The Hanging Curve – Baseball Opinion Blog with MLB Analysis that won’t Bend or Break

Preseason is Upon Us

Today, MLB preseason kicked off, with everyone except the Padres and the Mariners playing their first games.  Hope abounds throughout the league, with every team believing that the carte blanche of the new season brings them playoff hopes.

The Pirates trotted out their predicted starting lineup minus Andy LaRoche, who had some back spasms, against the defending champion Phillies.  The starters came out plenty early, and every Pirate pitcher tossed one inning.  The second base position was strong:  Freddy Sanchez went 2-2 while prospect Shelby Ford blasted a 3-run home run which helped solidify the win.

The Phillies couldn’t muster much against the Pirates pitching, although closer Matt Capps struggled uncharacteristically through the second inning by walking the bases loaded with 12 straight balls.  Donald Veal, a Rule-5 pickup this offseason, picked up the win as the Pirates came through with the 8-2 win.  They face off with the Red Sox tomorrow.

Playoffs Begin to Crystalize

With the season winding down, most MLB clubs are fielding a squad fit for AAA ball, while a few of the best teams and some of the more deluded are still hanging on to the hope of making the playoffs.  The Angels clinched their division long ago, and have proceeded to the goal of helping “K-Rod” smash the single-season saves record.

The Red Sox last night clinched a playoff birth, and being three games behind the Rays wiith five to go have only an outside chance of taking the division.  Props for the Rays for hanging on to the division for a good portion of the season and finishing strong.  At any rate, the AL Wildcard race is over.

The AL Central race is still very hot.  The White Sox are in the lead, but the Twins are right behind them.  Unfortunately for the Twins, they are two games behind in the loss column, so they almost need to win out to win the division.

The NL is much less decided at this point.  The Cubs have clinched the “weak” (according to the pundits) Central division, but everything else is still up in the air.  The Phillies are only 1.5 games ahead of the Mets, who are still dealing with the loss of Wagner (last night by chaining Santana to the mound as he K’d the Cubs to the tune of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”).  Out in the West, Manny being Manny has helped the Dodgers pull out to a three game lead on the Diamondbacks, who are doing their best job of emulating the rest of the worst division in baseball.

The NL Wildcard race is fun.  This is where most of the delusion comes in.  The Brewers, with flailing Ryan Braun, are only one game behind the first-place Mets, while the Astros still belive they can make up 4.5 on the Mets and 3.5 on the Brewers.  The Cardinals probably still think they are in the race.  If you listen to their announcers, they’ll tell you this is the best team baseball has ever seen:  they can even overcome mathematical elimination.

Jason Bay to Boston

The Pirates, coming right down to the wire, have traded Jason Bay.  Most of the rumors around this deal involved the Marlins, but Pittsburgh abandoned that idea this afternoon (the Marlins sounded like they were demanding Manny, minus most of his salary, for Rick VandenHurk and a first baseman’s mitt) in favor of a swap with the Dodgers.  The Red Sox will get Bay, who is nearly as good as Manny but without all the drama.  Watch his numbers (RBI, runs, HR) balloon with great hitters around him and the Monster instead of a 390-foot fence in left field.  The Dodgers will get Ramirez and probably a boatload of cash.  The Pirates get a great take (from their perspective), both unloading some payroll on a player whom would probably be gone after his contract was up anyway, and in picking up some young prospects.  They receive Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Brandon Moss, and Craig Hansen.

Andy LaRoche was great in the minors but for some reason (even with all their injuries) the Dodgers just wouldn’t let him play.  Definite upgrade (and younger to boot) at third from Bautista, who should now take his real role as an excellent super-sub.  Morris will go to the class A Hickory Crawdads to show off his stuff.  I’ve heard good fastball, excellent slider, and boy do the Pirates need some pitching depth.  Brandon Moss should be a pretty decent fill in for LF until McCutchen is ready to come up for the CF job (September or 2009 season) and he’s young.  Not bad even if he ends up being your bench guy.  Finally, Craig Hansen is ready to join the Pirates now terrible bullpen, and at 24 he’s probably not getting any worse right now.

To me, it seems like Dodgers pretty much got the hose.  Yes, they did get Manny, but they didn’t really need an outfielder.  Ethier and Kemp are young and very good.  They will continue to play Andruw Jones in center even though they probably shouldn’t, and they have Juan Pierre (who should be on the bench at most).  Likely they will bench one of the young guys and leave the great Pierre in the lineup.  And Manny is only getting older, and Dodgers park is way bigger than Fenway.  Weird.

