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August 31, 2005

One of those nights
by SG

After winning five straight games and 14 of their last 18, the Yankees were due for a letdown. It came tonight, as Shawn Chacon struggled early with his command and gave up 8 runs in the first three innings. With Aaron Small unavailable and no other long men in the pen, Chacon was kept in to "take one for the team." He was able to hold Seattle scoreless from the fourth to the sixth, but by that time it was too late, and the Yankee offense was unable to claw back from the deficit, falling to the Mariners 8-3.

I could understand Torre being reticent to go to his pen, but I can't help but wonder if Chacon's performance today was him being due for a bad start, or if the 246 pitches he'd thrown in his previous 2 starts were affecting him. If the second scenario was the case, then it was risky to ask him to pitch 113 pitches in a lost cause. Particularly with the news that Mike Mussina is having some elbow tendinitis now, why play games with Chacon's health? You have Randy Johnson going tomorrow, and the one thing he has done is give the team innings, and then you have the rosters expanding on Thursday so you would only be short in the pen for a day.

We'll see how it shakes out.

August 30, 2005

by SG

As Mike Mussina melted down in front of my eyes early in last night's game, I was starting to get very irritated that I was staying up until 2 am to watch.

Moose has struggled ever since I wrote about the return of his fastball, so I'd like to rescind those comments and forget they ever happened. Last night, he had no command, and after allowing two runs over the first 3 innings, he completely fell apart in the fourth. A walk, a stolen base, a bunt single and another walk loaded the bases with no outs. Rather than letting him fight through his struggles, Joe Torre made the smart move, going to Aaron Small in a tough spot with the bases loaded and no outs. Small got two grounders to second which both could have been double plays. On the first one it didn't happen because Ichiro is so damn fast. On the second one Robinson Cano's throw to Jeter was a little slow in developing and that allowed Willie Bloomquist to beat it out (in the mind of the umpire anyway, he looked out on the replay.)

Small eventually got out of the inning, but two runs had scored and it was 4-0 Mariners. Meanwhile, the Yankee offense had managed just one infield single over the first four innings against Ryan "Cy" Franklin. Leading off the fifth, Jason Giambi lifted another homer to RF to put the Yankees on the board. Bernie Williams walked, and Franklin looked to be on the verge of letting the Yankees back in the game. Unfortunately, in trying to "make things happen", a busted hit and run on a 3 ball count led to a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play. A hit and run on a 3 ball count is just plain dumb. If the pitch is out of the strike zone, the batter may still feel pressure to swing at it. Jorge Posada then doubled which may have scored Bernie if he hadn't been thrown out on the previous play. Fortunately, Robinson Cano came through with a 2 out single to score Posada from third (he'd advanced on a wild pitch), and the Yankees trailed 4-2.

In the sixth, Giambi came through again. It is nice to see him hitting with runners on base now. Amazing what a little lineup shuffle appears to have done. His three run homer gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead. Solo homers by Alex Rodriguez and Matt Lawton completed the final scoring in the game, and Aaron Small got a well-deserved win with 4 shutout innings, preserving the rest of the pen. Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera both closed out the game in fine fashion, and the Yankees got an important win on a day when all their playoff competitors also won.

There is some scuttlebutt that Mark Bellhorn will be wearing a Yankee uniform soon. I don't really know what to make of that. He's probably a better offensive player than Cano right now, but not as good of a fielder. If his role is to platoon with Cano against lefties or take Felix Escalona's spot as the backup infielder, I think he's an ok pickup. Who knows, he may have some inside information on some of his former team's tendencies that could help steal a game or two as well.

Chien-ming Wang made a rehab start last night in Columbus, pitching 3 innings of 1 run ball, 48 pitches. The question will be how he feels today and tomorrow, but the return of Wang could be huge.

August 29, 2005

by Larry Mahnken

The Red Sox are currently experiencing what the Yankees went through the last couple of seasons, though obviously not to the same extreme. They're cruising along, playing good baseball, and then they hit a rough patch, but still manage to play above .500. But here comes the Yankees, 13-4 since August 11th, compared to Boston's 8-7. Every night you look at the scoreboard, there's another Yankees win. Even down 4 runs with 1 out in the ninth on Saturday, they come back and win. A once comfortable lead of 5½ games is cut down to a mere 1½ games.

The Yankees headed to Boston after the All-Star Break in third place, just 2½ games out of first place, 2 in the loss column. Immediately, they lost Chien-Ming Wang to a shoulder injury, perhaps for the entire season. Carl Pavano was already hurt, and would soon be gone for the season, and Kevin Brown's season quickly ended after trying to make rehab starts in the major leagues.

They had two starters -- Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina. The rest of their rotation was going to have to be patched together. Darrell May and Tim Redding were bombed by the Indians and Red Sox, the Yankees would have to turn to Al Leiter (6.64 ERA), Aaron Small (5.49 career ERA, no starts since 1996) and Shawn Chacon (4.09 ERA, 5.20 career ERA).

And it was worse, the average record of their opponents over the next 30 games coming out of the break was 49-38, a .563 Winning Percentage, and 17 of those games were on the road. A log5 projection for those 30 games was 14-16, and it could just as easily be worse as better, especially considering the injuries.

In the meantime, the Red Sox were playing teams with an average record of 44-43, and they were projected to go 17-12. That would put them 6 games up in mid-August, and essentially end the AL East race.

The Sox did, in fact, exceed their projection. The last game of the stretch was rained out, but they went 19-9 overall, and had the Yankees played to their projection, they'd be 8½ games out of first place. Dead.

Instead, the Yankees went 18-12 over their killer stretch, stayed just 4½ back, just barely in the race. And a hot stretch has put them right back on Boston's tail.

In each of the last two seasons, the Yankees had had a relatively easy stretch in late-Jul/mid-August while the Red Sox had a killer stretch over the same period. Each time, the Yankees had a chance to end the AL East race, but each time the Red Sox streaked back into contention. Those were lost opportunites for the Yankees, and they were forced to beat Boston off in September to win the division. Now the Red Sox have lost an opportunity to bury the Yankees, and will have to fight them off in September to win the division.

And things are looking up for the Yanks. The starting pitching has been generally good recently, and has pitched deep into games, giving Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera desperately needed rest. They've made Tony Womack obsolete with the trade for Matt Lawton, and the move should also keep Bernie Williams out of the field most of the time, as well as keeping Tino Martinez on the bench. Chien-Ming Wang and Ruben Sierra might actually come back soon, giving the rotation and bench a boost.

And the schedule is an advantage for the Yankees now, too. The rest of the way, the Yankees' opponents have a .478 winning percentage, while Boston's have a .507 W%. Even if you take Boston's 21 remaining home games into account (out of 34 overall games), the Yankees still have an easier schedule, .487-.495. That won't be enough of an edge to make up the 2 games they need to, but if the Yankees win 4 of 6 against Boston instead of splitting, as log5 would project, then there's your 2 games right there.

This West Coast trip is important. The Yankees need to come back winning at least 4 of 7, and they haven't been at their best on the road this season.

Home Cookin'
by SG

The Yankees finished off a very successful 7 game homestand with an easy victory over Kansas City. The 6-1 homestand concluded with a 10-3 win that had several good indicators for the final stretch run. More importantly, a homestand that started with the Yankees trailing Boston by 4.0 games ended with them trailing by 1.5.

