Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

teixeiraThe last thing I’d ever do is begrudge a player, any player, for going for as much money as the market will give him. 8 years for more than $170 million is a good haul for Mark Teixeira, and it sets him up for the rest of his career, which, if he plays up to the form he currently has, will be as a New York Yankee. So don’t even try to bring outrage about oversized player salaries in a bad economy or saying the league needs a salary cap because the rest of the owners can’t compete. This is invalid because:

a) The Steinbrenner family has clearly managed the franchise well enough in order to have the reserves to spend $400 million in one off-season

b) Just because the cheap-shit owner in your city is sitting on his piece of the revenue-sharing while raising your ticket prices doesn’t make that the Yankees’ fault.

Teixeira in the Bronx is an obvious move. Jason Giambi was off the books, they’ve had a gaping defensive hole at first base for years, they need another power bat. Here’s the problem: now the Yankees are the most talented team on paper. Wonder how that might work out once the season starts? Let them play the games before declaring the Yankees the masters of all once again. There’s still an aging Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui in the outfield, and a defensively suspect Derek Jeter manning short — and don’t think the Red Sox or the Rays will simply fold in fear. The Phillies won last season and the Red Sox a year before that with a core group of players either from the farm system or who made their names with the team. Where is that with the Yankees right now?

(Also, if you’re a NYC taxpayer, how do you feel about billions of your tax dollars funding the new Yankee Stadium while they blow $400 million on free agents? Since when did the Steinbrenners need a bailout?)

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Stealing Signals: Round One Is Done

Kind of playing catch-up, since I didn’t recap the weekend’s games….

Rays keep moving on, beating the White Sox in 4 – At least the South Side saved some amount of face by taking one game at home, but watching B.J. Upton jack homers in his first two at bats was a sign that Tampa had so much more in that team to move on. It wound up being an easy 6-2 win, and another tack to an improbable story. I am officially on the Rays’ bandwagon for the rest of the playoffs, despite being an NL guy — because I loathe both teams involved in the NLCS.

Red Sox put the Angels away, 3 games to 1 – While the first two games in Anaheim were ultimately anti-climactic, games 3 and 4 gave us moments actually worthy of baseball’s post-season: the Halos pulling one out in extras, even going to Jered Weaver to do it, and Jed Lowrie’s bottom of the 9th heroics for the Sox to end the series now rather than go back to Southern California.  So, we have both league leaders in wins (more on the Cubs later in this entry) eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  Baseball’s playoffs are not as capricious as pro football or college basketball (“one game and you’re out” is always much more subject to the whim of whatever team comes in hotter), but the Angels’ faltering again could be a symptom of its lousy division — although considering how they beat teams great and lousy across the AL, that may be too simplistic.

Phillies take out the Brew Crew on Sunday – I turned Game 4 off on Sunday after Pat Burrell hit his three-run job off Jeff Suppan, and I suppose we all knew the ending was going to come for Milwaukee in this series at some point, because, sadly, CC Sabathia does not have a bionic left arm.  The Phillies are set up well to try and compete for a World Series championship: plenty of mashers and htiters in that line-up, enough good starting pitching, a decent bullpen, etc.

The Dodgers make a mockery of the Cubs – I’ve written before that these Dodgers reek of 2006 Cardinals, except this team probalby hits a bit better than they did (Albert Pujols notwithstanding; I remember that series being more about good pitching and timely hits rather than offensive assaults.)   The Dodgers feel like one of those unlikely post-season teams that are supposed to go deep; they’re playing with a line-up that hadn’t playing together until the Division Series: it was a combination of injuries (Rafael Furcal), trades (Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake), old age (Blake DeWitt, who shifted from third to second base to replace the aging and bitchy Jeff Kent), and Joe Torre finally giving up on Ned Colletti’s mistakes (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and James Loney all not having to cede time to Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, and Nomar Garciaparra.) That line-up and the Bums’ starting pitching laid waste to the Cubs’, whom, outside of Derrek Lee, appeared to give an effort that would make Little Leaguers ashamed. I have two Cub fans for co-workers, and there is something about that kind of abject failure that inspires streams of swearing usually reserved for those suffering from Tourette’s.

Stealing Signals: Mercy Killings, Please

Red Sox 7, Angels 5 – The funny thing is that you can’t blame either Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Teixeira, or Torii Hunter for this 2-0 deficit the Angels are now down; the 3-4-5 hitters in the Halos line-up have gotten on base and gotten hits (albeit mostly singles) — it’s every other damn hitter in the line-up not getting a crucial two-out hit or, in the case of Ervin Santana, giving Boston too much wiggle room by giving up runs early.  Boston jumped out on Santana early, and kept building when the Angels tried to come back. The game was tied in teh bottom of the 8th, but J.D. Drew knocked a 2-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez in the top of the 9th.

