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Two Splits and One Washout

June 28, 2008

The Yankees have been a little out of balance over the past four games.  Walloped in game one against the Pie-rats, they came back to pound them in game two.  Shellacked in game one versus the Mets, they came back to dominate in the second half of the double header.  Thrown in there for good measure was Moose’s 4 inning start that was washed out by a torrential downpour in Pittsburgh.  That game will be made up on July 10th, costing the team another day off.

The performance of the team has been directly linked to its starting pitcher.  In game one against the Pie-rats, Darrell Rasner got mowed down for seven runs in five innings, and the Yankees lost 12-5.  The next start, Joba pitched 6 and 2/3 innings of shut out ball, and the Yankees won 10-0.  Moose pitched 4 good innings, but that doesn’t count, so next up was Dan Geise.  He gave up six in four, also walking four.  The Yankees lost 15-6.  Finally, the Yankees turned to…  Sidney Ponson.  Six shutout innings later, the Yankees were on their way to a 9-0 victory.

I hope I’m not the only one who’s wondering where some of this run support was earlier in the season.  I recall at least one gem pitched by Moose and one by Rasner where they lost 2-0 or 2-1.  Now, it seems like they’ve found ways to score a lot of runs and still come up short.  They scored at least 5 runs in all four games (plus four in the one that didn’t count), but won only two of them. In case you didn’t know it yet, this game is all about starting pitching.

Admittedly, the bullpen appeared to give up after being handed the bad outings to salvage and appeared to coast through the easy ones.  They pitched well in the good blow outs and poorly in the bad ones.  As usual, it all comes back to starting pitching.  Now let’s see if a rotation boasting Joba, Moose, Pettitte, Rasner, Geise, and Ponson in some combination can carry the team to September.

In other news, Hideki Matsui was placed on the 15 day DL with a sore knee.  As much as I hate to see him go, I believe its better to be safe than sorry at this point.  Justin Christian was brought up to cover for him during the Pie-rats series and has done a passable job thus far.  The thought was (I’m guessing) to bring him up instead of Brett Gardner because the Yanks were facing 3 lefties in a row and Christian’s a righty.  Better luck next time, Brett.

Also earning frequent flyer miles from Scranton to the Bronx (or spending a lot of time on I-80) are Ross Ohlendorf and Kei Igawa.  Ross pitched poorly in the first game of the double header and was immediately told to pack his bags as Not O-Kei was on his way.  Actually, I’m sure it was planned before that, but Ross didn’t help his cause much.  Kei pitched the 9th in the last game of the double header and gave up two hits but no runs, cutting his ERA down to 13.50.  Let’s hope that we don’t have to see him much longer.

Back to Sheaat 3:55 PM, true believers!

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A Stop by the Stopper

June 23, 2008

After dropping two straight, the Yanks came out ahead yesterday afternoon in a 4-1 game.  As has become customary during his tenure with the Yankees, Andy Pettitte was there with 6 strong innings, allowing only one run, striking out four, and getting out of some jams.  His last pitch came as gale-force winds and driving rain assaulted him, but even the forces of nature were no match for Andy, much less the Cincinnati Reds – swing and a miss, strike three.  A 56 minute rain delay followed, which served as the hook for Dandy Andy.  Edwar Ramirez threw only 9 pitches in the 7th to retire the side, proving that when he’s on his game, he’s a force to be reckoned with as well. Farnsey came out to pitch the 8th (as Yankee fans raced to the fridge for a few cold ones) and got two outs himself before giving up his patented 8th inning solo shot, this time to Ken Griffey Jr.  I guess if you going to be beat, its not as bad being beat by a guy who’s dinged 600.  The next AB, Farnsworth made an ill-fated bare-hand attempt at a ball chopped towards the mound and tore the webbing between his fingers.  He will require stitches, but claims he won’t require a trip to the DL.  Mariano pitched the 9th, and I get the feeling that I don’t even need to tell you how he pitched he’s become so automatic.

On the offensive side, it seems like the rain washed away all the crap that was clogging up the Yankee Run Scoring Machine.  They managed to push one across prior to the break, but once they came back (literally in the bottom of the inning), Cap’n Jeet singled, H-Mats singled, and The Big G drove them both in with a double smashed the other way (!!!), followed up with a Posada double to drive him home.  Final score, 4-1 Yanks.

Also noteworthy – the Reds’ three starters all put up some good numbers against the Yanks.  Voltron and Cueto have been electric this year, and Daryl Thompson shut the Yankees out over five innings.  Keep an eye on these kids – the Reds may be on to something.

Yanks are now at 41-35, 5 games out of first in the AL East and 3.5 games behind the Tampa Bay Regular Rays.  Next up is a trip to PNC Park in Pittsburgh to play the pesky Pie-rats… after an off day today.  Stick around, sports fans, there’s more baseball after the break!

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Seven in a row!

