutive singles. Abreu grounded back to Wagner, which should have been the second out, but Billy made an ill-advised throw to home and it went wide, allowing A-Rod to score, Mets 10, Yanks 7.

First and third, only one out, and Robby Cano with a chance to redeem all those errors with one swing of the bat, right? Two words: Robby Canope. Strike three, sit down Robby. And take some extra infield practice tomorrow, too, will you?

Last and finally, Josh Phelps, who had gone 3-for-4 up to this point, struck out to end the game. At least he went down swinging.

Give credit to the Yankees for not giving up, even as yet another starting pitcher went down with an injury. They battled back and got to the Mets’ bullpen, giving themselves a chance to win, but Cano’s three errors, even though they didn’t directly lead to unearned runs, definitely had an impact on the game, and forced the pitchers frequently to get four or more outs in an inning, which isn’t particularly fair.

Tomorrow is Tyler Clippard’s major league debut, so don’t hold your breath about eeking one out and avoiding the sweep.

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13 May 2007

Game Review: Grand Slam Trivia - Yankees & Red Sox Editions

Grand Slam Trivia: Yankees and Red Sox Editions
Snap TV Games, Inc.
$24.95/each ($19.99 from Amazon)

Snap TV Games would like you to know about their new Yankees and Red Sox Editions of their Grand Slam Trivia games, available on DVD. I was able to review one of each of these editions in my home, and thought my readers might be interested to know about them.

Packaging: Each game is a DVD that comes in a normal-sized DVD case, and that comes within a board-game sized box. It's a bit more packaging than you probably need, but since you're buying it through the mail, it's probably just as well, to make sure the disc doesn't get damaged in transit. The packaging itself does look very nice, though, with slick looking graphics and Yankees or Red Sox insignias emblazoned on the box, the DVD case and the disc itself. There's nothing else in the box at all. No board, no instructions, no small pieces to lose. Just air, which means there's no reason to keep the box and packaging other than the DVD case afterthe first time you open it. Make sure you remember to recycle, kiddies.

Game Setup: Nice and easy. (New Yawk Translation: Fugghedaboudit!) You put the disc in the DVD player, it boots up and you can start playing right away (the "Grand Slam Trivia" option). The game also has an option for practice (the "Batting Cage"), and of course for the Rules, but nowhere are there any printed instructions to read, which means that the other players don't have to sit through listening to you reading the tedious list of rules, and you don't have to get annoyed if they don't listen. This was a particular bonus for me, as I hate it when people don't pay attentio...HEY! WAKE UP!!

Learn how to play the games, and whether you'll even want to, at The Bronx Block on MVN.com...

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10 May 2007

Don't Look Now...but Here Come the Yankees

On Thursday, April 19th, the Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians, 8-6, which raised the team's season record to, believe it or not, 8-6. A-Rod had hit his second, 2-out, 9th-inning, walk-off homer in less than two weeks. The Yankees had the best offense in baseball, and in Alex Rodriguez, perhaps best player in baseball having possibly the best month anyone had ever seen.

And then the wheels came off.

Sure, A-Rod, and the yankees, continued to hit, but both the starting pitching and the bullpen fell completely apart, and the Yanks lost seven straight, their longest losing streak since Y2K, when they lost their last seven games in a row.

The first series against Boston was a disaster. First, Andy Pettitte's solid performance was squandered when Mariano Rivera decided to remind us all that he is, in fact, only human, by blowing the game in the ninth. Then rookie Jeff Karstens reminded us that he simply doesn't belong in the major leagues, surrendering 7 runs in 4.1 innings. Then, not to be outdone, rookie Chase Wright made an indelible mark on the collective Yankee Fan Psyche by surrendering four straight homers, which, as you'll recall, got Chase Wright chased right back to Double-A Trenton.

Rookie Kei Igawa, just days after his first major league win, suffered his first major league loss, to the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays no less, giving up a Karstens-esque seven runs in 4.1 innings. Chien-Ming Wang, not as sharp as usual coming back from a hamstring injury, lost the next game, and then highly touted prospect Phil Hughes, in his first major league start, lasted only 4.1 innings himself, though in his case it was more because he hit his 90-pitch limit than because of the four runs he allowed. Unfortunately for him, the Yankee batters decided to take the night off, and the Bronx Bombers were unable to do anything with A.J. Burnett's 97-mph gas. The Yankees were shut out for the first time all year.

Finally, in the last game of the streak, Pettitte proved unable to repeat his performance of a week earlier, allowing five runs in less than five innings of work against Boston. Red Sox rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka was not terribly sharp either, allowing four runs in six, but the Yankee bullpen, especially the increasingly mortal-looking Mariano Rivera, gave up six runs in four innings to put the game well out of reach. That dropped the Yankees' record to 8-13, 6.5 games in back of Boston in the AL East, and set the New York sportswriters and radio talk show hosts into Panic Mode. Phil Hughes was going to be brought up ahead of schedule! George Steinbrenner was freaking out! Joe Torre was going to be fired! Carl Pavano was on the DL!!! (OK, so that part was business as usual.) Human sacrifice, cats and dogs, living together...MASS HYSTERIA!!!

Except that then a funny thing happened: The Yankees started winning again.

Maybe you haven't heard about it, but the Yanks have managed to stem the losing tide and have actually won eight of their last eleven games. And this, despite injuries to Karstens (broken leg, six weeks or more) and Phil Hughes (pulled hamstring, about 4 weeks) and the recent demotion of Kei Igawa to Single-A Tampa to work on his mechanics. Last week, Phil Hughes reeled off 6.1 no-hit innings before his hamstring accomplished what the Rangers' bats could not: getting him out of the game. Pettitte rebounded nicely the day after, and Mike Mussina pitched well in his first start since coming off the DL with a hamstring injury of his own. After an ugly loss to Seattle on Frriday night, Chien-Ming Wang flirted with immortality, pitching 7.1 perfect innings before surrendering a homer to Ben Broussard, and picked up his first win of the year. The next day, rookie Darrel Rasner helped to shut out the Mariners for his first win of the year.

A shocking loss followed on Monday when Mr. Automatic squandered Matt DeSalvo's impressive major league debut by giving up a game-winning homer to the struggling Adrian Beltre. Nevertheless, Mike Mussina (who's usually excellent against Texas) and Andy Pettitte (who's usually not), helped keep the Yankees' 2007 record against the Rangers perfect by beating them on Wednesday and Tuesday, respectively. Pettitte benefited from A-Rod's first homer in a dozen games, and five relievers helped hold onto the win for Moose.

And now, they're back at .500 for the first time in almost three weeks, with a chance (dare I write it?) to have a winning record if Wang can continue his success and help the Yankees sweep the Rangers in the season's series tonight.

Granted, they are still in second place, and still six games behind the Sawx, who have this frustrating habit of continuing to win, but the Bronx Bombers have started to look like the team we all thought they would be this year, a very good sign.

And speaking of signs, as you Red Sox make your drive for the pennant, keep an eye on that rear view mirror:

Those Yankees are closer than they appear.

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03 May 2007

Winner in 1977 Yankees World Series DVD Giveaway

Congratulations to Chris McDonald, who submitted the winning (read: only) entry for the 1977 New York Yankees World Championship DVD Set Contest!!!

We still have two sets to give away, so if you can submit some clever/funny lyrics for "Pomp and Circumstance" you still have a shot. Heck, even if your lyrics are boring and stupid, email them to me anyway. Even if I only get two entries, they will have to win.

And thanks again to Chris McDonald who proved that by

1) trolling the InterWebs, looking for stuff to win,
2) knowing how to use the "Print Screen" function on your computer and
3) having a valid email address...

Dreams can come true!!!

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02 May 2007

Yankees, Hughes Catch a Break...and a Pull, and a Strain, and a Tweak...

