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July 29, 2005

by Larry Mahnken

The Yankees are only 1½ games out of first place (one in the loss column), but I'm not feeling very confident in their chances right now. Their rotation, the Thin Gray Line, is very precariously balanced on the edge of doom. They're not entirely dependent on Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina -- yet -- but they're close.

Al Leiter has, in terms of runs allowed, had two excellent starts and one awful start, but his last start wasn't as good as it looked and the start before that wasn't as bad. He's walked over 5 men per 9 innings in pinstripes, but not having given up a home run yet has kept that from killing the team. They could have won all three games he started, which is all they need -- but they've only won one game.

Aaron Small has been following the Chien-Ming Wang plan for success, getting hit-lucky. It's not likely to keep up, but the Yankees need to take it while they can get it, and they've won both of his starts.

Now they've added Shawn Chacon from the Rockies, which naturally makes it look like they've added an awful pitcher. Well, maybe they have, but the stats coing out of Colorado are always decieving, even the road stats.

His overall stats say he's got a 4.95 career ERA as a starter, 4.62 on the road. His career DIPS ERA as a starter is 4.89 (4.96 overall).

Over his career he's averaged 5.2 innings a start, which would be a little more than three runs a game, and taking it into the sixth inning. If the Yankees got that, they'd be in business.

Before I'd heard the Yankees had accquired Chacon, I had two hopes: first, that they'd somehow accquire Eric Byrnes in the deal. He's nothing special, but he's better than Bernie with the glove and adds a good bat to the lineup. Maybe they'll still accquire him, but I figured it would be cheaper to get him packaged with Chacon. Perhaps desperation for a starter on Saturday meant the Yankees were going to take what they could get and not push for more.

Oh well. The other hope I had was that, instead of trying to bring in someone to start Saturday, they'd try to get Pavano back for Sunday, and pitch Randy Johnson on three days' rest Saturday. He's done it before, he did well, he didn't overly exert himself on Tuesday.

But maybe Pavano's not ready, or they don't want to risk it. Well, that's their choice, and it is just one start, and maybe they'll win it anyway. Considering how Pavano has pitched at Yankee Stadium this year, they might have just as good a chance to win with Chacon as they would with Pavano.

But they do need Pavano to come back and be good. If they can make it to the postseason with what they've got, if Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson keep pitching like they have recently, they're still likely to need one more starter in the playoffs who can keep them in games. Pavano is the best candidate to be that starter, but he's hardly showing it so far this season.

The Angels stopped a great road trip dead in its tracks last weekend, winning the first three games of the series to force the Yanks to win Sunday just to finish above .500 on the trip. The Yankees need to exact some measure of revenge this weekend, they need to win tonight with Moose and Sunday with Unit, at the very least. They could win this series, they could sweep this series. But they could just as easily get swept, and head to Cleveland next week 4½ games back, and very nearly dead.