After the dismal series against the Nats, it’s easy to blame the Yanks’ recent woes on the bats. They scored just six runs in three games against the league’s worst-pitching team, and that is inexcusable. They have had troubles hitting with runners in scoring position lately, an ailment which plagued their 2008 campaign. That obviously has to change if this team is going to come charging back, but there is one other area in which the team has been lacking this month. Starting pitching.
Teams win and lose by their starters. Good starting pitching will translate into more wins. Poor starting pitching will put more pressure on the offense which, as we’ve seen over the past series, doesn’t always come through. In May, when the Yankees ripped off nine straight and then continued playing well for a few more weeks, they saw an improvement in their starting pitching. In April the rotation sported a 5.41 ERA. In May that dropped a full run. That, along with the resurgence of Teixeira, explains much of the Yankees successful run that month.
Where do they stand in June? The staff in general has posted a respectable 4.15 ERA, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The bullpen has been beyond stellar this month, allowing just 15 earned runs over 49.1 innings for a 2.74 ERA. The starters have been much worse, raising their ERA a half point over May, 4.91. This has put more pressure on the offense, which hasn’t responded. After posting a collective .282/.349/.497 line in May, they’ve sunk to .245/.344/.435 in June. In other words, it’s no surprise that the team is 8-8 this month.
The importance of good starting pitching cannot be overstated. Perhaps no franchise better illustrates this point than the 2000/2001 Seattle Mariners. In 2000 the team won 91 games, a respectable total, and the staff put up a 4.53 ERA (4.56 for the starters). Then, in 2001, after A-Rod left for Texas*, the team won 116 games. The reason? Their staff ERA dropped to 3.54 (3.77 for the starters).
*This is where I think the “A-Rod will never win” meme began. People saw that he left, and that the Mariners got better, but failed to recognize that it was the pitching which put them over the top. / Posnanski’d
We can and will talk about the Yankees offense later. On the pitching front, though, the bullpen has saved the team this month. Remember when they were a liability? Now they’re a big part of the reason the team has managed to go 8-8 this month, despite a half-run increase in the starters’ ERA and a .066 drop in the offense’s OPS.
The adage “pitching wins championships” has become a cliche for a reason. As the team is currently playing, they look much like the Yankees teams of the past five years: all offense, mediocre pitching. So when the offense starts to slump, as it’s going to do at various points in the season, the pitching isn’t there to compensate. If the Yanks are going to hit their stride and retake the AL East, the starters will have to play to expectations. Otherwise, the Yanks will find themselves in a place similar to last year.
Coming off a series loss to the Nationals, many Yankee fans are eager to see some changes. Let’s get a shake-up! That’ll teach those professional baseball players never to lose again.
In reality, though, the Yankees and the rest of baseball are six long weeks away from the trade deadline. While the market is starting to develop, it is a thin one. The best bats out there probably belong to Adam Dunn for a steep price and Nick Johnson for too much more than he is really worth. The other pieces available for teams are relief pitchers.
For the Yankees, it’s the latter that will attract attention. Outside of some questionable characters manning center field, the Yankees’ 2009 lineup is as set as any team’s. They have top performers at most positions and the potential for a very potent offense. Meanwhile, they spent a lot of money to upgrade the rotation this year and have a few good young arms in reserve.
The bullpen, though, has been a concern. While the Yanks’ relief corps has seemingly solidified in June with Al Aceves, Phil Hughes, Phil Coke and Brian Bruney serving as the Bridge to Mariano, the Yankees aren’t quite satisfied with that mix. Hughes is a starting pitcher long-term and will be back in the rotation to spell either Joba, Chien-Ming Wang or perhaps even Andy Pettitte before too many months elapse. Bruney is a health risk, and the other two can’t do it by themselves.
To that end, the Yankees have already been linked to Huston Street and Jose Valverde as well as Chad Qualls, Russ Springer and even Heath Bell. Jon Heyman yesterday reported on Twitter that the Yanks prefer Street and then Valverde. However, neither the Rockies nor the Astros are ready to start selling.
There is, though, another piece to this Trade Deadline. The economy, not too robust these days, may place a limit on the Yanks’ spending. The team tried to hold payroll steady this year and succeeded. Now, news comes down from Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman that the team is not looking to make a July splash.
Speaking with the Spanish language media on Wednesday, Cashman said that he is hoping the team’s internal pieces will be enough to fill the holes. One day, Damaso Marte may return, and if Wang rounds into form, the Yanks could keep Hughes in the pen for longer than they perhaps expected to. “If we get everyone healthy and performing the way they are capable of here, there will be very little to do. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try,” Cashman said.
