Tag:Alex Rodriguez
Posted on: May 13, 2011 11:26 pm
 

Nearly 40 games in, Yanks and Sox remain a puzzle

NEW YORK -- It's a little disconcerting to hear the manager of the Yankees openly hoping that a series with the Red Sox would "bring out the best" in his team.

And almost as disconcerting to hear the manager of the Red Sox admit that the Sox are "still taking one step forward and one step back."

But that's where we are in the American League East, perilously close to the 40-game mark that is supposed to define teams, but without much definition at all about the sport's two superpowers.

We're at a point where one rival scout could walk away from Friday's 5-4 Boston win and declare, "The Yankees are in trouble," but also at a point where that sounds needlessly harsh.

What seems more reasonable is to say that these are two very talented teams with very big issues -- but not necessarily season-killing issues.

The issues have allowed the Rays to sneak into first place, which just adds to the questions about both the Yankees and the Red Sox.

On one side:

-- It really does feel like the Red Sox follow every step forward with a step back. But maybe it feels more like that because even though the Red Sox have followed their 2-10 start by going 16-10 since (basically a 100-win pace over a full season), their overall record is still disappointing.

-- John Lackey's problems are a real issue. It's obvious he's distracted, and easy to believe that a family medical issue is the reason. The Red Sox understandably want to be compassionate, and Lackey apparently wants to pitch through the trouble, but the time may be coming when the team tells him that it's best not to.

-- The Sox have consistently stood behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and even on Friday general manager Theo Epstein spoke of the improvement he sees. But the Sox are getting less offense from the catcher spot than any team but the Joe Mauer-less Twins, and rival scouts are suggesting that Saltalamacchia's game-calling skills are hurting the pitching staff (along with his inability to throw out runners trying to steal).

On the other side:

-- The Yankees haven't hit well this week, and every time they struggle at the plate, someone says they're too old. The daily Derek Jeter questions have slowed after he got a few hits, but now there are daily questions about Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. Are they old or simply slumping? By the end of the year, maybe we'll know.

-- The rotation has been somewhat better than advertised, despite the Phil Hughes saga. But even with another encouraging start from Bartolo Colon Friday, you wonder how long Colon and Freddy Garcia will hold up, and who will be next in line if they don't?

-- The answer to the rotation questions was supposed to be a shutdown bullpen, but the road to Mariano Rivera is still paved with questions. Rafael Soriano hasn't yet been worth the money, and Joba Chamberlain is at times brilliant ("Best I've ever seen him," one scout said Friday afternoon) and at other times his usual puzzle (three huge hits, including a Kevin Youkilis home run, in Friday's decisive seventh inning).

Put it all together, and you start to understand why neither of these teams is in first place, why Joe Girardi was hoping for a Red Sox-fueled revival this weekend, and why Terry Francona was admitting that his Sox team is "certainly not clicking on all cylinders."

Forty games won't be enough to get a true handle on either of these teams.

Check back after 80.
Posted on: January 14, 2011 3:04 pm
 

If 600 still has magic, Thome will tell us

Is there any magic left in 600?

Jim Thome will tell us. Or maybe I should say, the buzz around Jim Thome will tell us.

After all, we like Jim Thome. I hate to speak for you, but on this point I think I can. I think we all like Jim Thome.

But do we care about Jim Thome getting to 600 home runs? And when he does get there, will we say that it means Thome is one of the great home run hitters we've ever seen?

He's on 589 home runs right now, and now that he has signed a one-year contract to stay in Minnesota, we know that he'll chase 600 as a member of the Twins.

That's a positive, because even though Thome has only played with the Twins for one season, he's already immensely popular there. Not Joe Mauer popular, obviously, but popular.

He's popular all over the American League Central, I think, even in the cities (Detroit, Kansas City) where all he has done is destroy the home team's pitching for the last 20 years.

(I heard Friday from a guy who used to work for the Royals, who simply said, "It feels like I saw all 47 of those [Thome home runs] that came vs. KC.")