My initial thought, when I heard that the Yankees' top prospect, indeed the #1 pitching prospect in all of baseball, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning last night, was "Wow, now that's more like it!" Except that in the same breath, ESPN's Bob Pecose also announced that Hughes injured his hamstring and will miss 4-6 weeks, so all I actually got to think was "Wo-".

My next thought was, "Man, the Yankees just can't catch a break this year."

And then the irony hit me: They've already caught a break. It was Jeff Karstens' right fibula.

They've also caught four hamstring pulls (Hughes, Hideki Matsui, Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina), three sore elbows (Karstens, RHP Jose Veras, and RHP Humberto Sanchez), a strained oblique (Bobby Abreu), a stiff forearm (Carl Pavano), a cracked nail (Wang), and most of Johnny Damon's body (calf, hammy, back...good thing he had his hair cut, or he'd have found a way to make that hurt, too). Meanwhile, with six errors in only 22 games played, "Gold Glove" Shortstop Derek Jeter can hardly catch a cold.

The interesting thing about the injuries, at least to me, is the frequency of hamstring problems. At some point or another, the Yankees have had five different players with some kind of hamstring injury, though to date Damon's demons have not sufficiently crippled him to justify a stint on the Disabled List. Mussina (38), Damon (33) and Matsui (32) are not young, but they're hardly old men either, and Wang (27) and Hughes (20) are still very youthful, and yet they've all suffered the same kinds of injuries.

Charles Euchner's book, The Last Nine Innings, discusses the physical trianing regimen that Steve Finley used to rejuvenate and extend his career, one that emphasizes flexibility and agility over strength, and is centered on the abdominal and trunk muscles, which helps to take the strain off the leg muscles. Someone like Will Carroll could probably do a better job of explaining why it seems to work than I can, but Finley related in the book how he was feeling his hamstrings start to tighten up, so he went to see his trainer. She was able to isolate his lower abs and pinpoint them (their weakness) as the problem. Strengthening the lower abdominal muscles took the pressure off his legs, especially the hamstrings, and he was able to keep playing. Say what you want about him being lousy these days, but the fact of the matter is that Finley's stuck around til age 42, while 20% of the Yankees' major league roster either is or has been on the DL with the same injury this year. OSmething tells me the new strength and conditioning coaches are asleep on the job.

The other problem plaguing the Yankees this year, particularly the pitching staff, is elbow trouble. Jose Veras was the closer in AA Trenton last year, and he had surgery in the off season to clean bone fragments out of his elbow, and it hasn't totally healed. So we'll give the Conditioning coaches a mulligan on that one. Humberto Sanchez, the top prospect from the Gary Sheffield trade, is reportedly going to be out all year after Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Karstens had a strained elbow as well, but was back from that only about a week before he got his leg broken by a batted ball. These are all young guys, and I don't know how much blame the coaches deserve for them, considering that they probably were not Veras' coach in Trenton Last year, or Karsten's coach in AAA Columbus, and they certainly could not have had anything to do with Sanchez, who was in AAA Toledo last year, in the Tigers' organization. Carl Pavano, with a strained forearm sustained in only his second start since June of 2005, has had all kinds of problems, this being the most recent, if not the most severe. One of the commenters on Peter Abraham's blog on LoHud.com had a different explanation for Pavano's scarcity in the Yankee rotation:

Cashman: Let me take you off the DL.

Carl: [with a small wave of his hand] You don’t need to take me off the DL.

Cashman: We don’t need to take him off the DL.

Carl: This isn’t the Pavano you are looking for.

Cashman: This isn’t the Pavano we are looking for.

Carl: He can go about his business.

Cashman: You can go about your business.

Carl: Send me my check

Cashman: Send his check… send it.

So maybe the midichloreans are the reason Pavano never pitches?

Rob Neyer makes the point that the Yankees can certainly come back from this and still succeed, even without their rookie phenom, though I'm sure that everyone who loves the Bronx Bombers hopes that he'll be back to phenominating as soon as possible. Heck, even if you hate the yankees, you can hardly begrudge Phil Hughes a chance to become a great pitcher. It's not his fault that they're the greatest team ever.

Neyer's right, of course. That's why he works for ESPN and you don't. The Yankees weren't counting on Phil Hughes before the season started, and they have enough talent that if those guys come back from their injuries (none of which is season-threatening) and play up to their capabilities, they should be able to overtake Boston in the AL East once again. But that's a big "if".

Regarding Hughes and his injury, Abrams makes the point that Hughes would not have gotten injured if he'd been in AAA last night. His reasoning is

The kid was pitching one hell of a game tonight. He was eight outs away from never having to buy another drink in his life. There’s Mark Teixeira 0-2 and waiting for the changeup that struck him out in the first inning. So Hughes was going to throw him the best curveball he had ever thrown.

Hughes told us [he] stepped too far in an attempt to really get on top of the pitch and throw it low. His momentum carried him downward, he got off balance and he tore his hamstring. Next time, and hopefully there is a next time, he will throw the pitch the right way.

Abrams then argues that since the pressure is lower in AAA Scranton, where Timo Perez hits #3 in the order for the bad-guys, Hughes would not have needed (or thought he needed) to do that. And Peter's probably right about that. But what he misses is that Hughes would likely have just gotten hurt whenever they called him up anyway, later in the season, and therefore closer to the postseason, when Hughes' skills would really be needed, assuming that the Yankees can actually make the postseason. If Hughes' injury was caused by an abandonment of his allegedly "perfect mechanics", the the first time he felt real pressure in a game, whether it was May in Texas, in June against the Mets, or September against the Red Sox, he was going to do the same thing, and he was, in all probability, going to pull that hamstring anyway. Perfect mechanics only help you if you remember to use them.

So, Yankee fans, be glad that Hughes hurt his hamstring last night, and that he can spend six weeks on the DL and still return before the All-Star Break, which was about as soon as the Yankees wanted to have to bring him up anyway. With some time off, and hopefull a lesosn learned at a very young age, Hughes should be as good as ever in late June or July, and with some (good) luck, the Yankees may even have a lead to protect in the AL East by then.

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Yankees 1977 World Series DVD Giveaway!!!

Yankees 1977 World Series DVD Giveaway!!!

The DVD described in my last post is currently being sold on A&E's website, here. I will soon post a review of it as well.

But if you're not into buying stuff, then you can win one of three (3) free sets from Boy of Summer. You can win in one of three ways:

1) If you happen to be the visitor who arrives #60,000 on the counter on the right side of my blogspot site, email me with a screenshot, and you'll automatically win one. If you're close to #60,000, email me a screenshot anyway. If I don't get the exact number, I'll declare the winner to be whomever gets closest, either above or below the mark. If there's a tie (for example, both #59994 and #60006, then you BOTH win.

B) For those of you who rely more on creativity than luck, I will pick one winner from whomever submits the funniest or most clever lyrics for "Pomp and Circumstance", the song that Yankees' relief ace and 1977 American League Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle used to use when he would emerge from the bullpen. Email me your submissions, and I'll pick a winner. You can hear the tune here: Pomp and Circumstance audio file. Actual recordings of yourself singing the lyrics will get you bonus points, especially if you play the music, too.

iii) If there is no tie in option 1 above, then a third winner will be chosen from the Pomp and Circumstance submittals.

In all cases, the shipping will be paid by A&E so it won't cost you anything to enter. They will ship it right to you, so if you win, I'll notify you, and you'll just have to provide me with a name and address to send your DVD set to.

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Now, all of the heroics of Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Willie Randolph, Lou Piniella, Sparky Lyle, Ron Guidry and the full roster of clutch performers from the 1977 champs are finally showcased and digitally preserved in their entirety.

