Ted: Finally, in the last week of July, both New York teams are playing as we expected them to coming into the season. The Mets are winning the games they should, pitching well and getting offensive sparks from some unexpected places, and the Yankees are showing the world why Pythagorus likes them so much more than the standings do.
Still, all is not perfect on either side of the Hudson. With the trading deadline rapidly approaching, now seems like a pretty good time to assess each team's needs and the best way to fill them. The Mets have said that they'll try to address their bullpen, but is that really a necessity? With Pedro Feliciano finally seeing an expanded role and Aaron Heilman pitching better, should they overpay for an extra arm? The Yankees are talking about adding a starter, but is Jon Garland a significant upgrade over the mediocre pitchers they already have?
Mike: It's not just Feliciano, who had been skating by despite way too many walks. In April, Feliciano had 10 walks and 9 Ks. Since, he has 7 walks and 24 Ks. So, he's dominant and doesn't have to be relegated to lefty-only situations. And Guillermo Mota has been much better, too. Take away the disaster in Colorado and he's given up two runs in his last 17 innings with two walks and 13 Ks. Plus, he's dialing up to 96 MPH on most guns now. Aaron Heilman still scares me, however. And I'm fearing that Chad Cordero, another finesse righty reliever, will soon be joining him via a trade.
The Yanks are playing like I always thought they would. Remember, they pick up that game next week against Baltimore that was suspended with them leading by two runs in the eighth inning. So, they're really about five games off the pace for both the wildcard and division. An uphill climb, yes, but no longer Mount Everest. Shelley Duncan seems to be working out as Shane Spencer 2.0, as I predicted would be possible; but that seems too obvious for me to beat my chest over. The Yanks have to get wise and bring up Joba "The Hut" Chamberlain and his high-90s heat from Double-A Trenton and have him set up Mariano. Instead, they play it safe and merely promote him to Triple-A Scranton. Boo! The Yanks never think outside the box. Yes, he was roughed up a little in his Trenton send off, but at 14.8 Ks per nine innings there, he's clearly capable of dominating as a short reliever in the Bronx.
Ted: I'm with you on Cordero. Because of his closer pedigree, he'll likely command way more than he's actually worth at the trade deadline. I don't want to undercut his value, I do think he's an excellent reliever, but I think the Mets would be best served by holding steady. They're in good position to win the division with the team they have now -- especially with Moises Alou and Pedro Martinez (supposedly) returning from injury. Pedro's reappearance would likely relegate Jorge Sosa to the bullpen, providing the team with all the extra setup help it needs. If the Mets use the remaining games this season to let Lastings Milledge develop, they'll have a potentially explosive lineup heading into the playoffs and, with a healthy Pedro, excellent front-end starters.
As for the Yankees, Chamberlain is an interesting thought, but he's very young and has been working as a starter all season. Would moving him to the bullpen and throwing him into a pressure situation lead to injury, or should the Yanks break with conventional wisdom and follow the Johan Santana model of letting eventual starters cut their teeth in the bigs from the bullpen? That plan worked well for its namesake, but might have failed Francisco Liriano. I like Chamberlain as much as you do, but I'm a bit wary of experimenting with young pitchers and convinced that Brian Cashman won't try anything too unusual.
Mike: Where in the world is Pedro Martinez? Who takes a vacation from rehab in the middle of the season? I worry that he's going to pull a Roberto Duran and just walk off the mound if his fastball isn't fast enough. But he doesn't even need a fast fastball to be effective, as last year's fastball splits proved. He couldn't come close to 90 MPH for most of the year.
Jorge Sosa, I fear, is a disaster waiting to happen. But he's the fifth starter, so who cares. Milledge goes to the bench. Lo Duca to the two-hole. Green stays in right. I weep into my crying towel. That's my plan for tonight anyway.
It used to be that most pitchers cut their teeth in the pen. Now, with that role so much more important, it makes even more sense. Plus, the Yanks have a major need there. Joba's not going to have to throw much more than the fastball working an inning at a time. And lord knows he can bring that. I'm not worried about injuries, which are a sad fact of baseball life. There's a lot of science trying to predict why and prevent it; but guys throw less now than they used to and get hurt more. Go figure. Liriano had a pre-existing elbow problem. So, I'm not blaming his pen trial for that. Chamberlain can be an impact player right now and the Yanks really need to cash all their chips to close this playoff gap.
Ted: Ugh. I'm dreading the sight of Lo Duca near the top of the lineup card, but I'm as certain as you are that he'll, for whatever reason, return there. I don't get it. I know we'd both like to see a lot more of Ramon Castro for the remainder of the season, and you'd think Sandy Alomar, Jr.'s
wasted roster spot presence would give the team a little more flexibility to use Castro in double switches. And we're in the same camp on Milledge: He should be getting regular time in right field and spelling Alou in left.
As for Chamberlain, you make a good point. But the Yankees' chances of making the playoffs this year are still slim. I'm not saying I don't think it will happen, because as a Mets fan I know better by now, I'm only saying that math doesn't particularly favor them. The AL Central is strong and the Red Sox are going to be hard to catch. Do the Bombers really want to be taking chances with their prospects to push for a playoff spot they won't necessarily get? Maybe. I suppose it just depends on how much stock you put in 21-run efforts against the Devil Rays.