Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Around the AL East 4/8/09

All five AL East teams were active for the first time today. Here is a look around the league at the results.

New York Yankees (0-1) at Baltimore Orioles (1-0)
Final: Orioles 7, Yankees 5


Looking Sharp
Nick Markakis, OF. He is very hot starting off the year. He followed up a solid performance on opening day with a 3-for-3 to improve his batting average to .714 through two games. He hit his first home run of the season off Chien-Ming Wang and knocked in three to increase his season total to five RBIs. He will play the entire season at age 25, and still has a couple of years before he hits the typical peak seasons. He is going to be very, very scary for a long time. This year, expect him to take a step forward after a slight step back last year.

Adam Jones, OF. Jones didn't manage to draw any walks today after a surprisingly patient effort yesterday, but he did go 1-for-3 with a double and a sacrifice fly. He also knocked in his third run and scored for the fourth time so far. At age 23, it's hard to say what he is going to do this season, but the kid is a 5-tool talent. If Felix Pie is able to channel some of his skill, the Orioles will have one of the best outfields in baseball for the better part of a decade. Thank Erik Bedard for his one dominant season if you're an O's fan. Seattle gave up a lot for what Bedard has produced so far.

Koji Uehara, SP. I didn't know what to expect from Uehara this season. It's always hard to project out players from Japan, but Uehara pitched solidly today. He went five innings, allowing five hits, one walk and a run on the way to his first Major League victory. I see one scary thing in his line though: Uehara got three outs on ground balls, none on strikeouts and 12 on fly balls. According to NPB Tracker, the Japanese baseball blog of record for Americans seeking scouting, the biggest thorn in Uehara's side has been the home run ball throughout his career. If his fly ball rate stays close to what it was tonight, the bandbox that is Camden Yards could exacerbate these problems and give him major headaches as hitters adjust to him.

Also of note: Danys Baez, RP. Baez pitched two perfect innings, striking out one, in relief. Baez threw only 20 pitches over the two frames, 14 of them for strikes. He has always had good stuff, but has yet to really put it together and dominate. This is a good sign for Baltimore.

Off the Mark
Dennis Sarfate, RP
. After helping shut down the Yankees' comeback attempt on Opening day, Sarfate imploded in the ninth with the Birds up 7-2. He allowed two runs on a Derek Jeter home run and another on Mark Teixeira's first hit with the Bombers, an RBI double that finished the team's scoring with two outs.


Looking Sharp

Derek Jeter, SS. Jeter followed up a three-hit Opening Day effort with another strong performance. Jeter went 2-for-4 with a home run, a walk, a stolen base and two RBIs. The Yankees have to be happy to see Jeter off to such a strong start after his struggles last year. Seeing him get on base and swipe bases bodes well for the lineup now that Jeter is the leadoff hitter. The Yanks are clearly trying to avoid station-to-station play.

Robinson Cano, 2B. A day after drawing what could be his only walk of the season, Cano went 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a steal. If he can use his speed to swipe some bags, this team will really move with Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Johnny Damon and Brett Gardner all in possession of some serious wheels. Joe Girardi seems to be sending the runners more, too, as Johnny Damon also picked up a steal today. This goes a long, long way in helping the Yankees rely less on the home run now that steroids aren't an option...

Edwar Ramirez, Jonathan Albaladejo, Jose Veras, RPs. These three stepped in and were very strong in relieving Chien-Ming Wang after only 3.2 innings. They combined for 4.1 hitless innings, but allowed three walks. Ramirez went 1.1 innings, walking two and striking out one. His control was poor, throwing only 12 of his 26 pitches for strikes, but he managed to get people out. He has one of the better changeups in the game. Albaladejo pitched two, walking one on only 21 pitches. He has allowed three baserunners over 3.1 scoreless innings so far. He can make a good Yankees bullpen even better. Veras pitched a perfect eighth, striking out one batter while throwing eight of 11 pitches for strikes. I have a strong feeling that Veras will replace Brian Bruney in the eighth inning role at some point this season.

Also of Note: Jorge Posada, C. Posada went 1-for-4 with a double and a run scored today, continuing to show extra base power in his surgically repaired shoulder. More importantly, he threw out Brian Roberts stealing for the second consecutive game. The Yankees win at least five more games this season with a healthy Posada.

Off the Mark
Chien-Ming Wang, SP
. I didn't think it was possible, but Wang managed to outstink C.C. Sabathia's start today. He lasted only 3.2 innings, but allowed nine hits [including five for extra bases], seven runs and three walks while striking out nobody. He got six groundouts and only three flyouts, which is good, but you expect better results from a guy with such a dominant sinker. The extra base hits are very perplexing, and have to make you wonder how he is feeling on the mound coming off of his injury last season. I expect the Yankees pitchers will be very happy to leave Camden Yards this weekend. It hasn't treated them well so far.

Tampa Bay Rays (0-1) at Boston Red Sox (1-0)
Final: Rays 7, Red Sox 2


Looking Sharp
Evan Longoria, 3B. Longoria went 2-for-5 with a solo home run off of Takashi Saito and a double off Jon Lester. Seeing the kid mash against a quality lefty like Lester has to make Rays' fans feel confident that there won't be a sophomore slump. He is a very important piece of the offense because he is the righty complement to their two best hitters, lefties Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. Pat Burrell eases the load against lefties somewhat, but there is no question that despite Burrell's formidable pop, this kid is their premier right-handed hitter.

