Monday, June 29, 2009

Looking at the Yankees on an Off Day

The past two weeks have been not so much a Tale of Two Teams as it has a Tale of Two Offenses.

Both weeks the Yankees pitched decently--certainly well enough that they could have won nearly every game they played--but in the first week of interleague, the team was undone by their offense. Fortunately, the offense seem to have gotten back on track, and the Yankees have, accordingly, won accordingly--now five straight. Remember, a win is a win, even if it's against the not-as-good-as-they-should-be Braves or the hapless Mets.

The Starting Pitching

CC Sabathia: Biceps tendinitis be damned. To be serious, the Yankees made the right move in removing him in the game against the Marlins--he is too important of an investment to take any chance, but his pitching performance against the Mets, no doubt aided by the Mets' AAA line up (the degree to which it was aided is left to your opinion) removed any doubt as to whether or not Sabathia would have any lasting effects.

AJ Burnett: Pitched just good enough to lose in Florida (Josh Johnson is that good) and then pitched a gem against the Mets. The funny thing is, despite the seven one-hit innings, there were a fair bit of three-ball counts, and one has to imagine against a different line up the results may not have been quite so mesmerizing. Still, he trusted his stuff, and has pitched exactly as you would wish a #2 to pitch since his Boston start. In two starts against the Mets this year, the Mets couldn't score a single run.

Joba Chamberlain: He should have won the start against the Nationals--three runs over six innings gives your team a chance to win--but got absolutley nothing from the Yankee offense except wasted scoring opportunities. In a case of "what a difference offensive support makes", he gave up the same number of runs in only a third more innings pitched in Atlanta, but after Francisco Cervelli hit his first major league home run, the Yankee offense was sparked, and the Yanks' won the game easily, 8-4. So over his last two starts, Joba has not quite been an ace, but he's not exactly been bad or just okay. In other words--he doesn't belong in the bullpen. Not when he's the third-best starter in the rotation.

Andy Pettitte: Probably a two-week period he'd like to forget--he did win two of the three games he started (losing to the Mets), but only one of those wins, a 5-1 score against the Marlins where he had an RBI double (the Yankees pitchers did themselves well in interleague), was a decent start. Against the Braves he was staked to an 8-1 lead, but a couple defensive misplays later the score was 8-6 and he didn't get out of the fourth inning. The optimism for the Yankees and their fans is that Pettitte is historically a second-half pitcher; if he's healthy the better pitching appearances should be coming. At any rate, wins are wins, and Pettitte did have two of them.

Chien Ming Wang: Well, first of all, congratulations to him on the birth of his son, Justin Jesse (JJ). He hasn't necessarily pitched well, but he did get his first win last night, having been just that little extra better than he was against Washington and in Atlanta. The problem here is that it will be too easy to be convinced that Wang is returning close to form--he hasn't, yet. The first win of the season came against what is arguably one of the worst line ups in the league. Wang's next scheduled start, against Toronto (and hopefully not against Halladay) will be a lot more telling.

The Offense

The past two weeks have been a tale of two teams: in the first no such offense existed, and in the second it acted as though it hasn't missed a beat all season.

Derek Jeter: To sideline him it's gotta be bad; as such that flu he had had to be pretty horrible. Still, with a lead off double last night, one has to think he's made a nice recovery. He still continues to play some of his best defense of his recent career. Happy Belated 35th Birthday.

Johnny Damon: Another flu victim, he was well enough to participate in a double switch last night. He's playing on a bad calf and could probably benefit from the recent days off he's gotten, especially when the Yanks have to play on turf in Toronto.

Mark Teixeira: Also admitted to not feeling so well. He has cooled off of late, but he did have a 2-RBI double last night, and the strikeout against K-Rod in the ninth wasn't so much a strikeout as it was the umpire deciding he wanted to go home (and that late on a Sunday night, who can blame him). As A-Rod gets hot (yet again), Teixeira will get more pitches to hit, and there he will excel. Despite the cooling off, Teixeira continues to play gold glove defense at first and hustle around the bases. Of all the Yankees' problems right now, he's the least of them.

Alex Rodriguez: Finally, finally, finally seems to be hitting as much for average as for power. The two days off seem to have done him much good, which should be a warning sign to the Yankees training staff. He NEEDS regular time off on a bum hit, even if he won't admit he needs it. Still, an A-Rod that's hitting well gives the Yankee lineup a whole 'nother dimension. The past three games, it should be noted, Rodriguez has played some of his best defense of his Yankee career.

