The Yankees find themselves in a rather odd position right now. They’ve won seven in a row and 10 out of their last 11 contests. They have the fourth best record in the AL and are tied with the Mets and Brewers for seventh best overall in baseball. Yet, they’re heading home in four days, and I find myself thinking that, maybe, perhaps this would have been easier had the team now gotten so hot in September.
Right now, the Yankees are the hottest team in baseball. Over their 10-1 stretch, they’re pitching to an ERA of 2.52, and opponents are hitting about as well as Melky Cabrera against them. While they’re scoring 5.4 runs per game, that is decidedly better than their season pace of 4.8 runs per game. Where has this team been all year?
What the Yanks have done over the last two weeks is tease their fans. They’ve turned it up a notch when it was too late in the season for them to control their own destiny. We’ve seen Mike Mussina reach 19 wins for the first time in 12 years; we saw Phil Hughes throw eight innings in a start for the first time in his Big League career; we’ve seen the bullpen throw lights out ball; and we’ve seen the Yanks pick up that big hit — as Bobby Abreu did last night — when they absolutely needed it.
Just in case you’ve forgotten, none of that had happened earlier in the year. Phil Hughes in April was 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA. No one was getting hits at the right time, and the Yanks couldn’t buy runs if they tried.
This run has certainly made for a fun September, but it’s made for a forlorn month as well. It’s made for a month of what if’s. What if the Yanks had played like this not just in September but in April, May and June? What if the Yanks had won just five or six more games earlier this year? Baseball has always been a game of what if’s, but for some reason, with the recent Yankee resurgence, this year seems to hurt more than the playoff losses from years gone by.
I guess we’ll just have to do what the old Brooklyn Dodger fans long did. We’ll wait ’til next year, and we’ll get ‘em then.
Andy Pettitte’s 2008 season went out in style; he won the final regular season game at Yankee Stadium. Now, as Pettitte deals with shoulder tendinitis, the Yanks have shut him down for the season, and the rumblings about his career have started up again. Pettitte will play in 2009 for either the Yankees or no one. While I’m not sold on the idea, the team seems willing to have him back. The proverbial ball is in Andy’s court. If he wants to pitch, the Yanks will have him; if he wants to hang it up, he’ll have gone out with a win in the final game at the House that Ruth Built. That’s not a bad way to go. · (56) ·
A night after officially exiting the AL playoff race, the Yankees got a parting gift. Phil Hughes, who hadn’t pitched what you’d call a good game since April 3, bookended his season with a stellar start. He used 100 pitches to get through eight innings, an impressive 71 of which were strikes. The five hits he surrendered resulted in only two runs, as he helped himself by striking out six and walking none. This was the Phil Hughes we had hoped for.
His best innings were the third, when he disposed of the Jays with nine pitches, and the eighth inning, when he did it with eight. He wasn’t exactly facing world beaters, but you gotta get the job done with those guys. In total, he had four 1-2-3 innings, and never had more than one runner on base at a time.
Leadoff doubles are killer, and Hughes paid the price for it in the first. With Joe Inglett on second and no one out, Marco Scutaro grounded out to second and Alex Rios hit a fly ball to left field, plating Toronto’s first run. Hughes faced the same situation in the fourth when Alex Rios doubled to lead off, but worked out of it by retiring the next three Blue Jays.
His only other blemish came when he hung a curve to Scott Rolen in the bottom of the seventh. That’s what cost him the win, though he certainly deserved it. Problem is, A.J. Burnett did, too. In the end, neither put a tally in the win column. That honor belonged to Jose Veras, who used just ten pitches to record a strike out, a fly out, and a ground out en route to a perfect ninth. Sidney Ponson, in what I guess was a tune-up for Saturday, set down the Jays 1-2-3 in the ninth.
Tonight, Hughes proved what we all know: the kid’s good. What we don’t know is if he can always be this good. It might take some more time before we know for sure. Do the Yankees have the patience? I suppose the answer to that question rides heavily on how the General Manager situation plays out. You know how we at RAB feel, of course.
Much thanks to Bobby Abreu and his 10th-inning grand slam. I’m glad we weren’t tortured by the baseball gods with an extra-innings marathon in a meaningless game. Further thanks to Xavier Nady for proving that yeah, you can drive in runs off A.J. Burnett. Oh, and to Marco Scutaro, for throwing to first for some unbeknownst reason.
This puts the Yanks four games ahead of the Jays with four to play. They’re currently 9-8 on the season against them. I’m not saying finishing in third place is good. I’m just saying I don’t want to finish fourth.
It’s been a while since Phil Hughes knocked down a W in the Majors. In fact, his last Big League win came on September. 27, 2007 when he and the Yanks downed the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 3-1. Tonight, in his final start of the year, Hughes will aim for his first win of the season.
Of course, it won’t come easy. Hughes is going up against Yankee-killer A.J. Burnett. On the season, Burnett is 18-10 with a 4.18 ERA, but against the Yanks, he’s 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 30.1 innings. In a way, this is an important start for Burnett because, with an opt-out clause, he can become a free agent this year. The Yanks are sure to be potential suitors for the power-throwing right hander who has just reached a career high in innings pitched.
But Burnett may not be all that the Yanks have seen this year. He’s long struggled with his health, and against teams that aren’t the Yankees, he’s 15-9 with a 4.64 ERA in 180.2 innings this year. Those are fine numbers, but they’re hardly worth the money and years Burnett will be seeking on the open market. Caveat emptor.
The Yanks aren’t doing much to help out Hughes earn that win. They’re tossing out the Spring Training lineup. That’s what happens when the team gets eliminated from the playoffs.