This exquisite, fan-friendly collection definitively presents the indisputably classic showdown from the mid-70s era of big personalities and epic confrontations. These seven discs capture a perfect moment from a golden era of America’s Pastime. From every perspective, pundits and fans alike anticipated nothing less than an amazing championship World Series in 1977 as classic rivals the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers faced off for the ninth time in World Series history. By the time the Yankees’ Reggie Jackson had floated around the diamond after his third consecutive home run in Game 6, the baseball community and sports fans across the globe had witnessed an unparalleled performance and a remarkable feat for the ages.

Throughout the season the 1977 Bronx Bombers battled opponents – and often each other – with unprecedented ferocity and style. Squared off against the Dodgers in the World Series, the Yankees pulled out dramatic and precise wins to capture the Club's first World Series crown in 15 years.Yankees fans, Baseball fans, Sports fans: this is your chance to own a piece of sporting history, to experience it again and again, to celebrate the height of competition.

All the action of the stunning 1977 World Series packed into a brilliant 7-disc set.

Includes Game 5 ALCS Pennant clincher the and all six World Series Games.

Packaged with SleeveStats®, offering stats, trivia, and game summaries right on the case.

DVD Extra Features:
1977 World Series Clubhouse Victory Celebration.
1977 World Series Trophy Presentation.
Inside Moments: Reggie Jackson's 3 HR Game; The Reggie Jackson/Billy Martin confrontation in Fenway Park.
Rare Interviews with Reggie Jackson, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Lou Piniella, George Steinbrenner, and many more.

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30 April 2007

MVN.com RoundTable Discussion, 30 April 2007

Question #1:
If you were starting a team from scratch and had to pick one player and one pitcher to build around, who would they be? There’s only one stipulation: No MVPs or Cy Young award winners are allowed.

There are lots of remarkably good players who have never won a Cy Young or an MVP award, so this should be easy, right? But we want a guy we can build a team around, which means that five or six years from now, we need him to still be very productive.

Derek Jeter should have won last year’s AL MVP Award, but Jeter’s going to be 33 years old in a few months, not exactly the kind of young player around which you can build a dynasty, at least not any more. Travis Hafner, an excellent hitter (with an excellent name!) is 30 years old, and doesn’t play defense anymore, so he’s not really the type we’re looking for here. Ditto for David Ortiz, who’s fat and slow, in addition to not being named Travis. Strike three, go sit down, Papi.

What we need is someone who excels at several phases of the game, hitting, fielding and baserunning, and who is young, probably not more than 25 or 26.

Miguel Cabrera is an incredible hitter, having raised his batting average, OBP and slugging percentages since he entered the NL at age 20, back in 2003. He’s only an adequate defensive third baseman, though, and doesn’t steal bases, so we’ll pass on him.

Grady Sizemore plays center field pretty well, hits for a decent average, and is improving his patience, power and base stealing technique, so you could do worse than to start with him. Joe Mauer and Brian McCann, the best young catchers in their leagues, seem like excellent players, but as catchers, are not likely to play more than 140 games a season very often. They may be natural choices for team captains, and good hitting catchers are tough to find, so I wouldn’t fault you if you took one of them, but I’m going to let them go too.

Most general managers would sell their own children into slavery if they could get just one young player who looks like the kind of building block we’re talking about here. The Mets have two. Jose Reyes, with blazing speed, a quick bat, improving patience and developing power despite his diminutive size, looks like a perennial All-Star, and if the Mets win another division title, he could very well win the NL MVP award this year.

Okay, so he’s a lousy defensive shortstop. But just a few feet to his right, we have David. David Wright, like Reyes, is only 24, plays on the left side of the Mets infield, and should be a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. Unlike Reyes, however, Wright’s got the right stuff when it comes to defense, with FRAA numbers comfortably above average in each of the last two seasons. His batting average and slugging percentages have increased each of the three years he’s been in the majors, and his base stealing is getting better.

Furthermore, Wright seems to have the charisma to handle the New York Star Maker machine, the down-home country charm to win the hearts of fans and the bat and glove to quiet any nay-sayers. So, Wright’s my man.

As for pitching, that one’s easy. The best pitcher in the majors who’s never won a Cy Young Award is Roy Oswalt. He’s gone 101-48 in his career to this point, twice winning 20 games and once winning 19, with 220+ innings in four of the past five seasons, and has placed in the top five in the Cy Young race four times.

His win-loss record wasn’t quite as gaudy last year due to lousy bullpen support (he took the loss in five quality starts and got a no-decision in seven others), but in terms of meaningful statistics, he’s posted almost exactly the same season every year since 2004, and that season just happens to be excellent. He’s not terribly young, at 29, but aging patterns for pitchers aren’t as clear-cut as they are for hitters.

Most of the best pitchers are nearly as good at 34 as they were at 29, some better. I’ll take the next five years of whatever Roy Oswalt has to offer over anyone else in the majors who doesn’t already have some hardware on his mantle.
Question #2:
Is a 162-game schedule too long, too short or just right? If you were commissioner, how many games would each team play? Would you stick with the unbalanced schedule?

I may not be the best person to ask about this, as I would probably have the teams scheduled for doubleheaders every day from April to October if I got my way. I really like watching baseball. It's like pizza or sex: even when it's bad, it's good. With that said, though I think 162 games is about all the market (and the players) can really tolerate, so let's not mess with it.

There is no way to maintain a balanced schedule if you’re only going to do partial interleague play, and I don’t think anyone is advocating for complete interleague play, which would essentially dissolve the two leagues into one. However, the combination of interleague play and an unbalanced intraleague schedule creates several problems, especially with teams from different divisions vying for the same wild card berth, as they may have faced significantly different competition.

The Braves, for example, must have ticked off someone in the scheduling office, because in addition to having to fend off the reigning NL East Champion Mets, the upstart Marlins and the Phillies, they have three interleague games apiece against Minnesota, Detroit and Cleveland, plus six games against the Red Sox.

Meanwhile the Padres, in addition to padding their numbers in numerous games against the Rockies, D-Backs and what will probably be a pretty sub-par Giants team, find their interleague matchups to be much more attractive: Three games each against Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Boston, and six against Seattle. Among those, only the Red Sox had a winning record last year.

So while it’s impossible to eliminate the unbalanced schedule without also eliminating interleague play, there ought to be some more thought given to how these games are allotted, and how to keep sub-par teams from getting into the playoffs by padding their records against so many weak teams.

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27 April 2007

Oasis Media Blitz

Spreading the word about a new worship service at First Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem, PA, starting on Arril 28th at 6PM. That's me doing the Chris Farley thing in the beginning and showing off the cards and posters, and my wife next to me, saying that we'll hand these out to "anyone we see". For the record, she promptly chickened out when faced with actual "anyone"s, but did very well at convincing shop owners to put the posters up in their windows in downtown Bethlehem.

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26 April 2007

Phil Hughes Major League Debut Tonight at Yankee Stadium

The New York Yankees’ #1 pitching prospect, in fact, the top pitching prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America, Baseball Digest, MILB.com, and Baseball Prospectus, among others, will make his major league debut tonight against the Toronto Blue Jays. Hughes was the Yankees’ best prospect a year ago, and nothing has changed except that he showed that he could get both Single-A and AA batters out with remarkable aplomb. This year, he struggled a bit in the spring and at the beginning of the AAA season, giving up 7 runs in 10 innings over his first two starts, but then shut out
Syracuse for six innings, striking out ten, allowing only two hits and no walks.

With that said, it should be noted that the Yankees’ move has more to do with the desperation of the major league coaching staff to find somebody, anybody, who can keep the team in the game for more than five or six innings. Indeed, as a team, the Yankees rank dead-last in the major leagues with only five Quality Starts (6+ innings, 3 or fewer earned runs). The Colorado Rockies, that legendary model of pitching prowess, have 13. Granted, the Yankees did just get tricksy “ace” Chien-Ming Wang back, and Mike Mussina is slated to come back next week, assuming his AA rehab start goes well, but even when healthy, most of the starters haven’t exactly pitched well. Kei Igawa has only one Quality Start in four outings, and so far only Andy Pettitte has been reasonably reliable.

