On the 15th and 30th of each month - Orioles Hangout will be posting Q&A’s conducted with blogs and sites representing Boston, New York, Tampa, and Toronto.
The purpose of these Q&A’s will be to regularly check in and get an understanding of what is currently going on with the O’s divisional foes.
Those contributing are:
Boston Red Sox
Site: Fire Brand of the American League (http://firebrandal.com/)
Site Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/firebrandal
Writer: Troy Patterson
Writer Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/TroyPatterson
New York Yankees
Site: River Avenue Blues (http://riveraveblues.com/)
Site Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/RiverAveBlues
Writer: Mike Axisa
Writer Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/mikeaxisa
Site: DRaysBay (http://www.draysbay.com/)
Site Twitter: http://twitter.com/# /draysbay
Writer: Jason Collette
Writer Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/jasoncollette
Toronto Blue Jays
Site: The Tao of Stieb (http://taoofstieb.blogspot.com/)
Site & Writer Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/TaoofStieb
Writer: Tao O’Stieb
Orioles Hangout: “The Red Sox will obviously raise their level of play at some point and win plenty of games. Is the biggest current concern Lackey and Matsuzaka at the back of the rotation?”
Red Sox / Fire Brand of the American League: “The biggest concern for me is John Lackey. We all know what Matsuzaka is and what he is not. He is a frustrating and disappointing pitcher. On the other hand Lackey was expected to be more last year and while he finished strong he needs to show us something for a full year.
I did find he has trouble in April and I suspect it has something to do with strength and velocity, but we’ll see if that holds in 2011. Perhaps a strong reason for passing him in the rotation this early?”
Orioles Hangout: “He has yet to have a lot of save opportunities, but Papelbon has racked up 7 k’s vs. just 1 bb in his 3 innings of work. Thoughts on how he has looked so far?”
Red Sox / Fire Brand of the American League: “He has looked great so far; there is no denying that. I would like to see his velocity stay strong or even go up a bit as the weather warms up. He has thrown a lot of sliders so far and it has worked, but will it continue to dominate when hitters are more prepared for it?”
Orioles Hangout: “Crawford has been brutal in the early going, with a .378 OPS in his first 46 at-bats. The sample size is basically meaningless, but obviously he has yet to get comfortable. Do you anticipate Crawford will bat lower against lefties all year?”
Red Sox / Fire Brand of the American League: “Crawford has been almost a carbon copy of himself when it comes to strikeout rate, line drive rate and fly ball rate. The difficulty is that BABIP is still at .186, but with regard to the lefty question I think Crawford should be lower against all pitchers.
He is surely better against righties, but against both he doesn’t have the high OBP skills that suggest he should leadoff.”
Orioles Hangout: “Once a major prospect, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had very little success in his 813 career Major League ab’s (.701 OPS) coming into 2011. So far this year he is 4 for 26, with 1 double, and 2 walks, and 11 k’s. Is Varitek on the verge of more regular playing time?”
Red Sox / Fire Brand of the American League: “I’ve never been a huge Salty guy and a lot of his prospect status came off his 2005 season in high A ball where he tore the cover off the ball, but since then his power has not shown the same. In 92 games the next year at Double-A his SLG was only .380.
His projections didn’t give us much to expect this year and I do think we could see more of Varitek than people thought. An interesting possibility could be Ryan Lavarnway who has a very strong bat, but his catching skills are a big question. Last year he hit .285/.395/.494 in 44 games at Double-A. He’s probably a better bet at 1B or DH, but someone to keep an eye on.”
Orioles Hangout: “Boston has already had series against NY and Tampa. Any observations of note, or things that jumped out to you as a surprise about those teams?”
Red Sox / Fire Brand of the American League: “My number one question right now in the division is 'What is wrong with Phil Hughes?' This is a huge shock to see a pitcher throw 3 mph slower than last year and 4 mph down from two years ago. There is no way everything is right with him and I can’t believe they would send him out like that.
If Hughes is out for a time this year and the Red Sox have continued trouble, this division could be amazingly interesting this year for every team.”
Orioles Hangout: “One of the additions that that did not get a ton of attention nationally this winter was the Yankees' acquisition of Russell Martin. Martin has been strong out of the gate, looking closer to the All-Star player he was in ‘07 and ‘08 vs. the sub .700 OPS player he has been the two previous years. With Martin catching, Posada gets to DH. Does Martin’s start make it more likely the Yankees will look to trade Montero as part of a package for a starter?”
Yankees / River Avenue Blues: “I don’t think so. Martin was always viewed as just a stopgap player to bridge the Posada Era to the Montero Era, and his hot start shouldn’t change that. It’s great that he’s been so productive in the early going, and if nothing else, it allows them to take their time with Montero and not rush him to fill a hole on the ML roster.
I think the Yankees would be very willing to trade Montero for an ace caliber pitcher – so far we’ve heard his name in three legit trade rumors, once for Halladay and twice for Lee, so they’re shooting for the moon with him – but it won’t be because Martin has been a pleasant surprise.”