Al Leiter pitched another solid game, allowing just 2 runs over 6 innings. It's rarely pretty when Leiter pitches, even when he pitches well, but the end result has been good. In 7 of his 9 starts as a Yankee, he's allowed 3 ER or fewer.

More importantly, Jason Giambi woke up from a month long funk with a monster game, Going 3 for 3 with 2 HRs and 7 RBI. Giambi had quietly been suffering with tendinitis in his left elbow, and got a cortisone shot 5 days ago which appears to have finally helped. It also appears that shuffling the lineup has put Giambi in a position to hit with runners on base, something he has disappointed with this year. Giambi continues to hit much better when he plays first base, so the acquisition of Matt Lawton will be a benefit if it keeps him on the field. The lineup that Joe Torre ran out there yesterday was close to optimal IMO.

D Jeter SS
H Matsui CF
G Sheffield RF
A Rodriguez 3B
J Giambi 1B
B Williams DH
M Lawton LF
J Posada C
R Cano 2B

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better 1-5 than Jeter, Matsui, Sheffield, Rodriguez, and Giambi. Throw in the fact Bernie, Lawton, and Posada all know how to work the count and get on base, and the only weak spot is the struggling Robinson Cano. Hopefully Cano can get on a little hot streak, but as long as he plays adequate defense he's not a problem.

Derek Jeter has been on fire recently. Since July 23, he is hitting .379/.449/.529. He is now leading the AL in runs scored with 100.

Here's a completely random stat that I found interesting:

Bernie Williams .259/.333/.405 .738
Carlos Beltran   .263/.325/.416 .741

Next up is West Coast swing that will not be easy.

Seattle's not a great team, but the Yankees will be seeing rookie phenom Felix Hernandez, which does not appear to be much fun.

4 games in Seattle
8/29: Moose versus Franklin
8/30: Chacon versus Harris
8/31: Johnson versus Hernandez
9/1: Wright versus Pineiro

The weekend series against Oakland will be huge. Oakland is still shooting for their division, and are one of the Yankees big competitors for the wild card.

3 games in Oakland
9/2: Leiter versus Haren
9/3: Moose versus Saarloos
9/4: Chacon versus Zito

Rich Harden has a strained lat muscle and is scheduled to pitch on Thursday, which is good for the Yankees.

I think if the Yankees can go 5-2, they will be in great shape.

August 27, 2005

Thank you Angel
by SG

After a solid 5-1 win on Friday which pushed the Yankees to 15 games over .500 for the first time this season, the Yankees looked to continue their post All Star push against the Royals this afternoon. For eight innings, they were listless and it appeared that they were on their way to a loss against a starter who entered the game with a 7.68 ERA.

Jaret Wright struggled in the first inning, needing 28 pitches to work around a leadoff walk and a single. He then settled down over the next three innings before losing it in the fifth. The Royals five run rally and the comatose Yankee offense looked to be a bad combination.

Aaron Small relieved Wright, and despite his stuff being better suited to the bullpen according to Joe Torre, gave up 2 runs in 2.2 innings. Small hadn't pitched in about 10 days, which honestly makes no sense. Small should've gotten some work in some of the games leading up to today. Did Mariano Rivera really need to pitch with a 5 run lead yesterday after pitching the day before? It's difficult for a reliever to stay sharp when they are not getting regular work. Felix Rodriguez also comes to mind.

Anyway, After Small, Alan Embree came in and pitched very effectively, reaching 95 mph on his fastball and retiring all 4 batters he faced. I will admit that I did not like the Embree signing at the time, but his fastball seems better than it was with Boston earlier, so the Yankees may have lucked into something with him.

The Yankees had managed only 4 hits through 8 innings, and then came the ninth, and perhaps the best late rally of the season.

For some reason, Buddy Bell chose not to go to his closer, Mike MacDougal, and brought in Jeremy Affeldt. After seeing how easily Andy Sisco and Ambiorix Burgos handled the Yankees in the 7th and 8th, this was a blessing.

Jason Giambi came back from a 1-2 count to draw a leadoff walk. Bernie Williams struck out looking. Jorge Posada grounded an 0-2 pitch back to Affeldt for what should have been the game ending double play. Affeldt's throw was low to shortstop Angel Berroa covering second, and everyone was safe. Affeldt got charged with the error but Berroa really should have caught it and at least forced Giambi.

Newest Yankee Matt Lawton then singled to left, loading the bases with one out.

Joe Torre decided to go to his bench with Tino Martinez pinch-hitting for Robinson Cano. Given Cano's recent struggles and the fact that Affeldt was a lefty, I was ok with this decision. If not, the result certainly made it seem like the smart move. Martinez grounded a single to right field driving in Giambi, and the deficit was now 7-4.

Buddy Bell went to Shawn Camp at this point, which didn't work out much better.

Derek Jeter hit a grounder that just eluded a diving Angel Berroa. Having been on the other side of those types of hits, Jeter did it to someone else. That scored Posada and Lawton, and moved pinch-runner Tony Womack to second. Now it was 7-6.

Hideki Matsui flied out to center field for the second out, with Womack tagging and moving to third.

Gary Sheffield then did something that he rarely does, hitting the ball the other way down the line for an RBI double that tied the game and moved Jeter to third, with Sheffield going to second on the throw home.
Alex Rodriguez then stepped up, and on a 2-2 pitch, he grounded a single between third and short, and the Yankees had scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 8-7.

It was a huge, dramatic win at a time when every game counts.

Prior to the game it was announced that the Yankees had acquired Matt Lawton from the Cubs for minor league pitcher Justin Berg. Berg's a low A pitcher who hasn't demonstrated much, and is not considered much of a prospect, so this was probably just a salary dump. Lawton's not a bad pickup. He's not a very good defensive player, but in his career he has demonstrated an ability to get on base at a decent clip (.366 this season), and gives the Yankees some depth in the OF. The Yankees don't consider him a CF, but they feel that he can play LF with Matsui shifting to CF. If the Yankees can do that, they can run the following lineup out there:

Jeter, SS
Matsui, CF
Sheffield, RF
Rodriguez, 3B
Giambi, 1B
Williams, DH
Posada, C
Lawton, LF
Cano, 2B

I don't know about you, but to me that's the best lineup they will have had all year.

Larry ran some numbers to estimate the strength of schedules for the AL playoff contenders through year end as of yesterday, which I'm going to post here.

Using actual records

Strength of Schedule the rest of the season:
Red Sox: .503
Athletics: .500
Twins: .498
Angels: .493
Indians: .487
White Sox: .484
Yankees: .467

Adjusted for .540 Home Field Advantage:
Athletics: .505
Twins: .500
Angels: .496
Red Sox: .489
White Sox: .488
Indians: .485
Yankees: .471

Projected Records using log5:
Boston: 94-67
Yankees: 91-71

White Sox: 100-61
Indians: 90-72
Twins: 86-77

Angels: 93-69
Athletics: 90-72

Using “adjusted” records (Adjusted records come from Baseball Prospectus's adjusted standings.