The Yankees had a plan. They intended to use Pettitte, Wang, Moose, Pavano and Igawa as their five starters, with Jeff Karstens as a back-up #5 starter, if Pavano broke down. Unfortunately, all of those except Pettitte, have either spent time on the DL this year, or are on it now, so they that plan isn’t working. And given that the AAA starter with the most “experience” in the majors is Darrel Rasner (4 starts, 7 relief appearances, 4.23 ERA in 27.2 total innings), the Yankee Brass figured that they might as well go with the guy who has the most upside. So while this is a move of desperation, it’s only desperate in that it’s a few months ahead of schedule, and not a year or two ahead of schedule, like Chase Wright was. As you may recall, with only two starts above High-A ball in his professional career, Chase Wright was called upon to pitch in the majors, and he won his first major league start. After that, however, he surrendered four consecutive homers to the Boston Red Sox, and Chase Wright was chased right back to Double-A

For his part, Phil Hughes looks like the real deal, though it should be noted that he is more handsome than Evander. He’s got excellent mechanics, throws a consistent 91-93 mph fastball that touches 96 on occasion and moves, plus a 12-to-6 curve and a slider, both considered above average, and a good change-up. Essentially, at age 20, he has the complete arsenal it takes many pitchers until age 27 or 28 to master, and most never do. Whether he can use them effectively against major league batters is another story, and Page One begins tonight at 7PM.

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25 April 2007

A-Rod’s Homer Surge Explained (no, really!)

I had an epiphany today.

Not to discredit Alex Rodriguez for his remarkable exploits with the bat this month, but maybe there's a reason he's done so well. Maybe the Yankees have just faced lousy teams and/or lousy pitchers, and so his incredible outburst isn't quite as incredible as we think. Fortunately, STATS, Inc and their customers keep batter-vs-pitcher stats for everybody in the game, so I could easily look up his numbers against various pitchers this season and see how he, and the pitchers, have done.

I found that there were 13 pitchers who served up his 14 homers (Curt Schilling gave up two), five relievers and eight starters. The five relievers were, in the order that you should know their names:

Chris Ray, Joe Borowski, Al "Gamma" Reyes, Tom "I Wanna Do the" Mastny, and "Good King" Juan Salas.

The Starters were Curt Schilling (2), Jake Westbrook, Casey "Playing" Fossum, Steve Trachsel, Boof Bonser, Joe Blanton, Eric Bedard and Sidney Ponson.

Sorry for the Bermanisms. I couldn't help myself.

Last year, those relievers combined to pitch 224 innings. They went a combined 11-10 with 77 saves (69 of those by Ray and Borowski), a 3.21 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Pretty decent numbers. This year, in 46 innings, they're 4-3 with 21 saves, and a 4.50 ERA, a considerable drop off. Most of that, however, is fueled by Borowski's apparently desperate efforts to lose his job as the Cleveland Closer, allowing 10 runs in 9 innings. The rest of them have allowed only 13 runs in 35 innings, pretty respectable.

But the real story is the starters. Those eight guys combined for a 4.54 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP last year in almost 1300 total innings. Five of them "won" at least 15 games last year, but Trachsel (15-7) and Blanton (16-12) were below-average innings munchers (BAIM?) in 2006, with ERAs of almost 5.00.

This year, most of that group has dropped off considerably. They're now just 11-10 with a 6.06 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP in 180 innings. And in this case, unlike Borowski and the relievers, it's not just one guy skewing the sample. Bedard and Bonser both have ERAs over 6.00, Fossum's is almost 7.00, and Ponson and Westbrook have both allowed more than nine runs per nine innings! No wonder A-Rod can hit these guys...so can everyone else.

Lumping all 13 pitchers together, they've got a 5.74 ERA in 226 innings, which is plenty ugly, though skewed by A-Rod's abuse of them. But even if you remove his contributions, you've still got a 4.64 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in 215 innings or so, not very good, especially considering that the AL composite ERA is 4.37.

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24 April 2007

A-Rod’s Non-Turning Point, and Whither the Yankee Power?


Alex Rodriguez has blown the doors off the American League this year, leading the majors in just about every relevant offensive statistic, including a record-tying 14 homers in April. With six games left to play, it's quite likely that he'll break the record, set just last year by Albert Pujols. His 14 bombs have lapped the competition, as the next closest players in the major leagues (2B Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers and SS Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies) have only seven each. His 34 RBI are 12 more than the next closest player in MLB, Jeff Francoeur, and twice as many as the #2 guy in the AL, teammate Jason Giambi. His 26 runs scored are 5 more than Rollins and Hanley Ramirez, the next closest major leaguers, and 8 more than teammate Bobby Abreu, the closest competition in the Junior Circuit. he also leads the AL in Hits (30) and leads the majors in batting average (.400) slugging (1.053) and OPS (1.507).

Unfortunately for the Yankees and their fans, the rest of the team is not exactly aiding the cause. While A-Rod smokes everything he sees, to the tune of .400/.453/1.053, most of the rest of the offense looks more like smoke and mirrors, with a modest .271/.341/.376 line. While the BA and OBP numbers are at least respectable, that slugging average would rank the Yankees #22 out of 30 MLB teams if not for the heroics of Alex the Great. As it is, with him they're 4th, but I doubt that any other team counts on such a high percentage of its offense as the Yankees have counted on A-Rod. Bronx Bombers? More like the Bronx B-B Guns. Posada's been fine all year, Jason Giambi is coming around and Abreu and Jeter seem pretty good, despite the lack of power, but Melky Cabrera and especially Doug Mientkiewicz are killing them at the bottom of the lineup. Hideki Matsui was struggling before he got hurt, and now that he's back, his ineffective replacement, Kevin Thompson has been sent back to Scranton. With Godzilla's return, the Melk Man will be delivered back to the bench and pinch hitting/running duties. Back-ups Miguel Cairo and Wil Nieves have gone 0-for-19 with one walk. Rodriguez is bound to cool off at some point, and if the rest of the Yankees don't step up by the time that happens, the fans in the Bronx could be in for a long season.


As for A-Rod, it seems there are as many explanations for his hot streak as there are experts to espouse them. I'm hearing a lot about how A-Rod's season was "turned around" by his walk-off grand slam against Baltimore on April 7th, but the notion seems laughable to me. First of all, I don't think it's fair to label anything that happens in the fourth game of the season as a "turning point". A turning point implies that you've started going somewhere already, and with less than 2% of the season's schedule played, I harldy think that's appropriate. Secondly, A-Rod was doing pretty well already, even before he hit that grand slam off Chris Ray in the bottom of the 9th on April 7th.

Before that homer, he was hitting .353/.389/.882, with two homers, three doubles and five RBIs in (almost) four games. After that homer, he's been better, to be sure, but not that much better. Since that day, he's hit .404/.460/1.053, with 11 homers, four doubles, and 25 RBIs. The really interesting thing here, though, is that if he had just continued at the pace he'd been at through the first four games or so, he would still be having an excellent, super-MVP-type season.

              AB   R    H    2B   HR  RBI  BB   SO  SB   TB   AVG   OBP   SLG    OPS 
Pre-GS Pace 75 26 27 13 9 22 4 13 4 67 .360 .392 .893 1.286
Pre-GS Proj 675 234 243 117 81 198 36 117 36 603 .360 .392 .893 1.286
Actual Pace 75 26 30 7 14 34 7 19 1 79 .400 .453 1.053 1.507
Actual Proj 675 234 270 63 126 306 63 171 9 711 .400 .453 1.053 1.505

Before he ever hit that salami on the seventh of April, A-Rod was "on a pace to" hit 81 homers, score 234 runs and drive in 198 runs, all of which would be all-time records, as you probably know. Of course, the pace he's on since then is even better, but it's not exactly like he was dragging his feet for the first few games aof the year. For that matter, he had already hit a homer that very day, in the first inning, while the Yankees were down, 1-0. The interesting thing about seeing the numbers this way is that, in addition to the hits (about one more per ten at-bats), most of the improvement comes from a few of the doubles turning into homers.