Anyway, Thome is not Alex Rodriguez, the polarizing figure who reached 600 after a chase that most of the country tried to ignore last season. Thome is not Ken Griffey Jr., whose run for 600 in 2008 sometimes got overshadowed in his hometown by Jay Bruce's arrival with the Reds.

Thome is entirely likeable, by teammates, fans and writers alike.

A whole bunch of people will be happy for him when he gets to 600. But will it feel magic?

I'm not so sure it will.

This just isn't the same as when 600 belonged only to Aaron, Ruth and Mays. Thome has been a fine player, but he's not Aaron and he's not Ruth and he's not Mays -- and I imagine he would happily admit that.

That's not to say 600 is now meaningless, not at all. It's a great accomplishment, and even after the steroid era, it's not a common accomplishment.

Even now, only seven hitters finished with 600 or more homers, with Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, A-Rod and Junior joining the three that ended the 1980s on the mountaintop.

And if you look behind Thome, you don't see a lot more guys closing in. Manny Ramirez still needs 45, which is more than he hit the last two years combined (and he turns 39 in May). Vladimir Guerrero isn't going to get the 164 he would need, and neither is Chipper Jones.

Albert Pujols? Yeah, the way he's going, you'd have to say he'll reach 600 someday, but for now he's still a long ways away, at 408.

So Thome could be it for a while.

That's a good thing. If 600 home runs is going to be special, we can't be having a run at 600 every year.

Now, is it still special? Is there any magic left in it?

Jim Thome will tell us.

Posted on: August 5, 2010 12:20 pm
 

Love him or hate him, they hate me

The first e-mail said I was too kind to Alex Rodriguez

The second one said I was too mean.

That kind of says it all about A-Rod and America's baseball fans, doesn't it?

From Frank: "A-Fraud's at-bats only mattered in your mind, but then again, sports celebrities are all that matters in the mind of the media. So what if you're glorifying cheaters?"

From Jill: "Wow, your article on A-Rod was such a Debby Downer. I'm happy for him, thought he well deserved it, and wish him success in hitting many more home runs."

In today's New York Post , Joel Sherman makes the point that unlike so many others who have been outed for steroid use (Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, etc.), A-Rod's career goes on, and he has a chance to potentially change some minds based on how he acts and how he plays from here on.

While I don't totally disagree, I think minds are going to be tough to change on this subject. A-Rod may be able to win over any remaining skeptics among Yankee fans (and he won most of them over last October), but around the country, I'm betting that most who hate him are going to keep hating him.

He can't take the steroids off his career record, any more than we can wipe the steroid-tainted home runs out of his entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia. He did the drugs. He hit the home runs.

It's part of his past, and it's up to each one of us to decide how we want to hold him accountable to that.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 25, 2010 10:39 pm
 

3 to watch: The Draw of power edition

Scott Boras says people are drawn to power, as in power pitching or power hitting. He says it's why everyone seems to want to see power pitcher Stephen Strasburg (a client of his), and he argues that it will also be true with top draft pick and power hitter Bryce Harper (another client).

Fair enough, but if people really are drawn to power, they should be drawn to the Alex Rodriguez (also a client) push for 600 home runs.

So far, the feeling is that they haven't been, at least not nationally and only to a small extent locally. But it was hard to tell last week, because the Yankees were playing at home and they always draw near-capacity crowds, chase or no chase.

There were some signs that fans in New York cared, based on the noise and flashbulbs that accompanied each A-Rod at-bat after he reached 599 on Thursday night, and by the disappointment when an A-Rod at-bat after that ended without a home run.

But no newspapers from outside the area staffed the try for 600. No national television crews showed up.

So here's the question: With A-Rod taking the chase to Cleveland, will Indians fans show in anything like the numbers they did to see Strasburg pitch at Progressive Field last month?

The Strasburg game, on a Sunday afternoon, drew 32,876, which is still the only Indians crowd of more than 26,000 since opening day. The Indians are last in baseball in attendance (yes, behind even the Marlins).

