Blogs > Minor Matters

Run by The Trentonian's Nick Peruffo, this blog will provide daily multimedia coverage of the Trenton Thunder.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What a first two games

In a column that ran in The Trentonian's World Series preview section on Wednesday, I wrote that the Phillies would be wrong to expect to see the same CC Sabathia they destroyed in the National League Division Series last October.

I was right.

Problem for the Yankees was: Cliff Lee was the same dominating pitcher he's been since joining the Phillies in July. He mixed and matched, accelerated and decelerated on his way to baffling the Yankees over a complete-game, 6-1 victory. He made the Yankees, the best offensive team in the major leagues all season long, look completely helpless.

Of course, Sabathia pitched pretty darn well too. He made two mistakes, though, and they cost him -- big time. Chase Utley took two of Sabathia's misplaced fastballs and deposited them into the right-field bleachers. Those two bombs turned out to be the margin of victory as Philly coasted the rest of the way to their sixth straight win in Game 1 of a playoff series, a streak that dates back to last year's NLDS.

Last night, the plot was basically the same -- except for a key role reversal.

A.J. Burnett threw the best game of his life and outdueled a rejuvenated-looking Pedro Martinez in the process.

Burnett went seven innings before giving the ball to Mariano Rivera, who, although wasn't at his best, did the job over the final two frames.

Martinez, for his part, proved nearly everybody wrong.

Like Sabathia the night before, Pedro made just two mistakes -- both were hit out of the yard. Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui each went deep, providing the Yankees all the runs they needed to even up the World Series heading into Philadelphia and what should be a raucous Citizens Bank Park tomorrow night.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This is what it's all about

After six months of waiting, the World Series is finally upon us -- and it's a doozy this year. For the first time in a long time it actually seems like the two best teams and not the two teams who just happened to get hot at the right time.

The Phillies and Yankees are remarkably similar, which would seem to point to a six- or seven game series.

Both teams are built upon strong, home-grown foundations. The Yankees have Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. The Phillies counter with Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. That's eight of the game's premier players divided evenly on the sport's biggest stage.

Both clubs also have tremendous power: The Phils led the NL in home runs, doubles, runs scored, slugging percentage, total bases and hit by pitch. They finished second in stolen bases, with 119 swipes.

On the other side, the Yankees led the Junior Circuit in runs, hits, home runs, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases.

As for the pitching, the Yankees were tops in saves and strikeouts, and pitched to a 4.28 ERA. The Phillies led the NL in no category, but accrued a 4.16 ERA.

All in all, I give the Yanks the edge because of their hammer at the back of the bullpen, Mariano Rivera. They'll win in seven games.

Friday, October 23, 2009

So, I was wrong

After writing the other day about how good the Yankees' bullpen is, it has promptly imploded -- save for Mariano Rivera. Not one of the New York non-Rivera relievers inspires confidence -- not Joba, not Hughes, not Marte, not Coke, not Aceves, not Robertson and not Gaudin. It's pretty amazing that the Yankees' pen has gone to pieces, while the Phillies' pen has looked much, much better of late.

Thinking about it, it seems possible that, because they're so young, the Yankees' relievers may be going through a case of very ill-timed burnout.

Take Phil Hughes, for example.

By my count, Hughes has thrown 108 innings (counting playoffs) this season, his first as a reliever. The total is his highest since 2007, when he threw 110 1/3 between the majors and the minors. Additionally, it's the first season in which he's been regularly used on back-to-back days, which almost certainly added new stress to the 23-year-old's arm. More than likely, that has played a big factor in his postseason struggles.

Monday, October 19, 2009

ALCS and NLCS recaps, thoughts

First, the ALCS:

Wow, what a crazy game, huh? We learned (or re-learned, at least) two things about the bullpen in those 13 innings:

1. All A-Rod needs to do to be clutch in the postseason is admit he used steroids. That will put him in the "better place" he keeps talking about. I wonder if the knowledge that he had been cheating did weigh on his mind at all during the last few postseasons. Frankly, I'm surprised nobody from the media has asked him that.

In any case, whatever had been clouding his mind seems to be a thing of the past. Three game-tying home runs in the seventh inning or later in five postseason games, are you kidding? His offensive output has overshadowed the fact that, by and large, the rest of the Yankees just are not hitting at all.

2. The Yankees bullpen is absolutely, positively nails when it matters. 18 1/3 innings -- three runs allowed. That is mighty nice. The best part is: they've been getting contributions from everybody. Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves -- even Damaso Marte came up with a big strikeout in Game 2. It's not even worth mentioning how good Mariano Rivera has been, that's just a given.

Now, the NLCS:

Two words: Total domination.

I'm already on record in and around The Trentonian office as saying the Dodgers will not win a game the rest of this series. Torre and Co. have to be totally demoralized by the whoopin' Charlie's boys laid on them for three hours and change last night. Cliff Lee absolutely dismantled the Dodgers, almost with surgical precision for eight innings. For goodness sakes, they even allowed Ryan Howard to leg out a triple. Sure, he's lost some weight, but he's still a big, big boy.

The way it looks from here, it's going to be a really sweet October in and around this area. 1950 World Series rematch, here we come.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

ALCS Thoughts, Winter Leagues update

So, Phillies fans, exactly what has happened lately to Chase Utley's ability to throw? He looks less confident out there than late-period Chuck Knoblauch with the Yankees. Remember? The guy who got so out of wack that he hit Keith Olbermann's mother in the face with a throw? Here's hoping he straightens it out before the month is over, or it's going to be a long offseason for Utley in the pages of The Inquirer and the Philly Daily News. And I don't even want to think about how the hosts/callers will treat him on sports talk radio.