I am sad to see Bay leave Pittsburgh because, at least publicly, he said that he wanted to stay with the Pirates, but he will likely have far more success in Boston than with Pittsburgh.  Anyways, good luck to all involved.

Update: Bay, Manny, Moss and LaRoche have all hit their first home runs with their new clubs.  Manny has been crushing the ball, hitting .615 with 2 HR, 4 R, 5 RBI.  Bay is also hitting well, .364 with 3 BB, a HR, 3B, 6 R and 3 RBI; plus he has an outfield assist throwing a runner out at second and made a game-saving diving catch in left.  Moss has been hitting pretty decent for Pittsburgh, only .250 but with 4 BB already and a HR.  LaRoche has been less than perfect, only batting .182, but he has managed 2 R and 2 RBI with that, and his homerun last night makes me think he is finding his groove.

Divisional Roundup: AL East

Now that the All-Star rosters have been announced, we move our divisional roundup into the American League East, perhaps baseball’s strongest division.  I must admit, I have been terribly wrong about a few teams in this division so far.

At the top we have the Tampa Bay Rays.  Yes, by some stroke of luck, finger of God or, perhaps, upwelling of talent, the Rays are in first place on July 7th.  Many of the “Rays fans” out there probably don’t even realize that they changed their name this year.  What hasn’t changed is Tampa’s group of budding superstars.  Still possessing the same pieces they’ve always had, the Rays will perhaps become the Rockies of ’08.  No one doubted the half power, half blazing speed of Crawford or the superstar abilities of BJ Upton, or the abilities of Scott Kazmir, or the incredible K/BB ratio (4.57 this year, 5.11 last year) of James Shields.  What has brought the Rays to first place is the rounding out of a great rotation, perhaps by players playing above their ability (Matt Garza comes to mind), the elevated play of Navarro and new contributions of Longoria, and the hole-plugging play of the Gross/Hinske two-headed monster.  Maybe this is the year for Rays, just recall how the Rockies are doing now and live it up while you can “Rays fans” everywhere.

Boston.  Ever since 2004 they’ve the unquestionable kings of baseball.  This year is no different, they have the returning power of Manny and Papi, the Greek God of Walks Euclis, the best rotation (minus Schilling) in baseball, an incredible closer, and few great young players in Pedroia and Ellsbury lighting up the scoreboards each night.  I have absolute faith that the Red Sox have the talent, depth, and “winning heritage” to take the division from the Rays and anyone else down the stretch.  That’s really all there is to it.

The Yankees sit in third place right now with a decent record, but I would be worried if I were a Yankee’s fan.  Their already shitty rotation got a lot shittier when Wang and Pavano went down to injury, but possibly a little better when Hughes went down.  The Yanks’ idea of a bandage, however, is Sydney Ponson.  Ouch.  I would also be worried about when Joba’s walk rate will catch up with him.  The rotation isn’t the only place where injuries have hit, “Godzilla” Matsui will be down for some time with knee problems, and now Damon has the bug too.  Don’t blame all their problems on injury though, Posada is not having a career year again (suprise) and Robinson Cano is showing that he can consistently decrease his production through his prime years.  Props, however, for busting his balls in the last two months to heroically bring his average out of the Mendoza cellar to a not-as-terrible .252.  Perhaps he could walk a little more than approximately once every 5000 at-bats now too.  Prediction:  Yankees miss the playoffs, finish third.

The Orioles.  My god has this been a shocker so far.  Now, I’m not really that suprised to see the Rays in first place because that team at least has TALENT.  To see the Orioles in anywhere but last place is, to me, a shocker.  Let’s put the team in perspective:  the “Ace” is Daniel Cabrera and the cleanup spot has been manned by Aubrey Huff, Kevin Millar and (breathe) Ramon Hernandez.  Jesus.  Now, the team does have Roberts, who is a pretty good all-around ball player, and Markakis, who is young and a very good hitter.  The only other team in baseball with this little actual talent is San Francisco, who actually surpasses Baltimore by a decent margin in that department.  Prediction:  O’s finish a terrible last.

That leaves us with the last place Blue Jays.  These guys have disappointed me so far:  at the beginning of the season, I was thinking they could make a run for the wild card.  Their rotation (Halladay, Burnett, McGowan, Marcum) rivals the Red Sox, and they have faced an injury to Marcum as well.  Their lineup has been less potent than I would have thought, what with Rios, Wells, Hill, Thomas (no longer), and to a lesser extent Rolen and Overbay.  I suspect this has been the main downfall for them this season; that and playing in the AL East.  Prediction:  change their name to the “Toronto Jays” in attempt to capture the magic of Tampa Bay.  Finish tied for third with Yankees.