Before that grand slam, A-Rod was "on a pace to" hit 117 doubles and 81 homers, or 198 extra base hits, while his actual pace at this point is for 126 homers but "only" 63 doubles, which would be 189 extra base hits. People who believe in silly things like "turning points" in a four-game old season will probably say that this is an inidcator of him swinging harder because of the added confidence after he hit that walk off shot, and therefore hitting the ball farther, leading to more homers and fewer doubles. Those people also believe in things like "momentum" in a baseball season and "staying within yourself", whatever that means. In reality, this is probably little more than a very hot 75-at-bat sample in what will hopefully be a third MVP season for A-Rod and a 27th World Championship for the Yankees. But the latter of those will only happen if someone else on the roster starts to hit a homer once in a while.

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22 April 2007

MVN.com RoundTable #4

Question #1:
In today's game, would more fans rather see an 11-10 slugfest or a 1-0 pitcher's duel? Does that represent a shift in culture from the past, and if so, where do you place the blame? Does your personal preference differ from that of the masses? (Are high-powered offenses more exciting than dominant pitching?)

As a general rule, it seems that most fans would prefer to see a slugfest. Homers and doubles and stolen bases and run scoring are all a lot of fun to watch, and you can't blame fans for enjoying the action in a game that consists largely of waiting for something to happen. There are a lot of people who get paid a lot of money to know what the public wants, marketing experts and the like, who all seem pretty convinced that offense, and home runs in particular, are what the public wants to see. They don't have a Strike-Out Derby at the All-Star Game, do they? I don't think that's a shift from the past so much as it's a recognition and exploitation of of a trend in major league baseball.

With that said, I think almost anyone who's seen a pitching duel, particularly when one of the pitchers flirts with a no-hitter or some similar feat, would say that such a game can be extremely exciting, and not just for experienced fans of the game. Even a novice can appreciate a tense game for what it is, and enjoy the moment despite the low score. When it comes right down to it, really the tension is what makes the game exciting, not the scoring or lack thereof.

Two of the most exciting games I've ever attended in person were at the opposite ends of the offensive spectrum. The first was back in September of 1996, a Yankees-Red Sox game in the Bronx, during the stretch drive. Neither starting pitcher survived the fifth inning, and the two teams used 15 total pitchers. There were four steals, and 34 hits, including five homers (four by the Yankees) and 18 total walks, plus three hit batters. The lead changed hands only twice. The Yanks went up 1-0 in the third, but were down 6-1 going into the bottom of the fifth. They never gave up, though, and kept chipping away, even as the Red Sox attempted to pull away. Though they left 20 men on base over the course of the game, the Yankees eventually won it, 12-11, on a bases loaded-single by eventual AL Rookie of the Year Derek Jeter in the 10th inning.

The other game, a pitchers' duel between Roger Clemens and Eric Milton (remember when he used to be able to take part in pitchers' duels?), was just as exciting, though for different reasons, of course. It was August 16th, 1999, the first baseball game I ever took my future wife to (though we weren't even dating yet at the time). There were no homers. For that matter, there were only seven total hits, and two walks, by both teams combined. Clemens and Milton matched zeroes for eight innings, until an error, a hit and a sacrifice would plate two runs for the Yankees in the ninth inning, and the game would end that way, 2-0. Another great game, exciting because it could have gone either way, just like that 12-11 slugfest I saw in 1996. Personally, whether it's the hitters or the pitchers doing the best work, I just like to see a well-played game. Scoring or not, just give me a pitcher who works quickly, spare me the walks and errors, and let the game unfold.

Question #2:
When he finally hangs up his spikes, what will Alex Rodriguez' legacy be? Does he deserve to discussed in the same breath with the all-time greats? Would a few strong (or weak) seasons change your mind, or has he already cemented his place in baseball history?

Alex Rodriguez is already one of the dozen greatest players in history. He's already got two MVP awards, and he should have at least two others. In 1996, his first full season, he hit .358 with 36 homers, 123 RBIs, 15 steals, and a MLB-best 141 runs scored, but he was edged oout for the Award by Juan Gonzalez because even the two beat writers in Seattle did not recognize his greatness for what it was at the time. He should have won it in 1998, when he became the first (and so far, only) infielder to his 40 homes and steal 40 bases in a season. In addition to the 42 homers and 46 steals, he had 124 RBIs, 123 runs, and a league-leading 213 hits (.310 average). But it was deja vu all over again, as Juan Gone walked away with his second MVP award.

In the year 2000, his last in Seattle, he finally started walking more, taking 100 free passes that year, to go with his 41 hoomers, 15 steals, 132 RBIs and 134 runs. He finished third that year, behind Jason Giambi and Frank Thomas, though at least this wasn't robbery like to two that went to Gonzalez. During his three seasons in Texas, he averaged better than .300/.390/.600, with over 50 homers, 125 runs, 130 RBIs, 14 steals, plus he won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop in that span. However, the rest of the Rangers kinda sucked at the time, and he left Texas with only one MVP Award. He won another one in his second season as a Yankee, and may be on track for a third this year. There's an exellent chance that he will finish this season with 500+ homers, and if so, it will make him the youngest player ever to accomplish that feat. At age 32, he could easily play another ten seasons and finish his career with more records than Wolfman Jack, but even if he retired tomorrow, he deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Read others' responses to these questions on MVN.com's RoundTable Page...

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20 April 2007

Jeter Closest Thing to Jackie Robinson in Today’s Game

Baseball celebrated the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game in the major leagues on Sunday with a bizarre numbers game, in which 2,347,629 different players were all allowed to wear Robinson's retired #42 that day. Interestingly enough, all box scores also were altered, so that every position on the field was considered "second base". Not surprisingly, official scorers recorded a record number of "4-unassisted" double plays.

OK, not really.

Another way to celebrate the greatness and unique nature of someone like Jackie Robinson is to try to compare him to some of the modern game's great players. More accurately, you can discuss how difficult it is to find a comparable player in today's game, and instead describe an amalgam of some of the best skills from several of today's players, as Rob Neyer has. He suggests that Robinson would hit with Miguel Cabrera's batting avearge and patience, if not quite so much power, but would play defense at the Keystone with the acumen of Orlando Hudson or Pokey Reese, and would steal bases as well as Chone Figgins. Diamond Mind Baseball simulated his 1951 season in today's game, and in 2006, they suggested Jackie would have hit roughly .354/.439/.565, with 53 doubles, 23 homers, 138 runs and 120 RBI's, and would steal 46 bases as well.

Real Jackie 153 548 113 33 19 88 79 27 25 8 9 .338 .425 .527 .953
DM Jackie 159 607 138 53 23 120 82 86 46 16 17 .354 .439 .565 1.004

Holy crap. Jackie wouldn't just be great, he'd be the best player in the league. Of course, how he manages to get 70 more plate appearances while playing only six more games, I haven't figured out yet, but those numbers sure look cool, don't they?

Anyway, for the sake of context, last year, Ryan Howard won the NL MVP award, and with his stellar campaign, Baseball Prospectus says he garnered 9.5 Wins Above Replacement Position (WARP), a very good number. Albert Pujols was almost half again as good, with 13.1, mostly because he made fewer outs than Howard and played much better defense. And Jackie? Well, numbers like the ones Diamond Mind generated would give him about 15 WARP3 (adjusted for all time). Nobody else in baseball was particularly close to that number in 2006. In fact, only some of the most stellar seasons of all-time have ever approached that number. Some of the best seasons of Barry Bonds, Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams have surpassed that, but the best efforts of Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle never did. Was Jackie Robinson really better than those guys?

