Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Don't Call It a Comeback

Anyone who didn't think the Orioles would claw their way back for the win, the minute they saw LaTroy Hawkins on the mound, raise your hand. Anybody but Joe Girardi have their hands down? Didn't think so.

It was really looking better for the Yanks last week, but it only took two games for the Orioles to derail that optimism and send the Bombers back to the AL East cellar. The Yanks lost on Memorial Day despite Darrell Rasner continuing his Aaron Small impression, and again last night after the Yanks had 4-0 and 8-4 leads. Hawkins figured in both losses, though Ian Kennedy gets some partial credit for once again taxing the bullpen with a 3 inning start. Why was Joba Chamberlain paired in a tandem with Mike Mussina rather than Moose's shorter pitch-alike, Kennedy? The way Kennedy was seldom able to go even halfway into a regulation game, you think it would have been a natural situation to allow Joba to stretch out his arm in anticipation of becoming a starter again.

That's all academic now. Kennedy has joined Phil Hughes on the DL, and Joba may well wind up pitching in that slot, anyway. The season is frustrating again, just when things were starting to look up.


I got to catch Sunday's game in the Boogie Down Bronx with my Dad, the first game he's been to in a few years. Dad's largely a sports non-combatant--the only real reason he cares about baseball is because he knows that the game has a profound effect on me and my brothers' moods--but he enjoyed the Yanks' comeback greatly, and seemed to be having a pretty good time even before the Mariners' bullpen coughed the game up n the eighth inning.

Up until then, things looked pretty grim. Chien Ming Wang had a second straight start where his control was off, and the team's defense was spotty behind him as well. Jarrod Washburn, a guy who'd been as hard to hit as a tee-ball this season, provided six innings of really solid work--this was something we saw on occasion last season, as well, and it follows the pattern of the Yanks being unable to hit any starter that throws lefthanded (with the nine-run outburst against Erik Bedard on Friday perhaps serving as the exception that proves the rule). As was the case last week, the Yanks looked constantly on the verge of breaking out against Washburn, but they could never quite fire up the engines all at once.

Luckily for the Yanks, the Mariners are a brutally bad team. Their excellent bullpen performance last year, the one that gave them that nifty record in one-run games, hasn't held up this season. The Mariners pen--thanks in part to the trade that sent George Sherrill to the Orioles, and in part to the simple volatility of relief performance in general--is currently below replacement level in WXRL, and the pitching staff as a whole is below replacement level by VORP.

So the Mariners' eighth inning meltdown wasn't a surprise--except to the extent that seeing the Yankee offense perform is sometimes surprising, these days. Bobby Abreu's at bat against Arthur Rhodes reminded me of the Rhodes-David Justice matchup in a long ago ALCS, and JJ Putz's freak fall/bad throw later in the inning was just the kind of play that happens to a team when they're going bad. It's a fluke, but good teams hang in there to capitalize on those flukes.

The question is, are the 2008 Yankees a good team?


After I criticized Girardi for not coming out to argue the wrong side of the Subway Series Delgado home run call, the skipper seems to have gotten the memo that he should be a little more expressive in his support of the club. Last Thursday, he threw a classic, Piniella-style fit over a strikeout call on Jason Giambi, a good enough tantrum to earn him a suspension. In last night's game, he was all over the umpiring crew for continuing the game in the ninth, when it was raining so hard that Hideki Matsui was having all sorts of trouble seeing the ball and gripping the bat. Girardi was 1 for 2 on the arguments (wrong on Giambi, and right about the rain). But a little theatrics--specially if they're heartfelt--can really help keep your keister off the hot seat when the team is underperforming.

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