Carl Crawford, OF. Check that whole bit about the Rays needing Longoria to hit the tough lefties. Crawford went 3-for-5 with an RBI today, picking up two hits off Lester and one off of fellow lefty Javier Lopez. His awesome speed was a factor, allowing him to pick up two infield hits. He is just such a complete hitter. Even if you manage to overpower him, there is no guarantee you are going to get him out.

Scott Kazmir, SP. Kazmir outdueled one of the better pitchers in baseball today in Lester. His final line: six innings, five hits, one earned run, three walks, four strikeouts. You would like to see Kazmir walk less batters, but he threw 68 of his 111 pitches for strikes. That isn't too bad, and the Red Sox are a tough offensive team. The Rays will take six innings of one run ball against them any day. When David Price finally joins this rotation of Matt Garza, Kazmir and Shields, the sky is the limit.

Also of Note: Carlos Pena, 1B. Speaking of Crawford's job hitting Lester, Pena's first hit of the season was a two-out, two run blast off of the lefty that sealed his fate in the fifth inning. If the big bopper is healthy all year, this team is even better than last season at another position. Where is the ceiling? Jason Bartlett, SS. The light-hitting shortstop added to the Rays' display today with three hits of his own in five at-bats. He scored once, and knocked a man in. If he hits too, this team is flawless [except the bullpen?].

Off the Mark
Pat Burrell, DH
. Burrell went 0-for-3 for the Rays with a walk today. He is 0-for-7 so far on the year and is yet to drive in a run or score one for his new team. I will chalk up his struggles to switching leagues and facing Lester and Josh Beckett as a greeting card. He also doesn't need to hit for a high average. The team got him for his power, so as long as he hits his 30 home runs and knocks in somewhere near 100 runs, the Rays will not complain.

Dioner Navarro, C. Navarro went 0-for-4, and while he isn't the Rays' most important hitter, I do see some warning signs here. Navarro's numbers average jumped from .227 in 388 at-bats in 2007 to .295 in 427 in 2008. The big difference seemed to be a decrease in strikeouts for the 25-year-old catcher. Up until last season, Navarro averaged a strikeout every 5.98 official appearances. Last year, that number dropped to every 8.71 trips to the plate, but his patience apparently got slightly worse. He went from walking every 10.04 at-bats in his prior career to every 12.56 times up. That does not strike me as the kind of numbers a typical .295 hitter puts up, so I would expect a decline here. The three strikeouts in eight at-bats may just be the beginning to a frustrating season for a player with a flawed approach at the plate.


Looking Sharp
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
. Youkilis is one of the toughest competitors in the game, and he's a pretty darn good hitter, too. Today he went 3-for-4. As context, the Red Sox only had eight hits as a team. He picked up one of the team's two RBIs, but that shouldn't surprise anyone. This guy is a machine. On the flipside, he made a costly error today in the field, but I am pretty sure that will not become a trend.

Ramon Ramirez, RP. I think that Ramirez is an underrated commodity with a high upside. He is certainly a nice arm to add to an already-good bullpen. Considering how little the piece (Coco Crisp) the Red Sox had to give up to get him fit with the team, a solid season from Ramirez could be a real coup. He looked sharp today, pitching a perfect inning and striking out a batter while putting 10 of 13 pitches in the zone.

Off the Mark
Jon Lester, RP
. The line speaks for itself: five innings, five earned runs, eight hits, two walks and five strikeouts. He got beat up a little today, but he will be fine. The five strikeouts show how tough his stuff is, even when he isn't at his best. He threw 60 of his 94 pitches for strikes, and had only allowed one run when he blew up for four in the fifth. This looks to me like a case of a guy running out of gas early out of spring training.

Mike Lowell, Jed Lowrie, Jason Varitek, 3B, SS, C. The bottom third of the Red Sox order went 0-for-10 today with two strikeouts and six left on base. The three are hitting a combined 3-for-22 over the first two games. Add in Jacoby Ellsbury's 1-for-9 and that is a 4-for-31 start for the seven through one hitters. That is too many automatic outs, and the Sox need at least two of these guys to be productive this year to contend in a tough division.

Toronto Blue Jays (2-0) at Detroit Tigers (0-2)
Final: Tigers 5, Blue Jays 1


Looking Sharp
Marco Scutaro, SS.
Scutaro went 2-for-4 today with a double and the Jays' only run scored. He has always been a pretty strong hitter for a middle infield guy. And with the Aaron Hill/Alex Rios/Vernon Wells/Adam Lind crowd forming in line behind him, a decent season would provide a lot of run scoring opportunities. He could be a sparkplug for that offense.

Off the Mark
Jesse Litsch, SP
. Litsch got burned by the longball today, simply put. He gave up two home runs to Miguel Cabrera and one to Brandon Inge over six innings. He allowed five earned runs, walking one and allowing seven hits. He did manage to strike out five batters along the way, and 64 of his 106 pitches were strikes, which is a good sign.

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