Additionally, and I know it's been a problem all season, but that Philadelphia bullpen is absolutely brutal. When your most trustworthy reliever is Chan Ho Park, that's a problem. And please, please, pleeeeeeaaaaase don't try to tell me Brad Lidge is back, just because he hasn't given up a run this postseason.

He skirted danger in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Rockies, walking two batters and ending the game by getting Troy Tulowitzki to BARELY miss a three-run, walk-off home run. That's not exactly lights-out relief work, if you ask me.

Additionally, if the atom-ball that Utley turned into a double play in Game 1 is six inches to the right or left, then that ninth inning takes on an entirely different scope. The Dodgers would have had runners on (probably) first and third and nobody out. Considering he walked the next man, James Loney, things could be looking a lot worse for the Phils than a 1-1 split heading back to Citizens Bank Park tomorrow night.


As for the ALCS, what a game by CC Sabathia. That certainly was what the Yankees were hoping for when they doled out $171 million to ink him for the next seven years, wasn't it?

It's been quite a while since the Bombers could enter a postseason with someone they could legitimately claim as a true ace. Now it's up to A.J. Burnett -- another big-money man -- to repeat CC's feat in Game 2 tonight (if possible) in the windy, rainy Bronx.

Of course, the big question with Burnett is: Will it be Jorge Posada or Jose Molina calling pitches behind the dish? To me, the answer is Molina. He's clearly established a better rapport -- and coaxed better results from -- Burnett all season long.

With Posada calling pitches, the opposition is hitting .270/.353/.775. With Molina, those numbers drop to .221/.307/.658. -- quite the difference, if you ask me.

Additionally, just look at Burnett's results in Game 2, when Molina was the starting backstop: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER and 6 K. He did walk five men and hit another two, but he worked around them.


The Arizona Fall League has started, and some former and soon-to-be Thunder players have started off quite well.

Brandon Laird, who could be manning the hot corner next season in Trenton, has coasted through the first four weeks with a robust .625 average, including a home run and seven RBIs.

Austin Romine, who will more than likely be in Trenton come April, is sporting a .462/.500/.962 line, with a pair of RBIs thrown in for good measure.

Colin Curtis, who started last season with the Thunder, has a .316 average, two doubles, a home run and four RBIs.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Congratulations to the victors

Yankees and Angels fans rejoice, your teams will meet in the American League Championship Series, starting Friday at Yankee Stadium. Fortunately, it will be carried by FOX, which means no more of the insipid Chip Caray. However, it most likely means the beginning of all Tim McCarver all the time.

Some brief thoughts regarding both of the LDS' Game 3s played on Sunday:

-- I actually feel bad for Jonathan Papelbon after that meltdown. To be one strike away from victory three times, facing some of the Angels' least fearsome hitters and still losing has to feel awful. I wonder who felt worse: Tim Wakefield in 2003, or Papelbon on Sunday.

-- On the same note, MLB Network's Mitch Williams very presciently noted that perhaps Papelbon's undoing was partly due to poor pitch selection. The Red Sox closer stayed almost exclusively with outside fastballs, nearly eschewing his breaking ball entirely. One has to wonder if a splitter to Erick Aybar -- who made the last out against the Red Sox last year -- would have finished him off.

-- The play Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez combined on yesterday was the smartest defense I've seen since "The Flip" in 2001. To have the presence of mind in that spot to notice how far Nick Punto was off third is otherworldly. It's plays like that make for championship-caliber teams. (Except in 2001, when they didn't win.)

-- Speaking of A-Rod, it seems he's either turned a postseason corner, or just really likes facing the Twins in the ALDS. To wit, Rodriguez against the Twins in the 2004 ALDS was .421/.476/1.213 with a home run and three doubles, including a game-tying ground-rule double in the bottom of the 12th off of Joe Nathan. It would have been a game-winning hit, but Jeter had to stop at third when the ball bounced over the wall.

-- Of course, despite the overall team struggles against the Angels of late, Rodriguez has feasted on Los Angeles pitching. He is .328/.405/1.098 with 67 home runs against them in his career. The longball total is his highest against any opponent.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Back from vacation

I've been on vacation since October 1, but now I am back and ready to talk some baseball.

First, a quick recap of things that have happened since I've been gone.

-- Tigers 2o-year-old Rick Porcello pitched like a man, but it wasn't enough to stop the Twins, who barrelled into the American League Division Series.

-- The Dodgers nearly blew the National League West, but finally managed to rebuff the Rockies and claim the division crown.

-- Joba Chamberlain, in a move expected by most, was shifted to the bullpen for the playoffs. The Yanks only need three starters, at least for the first round, and Chamberlain, who has been largely inconsistent, was an easy choice for the odd man out.

-- The Yankees and Angels have established 1-0 leads over the Twins and Red Sox, respectively. In the NL, the Dodgers have a 2-0 lead over the Cardinals, and the Phillies and Rockies are tied at one game apiece in their series.

-- Nationals phenom (is it too early to call him that?) Stephen Strasburg made his professional debut in the Instructional League. Strasburg tossed two innings against the Tigers I.L. team and recorded his first two pro strikeouts along the way.

-- It was announced, officially at least, that five players who have seen time with the Thunder over the past few seasons would be playing in the Arizona Fall League. Those players are: Michael Dunn, Grant Duff, Colin Curtis, Ian Kennedy and Zach Kroenke. Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phelps will also be attending.

-- My predictions for the major awards this season:

MVPs: Joe Mauer, Albert Pujols

Cy Youngs: Zack Greinke, Chris Carpenter

Rookies of the Year: Rick Porcello, Tommy Hanson

Managers of the Year: Ron Gardenhire, Tony La Russa