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August 30, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Since winning last Monday, the Yankees have played 6 straight games in which they've trailed at some point. Through Saturday, they had won four of those games, and yesterday they were only nine outs away from doing it a fifth time.

But then it all fell apart, as Mike Mussina ran out of gas and gave up the lead, and Paul Quantrill came in, and seeing runners on his flank and in his rear, went into suck mode. By the time it was over, the Yankees trailed 6-2, and despite a valiant effort, fell 6-4.

Despite losing this game, despite a poor line from Mussina, despite dropping yet another game in the standings to Boston, the Yankees did well on this latest road trip. They won 5 of 7, and both series they played. They could have, and probably should have won every game, but their opponents can make an equal claim.

They have, however, broken out of their offensive slump. A-Rod came alive with runners in scoring position over the weekend, and they generally beat the crap out of the Blue Jays. Yeah, you can chalk a lot of it up to bad pitching, but sometimes a good lineup needs some bad pitchers to get out of a slump.

While they only got one win from their starters, the results were more positive than they appeared. With the Yankees' lineup, they don't need great pitching, they just need their starters to be good enough that they don't have to bludgeon their way to victory.

Kevin Brown gave up four early runs on Saturday, but pitched exceptionally well after the third inning. What's more, he threw 120 pitches, alleviating fears from earlier in the week that his back might be acting up.

While Moose's lines haven't looked at all inspiring, the actual efforts have been very much so. Early struggles putting batters away on Monday knocked him out early, just as he was starting to breeze through the lineup, and yesterday he was dominant for 95 pitches before breaking down in the seventh. Obviously you want more than 95 pitches from a starter, but considering that this is merely his third start back from the DL, those 95 pitches are a great sign.

Jon Lieber also struggled early, then was brilliant the second half of the game. It was pretty much the theme of the week.

What can be worrisome is that when the starter puts you behind by three or four runs in the first few innings, you're not always going to be able to come back, as the Yankees have the past week. For the whole season, the Yankees are +38 runs in the first 6 innings, and +45 after that. If QuanGorMo's rested, the team can shut opponents down late, but against the better teams, the scoring late part is going to be the problem. They're either going to need to score more early, or give up fewer early.

This last month of the season is the time for the Yankees to figure out who they're taking to the postseason, and how they'll be using them. At this point, the rotation appears like it will be:


with the exact order to be determined by how they pitch down the stretch.

Torre needs to get Enrique Wilson out of his system, because as bad as Cairo's been lately, he's more likely to be useful in October.

Tony Clark and John Olerud have actually been steady filling in for Giambi, posting a combined .802 OPS. I'd still like Jason back, but they can survive with this combo. Now if only Clark got on as much as Olerud and Olerud hit with Clark's power...

Sheffield needs to stay healthy...ish. And why, incidently, was he only given a double on Saturday? He touched third base. It's a triple.

A-Rod needs to Lock The State, and keep hitting with runners in scoring position.

Jeter needs to stop bunting.

Bernie needs to... Bernie needs an infusion of stem cells or something, like that South Park with Christopher Reeve.

And frankly, the Yanks really need Steve Karsay to run out of that bullpen. Not to be a stopper, but just to be a filler, to keep Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera out of the game. Yeah Joe, I know Quantrill says he wants to pitch every day. It's more important that he pitch in October, give him some rest. And don't bring him in to pitch the day after he stinks up the joint, when he was pitching the day after he stunk up the joint. Making him tired probably ain't gonna fix that.

The Yanks have the day off, and then head into the last easy stretch of the season. They need to keep their intensity level high and win at least 12 or 13 of these games, and tack on a game or two in the standings. Boston's unlikely to sweep the Yankees two more times, but just in case, they need to add more of a cushion. They blew it two weeks ago against very good teams, now's their chance to redeem themselves. 14 or more victories will almost certainly lock up the East heading into the Boston series.