Red Sox Get Best News of the Season

Sidney Ponson signed for the Yanks!  Oh sweet!  Sidney “The Hulk” Ponson.

“Hopefully what happened in Texas stays in Texas,” Cashman said. “We’re short a little bit on inventory. This was an obvious move. We had Sidney here in 2006, so I have a little bit of a feel for him. I talked to him after the cleared waivers [Wednesday] morning. … Hopefully he can help us. He threw well for them.”

Oh man, I love it.  If only it had been true for Bush.

In personal news I’ve been working a new job, something requiring me to work day shift like some sort of fucking Starbucks-going yuppie.  In addition, I’ve also been forced to quit smoking due to health concerns..this has proved to be an unforgiving combination; and I’ve spent the majority of the last two weeks pissed off and nicotine free.

Something else that pisses me off?  Gardenhire gets a fine for slow play – even though the Twins have the quickest played games time of all AL teams.

Oh, and my entire fantasy team is on the disabled list.

I can hear the wheelchairs creaking in my head.

Deep, Deep Inside the Numbers – Daisuke Matsuzaka

Fuck you Varitek I’ll throw it where I want!

Dice-K has worked his way to an 8-0 record. You hear from analysts how Matsuzaka has “settled in” during his sophomore year. But as a Boston fan, every time he takes the mound is a cold-sweat, hands-trembling, stomach-churning bad trip from the very first 3-2 count.

Dice-K may be undefeated, but he’s far from dominating. Is he due for an ass-kicking? Is he even any better than last year?

PENETRATE THE STATISTICS!

As of today, Dice K 60 IP, 41 hits (4 homers) 38 walks to 53 strikeouts. That’s a WHIP of 1.317, the same as last year’s 1.324, when his ERA registered at 4.40. He’s also retiring half of hitters on the flyball (49%). BABIP is .231. Something’s gonna give pretty soon if his command doesn’t improve. Just watching the games you notice him consistently missing the location Varitek calls. This year he has fallen behind more hitters and overall strike percentage decreased.

The statistics suggest he can’t keep it up for long…but I’ll be damned if he hasn’t worked his way out of most big jams I’ve seen him in this year, and there have been a LOT.

The toil! The toil! Daisuke has pitched 7 innings in only two ballgames. Granted, he hasn’t gone less than 5 either. This isn’t Cy Young stuff though. It might not even be All-Star stuff.

You think he can keep working that gyroball? I’m not so sure…

Cancer-free Jon Lester Throws Cancer-free No-hitter

Recent cancer victim and victor Jon Lester threw a cancer-free no-hitter against the Cancer City Royals last night. Lester seems to have regained the velocity that he had lost (cancer) as he was consistently hitting 93 and above last night. I was talking to my brother before the game about the cancer-free Jon Lester, and how I felt he had lost the velocity and was worried it was permanent. My brother mentioned that during his one-hit outing last week Lester had been showcasing some cancer-free velocity.

The Royals fell victim to the cutter mostly, but Lester mixed in enough cancer-free offspeed pitches to keep K.C. pressing. He finished with 9 strikeouts (early Lester was a strikeout pitcher) and 2 walks. Nothing was hit all that hard; save one line drive to Youk. Watch the video. And enjoy life…while you are still cancer-free!

Buchholz, Bush, Baseball…Bullshit!

Clay Buchholz was the honorary spokesman for The Hanging Curve on Monday’s game in Minnesota. The right-hander left breaking balls up all game. Clay was touched up for 7 earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. There’s an extra noose here though for Minnesota’s Star Tribune writer Patrick Reusse. Mr. Reusse wrote an article detailing his opinion on Buchholz (he doesn’t throw the fastball enough). Hey Patrick, did you watch the game man?

The problem, Mr. Reusse, isn’t that Buchholz and Varitek desire to throw sixty curveballs a game while they get rocked all over the park. The problem is that Buchholz cannot locate his fastball. If the curveball is the only pitch going over for a strike, you gotta throw it. Let’s face it, Buchholz has a wicked hammer, and when it’s working it’s a very difficult pitch to hit. If he’s unable to locate his fastball, then he becomes quite hittable. But to just chalk it up to ignorance…as if you’re the first guy to notice he threw 2/3rds curveballs??