Strasburg's first nine starts have averaged 36,351, and more of the games have been on some form of national television.

On to 3 to watch:

1. So what are the chances that A-Rod gets to 600 in Yankees at Indians, Monday night (7:05 EDT) at Progressive Field ? Well, he's a .375 career hitter against Tribe starter Jake Westbrook, but that includes just one home run in 24 at-bats. And what are the chances that the A-Rod chase for 600 goes on beyond this three-game series in Cleveland? Well, A-Rod went homerless in 15 at-bats in a four-game series in Cleveland last year, and he went homerless in 13 at-bats in a four-game series in Cleveland the year before. In all, he's homerless in his last 32 at-bats at Progressive Field. Either that means he's due, or it means the chase will head for Tampa Bay this weekend. At least we know that A-Rod will play this week, or at least that he plans to. After he was hit on the hand by a pitch Sunday, Rodriguez said there was "no question" he would be in the lineup Monday.

2. When the Angels traded for Dan Haren on Sunday, manager Mike Scioscia told reporters that there's a chance Haren's first Angel start will come right away, in Red Sox at Angels, Monday night (10:05 EDT) at Angel Stadium . If Haren starts instead on Tuesday, he would face ex-Angel John Lackey in Lackey's first Anaheim start as a visitor. Either way, Haren's second Angels start could be just as interesting, because there's a chance that it would be next Sunday night, against Rangers acquisition Cliff Lee.

3. Strasburg's first nine starts have been against nine different opponents. That streak ends with Strasburg's next start, in Braves at Nationals, Tuesday night (7:05 EDT) at Nationals Park . But this will be Strasburg's first meeting with fellow hyped rookie Jason Heyward, because Heyward went on the disabled list on June 28, the same night Strasburg lost 5-0 to the Braves in Atlanta. Remember, that was the game when Ian Desmond couldn't turn a double play that might have allowed Strasburg to hold the Braves scoreless through seven innings.

Posted on: July 22, 2010 10:43 am
 

3 to watch: The Showdown in the West edition

The last time the Angels were this far out of first place on July 22, they were playing in Texas against the first-place Rangers.

It was 2004, and the Angels pounded the Rangers 11-1 that night . . . and went on to win the American League West.

It fits the stereotype, doesn't it? The Angels are AL West royalty, and can always come back. The Rangers can always fade in the late-summer Texas heat.

You wonder if it will happen again, and you wonder if the turnaround will begin one of the next two weekends, when the top two teams in the West will meet for seven seemingly crucial games.

But you also wonder if what we're seeing is less the makings of a turnaround than of a turnover, a takeover of the division by a young Rangers team that's finally ready to win.

There's a sense that this year is different, and that the Rangers' current five-game lead feels bigger than the six-game lead the Rangers woke up with six years ago today.

The Angels remain dangerous, but without Kendry Morales, they seem to lack the needed punch (despite 16 runs the last two days in New York). And while the Angels say they'll try to trade for help in the next week, the general sense around the club is that this isn't 2008, they're not one Mark Teixeira trade away from being a threat to win it all, and the farm system isn't going to be deep enough to allow a significant addition.

And the Rangers?

The Angels are convinced they're good. Torii Hunter called them "one of the top three teams in baseball right now," and another Angels player said the Ranger lineup is better than the Yankee lineup.

"They've been playing great baseball for the last month and a half," Hunter said. "They really play well in their own park. They hit for power. They just hit."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia insists that the standings don't matter in July, that individual series aren't crucial and that the only key is that the Angels "play our game."

But the Angels have "played their game" in the month and a half since Morales was lost for the season in that home-plate celebration. They were 24-27 when he got hurt, and they're 27-19 since.

The reason that the Rangers are five games up in the standings is that they've gone 29-14 over the same span.

"Five games is not a great lead," Hunter said. "If we were up five, Texas would be good enough to catch up. We have a good enough team to catch them."