Strength of Schedule the rest of the season:
Red Sox: .522
Athletics: .521
Angels: .516
Twins: .508
White Sox: .505
Yankees: .491
Indians: .488

Adjusted for .540 Home Field Advantage:
Athletics: .525
Angels: .519
Twins: .510
White Sox: .510
Red Sox: .507
Yankees: .494
Indians: .485

Projected Records using log5:
Boston: 93-68
Yankees: 91-71

White Sox: 96-65
Indians: 91-71
Twins: 85-78

Angels: 92-70
Athletics: 90-72

Basically, all this tells me is that it's too close to call, and that Cleveland, the Yankees, and Oakland will be in a dogfight for the Wild Card. It also tells me that the division is still very much in play, particularly with 6 games remaining between Boston and the Yankees. Regardless, this should be the most exciting September that we have had as Yankee fans in quite some time, so sit back and enjoy it.

August 25, 2005

by SG

If the Yankees end up making the playoffs this season, the mid-season acquisition of Shawn Chacon may turn out to be the reason. Another solid outing by Chacon this afternoon helped the Yankees end a successful series with the Toronto Blue Jays, winning 3 of 4 games.

Chacon had put up average numbers in his career, although it's difficult to assess pitchers from Colorado. However, he's only 27 and has good stuff. He does have a troubling injury history in his past, but so do a lot of pitchers.

In his Yankee tenure, Chacon has made 7 appearances (6 starts and 1 relief appearance). The Yankees have won 6 of those games.
His overall numbers as a Yankee:
IP: 40
H: 33
R: 9
ER: 8
BB: 15
SO: 28
ERA: 1.80
FIP: 3.58

His peripherals:

K/BF: 0.17
BB/BF: 0.09
HR/BF: 0.01

K/9: 6.3
BB/9: 3.4
HR/9: 0.45
G/F: 0.9

As well as he's pitched, his peripherals indicate that some falloff should be expected. His K rate is a little lower than I'd like to see, and his BB rate is higher. The HR rate is excellent, but he is a fly ball pitcher, so it is very possibly a fluke.

I don't want to sound too down on Chacon, because even if he regresses to a little, he's still a very solid starter. I just want to caution about expecting a 1.80 ERA from him for the rest of the season. I also think he has a lot of room for improvement as he gets further away from Coors and the memories of pitching in Colorado, so his peripherals have a great chance to improve. Needless to say, he's been great, and Cashman did well to get him for minor league pitchers who may never end up having much of a major league career.

I thought Jim Kaat brought up a very interesting point during today's game when he mentioned that Chacon seems to have better control when he works out of the stretch, which may have been related to his relief work last year. It's something to watch for.

Of course, I do need to complain about Joe Torre in this space, so I will do that now. Chacon threw 127 pitches in his last outing, and today threw 119. While I am not opposed to occasional high pitch outings, Chacon has had arm and leg injury issues in his major league career, and the Yankees do not have the rotation depth to lose another starting pitcher. When the Yankees scored 2 runs in the bottom of the sixth to take a 4 run lead, I felt Chacon should have been pulled. I also felt that it was unnecessary to use Mariano Rivera with a 4 run lead, but I guess they want to work him out of WWWMW, so it's understandable. I had no problem with using Tom Gordon for the 8th, and he really looked filthy. Amazing what a little rest can do, huh?

August 24, 2005

Newsday: Playoffs in the cards for Yanks, count on it
by Larry Mahnken

1. Even with Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano out, the Yankees still have a $183-million payroll, or a lot more than anyone else.

This is no more relevant now than it was before.

2. Although the clubhouse may not be what it was without Brown (aka Mr. Giggles), the rotation is actually much better.

Not true. From the Sunday start against Oakland in May until he hurt his back in Minnesota, Brown was pitching quite well. They'd be much better if they still had that Brown.

3. If Jaret Wright can put a healthy six weeks together (and he's done it once or twice before), he'll be a bigger help than you think.

Well, he could be. Jaret Wright healthy ? Jaret Wright good. But if he keeps doing what he did in his last two starts, on anything like it, that would be a huge help.

4. Turns out the Yankees were by far the biggest trade-deadline winners with their deal for little-heralded Shawn Chacon. Joe Torre called Chacon "a huge get."

Well, maybe. Chacon could also have an ERA of 5.00 the rest of the season. That wouldn't be much of a "get".

5. Nobody else made even a mid-sized get.

I suppose. But the other teams were probably in better shape to begin with. And the Red Sox are replacing a lot of Kevin Millar's ABs with John Olerud and Roberto Petagine, and swapped Tony Graffanino for Mark Bellhorn. They got better.

6. While we still can't say he's underpaid (at least not straight-faced, we can't), Alex Rodriguez is under-appreciated for all he does. Besides his offensive exploits, he hasn't made an error in 52 games. He is MVP-worthy.


7. None of the other wild-card contestants has anyone even remotely like A-Rod.

Well, no. But the Yankees don't have anyone remotely like Rich Harden this season, and their bullpen isn't remotely like the Indians'.

8. Or, for that matter, Derek Jeter or Gary Sheffield.

Jhonny Peralta has been much better than Jeter this year, Crosby just as good. Travis Hafner is better than Sheffield.

9. Sheffield hasn't mentioned deferred payments in more than a month.

This is true. I don't know how this helps the team compete against the Indians and A's, though...

10. He's even occasionally running out grounders.

Wow. That'll help. Maybe he'll get on base once, maybe twice the rest of the season more than otherwise.

11. Jason Giambi may not be MVP material anymore. But he's weathered the worst of things, abdicated his "Mr. Steroids" title to Raffy Palmeiro and can still carry a team on occasion.

100% true.

12. Robinson Cano is still going to account for more runs on offense than he'll let in with his defensive stylings.

This is a plus for a contender?

13. Joe Torre has to use Randy Johnson only once every five games.

Again, a plus? Randy Johnson should have been a Cy Young contender. Now he's dragging the team down? Way to spin that one, Jon.

14. Nobody has to talk to Johnson the other days.

That's your problem, not the team's.

15. While Johnson has lost his fastball, his slider and his temper, occasionally he looks something like what they paid for.

Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to ever keep that up for a whole game.

16. George Steinbrenner has lost his fastball, too, at least when it comes to his bark. His public statements have zero bite nowadays.

Complementing Billy Connors is supposed to be a jab at Mel Stottlemyre, I guess, but it isn't exactly the kind of cutting stuff we're used to from Steinbrenner. It was such a tame remark, in fact, that Torre basically repeated it yesterday, saying in regard to Wright, "The people in Florida did a great job with him."

It's possible that what this team needs is George's bite, too.

17. Some of the Yankees' players actually like Torre, and would be happy to do what they can to save his job (this distinguishes him from most major-league managers). "We just haven't performed well at times. I think it's unfair to blame him," Jeter said yesterday. "It's our job to change the speculation."

If the players were playing well, there wouldn't be any speculation about Torre in the first place.

18. Torre may not be the greatest game-day manager going. But it's hard to imagine him being outdone by the likes of Cleveland's Eric Wedge (no offense to you Wedge fans out there) down the stretch.

No, not really.

19. Or Oakland's Ken Macha.

No, not really.

20. Or even Minnesota's Ron Gardenhire.

No, not really.

21. The Yankees are much more experienced than their competitors. This isn't the 1998 Yankees, but there are still nine players with 26 winning World Series rings.

Well, that helped in the ALCS last year.

22. Their schedule may not be the easiest of the wild-card finalists, but they're going to get a head start with three gimmies against the Royals this weekend. Yes, yes, I know, they lost to the Royals three straight earlier this year. But that was when Buddy Bell was just starting and Kansas City didn't know what it had. Now the Royals know that anything they have is worth flushing.