Obviously, we're arguing something we can never really know, not without a Way-Back Machine or a Delorean with a flux-capacitor in it, but is it reasonable to expect that Jackie Robinson would be able to not just compete with today's players, but to dominate them? At the risk of being branded a racist or something worse, I'm going to suggest that Jackie Robinson would not be so great today.

For me, at times like this, I always go back to the well: Baseball Prospectus. Their Davenport Translations for Robinson's 1951 season aren't quite as generous (14.1 WARP). It should be noted that BP's adjustments are for all-time, though, not just to the 2006 NL, so that should have some effect as well, though I can't say what.

Real Jackie 548 113 33 19 88 79 27 25 8 .338 .425 .527 .953
BP.com Jackie 543 104 41 27 89 74 41 40 10 .335 .426 .575 1.001

He gets a few more homers, but not as many walks, steals or doubles as Diamond Mind was ready to give him. One of the major differences between Diamond Mind and BP is the strikeout totals, 41 for BP, compared to 86 for Diamond Mind. Given that Jackie's actual K total in 1951 was 27, and that strikeouts are issued about twice as frequently now (6.7/game in 2006) as they were in 1951 (3.8/game), I see no reason to believe that Jackie would have only whiffed 41 times. Eighty-six may be a little high, but not much. In fact, adjusting for the differences in the league rates for other stats, as well as the fact that there were eight more games played per team in 2006, we can get a rough idea of how Jackie's stats from the summer of '51 would translate to the 2006 NL:

Real Jackie 548 113 33 19 88 79 27 25 8 .338 .425 .527 .953
TMN-adjusted 580 120 46 27 101 79 50 43 9 .344 .434 .578 1.012

On a cursory basis, it seems to me that the homer total is probably a little high, and the strikeouts are probably a bit low. very few players in today's game can slug .575 or better without more than 50 strikeouts. Pitchers just throw too damn hard these days. Not like back in the old days, when everybody sucked.

Of course, this is just my rough means of adjusting from the 1951 NL to the 2006 NL, and does not take into account the effect of the home park or a myriad of other factors. Baseball-reference.com, however, can do this. In fact, if you're a subscriber, they can take anybody's stats for thier career and adjust them for any year, any league and any park in that league. When I did this for Robinson, I found that his stats for 1951 translate very well to the 2006 NL, but not as well as Diamond Mind or Rob Neyer would have suggested. Here's what they came up with:

Real Jackie 548 113 33 19 88 79 27 25 8 .338 .425 .527 .953
Bball-ref.com 570 116 35 20 96 85 28 27 8 .347 .441 .539 .980

Baseball-Reference explains the algorithm they use here, but if you don't want to read it all, I can summarize by saying that they take the change in league run scoring and use that to back-calculate everything else. I used the changes in rates of the individual stats (2B, 3B, HR, SB, RBI, etc) and then got my percentage numbers form those changes, which explains why Jackie gets more homers, doubles, strikeouts and steals in my adjustment (because the league HR, 2B, and K rates have grown more than the overall run-scoring rate) than in that of www.Baseball-reference.com. Today's all-or nothing, swing-for the fences kind of game lends itself to those things, and to ignore that seems silly to me.

In addition, players and teams steal bases a heck of a lot more nowadays than they did in Jackie's day. His 25 steals in 1951 ranked 3rd in the NL, 4th in MLB, and there were guys in the top ten in each league that stole only 10 or 11 bags. Between 1929 and 1960, nobody in the National League stole more than 40 bases in a season, with the league leader usually in the 25-35 range. Last year alone, half a dozen players in the NL stole 41 or more, and five more players in the Junior Circuit stole at least 40. There's simply no way that Jackie Robinson, in today's game, would steal only 27 bases.

The one place where BR does have me is on park adjustment, because I did not make one, but since Dodger Stadium was essentially neutral last year (park factor of .997 according to Baseball Prospectus, 102 according to Baseball Reference), that wouldn't have much effect anyway. In any case, as you might expect, I feel most comfortable with the numbers I generated myself, however flawed they may be, but that's only half of the story. The other half is to ask who compares well with Jackie in today's game. While there is admittedly nobody with Robinson's combination of bat control, speed, defensive prowess and moderate power, we have a fairly close comparison playing in the major leagues today, and as it happens, he too is an ethnic, middle infielder playing for a team in New York. You guessed it:

Miguel Cairo.

No, not really.

Actually, I'm talking about Derek Jeter. Let me show you:
               G    AB   R    H   2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB   SO  SB  CS   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS 
TMN's Jackie 162 580 120 199 46 5 27 101 79 50 40 8 .344 .434 .578 1.012
Real Jeter 154 623 118 214 39 3 14 97 69 102 34 5 .343 .417 .483 .900

No question, it would seem that Jackie has a considerable edge in power, with seven more doubles and 13 more homers despite getting 43 fewer at-bats. Jackie's strikeouts are also dwarfed by Jeter's, with more than double the translated amount, but studies have been shown to essentially indicate that an out is an out, so that matters a lot less than you would think. Besides, as I mentioned earlier, I think my translated numbers wind up with the homers too high and the strikeouts too low, but that's more of a "hunch" than anything else. Jackie also steals a handful more bases, but gets caught a few more times, so that's a net wash. Their percentage numbers, other than slugging average, are eerily similar, as both players hit for very high batting averages and walk a decent amount, but not excessively. Runs scored and driven in are within a few ticks either way as well, despite the difference in plate appearances. Miguel Cabrera's batting numbers would have been even closer in some cases, especially in the power numbers, (50 doubles and 26 homers), but he struck out even more than Jeter, and hardly steals any bases at all. Besides, who watches the Marlins? Are we even certain that this so called "Miguel Cabrera" exists? I didn't think so.

Which leaves us with Jeter. He's an excellent hitter for average, with decent patience, great baserunning ability, and moderate power, very much like Jackie. Jeter's also won three Gold Gloves as a Shortstop, though his having earned them is a very debatable premise. Baseball Prospectus inidcates that Jeter's defense at short last year was +7 FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average), while Jackie was +26 as a secondbaseman in 1951. That's a big disparity too, even bigger if you, like me, don't happen to be a believe in Jeter as a good shortstop, but however it is that BP measures this stuff, they at least got a number comfortably above average for Jeter last year. He may not be excellent, like Robinson was, but "good" may not be too much of a stretch. Jackie even appears on Jeter's list of comporable players (7th) according to Baseball Prospectus, though even that is a modest comparison at best (only a 23% similarity score).

Baseball-reference.com uses Bill James' formula for similarity scores, a very different one, but they have some odd comparables for Jackie:

1. George Grantham

2. Denny Lyons

3. Edgardo Alfonzo

4. Freddie Lindstrom

5. Jeff Cirillo

6. Mike Greenwell

7. Irish Meusel

8. Joe Randa

9. Gregg Jefferies

10. Bruce Campbell

George Grantham? The 'Fonz? Jeff Cirillo? If this guy was one of the all-time greats, why is his list of supposedly "comparable" players riddled with flame-outs like Gregg Jeffries and mediocrities like Joe Randa? Bizarre, isn't it? The toruble here is that Bill James' formula uses career stats, and because Jackie's official major league career didn't get started until he was 28, and because he preferred to hang up his spikes at 38 than to play for the cross-town rival Giants, Robinson's only got about half a career worth of stats. If not for segregation, Jackie could have been in the majors at least two years earlier, though probably not much more than that, because of World War II. And if not for his pride, he might have played another two or three years, into his early 40's. Even as a spot-starter and bench player, Jackie could have padded his stats a bit, at least enough to knock Joe Randa off the list, don't you think?

