Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sunday MLB Recap: No Need to Panic

There's a scene in King Kong vs. Godzilla where Godzilla appears over the horizon and attacks a train, knocking it to pieces. Of course, as the travellers are mobbing the exits, there's a train conductor standing in the middle of them, yelling, "Please! Don't panic!" I felt like that conductor this week as I watched baseball columnists and Yankee fans wailing and gnashing their teeth at the horrors that befell the team in its opening homestand. You'd never have known that the Yankees, instead of being eaten by Godzilla, went 2-2 against a pretty good team, the Indians. Granted, there's no good way to spin a 22-4 loss, and this could be a sign that the pitching (especially Chien-Ming Wang) isn't as good as we thought. But the new Yankee Stadium is a sturdy piece of architecture; it can withstand worse.
With that in mind, here's a recap of some busy Sunday action with a look at what this means for the coming season.

Yankees 7, Indians 3: Carl Pavano silenced more than a few critics with six solid innings of work with just one run allowed. A.J. Burnett, on the other hand, issued seven walks (!) in six innings, yet somehow only gave up three runs.But the real story of the game was a two-run, pinch-hit homer by Jorge Posada. We got to see the first instant replay review of the season. The umpires did, in my opinion, make the right call. It was very doubtful that Trevor Crowe would have caught the ball, even if the fans hadn't reached for it. And it wasn't clear that the fans were reaching onto the field of play. So that's a homer, which led to the Yankee victory. Good news for the Bombers, especially if Posada can provide more of the same.My biggest problem with the play had nothing to do with the umpires. I just got sick and damn tired of hearing TBS announcers Thom Brennaman and Ron Darling discuss it non-stop for the rest of the game. Instead of getting commentary on the Yankees' big comeback against the Cleveland 'pen, we got 995 replays of the homer (from the same 3 angles, of course) and a short history of contested home runs and instant replay. It's times like this I wish I had an SAP button on my TV, and I don't even know much Spanish.
Blue Jays 1, Athletics 0: Two good pitchers and two weak offenses give us a heck of a pitchers' duel. Win or lose, both teams have to be thrilled to get such good starts out of their young hurlers (Ricky Romero for Toronto, Dallas Braden for Oakland).
Brewers 4, Mets 2: The Brewers enjoy a rare good start from Jeff Suppan, aided by the fact that the Mets were starting Nelson Figueroa. It's also worth noting that Todd Coffey threw 2.2 innings of scoreless relief, using just 30 pitches. It's nice to see Ken Macha thinking outside the box in the absence of Trevor Hoffman. Here's hoping he keeps an open mind when Hoffman returns.

Braves 11, Pirates 1: Javier Vazquez made another strong start, and this time the offense supported him. I think Vazquez will really enjoy the shift to Atlanta. As for the Pirates, hey, Andy LaRoche got another hit!
Red Sox 2, Orioles 1: Jon Lester throws a gem, and Takashi Saito makes the Boston front office look good. The good news for Baltimore is that Koji Uehara pitched quite well (7 IP, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K). It would be more comforting for Boston fans, though, to see somebody in the lineup besides Kevin Youkilis catch fire.
Marlins 7, Nationals 4: Neither team is as good (Marlins) or as bad (Nationals) as they've looked so far. With everyone rushing to congratulate the Florida pitchers, I must point out that ten games isn't much of a test for a group with so much trouble staying healthy. The good news for the Nats is ... uh, Elijah Dukes is hitting well!
Phillies 5, Padres 4: After suffering from a rare blown save by Brad Lidge, the Phils returned the favor on Sunday with a late-inning rally capped off by a walk-off homer by Raul Ibanez. For Padres fans ... well, you'd better get used to this.
White Sox 12, Rays 2: The Rays continue to struggle. On Sunday it was Matt Garza getting hammered, for 7 ER in 5.2 IP. Granted, his five walks allowed didn't help. The Sox looked good, and goodness knows they need more starts like this from Gavin Floyd.
Reds 4, Astros 2: The Astros recently re-upped manager Cecil Cooper for another year. I haven't a clue what could happen in 11 games to convince them one way or another. To be fair, though, Cooper can only work with the roster that's given to him. No one expected Felipe Paulino to out-pitch Edinson Volquez, but he did; then the Houston bullpen blew it. It was another high-stress outing for Volquez, who threw 104 pitches in six innings, striking out seven but walking five. Volquez and Cueto both need to be more efficient on the mound if the Reds want to contend.
Twins 3, Angels 1: Glen Perkins was masterful on the mound for Minnesota, needing just 84 pitches to get through 8 IP, allowing just four hits and one walk. The Twins will live and die by their pitching (and Joe Mauer's health), so Sunday's game is encouraging.
Rangers 6, Royals 5: Kyle Davies, like Volquez, labored his way to a quality start. Davies threw 111 pitches through six innings, striking out eight against five walks. But the Royals bullpen blew it, letting the Rangers tie it in the 8th and win it in the 9th on a walk-off home run by Michael Young. Kyle Farnsworth, to no one's surprise, took the loss. One wonders what in the $%*& manager Trey Hillman was thinking to send Farnsworth out there with the game on the line.

Giants 2, Diamondbacks 0: Randy Johnson's early work had the Giants very worried. Then, on Sunday, the unit returned to form, striking out seven and only allowing one hit through seven. He had a no-hitter going into the 7th inning. This was win #296 for Johnson.
Dodgers 14, Rockies 2: Apparently the Dodgers don't need to go to Coors to beat the Rockies by 12. It was all good for L.A., who got two homers from Matt Kemp to push their record to 10-3. The only downside was that starter Jason McDonald went just 4.1 innings despite throwing 96 pitches. That's not a good way to win a spot in the rotation. As for the Rockies, the closer's role is still up in the air between Huston Street (9.64 ERA) and Manny Corpas (6.75). For the sake of the fans, the Rockies might have to bring in a third candidate just to stop the bleeding.
Tigers 8, Mariners 2: Seeing Carlos Silva struggle in Seattle was no surprise. But the Tigers have to be thrilled to see top prospect Rick Porcello go seven strong innings, with only a solo homer by Ronny Cedeno counting against him.
Cubs vs. Cardinals: Rained out.

I saw an article recently that said that walk rates in baseball were pretty high so far this season. I'm not sure if that's just a fluke, and I'm not sure what it means if it's not. What I do know is that Sunday's games offer an object lesson on the dangers of too many walks. Even among some of the winners, we saw some pitchers getting by despite issuing a lot of free passes. That means reaching 90 or 100 pitches in the 5th or 6th inning, which is bad news for the rest of the team, especially if they've got bullpen problems.
Here's hoping that next Sunday has better weather. The bad weather knocked out the power to my house yesterday. But the utility company came right out to work on it. I don't know much about electricity, but when the utility guys are up there working on the box, and you hear a boom so loud it falls somewhere between a really big gun and a really small cannon, it means what they're trying isn't working.
Just FYI.

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