Uh-huh... Yankees had just come off a 16-4 run then, too.

23. No team will admit to being psyched out by the Yankees. But if any team is psyched out, it's the Twins.

That doesn't usually hold up when teams aren't competing directly against each other, but okay.

24. If any city is psyched out by the Yankees, it's Cleveland.

Yeah, those Indians who won 2 of 3 from the Yankees a couple of weeks back are sure psyched out by the Yanks.

25. The A's, while outperforming expectations every year, also are in that vast group of teams that roll over for the Yankees when it counts.

Well, that'll hold up.

26. Last but not least, the Yankees have Mariano Rivera, who's having about his best year ever, last night notwithstanding, and almost always writes happy endings.

Except last year.

I think they've got a great, great shot to make the playoffs right now. But this is a bad list.

When bad starters go good
by SG

I've been pretty harsh on Al Leiter in this space. I just didn't think he had much left. He is frustrating to watch with his slow pace and poor control, but if you look at his overall ledger as a Yankee he's been serviceable.

In his 8 starts, he's given up 3 earned runs or fewer in 6 of them. He did have one disastrous start against Cleveland where he only lasted 2 innings, but other than that he has done an adequate job filling in for an injury-depleted rotation.

Even stating this, I don't know that Joe Torre made the right decision in sending Aaron Small to the bullpen instead of Leiter, but it certainly seemed that way last night. Small could not have pitched much better than Leiter did, who took the game into the 8th inning allowing only 2 runs until the bullpen allowed a 3rd run for him. Unfortunately, it appeared that the MIA Yankee offense was going to waste what may have been one of Leiter's best pitched games of the season.

For some inexplicable reason, John Gibbons decided to remove Josh Towers, who was cruising and had held the Yankees to 2 runs over 7 innings on 71 pitches. Granted, he had given up a run in his last inning of work, but he didn't exactly get lit up.

This turned out to be a blessing for the Yankees, who took the lead despite Torre's willingness to give up one of only six outs remaining in the game by having Robinson Cano bunt. When "Clutch God" Derek Jeter struck out on a checked swing, that left it all in Bernie Williams's hand. Bernie delivered the clutch two out single, and pinch runner Tony Womack scored, and it appeared the Yankees would pull out the win.

Unfortunately, Derek Jeter's high throw on an Orlando Hudson grounder pulled first time first baseman Felix Escalona off the bag, and the Blue Jays got the lead. In the post-game Michael Kay made it sound like Rivera was the one who messed up. I found this very annoying. I want to know why Jeter is immune to criticism? He has been woefully unclutch this year, yet we don't hear one peep about that. Anyway, Jeter's a fine player, but he's not as good as the media makes him out to be.

Regardless, the Yankees went into the bottom of the ninth tied trailing 4-3, facing the Blue Jays' closer, Miguel Batista. Batista threw two quick strikes to Hideki Matsui, who then took a close pitch away for a ball, before ripping a low line drive that carried out for a Yankee Stadium homer and a tie game.

Jason Giambi, whose bat has disappeared, grounded out. Jorge Posada then walked. The RLYW's favorite Yankee, Tony Woemack, struck out looking. Robinson Cano then walked? Robinson Cano? Really?

With runners on first and second, and Derek Jeter up, after two balls they decided to walk him. The reason was who was on deck. Felix Escalona, a minor league infielder recently called up, who was playing first base due to Tino Martinez being pinch-run for. It is a testament to how poor the Yankee bench is that Escalona was due up in this spot without an option to pinch-hit for him.

He swung and missed wildly on the first pitch before taking strike two. On 0-2, he rifled a lined drive up the middle into CF, to win the game. It was a cool moment for a guy who'll never be a big time player.

I've given up on the division, Boston apparently decided that they will never lose despite their crappy pitching and bullpen, but the Yankees are now tied for the wild card lead with Cleveland. Cleveland has the far easier schedule over the rest of the season, so the Yankees can't afford to let down at all if they want to make the playoffs. I still say they won't, but I'm a pessimist.

August 21, 2005

A $16 million fifth starter
by SG

Guess who I'm talking about?

The Yankees blew a golden opportunity to sweep a reeling White Sox team thanks to another frustrating start from a guy the Yankees mortgaged their future for. It was a calculated risk, given his age and some recent injuries, but after Johnson's dominant season in 2004, it was understandable. Johnson's fall off has been precipitous this season.

Or has it?

I started playing around with Johnson's numbers this season and noticed that they are strikingly similar to his 2003 numbers, when he had knee issues before eventually requiring surgery.

Unless his knee is no longer responding to the Synvisc injection of 2004. It really is amazing how much his peripherals mirror 2003.

Batters hit: .280/.304/.457 for an OPS of .762.
K/BF: .26
BB/BF: .06
HR/BF: .03
K/9: 9.87
BB/9: 2.13
HR/9: 1.26
K/BB: 4.63

Batters hit: .279/.311/.470 for an OPS of .781
K/BF: .24
BB/BF: .05
HR/BF: .04
K/9: 8.62
BB/9: 1.76
HR/9: 1.50
K/BB: 4.91

For comparison's sake, here's 2004:

Batters hit: .197/.240/.315 for an OPS of .555
K/BF: .30
BB/BF: .05
HR/BF: .02
K/9: 10.58
BB/9: 1.61
HR/9: 0.66
K/BB: 6.59

What does this all mean? Who knows. Maybe 2004 was an outlier. Maybe his knee is giving him more problems. Regardless, this year is not as far out of context as it may appear if you just compare it to 2004, which is something that we should not do anyway. Then you wind up with Tony Womack starting in RF and Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano being paid $17 million for a combined 7 wins.

August 20, 2005

The Return of Moose's fastball
by SG

A few entries ago, I made the following comment about Mike Mussina:

Mike Mussina's style has changed as he's lost some velocity to mimic that of El Duque.

Just like I hope to be wrong about the Yankees not making the playoffs, I was wrong about Moose's velocity. It's been particularly noticeable in his last two starts. He was consistently throwing 92-93 mph in both games, and deep into them. In addition, there are statistical indicators that he's slowly been gaining his stuff back after last year's elbow issues.

I consider the turning point in Mussina's season to have been the May 7 shutout against Oakland, in which he threw 131 pitches. At the time, I was hopeful that a long outing like that would help him build back his arm strength to the point where he could start pitching more with his fastball. I decided to compare his numbers before and after that game, just to see what they said.

Through May 7
0.12 0.07 0.02 1.26 4.24 4.29 3.52 4.5 2.7 .78 1.64

After May 7 through last night
0.22 0.05 0.03 1.14 3.89 3.78 3.95 8.1 1.9 1.27 4.15

Interestingly, Mussina's raw ERA was better in the 7 starts through May 7 at 3.52. However, if you look a little deeper at his peripherals, you'll see very positive trends in almost all of them.

His K rate has almost doubled. Where he was striking out only 12% of the batters he faced through May 7, he's now striking out 22%. At the same time, his BB rate has dropped slightly, from 7% of batters faced to 5%. There's been a bit of a slide in his G/F ratio, and that has had a corollary effect of an increase in his HR rate. However, to me this tells me that he's now challenging hitters more, and the results are pretty positive overall.