June 20, 2008

While I’m not quite of the mindset that the NL is AAAA ball, its hard to think of two AL team that the Yankees could sweep back-to-back like they have the Astros and the Padres.  Both fine franchises, and I wish them well, but not against the Yankees!  The domination of the Yankees’ starting rotation has continued, and Joba has continued to prove that moving him into the rotation was beyond a doubt the right move.  The bullpen is managing his loss well, despite a few dingers given up by Edwar (who will have a bad outing from time to time) and Farnsworth (who will have a good outing from time to time).  Joba also made a linebacker stop at the plate to save a run – scary to think what could have happened if we experience a replay of Francisco Cervelli, though!

Seven games above .500 is a great place to be, but there’s still a lot of baseball to play and a lot of decisions to make.  With Wang out for months, there’s still a hole in the rotation, though the emergence of Joba and the resurgence of Moose has made it less of a scramble for a #1 and more of a search for a stop-gap while Hughes and Kennedy are also on the mend and adjusting to the big leagues. Also, the awakening of the Yankee offense has made the issue less pressing as well.  Earlier in the season, I predicted that Moose could win 10 games with the Yankee offense behind him, and I still believe that even a replacement-level starter can put together a few wins with that offense behind him.

The Yankees still have several games against weaker teams ahead of them to gain some ground, then it’ll be time to grind it out vs the AL East!  Stick around as the Quest continues!

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To the Rescue…?

June 19, 2008

The Yankees announced just before kicking off tonight’s rain-delayed start that they have signed Texas Ranger cast-off Sidney Ponson to a minor league deal.  Its likely that he’s signed cheap and will get a try-out in Wang’s rotation slot this Saturday.  He’s 4-1 with an ERA of 3.88, which looks promising, but his WHIP (Walks and hits / inning pitched) is 1.56, not a great number.  He’s had 6 or 7 quality starts (one was 7 IP, 4 ER), but not much of a record of success vs. the AL East.  Hopefully he’s just a stop-gap to give some AAA pitchers a little more time to develop and prove themselves ready for the bigs.  Worst case scenario, he eats up a few starts and gets a bus pass out of town.

Even if Ponson comes up big, there’s not really a place for him on this team.  He was a cancer in the clubhouse in Texas (hence him being sent away), and once the rest of the starting staff comes off the DL, Sid will probably be out the door.  He’s already had a chance at pinstriped glory and been run out of town on a rail, so unless he makes an incredible impression, don’t expect too much.  There’s too much talent waiting in the wings for an overweight, over-30 pitcher to stick around.

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Paranoia, Paranoia!

June 17, 2008

Everyone is coming to get me!  Okay, not me personally, but all eyes are on Brian Cashman and how the Yankees respond to Chien-Ming Wang’s injury.  In case you haven’t heard, he has torn the dreaded linsfranc ligament in his foot, the same injury that has busted out Brian Bruney for the season.  Wang will be sidelined for at least 6 weeks before he can even throw off of a mound again, coupled with about 4 weeks to get back into pitching shape, which makes for 10 weeks sans Wang.  No one is looking forward to this, but there are some bright spots.  The Yankees are not completely devoid of pitching prospects – in fact, the AAA club has more than a few serviceable options.  In addition to those arms being short term fixes (Aaron Small anyone?), they can certainly be used as trade bait.  There are a few “high-ceiling” prospects who will be difficult justify parting with, for sure – Melancon, Brackman, Hughes (for sure), OF Austin Jackson and C Jesus Montero (only in High-A right now, but projected off-the-charts apparently).  However, the rest of the AAA players and some of the major leaguers (Cano and Cabrera come to mind) could be available for trades.  Personally, its hard to part with some of the names and faces I’ve grown to know and love, despite their current performance.  However, a good trade makes both teams feel some pain.

As far as trades go, Cashman has shown restraint lately with parting with high ceiling prospects.  Last season, Texas wanted Joba for Teixeira and Cashman said no.  Minnesota wanted some combination of Wang, Hughes, Kennedy, Cabrera, plus one for Santana and Cashman (wisely, in my opinion) said no.  Now all eyes are on Cleveland’s CC Sabathia.

No team is completely out of the race in mid June.  Despite Cleveland’s disappointing start, their major competition in the AL Central is the surpising Chicago White Sox, plus the possibility of a late season run by a rejuvinated Detroit Tigers team (if they pick up someone who can, you know, throw a ball past a hitter).  Hell, if every player on any given team played up to their ability, anyone could make a run at the post season at this point.  Except for the Orioles.  They’re just not a good ball club.

Therefore, a trade at this point isn’t really likely.  Even if Cleveland were interested in dumping CC, they’ll want to take all they can get at this point.  In 2006, Philly wanted to bend Cash over the railing for Bobby Abreu early in the season, but Cash held out.  Then, at the deadline, the Yankees traded what amounts to peanuts for him and Cory Lidle (RIP, fellow aviator) in what has been widely regarded as a brilliant move.  Philly needed to dump some payroll, the Yanks could afford the hit and needed the help, and it worked out.

