Cross-Platform Synergy

Another week, another Hit List, this one completed at breakneck speed since I more or less put myself out of commission on Wednesday with a combination of radio, my BP chat, and a trip to Yankee Stadium to see the hottest team in baseball. And no, I don’t mean the Diamondbacks, who left New York looking like the “Join Or Die” snake after being trounced by a combined score of 18-4 during the three-game sweep.

Wednesday night’s game was the only one where the Diamondbacks even got a lead; they scored off Mike Mussina with two outs in the second, but Jorge Posada led off the bottom half by drilling Livan Hernandez’s first pitch just over the rightfield wall. Number of outs over which Arizona held a lead = 1. The Yanks loaded the bases with two walks and a single, but neither Miguel Cairo and Wil Nieves — two absolute zeroes with the stick — could take advantage.

That was the last bit of luck for ol’ Livan, whose velocity seldom reaches higher than the mid-80s at this point. A leadoff walk to Derek Jeter in the third — one of five walks Hernandez surrendered during his brief stint — was soon followed by Alex Rodriguez’s 25th homer of the year, a no-doubter into the leftfield stands. That was nothing compared to the fourth inning, when a two-out single by Bobby Abreu sparked a rally. Abreu stole second and scored when A-Rod singled to leftfield. A Posada walk was followed by a monster shot to right-centerfield by Hideki Matsui, and as fast as you could say “Go Go Godzilla!” the Yanks had expanded their lead to 7-1. That would be the last inning for Hernandez.

Meanwhile, Mike Mussina baffled the D-back hitters in what may have been his best outing of the season. He threw first pitch strikes to 13 out of the first 17 hitters he faced and 20 out of 28 overall, and struck out seven — four of them looking — while walking none. Brian Bruney and Mike Myers came on to make things interesting, but in the end, the Yanks took their eighth straight. With Thursday afternoon’s win, they ran that to nine straight and 12 out of 14; they’re #8 on this week’s Hit List and have shaved seven games off the once-ridiculous 14.5-game lead the Red Sox held on May 29.

Next up for the Yanks is the crosstown Mets, who are amid a slump in which they’ve lost nine out of 10. Spent a good deal of time watching them play the Dodgers, who had problems of their own coming into the series, in front of a star-studded Dodger Stadium audience that included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (having it both ways with a Brooklyn Dodgers cap), Hilary Swank, Jerry Seinfeld, and — for the first time I can recall in the 25 years since he left he organization — Steve Garvey. Anyway, here’s what I wrote in the Hit List:

Code Blue: amid a 1-5 skid that sends them tumbling into third place in the NL West, the Dodgers recall James Loney and Matt Kemp to fortify a flagging offense that’s second-to-last in the league in homers; they’ve gotten just one from Nomar Garciaparra and none from Rafael Furcal, a duo that combined for 35 last year. The moves pay off as the Dodgers sweep the swooning Mets, with Wilson Betemit, Kemp, and Hong-Chih Kuo–the lineup’s 7-8-9 hitters–homering on three straight pitches. In addition to adding a Bonds-like flourish to his longballs, Kuo’s pitching in on the mound, yielding just two runs in his last 13 innings while striking out 12.

Mets color analyst Ron Darling spent an endless amount of time discussing Kuo’s bat toss amid an interminable multi-night lecture series on proper conduct amid a losing streak. Darling felt Kuo should have gotten some chin music for his admittedly egregious display, and had he left it at that, things would have been fine. But he’d been pressing the same kind of “Don’t hit ‘em so hard, Reggie” whine line for two nights in a row, and I was ready to puncture my eardrum with an icepick after listening to him. I don’t usually watch the Mets, given that I have two teams to follow already. But while I like the clean graphics of their TV network better than those on YES, and while I dig a good number of the Mets players — Jose Reyes, David Wright, the slugging (or struggling) Socialist Carlos Delgado, El Duque, Carlos Beltran, etc — so much about that organization — from the announcers to Shea Stadium to the life and times of Brooklyn’s own Paul Lo Duca (who looked amusingly pained amid the Mets’ ridiculously poor play) — is irreducibly Met-like, and every bit as enthralling as a make-out session with Gary Carter. Yeah, eeeuw.

