Problems plague Yanks in the early goings

Red Sox 7, Yanks 6
Phil Hughes to start Thursday

You all feel the sting of this sweep, right? They were three winnable games against the Red Sox — which are weightier not because of some rivalry (whose sole existence is to sell papers), but because they’re our main competitors this season. We all know that the losses that hurt the most are the ones you could have/should have won. So I sit here on a Monday morning, thinking long and hard about how to recap this series without throwing my laptop across the room. The last thing I want to type right now is “four straight home runs” (though I just did), so I think I’m going to hold off on that for the moment.

Instead, let’s look at what went wrong. I think by listing those, we can breathe a sigh of relief and realize that we’re close to putting it all together — much closer than we were at this point in 2005, at least.

  • Starting pitching. After Pettitte’s solid start, we watched Jeff Karstens give up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings, and Chase Wright give up four runs in four innings. Our offense is good, but it can’t go making up for lousy starts every game. They scored 17 runs off Boston’s three starters this weekend; that should be enough for at least two victories.

    Why we should worry: Next weekend doesn’t look much better: Wright, Igawa, Wang.

    What, me worry?: We’ll have our top three back in due time. Igawa shown improvement in every start, and has pitched against progressively tougher opponents (Baltimore – Oakland – Cleveland). Phil Hughes and/or Roger Clemens could end up helping by mid-season. Karstens shouldn’t be as bad as he was on Saturday. Chase Wright has one game left in pinstripes (though he shouldn’t even have that).

  • Burning out the relievers. Andy Pettitte has pitched in relief twice this season and has volunteered on another occasion, which should be a barometer for how hard this bullpen has been worked this April. This ties right into the starting pitching problem. At first, the bullpen was manning the ship. But lately, after inning after inning of work that a bullpen should not be subject to, they’ve shown signs of wear and tear.

    Why we should worry: Everyday Scott Proctor has made 12 appearances in 17 games, and hasn’t looked nearly as sharp as he was at this point last season. Far be it from Torre to give him two days off in a row (you know, he was overworked last season, but came out of the All Star break blazing — that should get the wheels turning, but not for Torre). Luis Vizcaino has appeared in 11, and after the first week hasn’t been overly effective. Mariano Rivera has been not himself — though that could be remedied by giving him work, even in non-save situations. I think I’ve forgotten who Kyle Farnsworth is.

    What, me worry?: Mike Myers has helped out, throwing some junk innings and not giving up a whole ton. Sean Henn has been an excellent decision so far. He’ll have to cut down on the walks, but his control will smooth out as the season progresses. If he threw a little harder, he’d look like last year’s Scott Proctor. Farnsworth will get into more games — I think. Once the starting pitching comes around, the bullpen will get a little more rest.

  • Melky Cabrera stinks. Seriously, you’ve all watched him this year. He’s flailing up at the plate. The worst part is that he’s betraying the tenet that made him successful last year: discipline. Even when he was slumping after an initial offensive push, he was still taking his walks, getting on base and not killing the team. This year, he’s pressing for hits, and as a result he’s swinging at everything thrown to him. The guy has drawn to freakin’ walks all year. That’s atrocious, even by Robinson Cano’s standards.

    Why we should worry: The term “fluke” comes to mind. His fly to the right field warning track last night was the furthest he’s hit one all year. He has zero extra base hits to go along with his two walks.

    What, me worry?: His batting average on balls in play is ridiculously low: .217 as opposed to .310 last year. His line drive rate hasn’t taken a big hit, though he’s hitting a ton more ground balls (56.7%, up from 49.5% last year). He’s also hit a considerably higher percentage of infield flies (18.8%, up from 12.9% last year). Looking at all this, he just seems to be in a funk. A little more patience (3.2 pitches per plate appearance, 3.7 last year) may even him out. Plus, Matsui’s back today.

  • Wil Nieves stinks. Do I even need to elaborate here?

    Why we should worry: He’s 29 (30 by the end of the year), and has just 25 major league plate appearances to his name. While we don’t have a large sample by which to judge his numbers, we can certainly look at his approach at the plate and say, “you know, the 40-year-old isn’t looking too bad right now.” He tries to pull everything, no matter how far outside it is. If you want to talk numbers, he was pretty lousy for Columbus last year. He hasn’t cracked a .340 OBP since 2000, and that was in high-A ball.

    What, me worry: He doesn’t figure to be on this team for very long. Not that there are a ton of better options. Raul Chavez could step in by June, which would give the team some time to evaluate him before trying for a backup catcher at the trade deadline. Jorge’s not immortal; the Yankees need a backup who won’t kill them.

  • Doug Mientkiewicz stinks. He gets props for going 2 for 3 last night. He doesn’t get props because he hasn’t proven that he can repeat that. That 2 for 3 brought his average up to .167, and his numbers resemble those of a pitcher. I know people say that the Yankees have “enough offense” (which is a ridiculous notion, IMO), but you basically negate the advantage of a DH when you have Minky batting ninth. It gets worse when he bats higher in the order, as he did this weekend.

    Why we should worry: He hasn’t been very good since his days in Minnesota. He hasn’t shown much discipline at the plate, which is what you want from a guy with little to no power. His playing every day is taking at bats away from Josh Phelps, who has demonstrated that he can hit the ball hard.

    What, me worry?: He’s probably not going to be this bad all season — if he lasts through July. If he does, there’s going to come a point when Phelps starts getting more at bats, so we can see what he can do. His contract is small enough that releasing him would be simple. But, once again, I don’t think he’s going to be this bad for much longer.

  • Joe Torre isn’t doing a great job. However, if the starters start to go longer, he’s got enough options in the bullpen where he might not burn them out (though that’s quite wishful thinking). His key, though, is not pinch running for Jason Giambi anymore. He may be slow, but losing his bat drops the offense’s potential exponentially.

    Why we should worry: This problem has been going on for years now, and it doesn’t look to be getting any better. You can read more about it here.

    What, me worry: This team is so potentially good, they can overcome the shortcomings of their manager.

Plenty to worry about, but a lot of those problems will be covered up in time. The pitching can’t get any worse, and the bottom of the order immediately improves with Matsui’s return. Phelps figures to get some more at bats, and the pitching staff is only going to get better. If these problems persist in June and July, they’ll be real problems. For now, they’re frustrating and costing us valuable games in the standings.

Red Sox 7, Yanks 6
Phil Hughes to start Thursday
  • Jb

    GREAT point by Mike Francessa just now:

    They were talking about how ESPN showed the conversation between Tavarez and Dice-K where Tavarez was telling him to bust A-Rod in to make him uncomfortable. Why do no Yankees bust the Sox guys in? EVER?

    Again I question Torre’s use of the pitching staff – Andy is cruising along and he yanks him on Friday. Proctor is so overworked coming off a season in which he is overworked.

    Francessa with another point “I don’t want to knock the guy who they threw last night, but he’s not major league ready, he can’t be ready after 2 starts above A ball. To take a line from Parcells, ‘Take the Huggies off’ it’s time to stop babying Hughes – you can’t throw a kid like they threw last night against Boston, it’s not fair to him or the team, Hughes is the phenom, it’s time. And someone needs to tell Joe to give Proctor a week off, he’s thrown in 12 of 17 games this season.”

  • Jake T.

    It’s officially Hughes on Thursday.