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July 27, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

If it wasn't for bad luck, Jeff Weaver would have no luck at all. If the offense doesn't let him down, his defense lets him down, and when his defense doesn't let him down, the bullpen lets him down. He hasn't pitched great this year, but he hasn't pitched nearly as poorly as his record would indicate. Through May 9, his Quick DIPS ERA was 2.81, but his ERA was 5.09, and his record was 2-2. Overall, his DIPS is now 4.13--yes, it went up--which isn't bad, and is in fact better than David Wells's DIPS. But Jeff Weaver is not a dominant pitcher, his style has left too much to luck, and luck has not been his friend.

Tonight, for six and a third innings, luck seemed to be on Weaver's side. The Yankees needed him to pitch well, and he pitched quite well after struggling through the first. But he got in trouble in the seventh, and not trusting him to get out of the jam, Torre brought in Chris Hammond to try and end the threat. Instead Hammond went Juan Acevedo, giving up a home run to Jason Varitek and another to Johnny Damon. By the time the inning ended, two more runs were in, and the game was Boston's to lose. The Yankees got the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but a diving catch by Manny Ramirez ended the game, bringing Red Sox to within 1½ games of first. That is all I can bear to write about tonight's game. My frustration is too great.

This was a lost weekend for the Yankees. Had they lost quietly on Friday, won yesterday, and been crushed tonight, they would be in the same position they are now. One can rationalize this series that way, make the pill easier to swallow. But they beat Pedro, lost a matchup between Mussina and Burkett, and wasted a strong effort from Weaver. They could have swept, they could have opened up a big lead, they could have put the Red Sox away. Credit the Red Sox for a great effort this weekend, but don't let the Yankees off the hook: they blew it.

I'm not going to make the typical complaint about this year's and last year's teams, that they are different than past teams, that they don't know how to win. Bullshit. Everyone knows how to win, you score more runs than the other team. It's the execution that makes the difference, and the Yankees failed to execute.

Maybe it's because their pitchers are on their own out there. Maybe it's because they have a one-tool right fielder and a fading third baseman eating up outs like they were dots in Pac-Man. Maybe it's because they have a bench full of blank cartridges. Maybe it's because their leadoff hitter has a .289 OBP since May 2nd, and a .334 OBP overall. Only Mondesi is worse among Yankee regulars---by .004. Joe Torre refuses to drop him from the leadoff spot, and has failed to penalize him in any way for swinging at every pitch, and is seemingly more concerned with Soriano's lack of hustle on his home runs. If Soriano can be salvaged, and changed from a nice power-hitting second baseman into a great hitting ballplayer, Joe Torre is not the man to do it, not the way he's handled him.

I'm not saying Torre should be fired, he shouldn't, but he needs to be more proactive. This team is very, very good, but it needs a shakeup. The lineup needs to change. Most importantly, Nick Johnson should be coming up in the first inning, not the third. Raul Mondesi needs to ride the bench, no matter how much he whines. Soriano needs to be dropped in the lineup, perhaps all the way to the bottom, until he can learn that he's up there to bat, not hit. You can't do really anything about Robin Ventura, because the only options are Todd Zeile and Enrique Wilson. You can play Zeile against lefties, and hope Ventura can turn it around and become half-decent, but in all likelihood, that's a hole that they're stuck with.

The important thing is that Joe Torre has to do something. This isn't the '98 Yankees, who weren't as strong at the top, but lacked any major holes. This team does need to be managed on the field, strategies need to be employed to hide their weaknesses and emphasize their strengths. It seems that whenever Joe does manage the games, he utilizes strategies that play away from their strengths: pinch running for their best hitters, hitting and running, sacrifice bunting. Torre would be better off sitting on his hands than using these strategies, he needs to do something that requires thought, rather than gut-instinct. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it to happen.

Oh, well, it was a great series, and a great game. Tonight's didn't quite live up to the first two, but had its moments. I still feel the Yankees will win this division, and I still think they can win a title, but if they keep throwing away games like they did yesterday and today it will be tough for them to do either.