Thursday, May 14, 2009

Coast to Coast
updated 5/15/09, 7:00 a.m.

It wasn't until about 7:40 p.m. EST that I realized the Sox and Angles were still going at it, 4+ hours after their first pitch in Anaheim. By that time the game was in the bottom of the 12th.

I arrived just in time to see the Angles paste together their winning rally. I'm not going to make much of Boston dropping two of three in Anaheim this week. I will say that the Sox are probably in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season. Starting tomorrow night, they have three in Seattle (their last West Coast games of the season, believe it or not) before an off-day on Monday. Then:

3 vs. Toronto at home
3 vs. Mets at home
4 at Minnesota
3 at Toronto
3 at Detroit

They get the Rangers at home after that, and despite Texas' nice start and current 1st place standing, I refuse to believe the Rangers will be an overly tough match-up for the Sox at Fenway.

There's some negativity swirling around the Fens right now despite their 2nd place standing and 21-14 record. The injury bug has continued to nip at their heels. Lester and Beckett really haven't gotten going yet. And then there's the saga of Big Papi. If you told me a year ago that Manny would be gone and on May 14 Big Papi would be carrying a batting line of .208, a .618 OPS and a big, fat zero in the home run column, I would've thought that the window of opportunity had opened. Yet they're still at the top of the league in terms of offense, and their pitching overall has been good enough (especially the bullpen) for them to weather inconsistent performances by some of their horses.

This is a time to keep an eye on them though. They have a slew of games coming up against very good offensive teams. Their pitching and defense isn't in a great place right now; they're going to need to keep up the pace and score some runs. I'm not doubting their ability to do that, but at what point does the Ortiz story turn from a quirky novelty into something more dubious, i.e. a real problem that isn't going to right itself? And what do the Sox do then?

The Sox are still the best team in the sport in my estimation. But even they can only weather their DH, and designated spiritual guru, hitting .200 with no pop in his bat, for an extended period of time.
My sports attention tonight was divided between the Celtics trying to close out Orlando in Game 6 of their series and C.C. Sabathia trying to back-up his shutout on Friday and lead the Yankees to a series win in Toronto.

Mission accomplished for the Magic, as we got a Game 7 Sunday night in Boston. Should be more confident about a Celtics victory than I am, but Ray Allen is really showing his age in this series, his beautiful three at the end of Game 5 notwithstanding. And it seems as if Pierce's legs will only allow him spurts of brilliance, a three-basket-run here, a couple quick threes there. The team is on fumes now, and I've been saying that since the middle of the Chicago series. At the same time, I'm not convinced Orlando has it in them to go up to Boston and win in a raucous building on a late Sunday night. I'll go with another Celtics Game 7 victory at home to add to the books, setting up a quiet dismantling in the next round which will be akin to the passive exchange of the green jacket at Augusta.
C.C. Sabathia, while not as impressive from a "stuff" standpoint as he was on Friday night in Baltimore, gutted out eight innings in Toronto to pick up his third win of the season. Overall he allowed five hits, two runs (both earned), an unsightly four walks and five strikeouts. Spotted a 1-0 lead going into the fourth inning, he gave up a single run in that frame and in the fifth. He pitched out of a couple of jams, and in particular was helped by a nice throw by Brett Gardner in the 5th that gunned down Rod Barajas at the plate that would've made it 3-1 Jays.

It's been a nice couple of days for some of the baby Bombers. Gardner had a homer and triple last night and made that fine defensive play tonight. Let's be honest: Francisco Cervelli with his .190 average at Trenton was a punch-line when he was called up after the Molina injury. Now? He's 6-19, has caught two of Sabathia's three best starts of the season, and has provided a bit of unexpected spunk and grit from behind the dish. There's nothing to suggest that at the minimum this guy can't be a back-up at the major league level.

The Yankees get the Twins for four in New York this weekend. Minnesota, now a game over .500, is flying high after finishing off a sweep of the Tigers this afternoon with a great comeback. Down 5-0 to a flame-throwing Justin Verlander (13 Ks in 6.1 IP), the Twins were able to chase the Detroit ace and planted six runs in the 7th, which would hold up.

It's been assumed that this Twins/Orioles combo coming up at the Stadium will result in some home cooking for the Yanks and a chance to get a few games over .500. But I can't take Minnesota for granted in any way shape or form, especially when they're playing well.
Two 18-15 teams are battling it out on the coast tonight, as the Mets and Giants start a four-gamer at AT&T Park. San Francisco qualifies as a surprise in the early going; they have one of the better home records in the game at 12-5. Their most common line-up used is a quick example of just how pedestrian their regular nine is:

1. Winn
2. Renteria
3. Lewis
4. Molina
5. Sandoval
6. Ishikawa
7. Rowand
8. Burriss
9. Pitcher

Yes, Bengie Molina is batting clean-up. He of the career .310 OBP. To his credit though, he's off to a nice start in the slugging department: 8 HR/28 RBI/.555 SLG

It's evident that the strength of this team is on pitching/defense. They're second in the NL in R/G allowed at 4.27, but some of their peripherals have me wondering if that number is going to start climbing.

They're middle of the pack in the N.L. in terms of Defensive Efficiency, and are "only" T-5th with Pittsburgh in ERA. They're middle of the pack in terms of WHIP and home runs and walks allowed. The one thing they are good at is making batters miss. Their 8.1 K/9 is 2nd in the league only to the Cubbies.

It will be interesting to see if the Mets can sustain their recent run of good fortune. Yesterday afternoon's ugly loss to the Braves aside, New York is 8-2 in their last 10 and have been one of the best offensive teams in the league in May so far:

.380 OBP (1st)
.474 SLG (2nd)
.297 BA (4th)

However, their 69 runs, good for 7th in the league for May, is a little lighter than you'd think based on the three main rate stats. Overall they're hitting .285 RISP (3rd in the NL after St. Louis and L.A.), so I'm doubtful that's been an issue over the last two weeks. Although I have to admit that I'm not sure how to filter out two splits simultaneously. For example, finding batting average with RISP in the month of May. Anyone?

The Mets have also been one of the better pitching staffs in the league as well, currently 2nd in the N.L. in ERA (3.12) since May 1.

As I'm getting ready for shut down, Mets currently down 2-1 heading into the top of the 3rd. Maine had a very rocky first inning and has already issued three walks. Reyes is out of the line-up tonight with a stiff calf.

Update, 7:00 a.m.: The Mets opened up their current 10-road trip, which will also include stops in two of the toughest parks in the majors (Dodger Stadium & Fenway Park), with a 7-4 win. After the Giants tied the score in the 8th, New York pushed across three runs in the top of the 9th off San Fran closer Brian Wilson

Notable notes from the Adam Rubin's wrap in the Daily News: David Wright had a huge night, 3-3, two BBs and a career-high four steals. He also drove in the go-ahead run in the 9th with a base hit. . . . Wright's steals accounted for more than half of the Mets' seven swipes on the night, which set a new team record. Remarkably, that was done without Jose Reyes in the line-up. . . . John Maine (6.2/7/2/2/4/4) threw 118 pitches, the most by a Mets' hurler this season so far and three short of his career high. . . . The Mets are now 9-2 in their last 11.

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