Thursday, July 05, 2007

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Sub .500 teams at the All-Star break must capitalize on every opportunity. That means finishing off the Twins with a rare late inning lead against Johan Santana. Yet, Mike Mussina handed away a 2-1 sixth inning lead, the Yankees mounted no threats against the nasty Twins bullpen, and failed to build on two vintage performances, losing 6-4 yesterday.

Most disconcerting, similar to many losses this season, the Yankees seemed to lack energy, appearing listless most of the game. New York went three up, three down in the last five innings. No walks, no working the count, no rally, no chance. Santana is the best in the business, opponents batting a meager .144 off the lefty this season, but the Yankees horrendous start leaves no room for an off day. They need wins, regardless who the opponent is.

Mussina deserves some of the blame. He pitched well, holding the Twins to one unearned run through five innings, before the Twins played small ball in the sixth, manufacturing a run with a bloop single, stolen base, and two groundouts. I hope the Yankees took notes during that inning. Then came the seventh inning, a double by Torri Hunter, two-run homer to Jason Kubel, game over. For the second time I remember this season, the other being Andy Pettitte against Endy Chavez in the first Met series, a weak hitter victimized a veteran Yankee pitcher on a fat pitch with the Yanks looking for a bunt. That is inexcusable. Mussina is a Stanford guy, still pitching more because of his pitching intellect than his talent, cannot afford to leave a pitch up in the zone, bunt situation or not. With Santana on the mound, there is no room for error. Mussina made a mistake, the Yankees paid the price.
On the offensive side, Torre ran a AAA lineup onto the field, benching Abreu, Damon, and Posada. Santana is tough of lefties, he is tough on everyone, but does benching Abreu, Damon, and Posada in favor of Miguel Cairo, Kevin Thompson, and Wil Nieves, give the Yankees a better chance against Santana. Lefty-righty matchups only go so far. In this case the three left handed hitters are far superior to the three righthander’s that started. Why make things any easier for the best pitcher in baseball? Torre can only sit at most one regular, thanks to the weak bench Cashman has constructed.

On another note, Nieves must go. Backup catchers do not make or break teams, but he is a marginal defensive catcher, throwing out a paltry 29% of base stealers, while posting a putrid .154 OBP. He is an automatic out. The idea that Mussina can only pitch well with Nieves behind the plate is misguided. How did Mussina manage the first six years of his Yankee career with Posada primarily catching? I hate the personal catcher idea. It can slide for top pitchers, alas Greg Maddux and Eddie Perez, not a 4-6 Mike Mussina. Cashman needs to find a better backup catcher, Torre needs to put the best lineup on the field, and the players need to show up to play every day, not twice a week.


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