Friday, June 4, 2010

Game 55: Canadian Sunrise

Amazingly, it's already June and tonight will be the first time that the Yankees have played the Blue Jays this season. The Yanks have found the time to complete three series with Boston, three against Baltimore and two more with the Rays and Toronto has played every other team in the division at least twice as well. But for whatever reason, the Yanks and Jays will be seeing much more of each other in the final 2/3 of the season.

Even more incredibly, despite having just dropped two straight to the Rays, the Blue Jays are tied with the Red Sox with a 31-24 record. They trail Minnesota by only a half of a game and would be leading the AL West by two. The two best teams in the NL have only one more win than them. They are actually one game shy of what their run differential projects them to be and have an FIP a half run lower than their ERA. So if they've had luck so far this year, it's been mostly bad.

How have they done it? Let's start with the offense, because that's probably been the most impressive and surprising aspect of their team.

Third baseman Jose Bautista has a mind-blowing and leauge-leading 16 home runs, tying his career high in just 1/3 of a season. Vernon Wells has actually been an even better offensive player according to OPS+, resurrecting his career after most people had pronounced him dead following his terrible 2009. The only everyday players that aren't hitting at an above league average clip are Aaron Hill (who smashed 36 homers last year), their primary DH, Adam Lind and first baseman Lyle Overbay.

On the pitching side, despite losing Roy Halladay, they have the fifth best FIP in the Majors. Shawn Marcum, who missed all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, has an ERA of 2.77 (3.11 FIP) through 12 starts. Rickey Romero has very similar numbers, but reversed, with a 3.14 ERA and 2.77 FIP. Tonight's starter Brett Cecil has had a nice run so far as well, tallying a 3.81 ERA and 4.00 FIP in his first eight starts after being called up from AAA after two starts.

Cecil sits around 90 with both of his fastballs (a four-seamer and a slightly slower two-seamer) and throws three off-speed pitches, a curve, a slider and a change. The Yanks faced the 23 year old left hander last year and tagged him for ten runs in eight innings, all earned.

For the Yanks, A.J. Burnett faces his former team. He started against them three times last year and gave up 10 runs in 20 2/3 innings and was jeered by the crowd in Toronto the first time he returned. This season, after hitting a bit of a skid in starts seven through nine, he's put together back-to-back solid outings. He threw five shutout innings in the rain delayed game in Minnesota and gave up three runs over eight frames against Cleveland, although only one of them was earned.

Coming off a a strong seven game homestand against two poor teams, the Yankees are probably sad to leave the Bronx behind and play a squad that appears to have its shit together for the time being. But they are going to have to beat some good teams eventually and I hear Toronto is lovely this time of year.

A weekend in Canada, a change of scene,
Was the most I bargained for.
[Song Notes: If you listen to the lyrics of this one, it will become immediately apparent that it wasn't written by Sam Cooke. No, it was penned by two white dudes named Norman Gimbel and Eddie Heywood. The most popular version of the song was an instrumental one by Hugo Winterhalter that hit #2 on the Billboard charts in 1956, but a rendition similar to this one with lyrics performed by Andy Williams reached #7 that same year. I went with Sam Cooke's version because it has a thumping bass line that pulls you right in and frankly, Sam Cooke was the fucking man and he did a version of a song, I'm probably going to use it.]


Both Matt and I are tied up, so you'll have to fend for yourself in that department. Enjoy the game.

Fight Night In The Bronx

In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been only three men with the surname "Foreman" to play the game. None of them played for the Yankees, but Frank Foreman pitched for the Baltimore Orioles in 1901 and 1902. Following the '02 season, the Baltimore franchise relocated to New York, renamed the Highlanders, and a decade later, the Yankees.

There has been but one "Cotto" to play in the Major Leagues, Henry Cotto, pictured to the right. Cotto was born in the Bronx in 1961, but his family returned to their native Puerto Rico when Henry was just three months old. After breaking into the Majors with the Cubs in 1984, Cotto was traded to the Yankees. He spent the next three years shuttling between New York and Columbus, never really distinguishing himself.

After the 1987 season, Cotto was packaged with the highly unpopular Steve Trout and shipped to Seattle in exchange for Lee Guetterman, Clay Parker, and Wade Taylor. Cotto carved out a job for himself in Seattle as a reserve outfielder, base stealing specialist, and Junior Griffey's back up in center field. After washing out with the expansion Marlins in '93, Cotto surface as a replacement player during the '94-'95 strike, has been a coach in the Mariners' system since '96, and was the inspiration for the humorous Henry Cotto's Mustache.

Tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium another Foreman and another Cotto will be on the field. But despite the gloves on their hands, they won't be baseball players. Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto will take part in the first night of boxing at Yankee Stadium since September 28, 1976, when Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton had their third and final bout, one of the more controversial in history.

Despite the sweet science's long absence from River Ave, boxing has a rich and storied history at Yankee Stadia, with Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson, and others joining Ali and Norton as some of the greats to have stepped in the ring in the House that Ruth Built.

I'm not crazy about the idea of turning Yankee Stadium into a multiuse facility, but with this fight, Army football, and the Pinstripe Bowl, it's clearly the direction in which the organization is leaning. But for tomorrow night at least, it'll be nice to see Yankee Stadium explore a different part of it's illustrious past.

For more on boxing's past at the Stadium, check out these links.

Trembely's Time?

Rise and shine, Fackers. According to the Baltimore Sun, Dave Trembley is going to be fired before today's game. Or perhaps he was already canned when the team return from New York last night. He was supposedly close to getting axed about a week ago, but that rumor proved to be false. Even if it isn't today, the writing is certainly on the wall.

Directly and indirectly, the Yankees led to Trembley's termination. Their sweep of the O's is likely the last straw and their presence in the AL East - the Yanks were 36-15 against Baltimore in his tenure - made their quest for a respectable season much more difficult.

The O's are obviously having a dismal 2010. Thanks to a couple of blown saves, they got off to a 1-11 start and have only improved upon that marginally since. They are now 15-39, which puts them a whopping 21 games behind the Rays one-third of the way through the season. In theory, they are playing roughly at the pace you would expect a team comprised solely of replacement level players to perform. And their run differential only says that they should be two games better than they are.

You have to imagine - for a marginal team in a division as tough as the AL East - the players knew their season was over before it had even really started. The fans knew it too, because they set a record for the fewest number of people at Camden Yards when the team was just 1-5 and came very close to topping bottoming that twice against the Royals in May.

These guys are professionals, but when it's obvious that your season is completely fucked and the only time people show up to see if is when the Yankees or Red Sox are in town, it's gotta be tough. Tough to grind out at bats as a hitter when you are down by right runs like they were on Wednesday. It has to be demoralizing for a starting pitcher like Brian Matusz who pitched a hell of a game on Tuesday only to get tagged with the loss because of an unforced throwing error. The YES cameras panned to him for a reaction but he had already vanished down the dugout steps.

Of course, only so much of this is Trembley's fault. I don't know how big his family is, but there isn't much he can do to fill the stands. He didn't injure Brian Roberts, Koji Uehara, Felix Pie, Jim Johnson or Mike Gonzalez. He definitely didn't blow all of those saves in the beginning of the year. Perhaps he bears some responsibility for the fact that the Orioles don't appear to be playing to the level they are capable of - that he "lost" the team - but I don't know if there is a manager out there who could have kept this team from spiraling out of control after those tough losses and subsequent brutal start.

While Trembley's 187-282 record during his time with the team isn't impressive, the fact that he got the job in the first place certainly is. When Sam Perlazzo got fired 69 games into the 2007 season, Trembley was promoted from bullpen coach to interim manager. He never played the game professionally and instead comes from a more academic background (he has a masters in Education and did graduate work in Sports Psychology), but Andy MacPhail, who had recently taken over as the president of baseball operations, gave him a chance anyway. The team started off 20-14 under the new skipper, he kept his job until the end of the year and finally lost the "interim" part of his title over the winter.

Trembley more than paid his dues, managing for 20 years in the minor leagues before joining the Big League club, so that was one of the reasons that Andy McPhail thought it would be good idea to allow him to oversee a couple of rebuilding seasons. It didn't quite go as planned and in a year when the O's were supposed to take a big step forward and possibly flirt with .500, they took an even bigger one backwards and are on pace for one of the worst seasons in a very long time.

Perhaps third base coach Juan Samuel - who did play in the Majors for 16 seasons - or whoever else takes over the team when Trembley is ultimately whacked will have better results. But it will probably be because some of those five guys on the DL come back from injuries, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Miguel Tejada start hitting and Matusz and Brad Bergensen start pitching to their potential.

Given how his tenure with the O's went, it's tough to see Trembley landing another Major League managerial gig, but at least he can say he got a shot and made the most out of it. From a distance, he seems like a stand up baseball man and hopefully he lands on his feet somewhere.