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July 11, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Phew. With tonight's win, the Yankees clinched a tie for first place at the All-Star break, which saves me from looking like a dolt. Again.

By not getting the job done against Cleveland, the Yankees have put themselves in a position where they have to win two of three in Toronto. They barely got the job done tonight, and with Halladay going tomorrow against Moose and Weaver going Sunday, they have to step it up a bit if they want to hold sole possession of first going into the break. You just can't expect Detroit to win a game against Boston.

On Sunday, Andy Pettitte was excellent, showing the form that in the past has caused many to miscast him as a "big game pitcher", when in reality he was just a pitcher who was capable of being really good at times, and really bad at others, and the importance of the game played no role. Tonight, he was just adequate; not good, but not quite bad, particularly considering the quality of the lineup he was facing. The Yankees can win games if he pitches like this, because most lineups would put up fewer runs. It's just that far too often he pitches much, much worse.

The offense did get the job done tonight, but one has to wonder how much of that is due to the Blue Jays' lack of pitching. Kershner came in and pitched well after Wasdin was blown out of the water, and Lopez stopped the Yankees after Giambi's HR, but everything else was poor, to say the least. But those 8 runs weren't all the fault of pitching. The top of the Yankees' lineup has started to turn it around somewhat. After being ice-cold in June, Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano (who wasn't too hot in May, either) have been excellent the last two weeks. Soriano's power has taken a bit of a dive, but he's hitting the ball solidly and getting on base, and Jeter, whose batting average was at .257 on June 27th, is almost at .320 now, and his OPS has risen over 100 points in that time.

Unfortunately, that increased output is somewhat negated by the collapses at the bottom of the order. Robin Ventura is starting to make Todd Zeile look like a reasonable option (okay, not really, but not quite as ludicrous), as his OPS prepares to drop below .700 any day now. Raul Mondesi got a hit and drew an important walk tonight, but he has been lousy for two months, and needs to start hitting respectably again if he doesn't want to lose his job to Karim Garcia, of all players. Posada hasn't been hitting for much power lately, though he's still drawing walks, a sign that he needs more time off from catching. With two other catchers on the AL team, hopefully he can get a rest after only three innings of work or so on Tuesday. Getting a backup who can hit would help, too, so they wouldn't have to put him in half of the games he gets "off" to pinch-hit and then catch.

But there's not really much the Yankees can do to improve in that area, except hope for Nick Johnson and his OBP goodness to hurry back soon. Unless they want to foolishly part with Claussen, they don't have much trading fodder (although Steven Goldman had an interesting "quick fix" for 3B idea in TPB today), and what they would be able to get probably wouldn't be worth the price. So, we're left waiting for Nick.

One of the players who had been constantly rumored to come to the Bronx was Ugueth Urbina. Well, that's not going to happen now, because the Marlins inexplicably traded for Triple-U today, sending a very good 1B prospect and two B-prospects to Texas for the overrated closer. I'm pleased by this move, because it takes the temptation away from George to trade Claussen for Ugie if the bullpen blows a couple of late leads. Now all that's left is to take Benitez off the block, and the options that the Yankees are likely to focus on would be much more reasonable. They do need bullpen help still, but it won't be found in the ranks of the Proven Closers™. Where will they find it? I don't claim to know the answer to that one.

* * *

I'm getting a decent number of hits a day now, and I'm thinking about dropping a few bucks to get rid of the Blogspot ad on the top of the page, and host images so they don't keep dissapearing when too many people visit. At the same time, I'd like to put up a banner to make a little money off the site, too, or rather, to pay for the cost of it. I want to ask you, my audience, how you would feel about a pop-up ad (which would generate considerably more money), or a pop-under, if that would be less annoying. Comment or email me to let me know how you feel about that. I especially want to hear from people who would really not like that, because I would rather lose a couple of bucks than a couple of readers.

(BTW, how long do you think it'll be before MLB sends me an email telling me to take down the Yankees logos? I'm surprised that they haven't done it yet.)