Rays 6, White Sox 2 – Scott Kazmir gave up two runs in the first, but that was all he’d allow in 5.1 innings, albeit with some difficulty and jams along the way. Dioner Navarro drove in the first run in the second, but the Rays took the lead for good in the fifth when Akinori Iwamura teed up a two-run shot of Mark Buehrle, adding on from there.

Now, despite some of moments within the games, we are now left with four series, all with a team up 2 games to none, and I am in the position of rooting for sweeps so we can actually get to some competitive baseball.  Frankly, I hope the Rays knock off the Red Sox; I have been rooting against Boston since the team and media ginned up the idea that somehow, the behavior of Manny Ramirez was worse than it was during the past few seasons and stupidly traded one of the best hitters to ever play the game. Baseball karma ought to demand penance for that.

As for an impending Dodgers-Phillies series, it’s about as good a case of Meteor Series for me as I can think of; however, when it comes to those games, you root for individuals, and in this case, I pull for Manny.

It does look really, really bad when neither team with the best record in its respective league (Cubs and Angels) is likely to survive the Division Series now. Are we gonna get a regular rotation of the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals now when it comes to World Series winners?

Stealing Signals: Bashing At Wrigley

Dodgers 7, Cubs 2 – Six of the seven Bums runs came off the longball: James Loney’s 5th inning grand slam, Manny Ramirez’s 7th inning solo shot, and Russell Martin added a third blast for another run in the 9th. Wait a minute: the offensively challenged (or so we thought) Dodgers are the ones beating up on Ryan Dempster and the Cubs bullpen? Someone completely flipped this script on us (read: Ramirez.)

Red Sox 4, Angels 1 – The other SoCal team in the playoffs didn’t handle it as well, losing another playoff game to Boston thanks to a go-ahead home run from Jason BayJon Lester handed it off to Justin Masterson, who got out of a jam in the 8th thanks to a bone-headed base-running error by Vladimir Guerrero.

Phillies 3, Brewers 1 – The Cole Hamels Show: 8 innings, 9 strikeoutts, two hits, first 14 retired.  Milwaukee was probably happy to see Brad Lidge in the 9th, but he got out of a jam for the save.

Ill-Advised MLB Divison Series Predictions

So, now that we’ve locked up that last AL playoff spot thanks to a Jim Thome home-run in the bottom of the 7th in what was a fucking epic pitching duel between John Danks and Nick Blackburn, it’s worth taking a quick look at the Division Series.

Red Sox vs. Angels – In previous years, I would have said that Boston is moving on in four or five games. NOt this time. My objection has less to do with any offensive factor missing since Manny Ramirez has been traded than it does with the questionable status of Josh Beckett — he’s set to start Game 3 right now, and is probably the one to go for Game 5 even though the preview says Daisuke Matsuzaka would start a Game 5. Nothing but impressed with Jon Lester, but until proven in the playoffs, he ain’t Beckett. In a battle where both offenses can be very productive, this is a bulllpen matter — and I like the guys the Angels use to get the ball to Francisco Rodriguez better than I like the guys that Boston uses to get to Jonathan Papelbon.  Halos in 4.

White Sox vs. Rays – Whether John Danks and Gavin Floyd can do it in the playoffs has yet to be seen; starting a series with Javier Vazquez does not inspire confidence against the general good work that Tampa’s starting staff has done.  Another concern: not sure how Chicago will hit outside the bandbox that is Not-Comiskey (or U.S. Cellular Field, whatever) in the playoffs. Tampa in 4.

Brewers vs. Phillies – Never count the bats of guys like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder out, and it was enought o see the Brew Crew battle back to get into the Wild Card slot with plenty of help from a failing Mets team.  However, unless CC Sabathia could be run out to start every game, the rest of the Brewers’ staff will be run down by having to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell every game (although Burrell is suffering a slight injury.)  Phillies in 4 games.

Dodgers vs. Cubs – It’s not that I don’t think the Dodgers’ rotation has some good pitchers in it; it’s that outside of Derek Lowe and Greg Maddux, we’re not dealing with anyone particularly experienced in the playoffs. You could say the same about Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly, who were there only for a short time last year.  However, the Cubs are much better and more consistent offensively, and while this isn’t a sweep to me, Manny Ramirez alone can’t bring enough playoff swagger to beat a better team. Cubs in 4.

