Thursday, April 16, 2009

2009 Yankees: Are They The 2008 Mets??

Be it a groan, cheer, or a clever series of words strung together, everybody in and around baseball had an extreme reaction to the New York Yankees' offseason spending.

Through 10 games, it's not fair to judge the performances of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, or Mark Teixeira so far.

Fans and critics alike must give them ample time to settle in before making the decision to laugh at the Yankees' reckless spending or write a nasty letter to their own team's front office for not shelling out the green to land the big names.

After 10 games, however, it is fair to judge one aspect of Brian Cashman's latest Death Star, which may have been overlooked when being constructed this offseason—the bullpen.

Before going on, let me take you back to last September. Call me masochistic, but for some reason, I can't help but listen to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman broadcasts on the radio.

As nauseating as it is, it's also like watching Bill O'Reilly or Pat Robertson—you just can't predict what they're going to say next.

Driving in my car, Sterling and Waldman were previewing the 2009 roster when Sterling blurted out something which really made me scratch my head.

He said something along the lines of the Yankees having the most feared bullpen in baseball with the combination of Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, and Mariano Rivera.

OK, as much as it pains me, I will admit Rivera is a great reliever.

Chamberlain, too, but as we all know now (and most of us knew then, or so I thought), isn't in the bullpen. He's a starter until he undoubtedly gets hurt again.

Now join me, everyone outside of Yankee Nation, when I say "Phil Coke? Who the hell is Phil Coke?"

I follow the Yankees enough to know who he is, but what baffled me was how anyone, even John Sterling, could crown someone with a dozen career appearances as one who should be "feared."

Maybe Coke was in the game, or had just left the game, so he was on Sterling's mind while he was sucking up to Yankee brass.

Really though, Phil Coke?

Coke had a great little run in 2008, only allowing one earned run in 14.1 innings pitched, but come on—feared? He's not even established!

Fast forward to present day, my suspicions may have had some legitimacy to them. Coke, in five appearances, has allowed seven runs, four earned, to the tune of a 9.00 earned run average.

He has yet to work a perfect full inning.

Coke isn't the only problem within the 'pen. Damaso Marte, acquired last July in the Xavier Nady deal, has appeared three times this season. In the lefty-specialist's first two outings, he faced four batters, retiring three of them.

Thursday was a different story. The offense he was facing wasn't that of the Royals or Orioles; it was the Indians.

Marte squeezed three innings worth of batters—the entire Indians lineup—into one inning. He allowed the runner he inherited from Jose Veras to score, then six more who were his own responsibility.

Veras has allowed a run in three of his five outings, including three against the Indians.

Edwar Ramirez has only allowed a single run to score in his two outings (3.1 innings of work), but has an alarming 2.40 WHIP, albeit early in the season.

Jonathan Albaladejo was effective against the Orioles, but the Rays got the best of him in two of his three innings of work in Tampa.

Newcomer David Robertson, who was just called up to take the injured Xavier Nady's roster spot, gave the Yankees a promising two scoreless innings of work, but wasn't exactly lights out in his 25 appearances last season (5.34 ERA in 30-plus innings pitched).

The Yankees are forced to make a decision, but the injury to Nady makes it a little harder. With only four outfielders on the roster, it's near impossible to permanently move Nick Swisher to the setup role, and they apparently need his bat much more than anyone could have anticipated.

To sum up, it's early in the season, but the Yankees' two left-handed specialists can't be trusted to get outs, nor can the righties leading up to Mariano Rivera, and the most impressive reliever so far other than their closer is their right fielder.

They've lost in situations where they were winning late, lost where they were called upon to hold a tie, and have let marginal deficits become huge deficits.

But hey, at least the new ballpark looks great!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Preview/Prediction: N.L. East


That's all I've got to say about that.

I picked the Mets to win 98 games and the division last year...I couldn't do it again, could I?


1) New York Mets (96-66)
The only thing stopping me from giving the Mets 98 wins is the perpetual question mark in the back of the rotation...and by back of the rotation, I mean everything beyond Johan Santana.

Mike Pelfrey is listed as the No. 2, but pitched well-beyond his career-high in innings last season. There is pessimism from critics as to how he will rebound this season from his breakout performance last year.

