Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Death of a Thousand Cuts

It's Wednesday, so the Yankees must be losing to a last-place team again. Technically, the Orioles are no longer a last-place team, two wins against the Yankees (and two losses for the Devil Rays against the White Sox) having pulled them past Tampa Bay into fourth place.

And what wins they were! On Tuesday, the Yanks tied the Orioles at two in the sixth, off a two-run homer by a chiropractically-adjusted Johnny Damon. But the good feelings didn't last--in the ninth, Scott Proctor experienced yet another meltdown to hand the O's a win on a hit and three walks, including the walk-off bases loaded walk (which we shall henceforth call the Proctor Special).

Wednesday, the business was a little more routine, with the Orioles producing a big sixth inning against future Hall of Famer--and current holder of a 1-3 record, and a 5.32 ERA. Rocket hasn't pitched well (seven hits, three walks, and no strikeouts in six innings), but he couldn't have figured that the Yankees would give him no run support. The Yanks have produced 14 total runs in the five games Clemens has started this season--and nine of those runs came in his first start against the Pirates. For the second time in two weeks, a young lefty shut the Yanks down completely, giving Clemens no chance at a win. The last time it was Oliver Perez, this time it was the O's Erik Bedard casting a Canadian spell on the Yanks' bats. Bedard and Clemens traded zeroes for five innings, but in the sixth, the younger man kept on cruising while the living legend ran out of gas, giving up four runs, including a three-run jack to Aubrey Huff.

Through eight games, this road trip has seen the Yanks at 1-7, scoring three or fewer runs in six of those losses. The team seems to be finding stylish new ways to lose--I'm fully expecting the winning run in tomorrow's game to come on an ill-timed catcher's interference--and there's no indication that the bleeding is going to stop any time soon. After the Orioles, the teams the Bombers face only get better. The cliche at times like these is to say, "Now is not the time to panic." But the question is: if not now, when? We talk about panic like it's a bad thing--chaos and despair, and whatnot--but the fact is, sometimes panic gives you that shot of adrenaline you need to survive. Worse, sometimes panic is inevitable.

So, it looks like the Yanks will soon face a choice of evils. You pretty much have three kinds of panic moves in baseball. First you have the addition by subtraction concept, where a player of obvious value is let go for little or nothing in hopes that his removal will change the clubhouse chemistry, and light a fire under some complacent posteriors. Then you have the addition by addition tactic--a big shot player is brought aboard, usually at great expense in money and/or young players. Last, you have firing coaches or the manager.

Now, arguably the Yanks have already made the second kind of panic move--Hello, Mr. Clemens!--although that's never put them out of the running for surrendering a few blue-chippers for a veteran something before. The first type of panic move seems hard to pull off--most of the underperformers on the Yankees' team are making eight figures, and would be pretty hard to give away, unless backed by a few truckloads of money.

So that leaves the coaching staff. The offensive woes the Yanks have experienced would, in the past, have cost Kevin Long his job, but two factors stand in the way: first, he's apparently close to Alex Rodriguez, one of the few Yanks who's actually pulling his weight right now; second, he's not a big enough name to be the token sacrifice for this kind of disaster. No, if the Yanks go for the third option, the backside in the frying pan will be the biggest backside of them all: Joe Torre's.

I've said before, firing Torre would be a matter of change for change's sake. But of the panic options, it's probably the least harmful of evils. A bad acquisition--specially one that comes at the cost of one of the Yanks' big prospects, like Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes--could haunt the team for years. The only aesthetic deletion the team would be likely to make would be to jettison Kyle Farnsworth (and perhaps kick the Edwar Ramirez era into gear...) but Blockhead Kyle is a deckchair on this here sinking luxury liner. Torre...barring the miracle of all miracles, he's not coming back in 2008. Heck, even if the fortunes inverted themselves and the 2007 Yanks won the World Series (the BP Playoff Odds reports still give the Yanks an 18% chance to make the postseason), the smart money says Torre calls it a day. So firing the Skipper--maybe kicking him upstairs in the typical Yankees preemptive hiring maneuver--is probably the move that would have the least negative impact on the club.

It'd be a crappy way to thank Joe for the great service he's given the Yankees and their fans. But with the biggest motivational tool in Torre's arsenal failing on Monday Tuesday (he started Bobby Abreu eighth in the lineup against a righthander, like he did to Alex Rodriguez last year in the Division Series against Detroit) you have to wonder, does he have any tricks left? Heck, there might not even be enough time left in the Yanks' season for him to leak a story to Tom Verducci (like he did, again against A-Rod, last season).

These are depressing thoughts, but then again it's been a depressing season for the Bronx Bombers.


Speaking of depressing seasons, I've been following the no-fanfare end of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip's run, and I'll try to put something up about the series finale, which is being broadcast tonight (10:00PM Eastern). As I'm sure we'll get into, Studio 60 wasn't perfect, and might not have even been good. But I've watched it regularly nonetheless. It probably deserved a better fate.

In happier news, Prospectus Toolbox continues to do well--this week we looked at that humble, controversial statistic, the Run Batted In. Check it out (free, as usual).

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