Anyway, the Dodgers swept the Mets, and combined with the D-bags’ sagging fortunes, narrowed the NL West fight down to two teams for the moment. The aforementioned recalls illustrate a club that’s clearly undergoing a midseason transition; my man Jon Weisman covers the changes over at Dodger Thoughts. Interestingly enough, as the team has cycled through prospects Andy La Roche and Tony Abreu in an attempt to get some production from the hot corner after Wilson Betemit’s woeful .125/.297/.161 start (thought May 4), it’s Betemit himself who’s re-emerged as the best option. Since losing his job, he’s hit .340/.446/.851, including a 7-for-15, 1.200 SLG turn as a pinch-hitter. Nice.

As for the chat, it was a breezy one that likely didn’t piss off as many people as I have recently with remarks about Murray Chass or Tony La Russa (I guess I lacked the rojo, as Ron Darling would say). I’ll cherrypick a few of the better exchanges:

Malcolm Little (Lansing, MI):
We’re a little more than 1/3 of the way through MLB v.2007…. ….Can you think of a couple of teams who are very unlikely to get back on track this “late” in the season (beyond the obvious)? Is there a wayward team out there still likely to get it together in time for at least a perfunctory run?

JJ: The last two World Champs, the White Sox and Cardinals, look to be in horrid shape right now. I know the latter has made some advances in the past week or so, but their run differential says that even at 27-34, they’re overachieving. As for the White Sox, man, that offense is just kaput, and the low BABIPs of the rotation have been regressing to the mean pretty quickly over the last few weeks.

On the other side of the coin, I really don’t think the Cubs are as awful as they look or as the media is making them out to be. For all of their problems they’ve still got a +25 run differential and they’re only 5.5 out. Maybe the Aramis Ramirez injury changes things, but I still think this team can wait out their troubles and give the Brewers a scare.

bloodwedding (BK): Let’s face it: Sheffield’s last month makes him a lock for the Hall.

JJ: Sheffield’s a fantastic hitter, no doubt about it, and he’s put up an OPS around 1100 for the past seven weeks. Suffice it to say that no matter what kind of trouble his mouth gets him into, his bat usually manages to hit his way out.

Shef’s JAWS coming into the year is already ahead of the HOF rightfielder standards (120.2/68.0/94.1 for him, 119.8/65.5/92.7 for the average), so he’s plenty qualifield. The question will be whether the various controversies that surrounded him throughout his career, from the infamous “intentional error” quote to the endless bitching about his contracts to his involvement in BALCO to his latest comments about race are held against him. I’m inclined to think that the writers like him because he give them good copy, and that may help. But I do think there’s a lot that can be held against him, with the steroid allegations the biggest threat to him being elected

akachazz (DC): Hey Jay, The situation with the Mariners really REALLY needs to be addressed. Nothing about their roster seems impressive, their hitters are impatient, their staff is mediocre, and they are run by the dunce of the GM world. But their record is outstanding. ???

JJ: The Mariners would rank 10th on the Hit List if it ran today. They’re nine games over .500 but only 16 runs above even, which tells me they’re not nearly this good (as if their roster didn’t tell me that). At the same time, ESPN’s Strength of Schedule numbers say that they’ve played the seventh-toughest schedule, so there is something going on there that’s positive.

What’s working? They’ve got a good bullpen, third in the league in WXRL. They may well continue to maintain that, but I think they’ll have a hard time preserving the 21-12 record they have in games decided by three runs or less without some serious help from the rotation, which is fourth-to-last in the majors in SNLVAR.

In other words, locate your parachutes.

Regarding the Mariners, I had some serious vertical integration going on Wednesday, as I was able to use the same set of factoids for chat, radio, Hit List, and even idle ballpark chatter — not that my friend Julie was particularly concerned about the doings in Seattle beyond Jeff Weaver’s weird season. Gotta love the cross-platform synergy. Also, there was lots of Hall of Fame/JAWS talk in the chat, with Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, several Mets, and Jorge Posada all up for discussion. I’ll have more on Posada in an upcoming Unfiltered entry at BP. Until then…

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