So Mussina went from being rather lucky in his first 7 starts, to slightly unlucky in his next 19. This is an excellent harbinger for the rest of the season, as he seems to have recovered his ability to the point of being a bonafide top starter.

The one thing I'd like to see more of is a little more efficiency early in the game. In last night's game, he racked up 24 pitches in the first inning, and ended up leaving after 7 at 115 pitches. Without looking at his past starts in detail, this seems to be rather common for him, and I think if he can fix that it will help him rest the weary 7th and 8th inning guys, who need it badly.

The Yankees took advantage of Mussina's strong performance and scratched out a 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox. Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera closed out the game with a scoreless inning each, a sign that hopefully the annual WWWMW™ is over. If you're going to lose games to Tampa, then you better win games against good teams to make up for it. Interestingly, Tampa is 21-12 since the All Star Break, so they're not just giving the Yankees problems right now.

Joe Torre finally shuffled the lineup, although it's still sub-optimal. He moved Robinson Cano out of the 2 spot for Bernie Williams, and both players got two hits. I guess we'll be hearing from the Four Rings crowd again about what a genius Torre is. Of course, he could have done it a month ago, but we won't hear much about that.
Jason Giambi is scuffling a bit now, so they really can't use the excuse that he's doing well in the sixth spot to not move him up. With Ruben Sierra out, Tino Martinez has been taking most of the starts at first base. Giambi's OPS is 1.124 when he plays first, and .835 when he DHs. Unfortunately for the Yankees, if you play Giambi at first that likely opens a hole for Womack to return to the lineup, so while it's not ideal, it's probably the best way to do things for now.

Shawn Chacon will try to continue his run of impressive pitching when he takes the mound today against El Duque. He's been very good so far, and the Yankees may have gotten a steal. I wonder if Colorado has any other starters they'd like to give up?

August 17, 2005

by SG

Tonight, I returned from a mini-vacation excited to watch the Yankees after a week of not seeing any games. However, instead I became convinced that the 2005 New York Yankees are not making the playoffs. I understand that mathematically, they are still alive, but this team just doesn't have it. The sooner we all accept it, the better it will be.

The Tampa Devil Rays are 39-69 against all teams in baseball except the "mighty" New York Yankees. Against the Yankees, they are 9-4. Tampa's a good hitting team, but they can't pitch, and there's no excuse for the lifeless play against them by this supposed team of superstars. I hate to talk about intangibles, but this team has no balls. They should not be losing 2 of 3 games to Tampa during the defining portion of their season, and expect to be a factor in the pennant race.

I will not take issue with any of Joe Torre's moves tonight, because I thought that he made the right moves. I thought he pulled Leiter at the right time, and I thought bringing in Small was the right move. I also thought that he went to Alan Embree at the right time and had no problem with him keeping him in for Aubrey Huff. Embree did his job, but Robinson Cano didn't, and Tanyon Sturtze didn't, and a game that should have been a win became a loss.

August 15, 2005

Feels So Wright To Be Wrong
by Sean McNally

I had low expectations tonight. Jaret Wright, coming off the DL to a team that can hit pretty good. Wright of the .400 batting average allowed, in Tampa, against a team that hits pretty good.

Well, color me stunned.

Wright was effective if not dominant for six and a third innings, scattering four hits, a walk and three hit batsmen all on just 79 pitches, two-thirds of which were strikes.

TanGorMo came on for the final eight outs, Sturtze and Gordon did so with remarkable effectiveness - on five and eight pitches respectively. Mo came on and was not lights out, but did the job and the Yankees won the game 5-2.

ARod hit a bomb, becoming the eighth man to hit the catwalk in Tampa's Terrible Dome of Doom. Sheff, not to be outdone homered in the leftfield seats and so it goes for the Yankee offense lately.

Jeter got a day off in the field, as Felix Escalona took the start at short and the Captain DH'ed. Torre has said he wanted to get Jeter and ARod a blow, which is part of the reason Escalona is up and Andy Phillips continues to crush his way through the International League.

With the sort of business-like way the Yankees won that game gave me a little hope going forward. This is how they are supposed to play, they're supposed to pound bad teams, get up on them and hold them down by the throat. The score wasn't a blowout, but it's the way the Yankees won that gives a fan confidence.

Something else of note was Jason Giambi's performance at the plate. Yes, he went 0-4, grounding into a double play, striking out, popping up to first and grounding out to second, but observe the following.

Giambi's second and third at-bats went as such:

Top of the 4th: Ball, Strike swinging, Strike swinging, Foul, Ball, Foul, Foul, Ball, Foul, Foul, Strike out on foul tip. (11 pitches)

Top of the 6th: Strike looking, Strike looking, Foul, Ball, Foul, Ball, Foul, Foul, Foul, Foul, Foul, Popped up to first. (12 pitches)

That’s 23 pitches in two at-bats against Casey Fossum. He saw three others in his first appearance, that’s a total of 26 pitches. Fossum threw 125 pitches, meaning Giambi, by himself saw 20 percent of all the pitches Mr. Awesome threw.

The Devil Rays' announcers made note that this is the difference between an experienced hitter and young hitters. This is what makes the Yankees a dangerous team, they work counts, they burn out starters and get to the middle relief of their opponent, and there’s a reason why those guys are in middle relief.

Throughout the course of the game, Yankee hitters had 18 at bats where they saw at least five pitches. That’s 18 of 38 plate appearances, 47 percent of the time a Yankee hitter stepped into the box, they were going deep into the count.

If they can keep this up, the Yanks just might have a shot at this thing.

August 11, 2005

Near Done
by Larry Mahnken

Let's not call 5½ games back the end of contention. It's not. 5½ games can be made up, it can be made up quickly. It's not over.

But this team has lost games it shouldn't have lost. They lost 2 of 3 to the White Sox, which may sound acceptable. But the Yankees faced the soft underbelly of the White Sox rotation, and gave up 2 runs in each of the three games. But they managed to score only 1 run in the last two games. This lineup, the best in baseball, could only scratch 2 runs.

That's pathetic, that's inexcusable.

The Yankees have lost games they had no business losing since coming out of Boston in a practical tie for first. They blew a game in Texas when Joe Torre left Wayne Franklin (career ERA 5.49 in over 300 innings) in the game with the tying run on third base. Result: home run, Yankees lose. They blew a game when Randy Johnson had to leave early leading 5-2, so Torre brought in Scott Proctor and Buddy Groom -- result: bases loaded, 1 out. Tom Gordon comes in and gives up a Grand Slam to Vlad, Yankees lose. If Torre was willing to use Gordon in the seventh, he should have used Gordon to start the seventh. Stop futzing around.

But even if they'd won those games, they'd still be in trouble. Chien-Ming Wang is likely done for the season, as is Kevin Brown, as is Carl Pavano. Randy Johnson is going to miss at least one start. Their rotation is now Mike Mussina, Shawn Chacon, Aaron Small, Al Leiter, and mystery meat.

They might not have enough offense to overcome that -- and when you're starting Tony Womack in right field, you probably don't. This is their own fault, of course, they should have seen this coming when they signed Womack and Wright, when they traded for a 41-year-old pitcher, when they decided in the offseason that Bernie Williams was OK in center. This is entirely their own fault.

But that doesn't make it any easier. I don't want to say, "I told you so." I want to say, "Woohoo! World Champions!" I criticize, but only because I'm a small man attempting to compensate for my deficiencies in the size of my genitalia. What I really want is for the Yankees to win.