That’s a very vague statement from Cashman. He’ll kick the tires, as he should, on those players available closer to the deadline; he may not be able to add much in the way of payroll; and he is optimistic that the injured players can come back and contribute. While I would like to see the Yanks firm up the back end of that bullpen, Cashman’s assessment sounds about right to me.
There’s really no way to sugar-coat this week. There are no excuses, no reasons and no saying, “It’s still early.” But there will also be no calls for coaches, managers, general managers to get fired and need to start wondering about a shake-up. Everyone knows the Yankees just played a pathetic series against the Nationals, and no one is happy.
To truly understand what the Yankees did in getting blanked 3-0 last night and losing two in a row at home to the Nationals, we turn to ESPN’s research bureau. Here is what they say:
- The Nationals entered their series with the Yankees with a 16-45 record (.262 win percentage). They are the worst team to beat the Yankees in a series in which the Yankees were at home (minimum 50 games into the season). The previous worst, 1939 St. Louis Browns (38-99).
- The Nationals are the third-worst team to beat the Yankees in any series.
- The 1996 Yankees lost a series on the road to the 13-46 Tigers (.220 win percentage).
- The 2005 Yankees lost a series on the road to the 13-37 Royals (.260 win pct).
How do you spell pathetic? Y-A-N-K-E-E-S.
To quickly recap, the Yankees and Nationals hung around Yankee Stadium for nearly five-and-a-half hours before getting this one started. Apparently, the Yanks really wanted to play the Nationals. I guess they thought it would be an easy win. It was anything but.
Joba Chamberlain started, and while he wasn’t terrible, he wasn’t terribly good either. He threw six innings and gave up three runs. While that’s a quality start, he allowed 11 base runners to the Nationals and walked Wil Nieves with the bases loaded. He struck out six but threw just 60 of 100 pitches for strikes. It was a mediocre effort.
But the Yankees should have been able to score three runs against Craig Stammen, a pitcher with no career wins and 27.2 Big League innings under his belt. They could not. For the second night in a row, a no-name Nationals pitcher threw few pitches and mowed down the lethargic Yanks. They went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position, and as the played-out cliché goes, they didn’t have much fight in them. I guess they really wanted to get on that flight to Miami.
As far as the standings go, this one doesn’t set the Yanks back another game. While Toronto won, the Red Sox and Rays did not. The big guns in the AL East are steady. But on the other hand, the Yankees just lost their second in a row to a team that hadn’t won two out of a three-game set since nabbing two from the D-Backs on May 8 and 9. They should have gained on their competitors but did not.
This loss too capped off an uninspiring and generally frustrating nine-game stretch. They blasted Johan Santana on Sunday but managed just two other victories during that span. They had first place in their grip, and they had an opportunity in Boston to put some distance between them and the Red Sox. Instead, they’ve dropped the ball.
On Friday night, the Yanks cruise into Miami to face a Marlins team nearly as bad as the Nationals. An ineffective Andy Pettitte — 4-2 over his last 9 outings but with a 5.33 ERA and a 1.82 WHIP — will take the mound. The Yanks and their fans are going to need that W and soon. This was an ugly, ugly week.
Game Notes: Last night’s was the first homerless game in new Yankee Stadium history…Brett Gardner is day-to-day after crashing into a very unforgiving plexiglass window in left center field. I was out bowling tonight, and everyone watching the game just stopped silently as the Yanks tended to their injured center fielder. It sounds as though the crash looked worse than it felt in the end.
One year ago today, Austin Jackson officially became a bust when he failed to homer in his fifth consecutive game.
Short Season Staten Island’s season starts tomorrow; here’s the roster. The Rookie GCL Yanks start their season next Tuesday.
Triple-A Scranton‘s doubleheader was washed out. The Mud Hens don’t come back to town the rest of the year, so they’re going to make these games up in Toledo.
Double-A Trenton (2-0 win over Connecticut)
Austin Krum, Chris Malec & Jesus Montero: all 1 for 2 – Krum drew a walk, swiped a bag & drove in a run … Malec walked twice … Montero doubled
Noah Hall: 1 for 3, 1 RBI
Eduardo Nunez: 1 for 4
Kyle Anson & Justin Snyder: both 0 for 2 – Anson K’ed
Marcos Vechionacci: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B
Ryan Pope: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 Balk, 1 HBP, 3-8 GB/FB
Wilkins Arias: 1.1 IP, zeroes, 2-2 GB/FB
JB Cox & Amaury Sanit: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K
At least put up a fight in the ninth, that’s all I ask.