But we can't do much about that right now. Robinson's legacy, such as it is, will have to be enough. But we can thank him for the privilege of watching Derek Jeter (and other non-whites) play today. He's a worthy successor.

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16 April 2007

MVN Round Table: Jackie Robinson's #42 and Hank Aaron's 755

Question #1:What’s your take on Major League Baseball’s ceremonies surrounding the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier? Did baseball get it right?

MLB does all sorts of wacky things with uniform promotions. They have All-Star jerseys that the players don’t even wear except for one day during the home run contest, for no better reason than that it gives them something else to sell to their loyal fans. They have “Turn Back the Clock” nights at various stadiums around the country and even (God help us) “Turn Ahead the Clock Night” every once in a while. (Those nights take us to a future in which everyone has really poor eyesight and/or no sense of taste, in case you were wondering.) Anything for a buck, right?

Un-retiring the only universally retired number in sports for one night is kinda cool, but I like Rob Neyer’s idea of rewarding players of certain caliber and talent with an annotated #42 instead. It keeps the memory and the meaning of who Jackie Robinson was and what he embodied alive much better than a plaque on the wall of a stadium, which can be too easily ignored, just like the Japanese advertisements in left field at Yankee Stadium, or the 302 foot marker near the Pesky Pole in Fenway, which probably isn’t more than 295 feet from home plate.

But letting anyone and everyone wear the number (including whole teams) to mark the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s first major-league game just seemed patently silly. If you want to remember Jackie, then remember him. Have a touching video tribute on the JumboTron, or give out some kind of #42 trinket to the fans, or get someone who’s not on the team, someone working for real, racial reconciliation in that city, to come out wearing #42 and throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Better yet, you could have (dare I say it?) an actual moment of actual silence during the actual game, which would be otherwise filled with all kinds of senseless and obnoxious noise between innings. That would have been a better way to remember Jackie, and more important, all those great black players who preceded him, but never got a chance to play on baseball’s biggest stage.

Question #2:Hank Aaron announced publicly that he wouldn’t be celebrating if (and when) Barry Bonds breaks his all-time home run record. Should Aaron and MLB make an effort to honor Bonds’ accomplishments, however tarnished they may be?

Despite his obvious connection with Major League Baseball, Aaron is not employed by or otherwise affiliated with the league, and so lumping the two of them together seems inappropriate. Aaron worked hard to get his record, no doubt, and he has every right to refuse to celebrate if that record’s broken. He doesn’t need the steroid controversy as an excuse. Just general disappointment about getting knocked off the top of the list would suffice.

The Boston.com story doesn’t contain any indication that Aaron is bitter, or jaded, or upset about the allegedly tarnished nature of Bond’s pursuit of his record. Just that he’s old and has better things to do than be there for someone else’s photo-op. Hank, go play golf that weekend, if you want. You earned it.

MLB, however, is a different story entirely. Bud Selig is as connected to MLB as anyone can possibly be, and he was visibly present when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ record in 1998, and then when Bonds broke that in 2001. It seems very likely, in retrospect, that the owners (and Selig himself) knew as much about the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs in MLB locker rooms then as they do now.

The only difference is that now the public knows about it, too, so being there makes Selig look like he’s condoning the use of those substances. But not being there makes him look like a hypocrite, because nobody with half a brain believes that he first learned about the use of steroids in baseball when he bought a copy of Juiced at the Milwaukee Airport for something to read on the plane. Until there’s some kind of real, concrete evidence to suggest that Bonds was or is cheating, Selig ought to be there when it happens.

Read other responses to these questions at the MVN Round Table Discussion blog...

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11 April 2007

Yankees First Week Full of Ups and Downs

It's been a rough week for the New York Yankees.

Only 3-3 after a win last night against Minnesota, the Bronx Bombers have bombed in a number of ways through their first six games.

Last Monday, while playing a rare Opening Day in New York, the Yankees were forced to start the disappointing Carl Pavano, who had not pitched in the majors in nearly two years. Pavano looked decent through the first four innings, but then things unravelled in the fifth. He surrendered four runs in that inning, including the first career homer of Tampa Bay super-phenom Elijah Dukes, in his first major league at-bat, no less, and could not get out of the inning. Fortunately for Pavano, he was let off the hook by the Yankees bullpen and offense, which provided 4.2 innings of scoreless relief and six more runs (including an 8th inning jack by Alex Rodriguez), and they won the game, 9-5.

After one of MLB's many inexplicable April off-days on Tuesday, and a rain-out on Wednesday, the Yankees and Devil Rays met again on Thursday. This time it was Andy Pettitte who could not get out of the 5th inning. First Carl Crawford reached base on an infield single to first base, which is only possible if the batter's really fast (Crawford is) and/or if the firstbaseman screws something up (he did). A bunt back to Pettitte by Ben Zobrist should have been an out, but he was credited with a single, and then Crawford went to third when Doug Mientkiewicz made an error. Replaced by Scott Proctor, Pettitte was on the hook for both runs, and Proctor, the Yanks' best reliever last year, seemed like the best choice to keep the game in hand. He struck out Johnny Gomes, and allowed a sacrifice fly to Ty Wigginton, which made it 4-3, with two outs, and things might not be so bad, right? Wrong. A wild pitch allowed Zobrist to score, tying the game, and then an error by supposedly Gold Glove shortstop Derek Jeter allowed Delmon Young to reach base. Only a great play by Posada managed to get the Yankees out of the inning when the overanxious Young tried to steal and was thrown out at second.

The rest of the game was not much better for the bullpen. Proctor allowed Dukes his second homer in as many games, then singles to 3B Akinori Iwamura and catcher Josh Paul, and LOOGy Mike Myers could not get his one out without allowing and RBI single to Crawford, who ended the inning getting thrown out trying to steal second base, after Zobrist grounded out to third. if not for the youthful recklessness of the Devil rays on the basepaths, the Yanks' day could have been much worse. As it was, they only lost 7-6, but a loss is a loss.

Friday night's game against Baltimore was no better, as this time Mike Mussina allowed six runs in four plus innings and took the loss, which dropped his record against his former team to 9-6 with a 4.51 ERA. Moose, who's become notorious for blaming everything and everyone but himself when he loses, owned up to his failure for once:

"It was just bad. I could say it was the cold, I could say it was the time off -- it was bad. It was a struggle from the very first pitch. I really didn't give us a chance. We count on our rotation a lot, and it's going to make or break our season. For most of the 80-some pitches I threw, I didn't know where the ball was going."

This much was apparent to Yankees manager Joe Torree, too, as Moose was relieved by Sean henn to start the 5th, though he had thrown only 84 pitches. Henn, for his part, was excellent, throwing three scoreless innings to keep the Yankees in the game, but the offense couldn't put anything together against the parade of mostly faceless Oriole pitchers. Mike Myers (two outs) and Scott Proctor (four) bounced back nicely from the rough game on Thursday, providing two more innings of nearly perfect relief, but the offense couldn't string enough hits and walks together to get closer than 6-4, where the game ended.

But then came Saturday...

With the Yankees' brandy-spanking new Japanese pitcher, Kei Igawa, taking the mount for his first major league start, and the perennial also-ran Orioles as the opponent, 50,000+ Yankee fans certainly hoped for big things as they made their way to the Stadium on an unseasonably cold April morning. Boston's far-eastern import, Daisuke Matsuzaka, had made his debut just two days before, and he fanned ten Kansas City Royals in seven innings, so naturally much (too much) was expected of Igawa on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, he delivered little other than walks and gopherballs, frequently looking like he was afraid to even throw the ball as he paced about the mound and took his (and everyone else's) time delivering pitch after mediocre pitch. With him pitching the top halves of the innings and Steve "Cryogenically Frozen Molasses" Trachsel pitching the bottoms, it's a wonder they ever got to the fifth inning. When flame-throwing Brian Bruney relieved Igawa in the 6th, I figured at least his 98-mph chees would help speed things up, even if his routing on the mound was no quicker.