It doesn't look like that's going to happen.

August 10, 2005

Revenge of the Enigma
by SG

Last night, Jose Contreras showed why the Yankee signed him for 4 years and $32 million. I was not a fan of trading Contreras at the time it happened, but given his inconsistency I could understand it. The Yankees were able to dump him to clear salary space, which was used to sign Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, and Randy Johnson.

Contreras was great last night, and I hope the people who attacked him for being a wimp and not being able to "pitch in New York" took note. He'll likely never be more than a 4th or 5th starter, but I thought he was not given a fair chance in New York, so I don't mind seeing him have some success. My thought with someone like Contreras is that as a 4th or 5th starter he is an asset, even with his inconsistency. Plus, it's kind of cool to have a guy who could pitch a no-hitter every time out in the rotation. I wouldn't want him starting a playoff game, but I wouldn't want Jaret Wright or Kevin Brown doing that either.

Even though Contreras pitched a gem last night, the Yankees were very much in the game thanks to Shawn Chacon almost matching him pitch for pitch. Aside from one pitch that Tadahito Iguchi was able to hit for an opposite field homer, Chacon allowed only 2 hits in 7 innings. He's been a brilliant pickup so far. His peripherals are still not outstanding, but I've liked what I've seen.

So, trailing 1-0 heading into the 8th inning, Joe Torre resisted the urge to use Tom Gordon and brought in Felix Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who has faced 1 batter in 7 days, allowed a leadoff single and was promptly pulled. This was asinine. Torre obviously doesn't like Rodriguez for some reason, and is not giving him the regular work he needs to find consistency, then using him to face one whole batter for consecutive appearances? So obsessed with handedness at this point, that he brings in Alan Embree. Embree did his job to pitch out of the inning, but then Torre left him in to face the best right handed hitter on the White Sox. What happened to the obsession with handedness there Joe? Konerko led of the ninth with the HR. This move was so bad, that even George Steinbrenner criticized Torre. Then Torre brought in Tanyon Sturtze again. Here's a news flash for Torre, Felix Rodriguez is a better pitcher than Sturtze historically. It behooves you to learn this before Sturtze's arm falls off.

That insurance run turned out to be the difference in the game. Alex Rodriguez led off the bottom of the ninth with what should have been the game tying HR, and a late rally fell short when Bernie Williams lined into a hard out to end the game with runners on first and third and two outs.

Boston's win has dropped the Yankees to 4.5 out. I'd like to think that this is not an insurmountable deficit, but we're seeing that Joe Torre may not be the right manager to lead a team that is trailing a playoff race. He's managing every single game like a playoff game, and in the process he's going to risk burning out the very players that he is relying on to get him to the promised land. It's not just the bullpen now either, he's starting to ask his starters to throw more pitches too. We'll see how Mike Mussina and Chacon recover from their 120 pitch outings next time around.

August 9, 2005

Welcome back
by SG

It's a rare player for me that I continue to root for once they leave a Yankee uniform. Last night, one of those rare players was back on the mound at Yankee Stadium to face his former team. I was fortunate enough to attend Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez's major league debut against Tampa back in 1998.

El Duque left that Yankees this offseason when they would not agree to his request for a 2 year contract and a guaranteed starting spot. As disappointing as it was to see him leave, he was a pretty big injury risk. There's also the issue of his age, which no one seems to really know. Anyway, the Yankees decided to go younger and healthier in signing Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano for $61 million, but I digress.

He's not what he once was, and in the first inning I almost felt bad for him. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano smoked the ball to lead off the game, but a pair of incredible catches by Aaron Rowand retired them both. Then a walk to Gary Sheffield, a HR by Alex Rodriguez, and a HBP to Hideki Matsui and it seemed like the Yankees were going to embarrass him. However, he settled down to allow only 3 hits and 1 more run in pitching six innings.

Mike Mussina's style has changed as he's lost some velocity to mimic that of El Duque. He'll throw a variety of pitches anywhere in the count and keep hitters off-balance. He's adapted pretty well to the change, with respectable numbers not far off his performance as a Yankee. However, as the lone established and healthy Yankee starter right now, the Yankees need him to win games.

Moose rebounded well after a disastrous fifth inning last time out against Cleveland, although he had another bad fifth inning, but only allowed two runs over six innings, unfortunately requiring 122 pitches to do it. I'm not a pitch count alarmist typically, but I do think that given the Yankees' currently depleted pitching staff, this may have been a risk not worth taking. Let's hope it turns out to be a non-issue.

Paul Quantrill Tanyon Sturtze pitched a shutout 7th, despite almost getting his head torn off by a line drive single up the middle. Joe Torre claimed that Mel Stottlemyre noticed some mechanical flaws in Sturtze's delivery which he tweaked. I think it was a taxi driver, not Mel, but whatever the case, he looked better. Tom Gordon pitched an easy shutout eighth and the world did not end. And finally, the incomparable Mariano Rivera closed another game out.

This was a very big win against a very good team. Let's hope the Yankees can at least split one of the next 2 games. At this point they need to win as many series as possible.

August 7, 2005

by SG

I didn't think he had it in him, but Al Leiter managed to stave off the end of his Yankee tenure with 5.2 shutout innings against Toronto today. He needed 102 pitches, of which only half were strikes, and it wasn't pretty, but he got the job done. Leiter's start and the hitting of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Jason Giambi gave the Yankees an important win to end their 6 game road trip 3-3.

There are some good things happening right now, as Derek Jeter appears to have rediscovered his hitting and is getting on base at a good clip. Robinson Cano has scuffled a bit of late, and I think it may be time to consider a lineup shift, not just to help Cano but to get Giambi's bat up higher in the order where he can produce more runs. In my mind, the ideal lineup would be:

Jeter, SS
Matsui, LF
Sheffield, RF
Giambi, 1B or DH
Rodriguez, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Williams DH
Kevin Thompson CF

Kevin Thompson is a 25 year old who was recently promoted to AAA. He's supposed to be a good defensive OF with very good speed and a good batting eye. He's not likely to ever be a star, but he could be a useful player if he gets a chance.

This lineup would stagger the Yankees lefty and righty hitters, and keep Sheffield in the third slot where he is most comfortable. Giambi's OBP would be more valuable in front of the team's best power hitter, and since Rodriguez and Cano don't run much he wouldn't "clog the bases" as some seem to think he does. More importantly, it gives the Yankees' best hitter more plate appearances.

After Leiter was pulled, Alan Embree followed his second consecutive effective outing in a row, giving hope that he may end up being a useful addition. The Yankees are going to need some help, as Tanyon Sturtze appears to have followed the Paul Quantrill overwork path to ineffectiveness.

Sturtze has primarily been a mediocre starter in his major league career with a career 5.23 ERA entering this season. A new cutter and a new role seemed to redefine his career, but the fact that the Yankees play a lot of close games and the fact that Joe Torre refuses to trust most of his bullpen has forced him to pitch in 44 games already this season, and it's starting to show now. He's lost command and velocity, and since his spot start against Baltimore on July 4 he's walked 8 in 17.2 innings, after walking only 5 in his first 43.2 innings of the season. Part of it is likely regression, but you have to wonder if he's been overworked. It hasn't helped things that the Yankees seem to play a ton of close games, but the fact that Mariano Rivera had to come in to get the last out of Friday and Sunday's game despite 4 run leads in both games is nonsensical. Granted, he only threw a couple of pitches, but warming up and coming in is not stress-free.