Pennant Race Evaluations

Way too long since I’ve paid attention to baseball with any regularity outside of looking at the scores on the wire. Stupid day job.

Manny Ramirez hit two monster bombs last night at a park that’s incredibly difficult to hit them at. I actively dislike the Dodgers, but admit that the post-season isn’t the post-season if Manny Ramirez isn’t involved. It feels incomplete without him. The Dodgers, for their efforts, are playing better baseball than Arizona as of late, and with 17 games or so to go, it looks like they might hold them off — because the Diamondbacks are playing something awful, at a clip that neither Brandon Webb nor Dan Haren can bail them out of right now (and Webb has had some starts where his breaking ball just has flatttened out.)

The Angels finally do what everyone has expected for the last two months — clinch the AL West. Now, the problem is that the last time they clinched early, they gave up a little down the stretch and ceded home feild advantage in the Division Series.  Mike Scioscia has to keep the team playing hard to earn home field throughout the entire playoffs (since the AL won the All-Star Game.)

I’m not willing to jump on the Carlos Delgado for MVP bandwagon; Albert Pujols keeping the Cards in any sort of playoff contention in a season where the Cardinals were expected to lose 90 games is much more impressive.  However, I am willing to go so far as to say that if manager Jerry Manuel leads the Mets to hold on to the NL East title (current lead is 3.5 games over the Phillies), he should have the “interim” dropped from his title.  Calling the Mets’ bullpen a patchwork affair is being kind; there are so many grades of gasoline taking up space in there that I’m surprised the practice mounds don’t burst out in flames every night. David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran are doing what they need to do, but Delgado’s resurgence is a welcome development, because it may keep Omar Minaya from any thought of getting into the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes when the real need for the team in the off-season is reliable relief pitching.

Lou Piniella appears to be getting bent out of shape regularly about the Cubs’ play (and they did happen to win last night.) They’re not going to collapse; Milwaukee has issues at the wrong times to do anything outside of the Wild Card, which is theirs barring a complete fuck-up on the part of Ned Yost (entirely possible.)

Unfortunately, my stated dream isn’t coming true this year: after Carlos Quentin’s season-ending injury, it looks like a sure thing that the Wild Card team will now come out of the AL East, meaning Boston will be back in it somehow.  At least Tampa Bay seems like they have a spot right now, and haven’t suffered the swwom that everyone was predicting they’d have. Hey, for the Rays, even a Wild Card spot is a major accomplishment.

Please, Let My Post-Season Baseball Dreams Come True

Please, oh please let both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.  We all would love to find out whom ESPN will pick to obsess over if this happens; there will be utter amazement and confusion in the halls of Bristol, as they determine which team’s cock they have to ride hard for October without any sense of shame. The Yankees are already out of it (sending out Sidney Ponson to get hammered by Toronto and saying Carl Pavano is starting on Saturday is waving the white flag.)  Boston has a better shot, but Tampa Bay is not swooning like they were supposed to with Evan Longoria out for a short time and Carl Crawford done for the season. I’m betting that the playoffs will consist of the Angels, Rays, White Sox, and Twins (take your pick as to which AL Central team is the division winner and which one is the Wild Card.) Chicago-Minny would be the better ALCS for media and interest purposes, Angels-Rays would be better baseball.

Please, let the Mets hold up this year. That goes without saying, but somehow the team has been able to survive through a bullpen that somehow got worse than last year and has gone without Billy Wagner for stretches of time.  I am rooting for Carlos Delgado to continue to produce at the plate, if only to get another season out of him and also avoid jumping into the oversized offer-fest that will be the Mark Teixeira Derby (if the Angels get to the Series, I expect Tex to stay in Orange County.)  Besides, the Phillies pitching has been crap at bad times — like it has been all season.

I can’t believe I’m writing this — but please, let the Dodgers somehow manage to nab the NL West. The post-season isn’t as interesting without Manny Ramirez in it, and the dysfunctional characters that make up the Bums’ clubhouse these days are necessary — and much more interesting than the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have the better pitching by far. Thing is, the Dodgers’ arms are the ones that are going to have to power them into the playoffs if Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are going to be the damn near automatic wins for the D-backs that they have been. I don’t think adding Greg Maddux is quite enough; he can only go five innings a start these days.

NL playoffs?  Mets, Dodgers, Cubs, Brewers, I hope.  That’d be Cubs-Dodgers and Mets-Brewers, in the opening round. Am I crazy for thinking that the NL playoffs, if the scenario outlined for the AL above came to pass, would be more interesting?