If so, this weekend would be a good time to prove it.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Remember back this spring, when the Angels said they didn't really need a true ace? Well, it sure would help if Jered Weaver acts like one now, beginning with his series-opening matchup with Cliff Lee, in Angels at Rangers, Thursday night (8:05 EDT) at Rangers Ballpark . Weaver pitched seven shutout innings when the Angels beat the Rangers 2-1 on July 1 in Anaheim, but he gave up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings in a May start in Texas. As for Lee, so far he's given the Rangers 18 innings in two starts -- and no wins. Despite missing the first month of the season, he's second to Roy Halladay in complete games (with six), and rival executives are already speculating that the Rangers will push him every bit as much as the Brewers pushed pennant-race rental CC Sabathia in 2008.

2. Like the Angels, the Red Sox seem to be at a crucial point in the schedule, as they're now seven games behind the Yankees in the American League East, and 4 1/2 games behind the wild-card leading Rays. Unlike the Angels, who lost Morales for the season, the Sox are getting key players back from injury. This week has already seen the return of Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie and Jeremy Hermida, and next week could see Victor Martinez rejoining the lineup. And, perhaps most crucially, Boston is getting Josh Beckett back, with his first start since May 18 scheduled for Red Sox at Mariners, Friday night (10:10 EDT) at Safeco Field . How has Boston done in Beckett's absence? A lot better than you would have thought. The Red Sox are 33-22 since he last pitched, which means they lost only 1 1/2 games to the Yankees, who are 34-20 over the same span. They gained ground on the Rays, who are 29-26.

3. Normally, there's no way I'm including a Royals-Yankees game in 3 to watch. But here goes, because there are two things that make Royals at Yankees, Saturday afternoon (1:05 EDT) at Yankee Stadium potentially interesting. It's Sergio Mitre's first start since replacing Andy Pettitte in the rotation, which means that if he fails, there's sure to be an outcry in New York for general manager Brian Cashman to trade for a starting pitcher (not that Cashman worries about outcries). It is worth remembering, as Cashman has tried to remind people, that Mitre pitched well enough this spring that some people in the organization preferred him over Phil Hughes as the fifth starter. But it's the other starting pitcher that really could make this interesting, because the Royals' Kyle Davies is the same guy who gave up Alex Rodriguez's 500th home run three years ago. A-Rod, who has been at 598 since Sunday, hit both 499 and 500 against the Royals, although those two home runs were two weeks apart.
Posted on: July 18, 2010 8:28 pm
Edited on: July 18, 2010 8:45 pm
 

3 to watch: The Do we care? edition

Yankee fans cared very much about George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard. Baseball fans everywhere have cared very much about Stephen Strasburg.

Now Alex Rodriguez is approaching 600 home runs.

Do you care?

There's been amazingly little A-Rod buzz, and from what I was told, there wasn't much reaction from the Yankee Stadium fans when Rodriguez hit his 598th home run Sunday against the Rays.

You'd think it would be a meaningful milestone. Only six players have hit 600 home runs, and A-Rod (who turns 35 on July 27) will be the youngest ever to get there -- unless it takes him more than a year to hit two more home runs.

So why is there no buzz?

Is it that Rodriguez admitted using steroids earlier in his career? Is it that the steroid era has made 600 home runs seem that much less significant? Are we waiting for him to approach Willie Mays (660 home runs), Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762), the numbers that earn A-Rod $6 million bonuses in his most recent contract? Do we just not like A-Rod?

Or maybe the buzz is suddenly going to appear Tuesday night, when A-Rod gets his first legitimate chance at reaching 600. He needs two more home runs, and he has hit two or more in a game 55 times in his career.

Not only that, but he has hit 67 career home runs against the Angels, by far the most he has hit against any opponent.

For the record, none of the six guys with 600 home runs hit Nos. 599 and 600 in the same game. Ruth came closest, hitting them on back-to-back days in St. Louis, in 1931.