That’s what needs to happen this season.  Cashman recognizes this and probably won’t start making calls for at least a few weeks.  That gives him time to evaluate possible replacements in the organization, use the upcoming days off to skip Wang’s starts, and even show off possible trade bait at the Major League level.  Nothing about this situation screams “move now!”  All signs point to patience.  Hopefully, with CC approaching free agency, and if the Indians are truly out of the race, the selling point will drop enough for Cashman to make the deal.  Even if it hurts the farm system some, CC’s got the stuff to be a solid starter for several years.  Also, the Yankees have enough prospects in the waiting to be able to deal a few for someone of CC’s calibur.

There are still 92 games left to play.  In 10 weeks, Wang will miss about 18 starts (according to someone else’s math – I did too damn much math at work today and I’m not about to go counting through the schedule at 11 PM).  That’s 74 games without Wang that the Yankees have a chance to win with Moose, Pettitte, Rasner, and Joba.  If the Yankees are able to play at a .600 clip (3 wins per trip through the 5-man rotation), they’re still at 92 wins, which should certainly be enough for a playoff slot.

So, in conclusion, there should not be nights without baseball because people get paranoid and start screaming for trades to be made the hour that a player gets hurt.  Then again, I’m sure there would still be screaming even if there were a game on…

Tomorrow lefty Randy Wolf will take the mound for the Padres against veteran lefty Andy Pettitte at Yankee Stadium.  The Yankees can’t get lost looking at the forest or else they’ll start running into trees.  Win the next game and go from there.

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Sweep City!

June 16, 2008

…thy name is Houston.  Thanks to some dominant starting pitching, the Yankees completed a three game sweep against the Astros today.  Also starring alongside the Yankee starting rotation: Captain Clutch Jeter (go ahead homer in game 1), A-Rod (two homers in two days, stellar defense), and the rest of the Yankees’ 25-man roster, who pretty much all had hits and scored 21 runs in the last two games.

All of the signs are starting to show for a mid-season run.  Offense is producing, the pitching has been very good, and suddenly we’re on a four-game winning streak!  What’s the catch, you’re asking?

Wang had to leave the game today with a foot injury.  He damaged something (no x-ray or MRI results yet) running from second to home in the 6th inning and had to be helped off the field.  GI Joe says that he’ll be surpirsed if Wang makes his next start, which begs the question:  Who fills in?

The Yankees have many pitching options between AAA and the bullpen (well, Geise).  Alan Horne is a promising young candidate, but he’s coming back from a recent injury and has only pitched 10.1 innings since.  He’s given up 12 hits and 4 runs in that stretch.  He’s also not on the 40-man roster, meaning someone else would have to be bumped for him to come up.  Jeff Karstens is also an option, but he’s also coming back from injury and has pitched a less than stellar 17.2 innings with a 6.11 ERA in his return.  Jeff Marquez is a much more intriguing option – he’s given up only 5 runs in his last 25 innings.  He is on the 40-man (as is Karstens), so that makes it easier for him to jump on a plane for Cincy.  Daniel McCutchen is another option, but he’s still adjusting to AAA after making the leap from Trenton this season.  Dan Geise, already with the club, could be the front runner simply based on his good showings in long-relief.  He was 4-2 with a 1.98 ERA in Scranton before getting the call to back up Joba during his transition.

And for the love of God, let’s not mention Kei Igawa.

How much this affects the team long-term will have to wait until we get a solid diagnosis from the Yanks, but if it is as bad as it could be, a CC Sabathia trade may not be far off.

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500 games at .500

June 13, 2008

…or so it seems.

The team has been a bit of a let down so far, as anyone watching can attest to.  I can give up hope on a lot of things: co-workers, gas prices, Yuengling being distributed to Georgia, my love life…  But I can’t give up hope on this team.  They’re not constructed well right now, and they’re “consistently inconsistent” according to Cap’n Jeet himself.  The line-up is streaky at best, the bench is rotten (Chad Moeller as a pinch runner?), the rotation is underperforming, and the bullpen has cost us some good games.  What’s there to like?  Its hard to say, sometimes.

I’ll tell you one thing that I like, and the hope that I cling to:  There are still 96 games left to play.  They are only 7 games out of first, and 5 games out of the WC.  Despite the age in the lineup, there is youth in the system.  Finally – this is an important lesson my crusty old platoon sergeant taught me – just because there’s snow on the roof doesn’t mean there’s no fire in the furnace!

The Yankees aren’t a team that’s one key player away from winning it all.  They have the pieces, but they’re not performing like they are capable of.  Even considering diminishing returns from aging stars, this team is capable of doing so much better.  Nay-sayers will say its over, the Yankees are done, they’re a .500 team for the rest of the season, but who can say for sure?  What’s stopping them from going on another tear like last year?  There are a million reasons to say “no way,” but I’m not giving up.

Not now, not tomorrow, and probably not the next day.  Even after there’s no hope for a championship, I’ll still be watching.  Because there’s always the next game, and when that’s over, there’s always the next season.  That’s what it means to be a fan.

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