Trent Nelson, Director of the Advanced Scouting/Nepotism Department at Boy of Summer Industries, indicated that most of Igawa's fastballs topped out at a Jamie-Moyer-esque 87 mph, which is OK if you have a killer changeup and can locate your slider, but Igawa didn't and couldn't, so he got hammered. He ended his day by surrendering seven runs in five innings, including a homer by Nick Markakis in the first, a bases-loaded walk to tie the game in the second, a plunking of Corey Patterson in the third (not easy to do considering how small Patterson is) and a homer to Melvin Mora in the 4th. Igawa managed to get through the 5th without much trouble, but by then the damage was done, with the Orioles up, 7-3. A-Rod's 2-run jack in the first and Jorge Posada's RBI single in the third offerred little consolation on a day when yet another Yankee Starter could not get past the 5th inning.

After the game, Igawa would deny that he was nervous, or that the cold (39 deg F at gametime with a constant 10-15 mph wind) affected him, or that he was in any way less than healthy. Those of you who are paying attention realize that this almost leaves only one possibility for his ineffectiveness: He's no good. Of course, it's a little early for that, but somebody had to say it. For the record, Igawa also indicated that he had been notorious for starting slowly while in Japan, and that by the way, he's not Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Fortunately for Igawa and the rest of the Yankees, the bullpen appears to be very good this year, and they contributed four scoreless innings of relief to allow the vaunted Yankee offense to do its job. And that they did. Melky Cabrera's single ended Trachsel's day in the seventh, and after he walked (slowly) back to the dugout, LOOGy John Parrish got Robinson Cano to end the inning and strand Melky at first. With two All-Star right-handed batters coming up in Jeter and A-Rod, former Tampa closer Danys Baez was brought in to start the eighth. He got Jeter to fly out, and then appeared to hit Bobby Abreu oin the foot, but an appeal by Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo sent him back to the batter's box when it was ruled that he swung at the pitch. Nevertheless, Abreu worked a walk, and then so did A-Rod. With Jason Giambi coming up, a conference at the mound seemed a harbinger of a pitching change, but Perlozzo inexplicably left Baez in to face Giambi, and Giambi made them pay, homering on the second pitch he saw, and putting the game within one run for the hometown team. The Injured Johnny Damon pinch-hit for Miguel Cairo, who had been playing left field for The Injured Hideki Matsui, and got an emotional, standing ovation, but not much else. He struck out and Posada grounded out to end the threat.

With the game only one run down, Mariano Rivera came in to work the ninth inning, which I thought at the time was perhaps a sign that Torre was learning to use his best reliever in any close spot, not just with a lead. Alas, it turns out that they had warmed up Mo because he needed the work, and he was going to pitch the ninth regardless of the score. But a guy can dream, can't he? In any case, Mo mowed them down in the 9th, allowing only a bloop single by Markakis, but retiring the side. That set the stage for the ninth, which was looking bleak at first.

Speaking of bleak at first, Doug Mientkiewicz led off the ninth and lined out, followed by a strikeout by Cabrera. The Melk Man apparently does not deliver on Saturdays. Two outs already against Chris Ray, the Orioles best reliever, who had blown only five saves all of last year? No ray of hope was apparent, but then, Robinson Cano singled, and Jeter walked, and the Stadium was alive again. Bobby Abreu got hit by a pitch (for real, this time), which loaded the bases for Alex Rodriguez, the Goat of the Yankees failed 2006 season, so frequently criticized for failing in circumstances exactly like these. But A-Rod had hit 4/10 off Ray in his career, including a homer and two doubles, so he was not about to let this chance pass him by. Down to his last strike, Rodriguez crushed a 1-2 pitch to center field, clearing the bases, and giving the Yankees their most dramatic win in a long while, 10-7. A-Rod's two homers and six RBI got him the ovations that had mostly eluded him since his 2005 MVP season, and it was, appropriately enough, Derek Jeter who shoved him out of the dugout to take another tip his cap to the appreciative (if not warm) crowd.

Though A-Rod hit his 4th homer of the season Sunday, the Yankees lost the game 6-4 (and the three-game series), when Darrel Rasner did his best Carl Pavano impression, allowing 5 runs in 4.1 innings. But redemption was not far off. Pavano actually did an impressive imitation of a major league pitcher on Monday against the Twins, allowing only two runs in seven innings en route to his first major league win since May of 2005, and A-Rod's homer, his 5th this season, did not go to waste this time. Then Andy Pettitte came back on Tuesday, two days after a relief appearance for Rasner, to shut out the Twinkies for six innings. (I'm telling you, he needs to be a little tired for that sinker to work properly. He would be a perfect candidate for a four man rotation, if anybody ever tries it again.) Rodriguez homered again in the first inning, the fourth consecutive game in which he's gone yard, and the fifth homer in that span.

Look for the streak to contiinue tonight, as Ramon Ortiz starts for the Twins. A-Rod has hit 8 homers off Ortiz, the most off any active pitcher (tied with David Wells and Bartolo Colon...must be a fat guy thing). Similarly, those eight homers are the most Ortiz has allowed to anyone, two more than Carlos Delgado, though it took Delgado only 36 at-bats for those, and A-Rod needed 48. Mike Mussina will try to redeem himself from his lousy first outing, as Pettitte and Pavano did. He's been Cy Young against Minnesota over the course of his career, 20-5 with a 3.17 ERA in 201 innings. Having already outscored the Twins 18-3 in their first two games, the Yankees can look to sweep tonight, and thank the stars that they managed to miss Johan Santana this time through the Twin Cities.

In any case, it's been a week of sad depressions and ecstatic highs for the Yankees, but as Nuke LaLoosh would say,

"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes...it rains. Think about that for a while"

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06 April 2007

2007 Philadelphia Phillies Preview

Jimmy Rollins says that the Philadelphia Phillies are the team to beat in the National League’s Eastern division. Is he right? Well, sure. But then, the Mets, Marlins, Nationals and the Braves are also the teams to beat, since they all have the same record before official play begins on Sunday night. That, of course, is not what Rollins meant. He meant that the Phillies would in fact be the front-runners in 2007, that at least on paper (or, in electrons, since you’re reading this on the Internet), they Phightin’ Phils had the best shot of the bunch. I would argue that the Mets, coming off a 97-win season, probably deserve that title more that anyone else, and that with a dozen straight division titles before the 2006 season, the Braves and their history probably give them a more appropriate claim to being the “team to beat” if the Mets should falter.

History is not on the Phillies’ side, or at least it wasn’t in the 1900’s. It was once famously said about the Chicago Cubs, “Any team can have a bad century”, but when you look at the numbers, this is much more true of the Philadelphias than it is of Chicago. Baseball-reference.com’s schedule breaker-outer shows that, of the teams that played the whole century (i.e. not the expansion franchises of the ’70s or the ’90s, the Phillies had the worst record by far. Their 8379 losses in the 1900’s were about 300 more than the next closest team, the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins, and the Cubs were actually (slightly) above average, winning 50.5% of their games. Percentage-wise, they were just ahead of Seattle and Florida, and slightly behind the Padres, who all played considerably fewer games with comparable levels of ineptitude. But this century, the Phillies are actually doing OK, and I mean that in the strictest sense of the word: Their .526 winning percentage from 2001-2006 was 13th among the 30 MLB teams, coincidentally, just between Seattle and Florida. They’ve won at least 80 but no more than 88 games every season this century, continually frustrating their fans as they seem perennially poised to take ove the NL East and yet, frequently at the last minute, somehow managing to wrest defeat from the jaws of otherwise certain victory.

But that’s all in the past now, and as I write this, the Phillies are tied for first place, just like every other team in MLB. So what happens from here?

Read more about the Phighitn' Phils' chances in '07 on my MVN.com blog...

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