You’ve got to admit it ain’t getting better

That Alex Rodriguez; he’s pretty good. But the Yankees just can’t win for him.

In Tampa Bay, the super-human A-Rod continued his hot spring. He went four for five with 2 HR and 3 RBI to raise his inflated numbers even further. He is now batting .400 with a .453 OBP and a 1.053 SLG. That’s off the charts. He has tied the record for most home runs in April and has driven in 34 runs already.

But that’s not the story here. Once again, the story was pitching. The story was yet another poor pitching performance from Kei Igawa and the disappearance of/Joe Torre’s utter reluctance to use Kyle Farnsworth. (Yes, I will point fingers at Joe Torre tonight. Thank for you very much. In fact, our six-hour outage this afternoon was, um, all his fault too. He went to the wrong server in the sixth inning.)

First, let’s talk about Kyle Farnsworth. Krazy Kyle is making $5.6 million this year to be the Yankees’ go-to reliever outside of Mariano River. Sure, he struggled in Minnesota. But does that mean he has to drop off the face of the planet? Night after night, Torre uses Proctor and Bruney and the unimpressive Luis Vizcaino. Farnsworth, meanwhile, has pitched a grand total of 2.0 innings in the last week. The rest of the Yankee bullpen has pitched many, many more.

When the time was right for Farnsworth to come in and hold down a one-run deficit to set up what could have been late-inning heroics for A-Rod yet again, in to the game jogged…Brian Bruney and Luis Vizcaino. Before you could say “not another bad bullpen performance,” the game was out of hand.

But hey, at least Joe Torre’s $5-million man is well rested for whenever it is that our asleep-at-the-wheel manager feels like sticking him into a game. As long as Proctor and Bruney and Vizcaino can still lift their arms above their heads, who cares about the guy with the 99 MPH fastball?

Now, let’s talk Kei Igawa. I don’t have any expectations for Igawa anymore. After tonight’s lackluster effort against the Devil Rays, Igawa is 1-1 with a 7.84 ERA in 20.2 IP. He’s given up 24 hits while walking 9 and striking out 13. Opponents are hitting .279 against him.

And based on what I saw tonight, I don’t think it’s going to be better at all. His pitches are soft, and while Joe Girardi kept insisting they had late movement, my eye saw a hurler throwing from a three-quarters motion on a level plane. In lay terms, that means righties have all the time in the world to pick up the ball, and even lefties won’t be fooled by Kei Igawa’s straight pitches.

While 20 innings isn’t enough to write off a pitcher completely, the Yankees now appear to have two huge holes in their rotation, and this is counting Wang, Mussina and Pettitte as healthy. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe Igawa is just adjusting to a new style of hitting. But Ron Guidry will have to work hard to turn Igawa into a sinkerball pitcher. He’s getting beat on pitches up in the zone, and Igawa made a career in Japan out of pitching up in the zone. That just doesn’t work in the Major Leagues.

When Phil Hughes takes the mound on Thursday, we’ll expect big things from him. But even if he just gives us five or six innings of competitive ball, that’s a better start than what we’ve seen so far from Igawa. As the Yankee starters struggle to make it through five innings, it’s clear that it won’t take much for Phil to stick around.

Down on the Farm

My official Phil Hughes prediction for Thursday: 6 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K 

Cashman says Hughes’ first Yankee tenure depends on how long Moose is out, but I think he’s up for good. They’ll keep him around to fill Pavano’s spot after Moose returns, and when (if) Pavano comes back, Hughes will just be too good to send back down.

This is the happiest day in my blogging life.

Triple-A Scranton scheduled off day.

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Problems plague Yanks in the early goings

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).

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Red Sox 7, Yanks 6

Player WPA pLI Pitcher WPA pLI
Giambi .183 1.53 Bean .119 1.46
Minky .180 1.30 Pettitte .091 1.60
Posada .106 3.52 Henn .035 0.75
Jeter .080 1.20 Vizcaino .027 0.47
Cano .061 1.35 Wright -.263 1.01
Abreu -.030 1.00 Proctor -.503 2.50
Alex -.055 1.51
Nieves -.093 0.82
Phelps -.124 4.32
Damon -.145 1.43
Cabrera -.170 2.29

Red Sox barely beat weakened Yankee club

Very short note on this series tonight. I’m mad at the Baseball Gods, and I need to sleep.

But in the “Good News” Category, I think the Yanks — and their fans — have much to (painfully) smile at after what could have been a disheartening three-game sweep.

Basically, it comes down to pitching. The Yanks lost one game because Mariano had a meltdown. They lost the other two because Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright pitched. Clearly, that won’t be happening for much longer.

But meanwhile, the Red Sox lined up their rotation to throw Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the outcomes, despite two ridiculous standing ovations by fans that I thought knew better, were less than spectacular. The Red Sox threesome of supposed aces combined for 20.2 innings. They gave up 25 hits and 15 earned runs. That’s an ERA of about 6.50.

The Yankees were playing this series without Jorge Posada for much of the weekend, without Hedeki Matsui for much of the weekend and without Johnny Damon for much of Saturday. I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I would say that the outcomes of at least two of these games are different with a full lineup and Major League starters.

Take heart, Yankee fans. When the Red Sox come into our house next weekend, we’ll have Kei Igawa and Chien-Ming Wang going on Saturday and Sunday, somebody who probably isn’t Chase Wright on Friday night, and a lineup featuring Hideki Matsui as well as Posada and Damon.

With Mussina not far behind, things could look a lot worse after an infuriating three-game sweep. And aren’t you, dear readers, proud of me? I didn’t once mention Joe Torre’s utter inability to handle in-game bullpen decisions or base-running strategies, two things that clearly came back to haunt the Yanks tonight.

Expert analysis from Joe Morgan

“The problem I see with Wright is that he’s falling into a pattern. He’s not throwing his fastball unless he’s ahead in the count, or behind in the count.”

Yeah, so thanks for clearing that up Joe. At least he’s half right, I think.