A-Rod took nearly two weeks between 498 and 500, and also between 398 and 400.

So this countdown could take a while. But unless the buzz builds, this may be the only time it appears in 3 to watch:

1. Two years ago, when Ken Griffey Jr. reached 600 before a sparse crowd in Miami -- maybe there wasn't that much buzz then, either -- Rodriguez told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times that it's always better to reach big milestones at home. Rodriguez has six chances to get to 600 on this homestand, starting with Angels at Yankees, Tuesday night (7:05 EDT) at Yankee Stadium . At least Rodriguez won't be facing Scott Kazmir, who has held him to four hits -- and no home runs -- in 29 career at-bats. Kazmir went on the disabled list Sunday, and the Angels told reporters that they plan to call up a starter from the minor leagues to pitch Tuesday. A-Rod is also homerless in 35 plate appearances against Wednesday starter Joel Pineiro. He has four homers in 19 at-bats against Jered Weaver, who won't pitch in this series.

2. The fans want to see Strasburg. The scouts, most likely, will instead head for Chicago, to watch potential trade targets Brett Myers and Ted Lilly face off, in Astros at Cubs, Wednesday afternoon (2:20 EDT) at Wrigley Field . In a pitching market that no longer includes Cliff Lee, Myers and Lilly could be two of the more attractive properties.

3. Nothing against Bronson Arroyo, who will be Strasburg's opponent in Nationals at Reds, Wednesday night (7:10 EDT) at Great American Ball Park , but wouldn't it have been more compelling if Strasburg was starting a day earlier, against fellow rookie Mike Leake, or a day later, against Edinson Volquez? Apparently ESPN didn't care, as yet another Strasburg start has been scheduled for national television. Can't say I blame them.



Posted on: July 9, 2010 12:55 am
Edited on: July 9, 2010 6:20 pm
 

3 to watch: The It takes (more than) 2 edition

So maybe the Mariners did just fine.

Maybe Justin Smoak and the prospects they got from the Rangers are better than the three players they gave the Phillies for Cliff Lee.

But let's remember, that was never the idea. The idea was that by teaming Lee with Felix Hernandez, the M's would have an unbeatable 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.

That idea didn't work.

For five weeks now, the M's started Lee and Hernandez in back-to-back games. For five weeks now, Lee and Hernandez were nearly unbeatable, with a combined 10-2 record and 1.98 ERA -- with five complete games.

And for those five weeks, the Mariners have still been well below .500.

They won most of the games that Lee and Hernandez started (11 of 16). They lost almost every game with anyone else on the mound (18 of 23).

And they went from 7 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West to 16 games out of first place.

It didn't work, which is exactly why Lee is on the way out of town. He could still win the AL West, but it would be for the Rangers, not the Mariners.

As for the Yankees, the team that thought it was winning the Lee trade sweepstakes (and remains the favorite in this winter's Lee free-agent sweepstakes), all they get is the pleasure of not facing the Lee-Hernandez duo this weekend at Safeco Field. They could face Lee in August in Texas, and maybe in September in Texas, too.

Oh, and they could face Lee in October.

On to this final pre-All-Star edition of 3 to watch:

1. If the All-Star Game is about rewarding players who have performed the best in the first half of the season, then Stephen Strasburg doesn't belong. If it's about putting on the best show for the fans, it's hard to see how Strasburg doesn't belong. Think of it this way: When I tell you that Strasburg will be the starting pitcher in Giants at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 EDT) at Nationals Park , does that make you want to tune in and watch? Thought so.

2. Instead of facing the first-place Yankees Friday night in Seattle, Lee will get last-place Baltimore, probably in Orioles at Rangers, Saturday night (8:05 EDT) at Rangers Ballpark . Lucky Orioles. They've never beaten Lee in five tries, and already lost to him once this year. Of course, Lee has beaten the Yankees five of the last six times he has faced them, including twice in the World Series and once last month in New York. Meanwhile, the Yankees get Seattle's David Pauley, who lost both his starts against them when he pitched for the Red Sox.