Robinson Canó: Don't be fooled by his team-leading average. He also leads the team in DPs and with his low .OBP, there is a legitimate question as to what he's doing batting fifth. Of course, now that the Yankees return to the AL, they can hit Posada fifth and Matsui sixth if they'd so choose, and Canó has shown that he hits better lower down in the line up. Still, he's frustrating to watch--he can hit the hell out of the ball and he is working better counts this year than he was last, but you just get the feeling that a player of his talent should be better than he's been.

Jorge Posada Went into Saturday's game hitting .219 in June...and then promptly hit a three run home run. Still, the more important thing here may be that he and CC and he and Burnett seem to have figured something out, and that makes the Yanks' pitchers that much more dangerous. You would like to see Posada pick up the pace with his bat, but then again, without his bloop single last night, Rivera never gets a chance to bat!

Nick Swisher: An absolutely torrid June. As always, he can make a fan crack up--on Saturday's postgame report Kim Jones asked him about the home run he hit, but Swisher thought she was asking about the ball he hit that would have likely been a home run in any other park. He's continued to work 3-2 counts, which, yes, includes striking out, and he takes awful roots to baseballs--which leads him to make some spectacular catches.

Melky Cabrera: Hasn't really been right since banging his shoulder, and word has it he was also struck by the flu. Still, given the patterns of 2008, with the hot start and awful rest of the year, one needs to keep an eye on Cabrera. He, and Gardner, too, are best when the everyday starting position is not assured. One commenter on River Ave Blues made the comment that the most interesting battle this season is Good Melky vs. Bad Melky.

Brett Gardner: Had more hits in one game (5) than the Mets had in the first two games of the series as a team. Hasn't had a hit since, as the revenge of the law of averages takes hold. Still, Gardner has been playing his best baseball of his Yankee career, approaching a reincarnation of Homer Bush eleven years later.

Hideki Matsui: Think he misses the AL?

Francisco Cervelli: His home run in Atlanta seemed to be the thing the Yankees needed to turn the team around. Still has that same glint in his eye, but he must be getting a bit depressed--as Jose Molina nears recovery, Cervelli's days in the majors are likely numbered (for now).

Ramiro Peña: If three doubles in two days doesn't say "dude, I want to play more often," I'm not sure what does.

Cody Ransom: Biggest contribution to the team thus far may be giving Mariano Rivera his batting gear so Rivera could earn his first career RBI. He did have an RBI double in Atlanta, however.

Angel Berroa: So long, farewell, we barely knew yah!

The Bullpen

The bullpen, for the most part, seems to have happened on something of a roll. They still give up an occasional home run, but it's no longer been the utter liability that it was in the earlier part of the season. Is Phil Hughes the reason for this?

Only the baseball g-ds shall know.

Brett Tomko: Had a horrible appearance against the Mets and wasn't very good against the Marlins, either. He was much better against the Mets, but Citifield is very good at holding bombs in the park. He's kind of like Kyle Farnsworth, except you'd take Farnsworth in a fight.

David Robertson: Same old, same old. Strikes out a ton but walks too many to be trusted in a really tight spot. Still, when the other options at one point were Albaladejo, Ramirez and Veras, it's easy to understand why the Yanks would be so high on Robertson.

Phil Coke: Is back to an 'on-again' period. Still, I think the best part about watching him pitch is watching the postgame interviews that invariably follow.

Phil Hughes: Has been untouchable out of the bullpen. Honestly, if the Yankees were to keep one of Hughes/Chamberlain in the bullpen (and I don't think they should...yet...), Hughes to me has been utterly filthy, and unlike Joba's bullpen appearances, he hasn't struggled in multi-inning stints. It has completely changed the complexion of the bullpen, and in turn has addressed one of the Yanks' most glaring weaknesses.

Alfredo Aceves Despite my high praise of Hughes, Aceves still gets my vote for team MVP. He continues to come in during nearly every possible situation and not only finds a way to get the job done, but finds a way to earn the win as well. Finding him may be the best thing the Yankees have done in the past two years. Or, if it's not the best, it certainly has to rank highly, especially when one considers the price.

Brian Bruney Has not looked sharp since coming back from his second DL stint, again struggling with control. Velocity will come as he pitches more, but he got the 8th inning job because he was throwing strikes. He needs to return to that form, or else the Yanks will have no end in site to the 8th-inning question.

Mariano Rivera So good that he gets his first career RBI and his 500th career save on the same night, and then addresses the entire thing with the understated class that has been the hallmark of his career. We can only wish him more success.