Saturday, June 09, 2007

Week of Sox

When a team plays as bad as the Yankees have, progress is measured in baby steps. Start with a win, then win a series, a small winning streak, and go from there. The Yankees followed the simple formula this week, and finally look to be crawling out of the tremendous hole they spent two months digging.

Playing a team with more problems, and almost as much controversy, as the Yankees, certainly helps. The series did not start promising. After a dramatic ninth inning win over the Red Sox on national television Sunday night, Matt DeSalvo failed to get out of the second inning, and the lineup once again blew early scoring chances on their way to another silent performance and an uninspired loss. The story of their season to this point. Seeing Ron Villone pitching in the 2nd inning is never a good sight for Yankee fans. My one negative thought after Sunday’s win was not getting innings out of Pettitte, and of course, losing him to injury. After a short, lackluster Mussina effort on Saturday, and injury shortened Pettitte outing on Sunday, the bullpen needed a break. DeSalvo did everything to prevent that, killing the bullpen further, realizing my fears.

Unlike earlier this season, the Yankees showed resiliency and responded. Finally the Bombers put good hitting and good pitching together for a string of games. Tyler Clippard pitched solid, though Torre inexplicably pulled him after 5 innings. Clippard is here to stay. Far from dominant, he keeps the team in the game every outing, shows no fear in pitching out of tough jams, has major league stuff with a solid breaking pitch, and shows some fire on the mound. I like the fist pumping, the yelling, the comments about being yanked early in games. The Yankees need that.

Remembering to hit also helps. Somewhere on the short flight from Toronto to Boston a few Yanks finally found their bats, most notably Bobby Abreu. Maybe the Jermaine Dye trade rumors woke him up. Over the last seven games, Abreu is hitting .423 with seven walks, a key measuring stick for Abreu. He even remembered how to hit for power, with a homer, and three doubles. Abreu chastised the White Sox, coming up with big hit after big hit. Besides driving the ball, Abreu is taking outside pitches to left, and hitting the ball into gaps more, his strength as a hitter.

Forgive the White Sox if they ignore Abreu’s performance, since A-Rod was their true nemesis. After a comparatively slow May after his record-setting April, Rodriguez hit three homers and drove in eleven runs over the past week, with all three homers in the ninth inning. Is this the same player who we crucified for failing in clutch situations? A-Rod’s ninth inning stats are staggering, and he is the first Yankee to hit two grand slams in the ninth inning or later since Strawberry in 1998.

Complementing Abreu and A-Rod, Cano and Cabrera are showing serious signs of life. The Yankee lineup looks to finally be hitting their stride, and just in the nick of time.

The White Sox series is not complete with mention of Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina. Wang was solid, not brilliant, but very good on Wednesday. Efficient and effective, reminiscent of the 19-game winner of a year ago. With two rookies in the rotation for now, the Yanks really need the big guns to pitch well and go deep into games every time out. Wang did that and more, going the distance. Mussina followed up Wang with a bounce back performance of his own, stifling Chicago for six plus innings before getting the early hook from Joe Torre. I kill Torre for having a quick hook, and love seeing managers let starting pitchers stretch deep into games, but I give Joe the benefit of the doubt here. This season Mussina’s shown a propensity to give games away in a hurry, case in point last week at Fenway, and until he strings together a few good starts I am alright watching Torre pull him if the game is at risk.
However, I have major problems when Torre pulls anyone in favor of Kyle Farnsworth. The outspoken, underperforming reliever is terrible. Every game is an adventure. Since April I have plead to see anyone else in the eight inning setting up for Mo, but for some reason, unbeknownst to most, Torre keeps going to Farnsworth, and he keeps failing. This week was no different. My guess is the Yanks trade Farnsworth in the next two to three weeks. Proctor and Bruney are more effective, especially when not overused.

The operative word is baby steps. Two series wins, and a three-game winning streak. A few Red Sox losses have fans talking about the division race again, but before any playoff discussion, the Yanks need to get back to .500. With six home games against weaker NL opponents, Pittsburgh and Arizona, that the Yanks should handle, now is the opportune time to rattle off the winning streak everyone has waited for. And if they needed any extra motivation, you know who is pitching Saturday.


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