3. So the way we understand this, the American League isn't going to replace CC Sabathia on the American League All-Star team until he actually starts Sunday's game in Seattle. Then, according to what AL manager Joe Girardi told reporters this week, he'll pick Jered Weaver to replace Sabathia on the roster. Which is nice, except that Weaver will then himself need to be replaced on the roster, because he's scheduled to start in Angels at A's, Sunday (4:05 EDT) at the Coliseum . Oh, and Trevor Cahill, the A's representative on the All-Star team, will need to be replaced, too, because he's pitching Sunday, too. Maybe Girardi can pick Zack Greinke (no, he's pitching Sunday!) or Carl Pavano (no, he's pitching Sunday!). Or maybe he'll find someone who actually will be eligible to pitch for him on Tuesday.





Posted on: July 4, 2010 4:54 pm
Edited on: July 4, 2010 5:15 pm
 

3 to watch: The Scene of the crime edition

The last time the Giants were in Milwaukee, Prince Fielder hit a walkoff home run, his teammates fell down like bowling pins, and the Giants got so upset they still haven't forgotten it.

The last time the Yankees were in Oakland, Alex Rodriguez ran across Dallas Braden's mound, Braden got upset, and a week later Braden's grandmother told A-Rod to "stick it."

So now it's July, and the Giants are back in Milwaukee, and the Yankees are back in Oakland.

Which no doubt means that Prince and A-Rod will be back in the news this week. But for what?

With Prince, the questions will be whether the Brewers should trade him right now, and how interested the Giants should be in trying to trade for him (or, perhaps, for Brewers outfielder Corey Hart).

The teams have talked in the past, but the Giants' reluctance to part with any of their big-time pitchers was always a big sticking point. Of course, that's the same sticking point that has kept the Giants from acquiring any significant hitter these last few years, which in turn has kept them from first place in the National League West.

In any case, the Giants could sure use Fielder, so much so that they'd have no problem overlooking the celebration they hated so much last September. When Andy Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News asked Barry Zito about Fielder , Zito answered, "There's a ton of guys in the league we hate to play against, but we'd love to play with."

Remember, Zito is the guy who threw at Fielder this spring in Arizona, a payback for the bowling-pin display last September.

There's no chance of A-Rod getting traded to the A's -- his $32 million salary would cover more than half the Oakland payroll. And there's no chance he'll run across Braden's mound -- the A's lefty is on the disabled list.

So if we're talking A-Rod this week, we're more likely talking the run to 600 home runs. Rodriguez is at 595 right now, which means it's unlikely but not impossible that he'll get to 600 in Oakland.

For the record, Rodriguez has hit 19 career home runs in 86 games at the Coliseum. He hasn't hit more than one home run in a series in Oakland since 2004, and hasn't ever hit more than three in any series at the Coliseum.

On to 3 to watch:

1. If the Phillies are going to survive all their injuries, you'd think they would need to win every game that Roy Halladay starts. Instead, they've struggled to score runs for Halladay, and thus they're 3-7 in his last 10 starts. They get another chance, in Braves at Phillies, Monday night (7:05 EDT) at Citizens Bank Park .

2. No one remembers it now, but the A-Rod/Braden game back in April was a Yankee loss, and a CC Sabathia loss. And while Braden won't pitch in this week's series, Sabathia will, in Yankees at A's, Tuesday night (10:05 EDT) at the Coliseum . He pitched well in that April start, allowing just four hits in an eight-inning complete game (a 4-2 A's win), but for his career, Sabathia is 2-5 with a 5.95 ERA in 10 starts in what is basically his hometown ballpark.

3. Zito has just one win in his last nine starts (and a 5.30 ERA in that span), so he'll have more on his mind than just Fielder, in Giants at Brewers, Thursday afternoon (2:10 EDT) at Miller Park . For the record, Fielder is just 2 for 12 against Zito in his career, although one of the two hits was a home run.

 
 
 
 
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