What’s even stranger is that if he had watched the game on television he would have noticed Bert Blyleven, the Twins foul-mouthed announcer and former curveball wizard making plenty of valid points during the game. The most noticeable of which was Buchholz’s front side flying open way too early on power pitches. You know….mechanics? Not…ignorance!

More Yahoo! Sports news fun: As part of an intense interview with President Bush, this penis-eating little bitch* asked some real hard questions, one of which involved baseball. Asking him to choose a position player and a pitcher; he chose Chase Utley and Roy Halladay. Not bad choices. Truthfully, you know he’d sign someone with ties to Saudi oil.

As a non-baseball related political observation, note the intense music and shots of Bush before the Yahoo! interview..before they ask him real hard questions like “Why did you quit golf? Was it the war?” (to which Bush replies yes, because some mother of a dead GI doesn’t want him to be playing golf). Actually Mr. Bush I think the woman would prefer you don’t continue creating more women like her. And that little penis-eating Yahoo! bitch just sits there and nods his head like a goddamn zombie the entire interview. EVEN IF HE’S NOT SAYING SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE NODDED AT!

But it’s a Yahoo! Exclusive! with intense music, so you know they must be asking hard questions; even if they don’t sound like hard questions.

Fuck I need a cigarette. Where’s my man Scott Olsen?

*Note to all homosexuals: I am not intending to offend you by referring to this man as a penis-eating little bitch. The truth of the matter is that he actually does look like a guy who would eat tiny, shriveled up penises while wearing My Little Pony panties. Please excuse the confusion.

Yankees Fan Kills Red Sox Fan Instead of Playing Centipede

There’s no better way to build the media-fueled rivalry than a high profile murder! Pushing Zimmer over is nothing compared to running someone over with your car after a barroom fight.

Reuters reports:

Prosecutors say Hernandez was drunk when she drove her car across a dirt parking lot outside the Nashua City Hall into Matthew Beaudoin, 29, and Maria Hughes, 21, after exchanging words with them about the Yankees and Red Sox baseball teams.

The spat began at a local bar where Hernandez said she was a Yankees fan, according to witnesses quoted by the Nashua Telegraph newspaper.

It then spilled outside where a group that included Beaudoin chanted “Yankees suck!” when they saw a Yankees sticker on the rear window of Hernandez’s car, New Hampshire‘s Assistant Attorney General, Susan Morrell, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

She told Nashua District Court that Hernandez drove directly at the group and did not brake, hitting Beaudoin.

Yahoo also has a video of WBZ Boston local news coverage here, where you can see pictures of this meth-addicted Yankees fan. This whole incident has really opened my eyes. I used to think all Yankees fans were rich, yuppie assholes who spent most of their day at Starbucks without a clue as to where the Bombers stood in the standings. It turns out that at least some of them are poor, uneducated assholes with violent tempers.

Truth be told, nobody would have been hurt if they had all just chilled out. They’re in Nashua, New Hampshire after all! They could have gone and visited the happiest mother fuckin’ place on Earth as far as I am concerned, FunWorld. I spent countless hours there as a child; playing classic arcade games, bowling, trying to figure out if NH tollbooth tokens could be used in substitute of FunWorld tokens (they could not)

Here: an easy visual diagram to help those parents with children stuck in the Sox-Yanks rivalry.

Be safe!

Sox-Rays-Haze

Was watching the Sox enact some revenge on the Rays for getting swept in Tampa last night. Sox won 7-3 with the majority of the damage coming with 2 outs in the bottom of the 4th. Reading the play-by-play you get

– M. Lowell struck out swinging
– K. Youkilis lined out to shortstop
– B. Moss homered to deep center
– J. Varitek singled to center
– J. Lugo walked, J. Varitek to second
– J. Ellsbury singled to center, J. Varitek scored, J. Lugo to third
– D. Pedroia singled to left, J. Lugo and J. Ellsbury scored, D. Pedroia to second advancing on throw
– D. Ortiz singled to center, D. Pedroia scored
– M. Ramirez struck out swinging

A cool rally, but the interesting part is that the 24 year old Jackson just languishes out there the entire inning without a mound visit. No Navarro, no pitching coach Jim Hickey, no manager Joe Maddon. This maybe wouldn’t be worth mention except the pitching selection is just godawful. In particular Pedroia looked just horrible swinging at sliders with the last one resulting in Pedroia taking a golf-like swing at a ball in the dirt and somehow fouling it off himself. Jackson then throws a fastball middle-in that Pedroia strokes into left center. Ortiz comes up and backs out on a slider that comes right back over the middle, then hits a fastball hard into right. Manny ends the insanity by striking out wildly trying to hit #497.