Orioles Hangout: “After posting a .948 OPS during his first season with the Yankees, Teixeira’s OPS dropped to .846 in 2010 (Though he still had 69 xbh’s). Is Teixeira feeling pressure in New York to not just be very good, but to be truly elite?”
Yankees / River Avenue Blues: “It’s not the pressure; he’s just a slow starter. He suffered through the same slow starts in Texas and Atlanta (I believe they started back in 2006). For whatever reason, last year’s annual April slump lasted into June, but it looks like he’s kicked that habit this year. He had a great year in 2009, his first as a Yankee when all eyes were on him. Pressure would just be a convenient narrative to explain a down year (in a season when the entire league dropped offensively).”
Orioles Hangout: “There is plenty of talk in Baltimore about Chris Tillman’s missing velocity. Similarly in New York there is discussion about the missing velocity of Phil Hughes. After a strong 1st half of 2010, Hughes was just mediocre after the All-Star break. When Hughes is going well, what does he look like on the mound?”
Yankees / River Avenue Blues: “When he’s right, Hughes is a power pitcher that lives off his fastball. It sits 92-94 but batters react like it’s 96-97 for whatever reason, maybe he hides it well or has great extension or something, but it’s a dominant pitch when right. Hughes also has a good but not necessarily great curveball when he’s himself, but he gets swings and misses with it. The cutter is just something to get the ball off the barrel of the bat and keep hitters honest, and the changeup is the epitome of a show-me pitch. If he throws four in a given start, it’s a lot. Unfortunately Hughes has looked like anything but himself this season.”
Orioles Hangout: “The Yankees were in no hurry to start AJ Burnett in the playoffs last year, but nobody ever questions the talent in Burnett’s arm. Burnett won his first two starts this year, with 16 k’s in his first 17.1 innings. Is he the key to the NY staff?”
Yankees / River Avenue Blues: “Eh, yes and no. He’s obviously become more important now that Andy Pettitte retired, but I don’t think the season is riding on his right arm. Greatness would be appreciated, but 200 innings with a 4.00-4.20 ERA would suffice as well. If he gives them six innings and three runs every time out, the Yankees will win a lot of games with their offense and bullpen.”
Orioles Hangout: “Lost in the discussion of the early struggles of Jeter has been the early resurgence shown so far from Rodriguez. What do you think of his play at 3rd?”
Yankees / River Avenue Blues: “A-Rod’s been amazing this year, mostly at the plate. His defense at the hot corner was never really Gold Glove caliber, but it was good for a long time. The hip injury sapped his mobility over the last two years, there were times he looked very much like a statue last season, but he got a clean bill of health on the hip this winter and was able to do actual baseball training instead of rehab work. A-Rod slimmed down noticeably and he’s much lighter on his feet now. Again, he’s not a Gold Glover, but he’s no worse that average right now.”
Orioles Hangout: “If there was a plus to the sudden retirement of Ramirez, it is that Damon gets pulled out of LF and allowed to DH. Do you think Matt Joyce should get the first crack of replacing Damon in LF, or do you want the Rays to ride Sam Fuld as long as he is hot? Were you surprised that Desmond Jennings was not called up to replace Ramirez?”
Tampa / DRaysBay: NA.
Orioles Hangout: “Due to the strength of the rotation, I like Tampa to overcome the poor initial start and be competitive all year. If things do not turn around quickly though, will Andrew Friedman and the Rays actively begin to shop James Shields and BJ Upton? If those two are traded, is obtaining young positional players the focus?”
Tampa / DRaysBay: “The organization is still very pitching heavy. Any kind of trades that are made by the organization will likely be looking to get hitting prospects back in return, depending on when those trades are made. Remember, the Rays have 12 picks in the coming draft from pick 22 to pick 89 and how the Rays target players in those drafts would tip their hand as to what types of talent they would look to acquire coming back. If you think back to their previous in-season deals, they look for at least one major league ready guy (Wheeler, Zobrist, Rodriguez) and then they’ll look for other mid-level prospects from that.”
Orioles Hangout: “In the 2nd game of the year against the O’s, Evan Longoria was forced to the DL with an oblique strain. Does he remain on pace for a late April return?”
Tampa / DRaysBay: “As of last night, it sounds more like by Mothers’ Day for his return. The player is always more optimistic than the training staff and with an oblique injury, those things can linger if you rush back too quickly. The Rays are historically very conservative (about the only thing they act this way with) when it comes to injuries so I would expect him back in the lineup around May 7th-9th.”
Orioles Hangout: “Wade Davis signed a long term extension, inclusive of team options for what would be Davis’ first two years of free agency. Do you see any downside to the Rays buying their way out of the arbitration process?”
Tampa / DRaysBay: “The only downside would be related to an early injury. One of the main ways the Rays can stay competitive is to control future costs and these kinds of deals are the best ways to do that. They were unable (or unwilling?) to reach such a deal with Garza so they traded him to restock the depth charts and avoided having to pay him potentially $25M over the next three seasons. The same was done with Jackson, whose 2011 salary is more than the salary of the entire Rays pitching staff this season.”