Torre needs to start trusting Felix Rodriguez and Scott Proctor in meaningful situations. Today's game would have been a fine time to give Rodriguez a chance to pitch, but instead it was more of Sturtze and Gordon with a big lead. Put it this way, if Torre felt the lead was not safe, why did he sub Sheffield out for Bubba Crosby in the 8th inning when Sheffield was due to lead off the 9th?

The Yankee rotation got more bad news with the story that Carl Pavano will be skipping his next rehab start to visit Dr. James Andrews. ''It's not good,'' manager Joe Torre said. ''He just felt his shoulder didn't feel right.''

Also, Randy Johnson may miss his next start due to back spasms. ''He's really uncomfortable,'' manager Joe Torre said today. ''If it was like this yesterday, he wouldn't have pitched.''

Get ready for Hideo Nomo in pinstripes.

I really don't know how this team will stay in the playoff race if they don't get Pavano back. Even if Jaret Wright comes back, given his prior performance what can we reasonably expect from him? Kevin Brown's career looks over, and Johnson having back problems is a bit troubling, although it may explain his inconsistency and struggles this season. Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small have both been outstanding so far, but odds are against both of them continuing to be successful.

The Yankees will head home now to begin a 3 game series with the best Sox in baseball. Fortunately for them, they will miss Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland, instead getting El Duque, Jose "The Big Enigma" Contreras, and Freddy Garcia. It will be strange to see El Duque pitching against the Yankees, but it would seem like the Yankees will be a difficult matchup for him due to their patience at the plate. Contreras could pitch a no-hitter or get knocked out in the third. Garcia's a solid pitcher who thrives in day games, so that will be a tough matchup.

August 6, 2005

The Big Useless
by SG

Randy Johnson's season has mirrored that of the Yankees in many respects. When he's good, he's really good, and when he's bad he's really bad. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they can't afford to have their purported ace being really bad as often as Johnson has this season.

With today's loss in Toronto, Johnson has now started 24 games this season.

In 2 starts, he's given up 0 runs.

In 3 starts, he's given up 1 run.

In 3 starts, he's given up 2 runs.

In 4 starts, he's given up 3 runs.

In those 12 starts, the Yankees are 9-3.

That's the good stuff. Now, for the bad stuff.

In 5 starts, he's given up 4 runs.

In 2 starts, he's given up 5 runs.

In 3 starts, he's given up 6 runs.

In 2 starts, he's given up 7 runs.

In those 12 starts, the Yankees are 6-6.

A 15-9 overall record in games started by a pitcher is pretty good, but the Yankees gave up a lot and are paying a lot for Johnson to be better than that. Add in the injuries to Carl Pavano, Chien-Ming Wang, and Jaret Wright, and the Yankees need more from Johnson. Particularly when Al Leiter is still making starts, a game like today's where Johnson was only able to go 4 innings can have a deleterious effect on the bullpen.

The good flashes from Johnson give hope, but then they are dashed by starts like his last two. Johnson and the Yankees claim there is no injury issue, which is a bigger concern than if there was. At least if there was an explanation for his continued ineffectiveness, we may feel better about his chances of improving. I'm tired of the excuses about him "rushing his delivery", etc., that the Yankees keep giving for his struggles. It may just be time to accept that he's losing it. 2006 and 2007 should be a blast, huh?

I think it's time to end the John Flaherty as Johnson's personal catcher experiment while we're at it. Flaherty's offense is abysmal (.153/.198/.224), and while Posada has struggled this season his upside is far better than Flaherty's.

A win by Johnson today would have lessened the need for a good game by Al Leiter tomorrow, something that right now he does not appear to be capable of. A bad outing by Leiter may end up being the best thing in the long run if it convinces the Yankees that he's done and they then let him go, perhaps for Jaret Wright.

I will say one thing though, as frustrating as this season has been, it's really been very entertaining in a trainwreck sort of way. The fact that the postseason is not a certainty is a good thing in my mind. As Yankee fans we are no more entitled to the playoffs than any other team. If the front office makes bad decisions then the Yankees should not be able to bully their way into the playoffs. We're finally seeing that come to fruition, and once again the regular season has meaning. I think a lot of us have lost perspective about getting to the the postseason and how the season is a failure if they don't win the World Series.

There is some good news for the Yankees beleaguered starting rotation.

TORONTO -- Chien-Ming Wang made some progress in his throwing program this week in Tampa, playing catch on flat ground for three consecutive days as he rehabs his injured right shoulder.

Wang threw on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and after taking Sunday off, the 25-year-old will throw again on Monday, possibly off a mound.

Manager Joe Torre believes that it is realistic that Wang will return to the Yankees this season, as he has been able to throw without discomfort in his shoulder ever since he began throwing.

"Just the fact that he's thrown the ball three days in a row," said Torre, "I think that's good."

Wang was one of the Yankees' most consistent pitchers in the first half, as he helped fill the void left by Jaret Wright's shoulder injury. Wang went 6-3 with a 3.89 ERA in 13 games, but he informed the team during the All-Star break that his shoulder was injured.

Initial tests brought major concern to the Yankees, as it appeared that the young right-hander would likely need surgery, costing him the rest of the season.

A second opinion showed a slight tear in his rotator cuff, and the team decided to allow Wang to try to rehab the injury rather than to go under the knife.

August 5, 2005

It can't go on like this
by TVerik

July 26. That's the last time in a Yankee game in which neither team has gotten its closer into the game.

In case you don't have a head for these things, that was the game in which Randy Johnson won 4-0 over Brad Radke.

Over the next eight games, Mariano Rivera cleaned up one easy one, four games were saved by opposing closers (Joe Nathan, Francisco Rodriguez, and Bob Wickman x2). Shockingly, three games were won by the Yankees off of closers. The Yankees won games in which Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, and Bob Wickman blew saves.

So that's a total record of 5-4 against Minnesota, Anaheim, and Cleveland. All three are good teams, but none are really great (Anaheim being arguable).

This Yankee team has been playing the way it wants to all year, regardless of the quality of opponent. All of these late-inning comebacks, while thrilling to watch and probably unnerving to fans of the other team, simply don't portend well.

Similar to a team leading the league in double-plays hit into is a positive thing because it means that it gets a lot of base-runners, sometimes negative indicators are actually positive. And vice-versa.

In this case, all of these late-inning comebacks tell us that the Yankees were trailing in many of these games. This is due mostly to a starter going short and the middle bullpen corps not getting the job done.

As far as long-term success, winning games like this simply isn't sustainable. You can't let the other team take late leads without losing a lot of those games.

Put it this way, if the Yankees didn't take games from other team's relief aces, this 9-game stretch would likely have been 2-7, and the AL East race would be almost over.

All I'm saying is that if the last 8 games are a meaningful sample of how this team should be expected to perform for the rest of the year, I'm not betting a mortgage payment on them making the playoffs, or even making noise in September.

That game sucked ruled!
by SG

Tonight's game against Cleveland was not a must-win game, but it sure felt like one. With Boston steamrolling Kansas City to extend their winning streak to 8 games earlier today, a loss would have dropped the Yankees to 5.5 games back in the AL East. It also would have dropped them behind Cleveland in the wild card race. They're not out of the woods by any means, but they were able to stem the bleeding for one night at least.

