Thursday, July 06, 2006

BRONX BOMBERS FIRING BLANKS!

It wasn't just "any" day, it was the 4th of July and "The Boss's" Birthday and I am NOT referring to Springsteen.

The Cleveland Indians took the Yankees out to the woodshed and administered an absolute thrashing on Sunday. Indeed, the 19-1 whuppin' that New York was subjected to underscores a point; this could be the first season since 1993 in which the Bombers don't figure into the post-season!

Firstly, the Yankees have become "win-conditioned." They are used to administering such beatings and don't always respond well when on the receiving end (in this instance, they came back and soundly beat the Indians the next day). Then again, who would? In Baseball... and any sport, really, a team or athlete must be able to put such trouncings in the rear-view mirror post-haste. Unaccustomed to losing by double-digits, the Yankees must look upon this loss and see it for what it is; 1 loss out of 162 games. The Yankees, a professional bunch, aren't prone to in-fighting. If they begin to nip at one another... all will be lost.
Secondly, the starting pitching isn't nearly as good as the team imagined it would be. Randy Johnson (9-7, 5.25 ERA) just isn't the pitcher he once was. In his last season as a D-Back' ('04), The Big Unit recorded 290 Ks and an ERA of 2.60. His 1st season in Pinstripes? Johnson's 17-8 2005 record was solid, thanks in large part to an 8-2 second half surge, but his ERA also surged... to 3.79, and his WHP went from .90 in '04 to to 1.13 in '05. Even more indicative, opposing batters notched a feeble .196 BA against Johnson during his final season in the bright 'Zona sunshine but are now hitting him at a .250+ pace.
If not for the yeoman's effort of Mike Mussina (9-3, 3.17 ERA and a WHP of 1.04), who is on pace to throw almost 50% more innings than last season, this season might have already spun out of control.
I'll tell you this and you don't need to be Billy Beane to discern as much- Shawn Chacon, Chien-Ming Wang and Aaron Small won't be riding to the Yanks' collective rescue as they did last season.
Chacon, who got lit UP like Rockerfeller Center during the holidays on Sunday, (1.1 IP and 7 ER) is currently 4-3, boasts an ERA of 6.71 (his ERA was 2.85 last season), and a WHP that is fast approaching 2.0. When asked what it will take to get "Shack" un-tracked Torre was at a loss, just as his team was yesterday.
Aaron Small (0-3 8.46 ERA), sent down to Triple-A Columbus mid-May, had no trouble clearing Waivers. Although Small went 10-0 (inc. 1 shut-out) and had an ERA of just 3.20 ERA last season, no other team was willing to take a gamble on the '05 stand-out.
Chien-Ming Wang (8-4 with a 4.21 ERA) is the only "season savior" whose '06 pitching hasn't been abyssmal. A Sinker-baller, the 26 year-old native of Taiwan struggles when he can't locate his specialty pitch. Prior to his July 3rd outing, Wang had allowed an average of just 2 ERs per contest over his last 5 starts. Wang's Home/Road splits are an interesting contrast as opponents have been teeing-off (at a .325 pace, compared to .248 at Yankee Stadium) on him when the Yanks are on the Road.
Even so, Chien-Ming Wang is a virtual paragon of pitching excellence when compared to Yankee starters such as Jaret Wright (4-5 with an ERA of 4.61), Carl Pavano (currently DL'ed, 4-6 with a 4.77 ERA), and the aforementioned Chacon.

But if a suspect group of Starting Pitchers wasn't enough for manager Joe Torre to contend with, the team has also been hit with a spate of injuries. All-Star Outfielders, and much of the meat in the Yankee sandwich, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui both fell to injury and neither is expected back before September. In addition another young star who emerged last season, 2nd Basemen Robinson Cano, is currently shelved as are Relievers Tanyan Sturtze and Octavio Dotel.

And that allows me to smoothly segue into my last point; the Yankee Bullpen has more holes than a yard of French lace.
When the team signed former Cub Kyle Farnsworth (16 Saves of 18 chances in '05 and an ERA of 2.1) to a 3 year, $17 million contract, they expected far more than a 2-4 record, an ERA of 4.62, and 1 Save of 5 chances! The club expected Farnsworth to be what Mariano was 'back in the day," when the Hall of Fame Closer was tossing the pill in the 8th and 9th innings and John Wetteland was racking up the S's. Instead, they signed "an adventure with feet." Just like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get when Farnsworth takes the ball. And, to be frank, it is my considered opinion that at this point he'll never succeed in pinstripes. I think his confidence is shot, the fans are relentless, and Torre has lost his faith. While he still maintains value I think New York will move Kyle Farnsworth if the right opportunity comes along. And, if a deal doesn't come calling, assuming GM Brian Cashman is still on The Boss's payroll... and if New York misses the playoff cut you can bet your mortgage that he won't be, it'll be up to Cash' to drum up a trade opportunity.

But sadly for Yankee fans, Joe Torre, Brian Cashman, and Steinbrenner who is paying richly for the whole mess, the poor "relief" work (there's an oxymoron!) doesn't end with Farnsworth. Instead, the relievers have afforded the team a great deal of stress. Scott Proctor, a guy Torre hasn't hesitated to run into the ground, is crumbling under the strain. Dude finished June with an ERA (on the season) exceeding 5.00 and is sporting a July ERA of 12.00 after 2 ghastly appearances. The Left-handed Mike Myers is more of a "situational" reliever and although his work has been exemplary his outings are generally limited to a batter or 2. It may be, though, that Torre puts the ball into Myer's hands for longer periods in an effort to shore up the lousy pitching.
Lastly, Reliever T.J. Beam is a guy that Cashman, in particular, was excited about. That may say quite a bit about Cashman's ability to assess talent. Beam was also shelled yesterday, ignited for 6 Earned Runs, running his ERA to 12.15.

Is there a solution in sight? Can the Yankee season and Brian Cashman's job (Joe Torre might even be on the hot-seat depending upon how the 2nd half shakes out) be saved?
Possibly. New York will see former Met and 'Stro Octavio Dotel (36 Saves between Houston and Oakland back in 2004) back into the 'Pen come the end of July, and Trip'-A Closer Jose Veras possesses excellent stuff and has stirred interest. Further, the Bombers have a legit' phenom in 19 year old starter Philip Hughes and they would be wise to retain him instead of shipping him off to Atlanta as part of a package in an ill-conceived deal to land an aging and injury prone Tim Hudson. The youngster may not be "Show" ready this season... but he has #1-2 stuff and should make his Bronx debut next season. Although Hughes is Major League ready in terms of his stuff and make-up, according to a coach in the Yankee system "he's been throwing 160 or so innings and his arm strength won't endure 200 IP. Yet."

If the Yanks' can hold on, the return of Matsui and Sheffield to the starting lineup will be as good as a trade. Both suffered wrist injuries and each may not be at full strength come September... but a Yankee roster that brags both All-Stars will inevitably be better than this current incarnation.

Sure, there's hope for the Yankees yet. Ironically enough, however, much of the civilized Baseball world is hoping hope against hope that "the evil empire" continues marching down its' current path That is, of course, downward. If the Yankees pull out of this ugly roll... it will undoubtedly be Torre's greatest coaching feat to date.

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