Monday, April 27, 2009

Galarraga, El Prestidigitador

Photo: G. Newman Lowrance (Getty Images)

I know several people online have taken to calling Armando Galarraga “The Little Cat” (obviously in reference to Andres), but forget that. Given both his knack for card tricks and his ability to somehow Houdini his way out of jams (and look really good doing it), Armando’s nickname SHOULD be “The Magician” (or if you prefer the Spanish, as in the title, “El Prestidigitador,” although that’s a really hard word to say; you could also use “El Mago,” but that actually translates closer to “wizard” than “magician”). Whatever you want to call him, Galarraga did a fine job working around some control problems, and managed to get six innings in (which, you’d think with five walks and seven strikeouts, he’d’ve thrown more pitches than he actually did). Still, he needs to work out those control problems, because his next start is against Cleveland, and even though he’s never lost to them, the Indians typically have a much better offense than the Royals, and he probably won’t be able to get away with five walks again. Rodney gave up the home run to Mike Aviles in the ninth, which makes two straight appearances in which he’s given up runs, so that may be a little bit of a concern, but he looked okay after the home run.

When you think of pitchers that you have to manufacture runs against, you usually don’t think of Sidney Ponson. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Tigers WERE able to manufacture the critical run. Ponson totally defied his scouting report (which had him pegged as walking a lot of guys) and pretty much threw nothing but strikes. I’d complain about it more, but if he struck out Polanco, then maybe there was more at work than the Reyes Effect. Luckily, Brandon Inge was able to take advantage of pretty much the only mistake he made, and once again, there was some nice (and, as it turns out, important) small ball contribution from the bottom of the lineup (Anderson, Everett, and Sardinha).

After being on the road for all but five games this month, it’s time for the boys to don the home whites for a while. However, this homestand figures to be anything but easy. They’ll eventually have to face 13 games in a row against division opponents, but first up is the New York Yankees and the media circus that comes with them. It’s well-documented by now that the Yankees have not pitched well so far this year, but they’re still at .500 (so they can definitely outslug you). Tonight, CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander oppose each other for what seems like the 500th time now, and it pretty much never lives up to its “Big Pitching Duel” billing. Usually what ends up happening is that one of them pitches reasonably well while the other gets clobbered, and the potential for that happening again is really high. Both pitchers have struggled, though Sabathia’s ERA is better and he’s been okay over his last few starts (with the exception being his last start against Oakland). He’s still thrown a lot of pitches in a short amount of time and he’s walked more than he’s struck out (then again, so had Sidney Ponson prior to yesterday). The Tigers last saw him in early April last year, when he was REALLY struggling, and they scored a ton of runs off him (that was the night Armando Galarraga got his first win). He’s not struggling quite THAT much right now. On the flipside, if you look at Verlander’s basic stats, the only bad numbers are his ERA and the fact that he throws too many pitches per inning. He isn’t walking a lot of guys, the opponent’s batting average against is pretty low, and he’s racked up quite a few strikeouts, so basically nothing makes sense about him right now. As a result, people have started delving into his more advanced stats, and this is where my amateur status comes into play because I don’t understand most of what that covers. For example, Billfer has an
in-depth article that explores whether the problem lies with something Justin is doing while in the stretch, but 90% of that article may as well be in Chinese because I have no clue what he’s referring to. I read an article before Verlander’s last start which suggested that at the present time, opponents are just bunching their hits together against him, which may be related to a problem pitching in the stretch. Leyland has said that Justin’s stuck in a mode right now where he goes out there “waiting for something bad to happen,” and there might be some truth to that. In just about all his starts this year, he has pitched well until he gives up a run or someone makes an error or there’s a bloop hit or something to that effect and then, well…I don’t want to say he gives up, but it’s like he gets frustrated and loses focus, which just opens the floodgates. Then there’s the old theory that he’s tipping his pitches, which hasn’t been explored that much recently, but it’s one that has kind of stuck ever since his rookie year, and it usually centers around Chicago and Cleveland (the two teams that have hit him the hardest, generally). If there is any bearing to the theory, it may have expanded beyond those two teams, because over the past four years, a lot of White Sox and Indians have moved on to other teams (for instance, Franklin Guitierrez was traded from the Indians to the Mariners), and with them go the scouting reports. Whatever the reason, I would dearly love Justin to win tonight, if for nothing else than to get people to stop saying mean things about him (There, I just showed my immature side). It will not be easy for him, since he’s got the Yankees tonight, and then the Indians and White Sox. He has faced the Yankees three times in his career (once in the postseason). In 2007, he had an okay start against them at Yankee Stadium (similar to his postseason start), followed by a brilliant start against them about ten days later at Comerica Park. He only made one start against them last year, and to say it was a disaster would be an understatement (By the way, did I mention that I did not see that game?). One thing that I’d be especially happy to see tonight is good defense, because so far this year, Justin’s been victimized by some awful defense in just about every outing. In all honesty, his ERA should actually be lower than it is right now (though still not great), but official scorers in Anaheim make really strange decisions. Your Mood Music for tonight: I know you’re not going to understand this, but I DON’T hate the Yankees. That probably stems from the fact that I went to New York when I was eleven and loved it. Regardless of the reason, I just don’t hate them. However, I realize that I am in the minority here and to just about everyone else, they are the Evil Empire. So I’ll just be tongue-in-cheek, and to that end, what better music than the Darth Vader Theme?

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