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August 9, 2004

Eight is Enough
by Larry Mahnken

Suddenly, everything is going right for the Yankees, or at least it seems that way.

Their overworked bullpen was given the weekend off, limited to a mere four innings in the last four days, two by Quantrill, one by Nitkowski, and one by Scott Proctor. For the fourth straight game, the starting pitcher gave the Yankees eighth strong innings. No sooner had their starters' cumulative ERA gone over 5.00 than they pitched 32 innings giving up only 5 runs, dropping that ERA nearly 20 points.

Only nine times before this weekend had the Yankees' starters pitched 8 complete innings. It could be -- likely is, of course -- an abberation. I mean, they're not gonna pitch eight strong innings ever time out. But it could be the point at which this rotation starts to live up to expectations.

This rotation was expected by me to be the strongest in baseball if it remained healthy. It hasn't remained healthy, and Jose Contreras didn't work out, but the "goodness" of Javier Vazquez hasn't lived up to the "greatness" I expected. Jon Lieber has been a solid back of the rotation starter, and Orlando Hernandez has surpassed all expectations, relying on his creativity to make up for his lost stuff. But Kevin Brown hasn't been what the Yankees hoped for, and Mike Mussina has been hurt and mediocre.

Well, Brown has now had two great starts, and if not for the home run by Delgado, Vazquez would have had a great start on Friday. Maybe those two will be what we expected of them down the stretch and in the postseason, maybe Mussina will come back strong. To put your hopes on "Maybes" isn't something you want, but these all have a good chance of happening. This rotation has the goods, they just need to go out and get the job done.

There really isn't much left to play for in the regular season. At 10½ games back, the Red Sox are pretty much out of the AL East race, and with the Twins and A's 9 back, Home Field Advantage is more or less locked up, too. The only thing to look for now is a third straight 100-win season, something that they have never done before.

Some good news about Jason Giambi, who may be cleared to start training again in the next couple of days, which means it's likely he'll be back with plenty of time to get back into a groove. John Olerud has played really well since signing last week, but his job was likely never in any real danger. The question now is whether Torre plays Lofton or Bernie while DHing Giambi. Bernie's bat has been so weak this season that he doesn't even have that advantage, but Torre is almost certainly going to go with the hot hand, and if Bernie can hit well over the next few weeks (and hey, he hit a grand slam yesterday, which was exceptionally awesome), Joe will likely let the bat decide, rather than the glove. Assuredly, at this point the Yankees are best with Lofton in center, but there's nothing to be done about it.