Oliver Perez at No. 3 has the talent to be a No. 1, but has yet to harness his potential and turn it into stellar results on a consistent basis. Inability to control his emotions and concentrate on the task at hand will be a thorn in his side throughout the rest of his career. Anything in the 12-15 win range with a 4.00ish earned run average is perfectly acceptable for Ollie.

John Maine just needs to stay healthy. When he does, he's a solid No. 2 option. The pressure of being in the No. 4 slot will hopefully help him take things easy this season.

As for the No. 5 slot, I see it as being a platoon all year. If the Mets get 10 wins out of that slot, chalk it up in the win column.

The offense will be productive as usual, with Reyes, Wright, and Beltran all poised to lead the attack. Carlos Delgado is an X-factor, and his production will have a major impact on the team's success. Anything out of the catcher or second base position are an added bonus.

If Ryan Church is healthy and Daniel Murphy continues to look as sharp as he was at the plate last year, the Mets will be in very good shape.

Finally, the most important changes for the Mets came in the bullpen. The signing of Francisco Rodriguez and trade for J.J. Putz will have an immediate and lasting impact. Bullpen woes were the difference in winning the division and pulling another "C" word last year and the year before. With a new-look 'pen, the Mets can make some serious noise in October.

2) Philadelphia Phillies (89-73)
Though many experts consider the Marlins and Braves as legitimate contenders, it's still just a two-team race, as it should be.

The Phils' only major change comes in right field, where they brough in Raul Ibanez to replace the departed Pat Burrell. The core of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley is still intact, which will provide fans with some high-scoring affairs, but does Philadelphia have the pitching to back up the offense?

Yes and no.

Cole Hamels is a bona fide ace. He's legit, but had trouble with several teams last year. Behind him are Brett Myers (devastating when healthy, but otherwise unpredictable), Jamie Moyer (46), Joe Blanton (overachieved in Philly last year, leading to unrealistic expectations this year), and Chan Ho Park (don't waste your time laughing - he'll be out of the rotation very quick).

The Phillies have great role players and a great bench, but won't achieve success unless it's handed to them on a silver platter for a third year in a row. They should be able to snag the Wild Card, however.

3) Florida Marlins (84-78)
The Marlins are young and hungry, but again, won't be able to patch it together for a full season. Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, and Andrew Miller all have a lot of hype, but questions arise challenging how far they can go into games. The Marlins have a very weak bullpen which may be an Achilles' heel.

Jorge Cantu had a career-year last year, and it's tough to expect him to have a repeat performance this time around. Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez anchor the offense, but without solid production from the other power positions, may not be able to provide enough offense to give pitchers consistent run support.

They'll be contenders into late-summer, but will fade towards the end.

4) Atlanta Braves (82-80)
Another Florida-like team, the Braves are still trying to rebuild back to the team which owned the division for over a dozen years. They have one of the best managers in the game, but without the right personnel, it's tough to convert what you have into wins.

Atlanta is holding itself back by re-signing Tom Glavine, who is done. He no longer has the stuff or the health to even win 10 games. Derek Lowe was a great signing, but not as an ace pitcher. Against the other top aces in the league, he's going to be in serious trouble.

Larry Wayne Jones, Jr. and Brian McCann are still two of the best players in the division, and have a nice variety of talent around them to piece together a .500 ball club, but like the Marlins, a weak bullpen will doom them in the end.

5) Washington Nationals (68-94)
Give it up to the Nats - they at least showed some effort this offseason, spending money on Adam Dunn, and trying to bring Mark Teixeira aboard. Jesus Flores is one of the great young catchers in the game, and if Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman can stay on the field, Washington will catch some teams by surprise.

Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, and Josh Willingham are also some big bats capable of hurting opponents.

The problem in Washington won't be the offense as much as it is the pitching. Unless these young guys they've brough in have flown under everyone's radar, it will be another long year in the nation's capital.

Go Expos!


N.L. East - Mets
N.L. Central - Cubs
N.L. West - Dodgers
N.L. Wild Card - Phils

A.L. East - BoSox
A.L. Central - Twins
A.L. West - Halos
A.L. Wild Card - Yanks