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May 23, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Forget about what happened tonight; with Bernie out and Rivera not here yet, facing Toronto's ace and with Pettitte pitching, the Yankees were pretty much set up to lose.

This week has been one for all the know-nothings who have said before...well, every season the past few years...that the Yankees are a sure thing, and that Baseball ain't worth watching anymore, 'cause you know who's gonna win. Well, in case you haven't noticed, the Yankees haven't won in over 2½ years, and things ain't looking to great for the Bombers right now. For the next month and a half, they will be without two of their best hitters. Further, their best hitter is hovering around the Mendoza line, their new high-priced Japanese import is playing like their old high-priced Japanese import, and the OBP goodness of Nick Johnson has been replaced with the game-shortening batting skills of Todd Zeile. There are many teams who would like to have a lineup as good as the Yankees will have over the next two months, but those teams tend to dream of a winning season, not a World Championship.

The lineup won't kill them, good pitching could carry this team until the bats come back. Unfortunately, while the Yankees can expect good starts from Mussina and solid starts from Clemens and Wells the rest of the season, Pettitte and Weaver have pitched with a consistency similar to Orbitz. The bullpen setting up Rivera is a motley mix of crappy pitchers. You've got overpriced crap, imported crap, flukey crap, and Proven Closerâ„¢ crap. You've also got Jason Anderson and Antonio Osuna, who haven't done much to piss me off yet, but when those are your best setup men, you're in trouble. Thats the kind of bullpen that inspires a manager to go out to the mound and talk his spent pitcher into staying out another inning. It's the kind of bullpen you would have figured Jeff Torborg had been stuck with, the way he kept his starters out there.

So, for the next six weeks, the Yankees will be fielding a team that, while it doesn't suck, certainly doesn't scare anyone. Well, maybe some Yankees fans, but not many other people. Steven Goldman told us "Don't Panic!" earlier today, but after hearing about Bernie's injury, he changed his tone to "Yeah, go ahead and panic." Will they make a trade? Of course. They're sure to bring in some bullpen help, and if Rivera doesn't hit, they'll go out and get a center fielder (Jose Guillen?). But they won't bring in any stars--they don't have the prospects to pull off a trade like that, and it doesn't appear likely that any team will be looking to dump a star anytime soon. They might bring in someone expensive, I wouldn't be surprised to see them trade for an overpriced closer-type like Ugueth Urbina. If they're sharp, they'll realize that relievers are somewhat fungible, and they'll grab someone decent for not much. But George likes the names, so we'll wait and see.

Of course, there is reason to be positive...well, not negative. Their schedule through the All-Star Break has a healthy serving of Devil Ray, Oriole, Indian, Tiger and Met, and Giambi and Matsui are better than they've performed. Of course, Enrique Wilson is better than they've performed, but you follow what I'm saying. It's not really that unthinkable that those two, particularly Giambi, could explode over the next month and a half and carry the Yankees to a 7 game lead in the East. Even if the Yankees struggle, they probably won't lose the season here. This is really bad, but it's not fatal by any means.

Mussina will have his hands full tonight with the offense of the Jays, while the Yankees will try to touch up failed closer Kelvim Escobar. Should Escobar pitch well tonight, don't be surprised if he's coming out of the Yankees' pen in a couple of weeks, giving the pinstripers TWO mediocre relievers with a lot of saves in 2002. Gotta catch 'em all!