Shawn Chacon was a cheap gamble for the Yankees, as he came for 2 hard throwing minor leaguers(Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra) who are most likely not going to amount to much. Chacon's career numbers are of course, ugly, but this is to be expected for a pitcher who plays half his games in Colorado. As Larry has mentioned and I agree with, I don't think it's a simple as looking at his road splits to get an idea of his talent level, because I think there's a lingering effect from pitching at altitude. It could affect your approach, and I believe it's been shown to affect recovery time.

Chacon's started 2 games for the Yankees, and has no wins to show for it, but the team has won both games. He's been great for a team that's needed it badly. However, in both of his starts the bullpen has cost him a decision.

Tonight, Chacon started the seventh inning at 99 pitches and with a 2-1 lead. He walked the leadoff hitter Casey Blake on five pitches. That brought up the lefty hitting Grady Sizemore, so Joe Torre went to Alan Embree. I'm starting to dislike Embree almost as much as I disliked Felix "The Run Fairy" Heredia last year. He walked a guy who was trying to give him a free out by bunting, then got a free out when Coco Crisp got a bunt down. So far as a Yankee, Embree has faced 6 hitters, and retired 2 of them, and one of them willingly made the out.

Anyway, Torre gets a lot of bashing here, but at this point he made the smart move and went with his best non-Mo reliever in Flash Gordon. Unfortunately, Gordon did not do the job, and allowed a groundout to score the tying run and then a hard groundball single to score the go-ahead run.

Kevin Millwood cruised through the 8th, retiring Robinson Cano to end it on his 94th pitch of the night, which turned out to be his last. Gordon pitch an uneventful bottom of the 8th, at which point Eric Wedge did the Yankees a massive favor. He brought in Bob Wickman in relief of Millwood. This move might make sense if Bob Wickman was Mariano Rivera, but he's not. He's an okay reliever who's piled up a bunch of saves, but he's very possibly the worst reliever in a talented Indians bullpen.

Wickman picked up two easy saves in the first two games of the series, but this was the first time the heart of the Yankee order was going to get their cracks at him. Gary Sheffield hit some vicious fouls before flying out to center. Then, Alex Rodriguez hit a soaring homerun to LF to tie the game. Tell me again that he's not clutch. Hideki Matsui then grounded out, and Jason Giambi followed with his 2nd HR of the game, his 21st of the season. Giambi is now hitting an amazing .291/.447 /.574. Those are MVP-caliber numbers. He won't win it, his counting stats are still low due to his early season struggles, but even the most optimistic Giambi fan could not have expected an OPS of 1.020 this late in the season.

Mariano Rivera did his thing in the bottom of the ninth, throwing filthy 95 mph fastballs and cutters, and that was the game.

The upcoming series with Toronto will not be easy. Toronto has underperformed their run differential this year and are a dangerous team. Throw in the fact that Al Leiter is penciled in to start Sunday's game, and tomorrow's game feels like another must-win to me. We'll see if Aaron Small can continue to be hit-lucky and effective.

August 4, 2005

Slipsliding away
by SG

Two lackluster games against Cleveland have already undone a lot of the good of the month of July, as the Yankees have lost 2 games in the standings in 2 days. At this point in the season, teams can't afford to add to their deficit.

Yesterday's game was truly a surprise. Mike Mussina looked very sharp in the first four innings, and when the team staked him to a 4-0 lead, it felt like the Yankees would cruise to a victory. Then came a painful fifth inning that saw Mussina throw over 40 pitches and allow 6 runs. The Yankees seemed stunned after this, as they only managed to get 2 singles over the last 4 innings.

A lot of the talk about the Yankees' injury depleted-rotation has been that the Yankees need to win all of Moose's starts and all of Randy Johnson's starts. They've lost 3 of the last 4 games started by Mussina. Until yesterday that hadn't really been his fault though.

Some notes from Rotoworld

In his second rehab start, Carl Pavano (shoulder) allowed three runs and six hits over six innings for Single-A Tampa tonight. Pavano struck out three and walked none in the 77-pitch outing. He might rejoin the rotation early next week.

Hurry back Carl. You've been a disappointment but this team needs you badly. A poster on a website I frequent raised an interesting point about Pavano's struggles this year, and how it may be a lingering effect of getting hit in the head by a line drive. It's conceivable, but nothing more than anecdotal, so I can't really know what kind of impact it's had.

Dennys Reyes, signed to a minor league contract by the Yankees yesterday, has decided to stay home in Mexico rather than join Triple-A Columbus.
It seems we may not see him back in the U.S. until next spring.

''That's unfortunate. He's got a great arm and our people thought highly of him,'' manager Joe Torre said.

Yeah, it's unfortunate. You can never have enough crappy lefties, can you? Reyes may have lucked into a few good innings for the team, but this is not really much of a loss.

Jaret Wright (shoulder) will pitch in the minors tomorrow and the Yankees would like for him to make a few more appearances in the minors before being activated. He should be back in New York around mid-August.

I've read that Wright was getting his fastball up to 95 mph, but with pretty bad control. I am hoping that Wright can come in and be an asset in the bullpen, but that will require the return to health of enough starters that he won't be needed in the rotation.

One more thing, there are insinuations by some that AL July Player of the Month Jason Giambi is back on steroids. Reading comments like this really infuriated me at first, but you know what? Giambi did it to himself. He's cheated before, I can understand the idea that that makes his performance suspicious. This is a highly emotional debate, and it's not worth getting that upset over. If you look at the FACTS, Giambi has been tested at least once this season, and has passed. Of course, this leads to the comment that he is back on some "new, undetectable steroid."

Here's the thing, we just don't know. So let people have their suspicions, but without proof it's just that. The suspension of Rafael Pameiro shows that baseball is not protecting its stars, which in my mind means it's more likely that Giambi has been clean. And if Giambi, after having a pituitary tumor, is taking some other performance enhancing drugs to hit, he's not just a cheater, he's one of the dumbest people on the planet.

August 3, 2005

Leit's out
by SG

Al Leiter's Yankee tenure continues to disappoint after his great game against Boston. Unfortunately, because of that one game, he may get a lot longer leash than he deserves. All the good feelings generated by his start against Boston are now being dismantled by his subsequent performances.

The Yankees are desperate for starters right now, but someone like Leiter is too risky to continue to count on. If your starter can't get you out of the third inning, it can be a disaster. Not just for that game, but for the rest of the series. Thankfully, Scott Proctor did a great job in pitching 4 innings yesterday to preserve most of the pen. Unfortunately, the Yankee offense could not climb out of the hole dug by Leiter and Joe Torre, who seemed to be oblivious to the fact that Leiter had nothing and kept him in at least one batter too long.

Afterwards, Kim Jones asked, "Is something like that fixable for his next start?"

Torre's responsed? "He's a veteran."

This scares me, because it indicates that they are going to continue running Leiter out there. An other piece of evidence of this is the skipping of Aaron Small with the off day. Small's been better than Leiter, although the odds of either one being good are not great. Yet, they skipped him because of Leiter's "veteran-ness."

I thank Al Leiter for his start against Boston. It was one of the most unexpected and satisfying wins of the season. I just don't want all the good feelings of that win to evaporate if he continues to pitch poorly and tax the bullpen. Let's hope that Brian Cashman does what he needs to do, because we know Joe Torre won't.