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May 17, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Every year, the village I live in has a three-day festival, "Canal Days", with bands and food and vendors of every type. About a month before Canal Days, they put signs up around the outskirts of the village advertising the festival. Over the past few years I've seen these signs, and wondered why nobody ever had done the obvious, but sure enough, this year someone--high school kids I'd assume--finally painted over the "C".

That had nothing to do with baseball, just wanted to share it. I wonder if that change will increase or decrease the popularity of the festival...

The Yankees kept winning over the weekend, taking two out of three from the Mariners, and could very easily have swept, if they had been able to get a fly ball in the ninth, or had a close call go their way in extra innings. But they didn't play great baseball, and had they played this way against a better team than Seattle, they might have lost two of three, or even been swept. They were outhit every game, winning largely thanks to a tight strike zone that rewarded their patient approach on Friday, and a great outing by Kevin Brown on Sunday, upping his record to 5-0.

Partial blame for the team's offensive woes can be put on Joe Torre's unveiling Friday of his "suck" lineup, featuring Tony Clark at first base, John Flaherty catching, and Ruben Sierra batting cleanup. There are good reasons for the first two players being in there, with Posada having broken his nose last week and Giambi suffering from a hip injury caused by overcompensating for his sore knee. Sierra's insertion into the cleanup spot had no logical explanation, for as well as he's played this season, six dozen at-bats in the past two months do not trump 600 at-bats in the past three years, especially for a 38-year old who was never anything special in the first place.

At least it wasn't, as Bernal Diaz at Baseball Prim...uh, "Think Factory" (click on the link) termed it, his "blows" lineup or "crap" lineup, which would have to include Enrique Wilson.

Indeed, it's far from the Yankees' worst possible lineup, which would be, I think:
CF Lofton

RF Matsui
DH Sierra
1B Clark
C Flaherty
3B Cairo
SS Wilson
LF Crosby
2B Bush
And to think--we're only four injuries away from that lineup...

But while complaining about victories is par for the course around here, they did win two of three, and the loss was, until the end, very entertaining. And there were some very positive things: Bernie Williams' OPS when up 130 points during the homestand, and he clubbed two home runs. Hideki Matsui, who had a poorer year last year than his .788 OPS indicated (Monthly splits starting in April: .690/.655/1.157/.763/.717/.758), has been better so far this season. He's still hitting more ground balls than fly balls, but he's improved a little bit on that ratio so far this season, and has hit into only one double play. So far this season, he's shown better plate discipline and slightly improved power, and on the whole he's been a good player this year, even for a left fielder.

The pitching has been more of a concern than I thought it would be, with Mike Mussina struggling mightily and Javier Vazquez having trouble putting up consistent performances. Jon Lieber looks pretty good, and Brown of course is great, but the last spot in the rotation has been a complete mess. The Yankees will turn next to Tanyon Sturtze, for whom it would be a pleasant surprise to get a solid outing from. Until Jose Contreras returns, the Yankees are entering those games at a disadvantage. As for Contreras, he struck out 12 in 7 innings in Columbus yesterday, giving up 2 runs and 4 hits. Oh, and he also walked four, threw two wild pitches and plunked two batters. The Yanks are going to give him another start down there, which looks like a good idea. Hopefully, he'll be back for the start after Sturtze's loss.