After a five and a half hour rain delay, it looks like the game will get underway at 6:30. You can find the original game thread here. Quick rehash of the lineup:
“I flat-out can’t have this discussion now. But I appreciate that they have interest. I was a Hanshin fan when I was a kid.” That was Hideki Matsui’s response yesterday when asked about the Hansin Tigers’ reported interest in bringing him back to Japan after the season. Godzilla did indicate that he would prefer to finish his career off in the States, but with the Yanks continued desire to get younger and more athletic, they figure to part ways with the two time All-Star when his contract is up after the season.
Matsui continues to remain a productive hitter (.249-.345-.477, 114 OPS+) but how many teams will be in the market for a 35-yr old DH with bum knees? · (13) ·
Pedro Martinez, after a strong showing for the Dominican team in the WBC, remains a free agent this year. He’s no longer the Pedro of the late 1990s, but to me, he seemed to be throwing free and easy against the international competition. Meanwhile, as the spring has stretched onto summer, Pedro is holding auditions in the DR. According to Gordon Edes, Yankee scouts will watch Pedro throw on Friday.
This is definitely interesting and intriguing news. As Edes notes, the Yankees are concerned with their pitching depth in light of an ineffective Chien-Ming Wang, and Pedro would help them shore up that hole. With Brian Bruney back and Phil Hughes providing some solid pen work for now, the team’s bullpen presents fewer concerns than it did a few weeks ago. So Pedro would be something of a luxury. While I pondered Pedro in January, I can’t see the team really finding a place for him. He won’t be guaranteed a role, and it’s doubtful whether he could still succeed in the AL East. It never hurts to kick the tires though. · (47) ·
First Pitch Update (3:15 p.m.): The Yankees have announced first pitch tentatively schedule for 4:05 p.m. We’ll bump the game thread back up once it’s clear this one is set to start. For now, though, please keep comments to this post on topic.
First Pitch Update Update (3:55 p.m.): The Yankees have just announced that “another round of showers is in the forecast. The start time for today’s game has been pushed back. First pitch time is TBA.” They should probably just pull the plug on this one.
As the Yankees and Nationals wait for a storm to clear that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere yet, the Yanks’ manager has shed some light on one of his decisions from last night’s 9th inning. While speaking with the beat writers prior to the rain delay, he talked about the first-and-third situation with one out and why A-Rod did not attempt a steal of second.
I was watching the game from the Grandstand, and everyone sitting around me was wondering the same thing. After the game, Joe and I had a discussion about it, and as he wrote in the recap, we would have attempted to steal. Why didn’t Joe Girardi then? Well, here’s what the Yanks’ skipper had to say:
“We had talked about it. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. You figure he can hit into a line drive and you get doubled up. Then you have Cano and Posada, two pretty good RBI guys, and you lose the chance for Posada to hit. Even though Robbie’s not a huge pull hitter, you close that hole up if he steals, and then they play the infield in. There’s a lot of different things that you have. Al is physically probably not running as well as he was last year, but he’s fairly close. If we got a 3-2 situation, am I saying that I’d hold him up? I’m not saying that. But we talk about it. MacDougal is quicker than he used to be to home plate. There’s a lot of factors that went into it.”
According to Marc Carig, Girardi was also concerned that the Nats might walk Cano intentionally or throw out A-Rod. So there are some valid reasons in there and some terribly convenient excuses.
The valid reason is Mike MacDougal. He was throwing 97 and was quicker to the plate. The Yankees’ coaches weren’t sure A-Rod, with just two stolen base attempts all season, would make it against a pitcher quicker than they expected. Fine. I buy that.
But at the same time, not making it to second is just part of the stolen base attempt. Maybe if A-Rod goes, the Nationals don’t even throw through because Brett Gardner can fly home off of third. Maybe anyone who attempts to steal a base gets thrown out. That really can’t can’t enter into the equation unless the runner has no chance.
I also don’t see what the double-edged sword is. Maybe Cano hits a line drive double play with A-Rod going, but that wouldn’t be any worse than what happened to end the game. Maybe the Nats intentionally walk Cano, but then the Yanks have bases loaded with one out and Jorge Posada at the plate. Who could complain about that?
In the end, I still come out where I came out last night: Joe Girardi should have at least attempted a steal with Alex Rodriguez on first base. We’re definitely second-guessing a tough decision, but Girardi’s excuses for it don’t really fly.
And with that, I’m done obsessing over last night’s game. I was at the stadium, and it was a tough loss to take. The fans were doing all they could to will that third run across the plate, and the energy went out of the park like a popped balloon when Cano grounded into that double play. We’ll get ‘em the next time once this rain lightens up.