Orioles Hangout: “Baltimore fans saw Brian Roberts take Jake McGee deep in that opening series, but McGee’s arm was very impressive. Do you want to see Maddon throw McGee in high-leverage situations early on, or do you want to see him eased into such a role?”
Tampa / DRaysBay: “No, I don’t. He frankly has been the most unimpressive guy in the bullpen so far this season and Maddon has been very careful with his use because he has not been able to command either of his pitches very well, particularly his slider. Last night, Morneau and Thome were up back to back and Shields was left in despite the fact he was already near 110 pitches and McGee was up and ready. Instead, he was brought in to face Kubel and needed 11 pitches to retire him as the three sliders he threw in the at bat were all balls and Kubel fouled off several fastballs before grounding out. It would not surprise me to see McGee sent back to AAA no later than J.P. Howell’s activation date to refine his work as a reliever.”
Orioles Hangout: “After posting a .986 OPS at AAA, rookie J.P. Arencibia had 6 xbh’s in his first 7 games to start the year. Any early perceptions of him as a xatcher?”
Toronto / The Tao of Stieb: “Arencibia’s done a nice job so far behind the plate in keeping balls in front of him, and the target that he puts up for the pitchers seems to be getting better (though it remains something that we watch with each of his starts.) It seems as though he’s doing an okay job of calling the games, but who the hell really knows how much of that is him, and how much is the pitcher or the dugout. One quibble that we’d note was raised by Jays radio colour man Alan Ashby (a former catcher himself), who wondered if JPA wasn’t blocking the umpire’s view of some balls down in the zone. The Jays’ staff is going to live and die by “pounding down”, so if he is impeding the view of those low pitches, it will force them to come up in the zone. Danger!”
Orioles Hangout: “Ricky Romero has already put up 3 Quality Starts. In his 21.2 innings of work, he has allowed 16 hits, 1 hr, 4 bb’s, with 20 k’s. The lefty is equally tough on RH hitters. Do you see Romero emerging as a legitimate Cy candidate this year?”
Toronto / The Tao of Stieb: “We’d be thrilled if RickRo were in the Cy discussion, and we definitely see a scenario where he’ll be amongst a numbers of names in the national discussion throughout the summer. A natural progression will put him into a range where he’s on the cusp of this, but a lot will depend on keeping his walks down. His 1.29 WHIP last season wasn’t bad, but it won’t place him amongst the elite.”
Orioles Hangout: “Everyone that sees Kyle Drabek is struck by his stuff. He has let up 4 er in his first 18.2 ip of ‘11, with 12 k’s. Is his control (11 walks) the thing to watch?”
Toronto / The Tao of Stieb: “To some extent, it is control, though I think that some of this is due to the ritualized hazing that umpires give to young pitchers. If you look at the Pitch F/X from his April 8 start against the Angels, home plate Bob Davidson (a favourite in these parts) went beyond squeezing Drabek…he damn near suffocated him. (The second walk to Maicier Izturis was particularly egregious, with one pitch in the middle of the strike zone going for a ball.)
Drabek hasn’t looked wild, and if he is able to be a little more aggressive early in counts, we could see this being a great year for him.”
Orioles Hangout: “2nd baseman Aaron Hill had a .829 OPS in ‘09, including 36 homers. In ‘10 his OPS fell to .665. Hill is really struggling to start ‘11. Is he in any danger of losing playing time to John McDonald?”
Toronto / The Tao of Stieb: “No. They’ve paid him too much to sit him beyond Johnny Mac. And in spite of how much we Jays fans love McDonald and his defense and his OPS which soared into the low .700’s last year, we can’t envision the brain trust wanting to corrode Hill’s value by benching him. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Jays might elect to move Hill if given the right package in return, so they’ll want him to show what he’s got all season long.”
Orioles Hangout: “Obtained last year with Jo Jo Reyes from Atlanta, the Blue Jays' everyday SS is Yunel Escobar. Escobar has one of the game's strongest arms at short, and has 7 walks so far on the year. A pretty strong combination of on-base skills, and defensive ability. What do you like best about him, seeing him everyday?”
Toronto / The Tao of Stieb: “Yunel has been a treat to watch so far this year, both at the plate and in the field. (His baserunning leaves a little to be desired, but we won’t focus too much on the negative.) There are two elements of his game where we’ve really appreciated the development that we’ve seen so far this year. The first is his patience at the plate, which has meant fewer goofy bunt attempts, deeper counts, working the opposing pitchers and getting better pitches to drive. He’s reached base in every game he’s played so far, and has been a factor in most of those games.
In the field, we like that Yunel has quieted his body down in the field. With the exception of one rushed throw, he’s doing a better job of taking his time and planting himself before throwing to first. (Which is important with Adam Lind still getting a feel for the position.)”
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