Notes: Word out of Yankee camp is that Andy Pettitte will not make his final start of the season on Saturday. In his stead, the team will throw Sidney Ponson. Couldn’t they have found someone else to make that start? Phil Coke? Ian Kennedy? Joba Chamberlain? The Yanks have practically guaranteed no reason to watch Saturday’s game.
Now, why on Earth would we be talking about a State Senator from the Great State of Wyoming on a Yankee blog? Well, he caught himself the last home run ball at Yankee Stadium and doesn’t seem so willing to give it back. Perhaps we should all write to Steve Harshman and tell him to do the right thing. That ball belongs in New York with the Yankees and not in some safety deposit box in Wyoming. · (36) ·
Baseball America’s look into each league’s top 20 prospects hit the South Atlantic League today, and disappointingly (is that a word?) only two Yanks’ prospects made the list: Jesus Montero & Austin Romine at numbers 7 and 8, respectively. No Betances is surprising, but what can you do. The Florida State and Eastern Leagues will be posted next Monday and Tuesday, · (13) ·
It’s not unreasonable to expect a 90-win team from the third-place Yankees this year, but no matter how anyone tries to spin it, for a team expected to win the World Series each year, 90 wins is hardly a plateau to celebrate. To that end, everyone and their mothers will offer up their takes on fixing the Yankees. We start with Joe Sheehan’s free column on Baseball Prospectus.
Here’s what the Yankee fan suggests:
- Sign Mark Teixeira
- Bring back Bobby Abreu
- Avoid the Pitchers (except for maybe Sabathia)
- Put Joba in the rotation and leave him alone
- Re-sign Mussina or Pettitte
- Pick up Carl Pavano’s option
- Don’t touch the bullpen
On the surface, Sheehan’s suggestions make sense, and we’ll spend some time over the next few weeks delving more in depth on these issues. But there are a few problems. Sheehan would again have the Yanks head into the season with Hughes and Kennedy expected to play a big role on the team. Since Joba won’t be able to make 34 starts next year, someone else will have to, and it would fall on the other two members of the erstwhile Big Three to pick up the slack.
The Carl Pavano move makes some financial sense. For $11 million ($13 million less than the $2 million buyout), the Yanks can have insurance better than Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson.
The rest of the argument rests on the realization that, this year, the Yanks’ problem was their offense and not their pitching. Considering that Ponson finished third in innings pitched on this team, it’s a hard idea to grasp, but he’s on the money. Had the Yanks come close to approaching their projected runs scored totals this year, the team would be playoff-bound. Instead, they’ve scored nearly 200 fewer runs this year than last, and they’ll be going home when the season ends this weekend. Convincing the pitching-obsessed team of this reality may be a bit tougher.
With the ball firmly in his court, Brian Cashman has a decision to make. Will he stay or will he go? No matter the outcome, though, the Yankees want this resolved soon. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman reported last night that the Steinbrenner want a firm answer from Cashman by next week. I don’t blame the team owners for toeing the line here. The Yanks face a busy off-season, and they need to have a leadership structure in place well before the free agent filing period begins. My money’s still on Cashman’s coming back, but we’ll know for sure next week. · (30) ·
Fifteen years ago, I was ten years old. I was in fifth grade, and while I had been going to Yankee Stadiums since I was three, never had the Yanks made the playoffs during my lifetime.
The next year — 1994 — it seemed like baseball life would change. As August rolled around, the Yanks had a sizable lead in the AL East and were just 3.5 games worse than the MLB-best Montreal Expos. When the strike hit and the season ended, I experienced my first bout of baseball disappointment. It would be more shocking than in 1995 when the Yanks blew a 2-0 lead to fall to Seattle in the ALDS. In 1995, I was just happy to get there.
Since then, in October, I’ve seen, at the Stadium and at home, the Yankees win a World Series, lose a Divisional Series in heart-breaking fashion, win three more World Series, come oh-so-close to an emotional World Series victory, lose to the Angels, lose to the Marlins, lose to the Red Sox, lose to the Angels again, lose to the Tigers and lose to the Indians. For all the joys of victory, there is nothing more agonizing that the elimination game. As the outs fall off the board, that pit in your stomach just grows and grows until you don’t want to be around anyone else and you just want to wallow in your baseball-induced pity.
Tonight, while a regular season, was like that. While the Yankees and Mike Mussina were well on their way to defeating the Blue Jays, 540 miles away, the Indians couldn’t stop the Boston Red Sox from clinching. The Yanks scored just three runs tonight en route to a win, but for all that, they could have scored 300. It wouldn’t matter. For the first time since 1993 — for the first time since the Internet became a way of life and the iPod hit the scene — the Yanks will not playing baseball in October. It hurts.
What hurts even more, though, is that the Yankees are now the fifth best AL team but just 0.5 games behind the White Sox. As the Twins and White Sox battle it out, the Yankees could wind up the fourth best team in the American League. That’s not bad for a team missing its future Hall of Fame catcher, its All Star starting pitcher, and its regular DH for much of the season. That’s not bad for a team that witnessed a near worst-case scenario emerge in regards to its young pitchers, center fielder and second baseman. When these players make good on their abilities, when the Yanks put the right other pieces in place around them, the future will look very bright.
We can look forward to that future, but for now, we have a storyline to follow over the last five games of the season. Through five innings tonight, Mike Mussina was utterly brilliant, and he walked away from the game with his 19th victory of the season. It is the first time since 1996 when a 27-year-old Mussina won 19 games that Moose has reached that level. When he starts the final game of the season, all eyes will be on Moose as the old dog tries for one last new trick.