Monday, September 01, 2008

Month in Review: August 2008

Record for the Month: 13-15, 135 RS, 148 RA
Overall: 72-64, 651 RS, 619 RA

Game of the Month: August 3, 2008--Yankees 14, Angels 9 Probably the wildest game of the year, with the Yanks digging a 5-0 hole for themselves early, clawing their way back against John Lackey and taking an 8-5 lead in the bottom of the seventh, thanks to some shabby defense by the Halos, then losing the lead on a Mark Texeira grand slam against Edwar Ramirez, then taking the lead again with a six-run, three error eighth inning. The whole game was just a tradeoff of haymakers between what looked like two of the best teams in the league. As the month wore on, the Yanks showed that they're not really in the Angels' class this year. Other candidates: the Yanks' comeback against the Red Sox to avert a sweep on Thursday was pretty big, but it was canceled out by the comeback loss to the Jays on Saturday. In some ways, both of those games were emblematic of the month as a whole.

Player of the Month: It's hard to give this to Mariano Rivera in a month where he had two losses and a blown save--although, otherwise, he was his normal, stellar self (6 Sv, 1.88 ERA in 14 1/3 innings). But who are the other candidates? Jason Giambi led the team in HR (8) and RBI (22) and had some clutch hits, but didn't hit or get on base too well overall (.232/.327/.524 for the month). Derek Jeter hit well for average last month but showed no power (.345/.382/.402), Bobby Abreu was better (.342/.405/.421) but not by too much. By default, the best offensive performance for August goes to Xavier Nady, who impressed with the bat (.308/.351/.523, 6 HR, 19 RBI), even if his glove has been suspect. With that in mind, the month's honors go Mike Mussina, (3-0, 2.93 in 6 starts). He's on pace for his most starts since 2001, and would be only 3 games away from the magic 20 game plateau if the bullpen hadn't blown the game in his start against the Twins. Pretty neat, considering that at this point last year he'd been booted from the rotation for Ian Kennedy, and most everyone (including me) thought there was a fork sticking out of him.

Dregs of the Month: In his first month in Pinstripes, Ivan Rodriguez (.196/.250/.321 in 56 AB) was almost outhit by the man he was putatively replacing as the Yankees' backstop, Jose Molina (.222/.239/.400 in 45 AB). That's some kind of awful. Speaking of awful, Melky Cabrera (.115/.148/.115) finally played his way off the Yankees' roster, losing his spot intermittently to Brett Gardner and Justin Christian prior to the Xavier Nady trade. I'll talk about this more in a Catching Up, but it speaks volumes that when the September 1 callups were announced, Melky was left in AAA to help Scranton in the International League playoffs. Even though Melky was hitting .333 in AAA, he showed absolutely no power, and between the two levels, in 83 at bats, Melky only had two extra base hits (both doubles) all month.

Speaking of the Nady trade, Damaso Marte has been almost as big a disappointment in August as Pudge has been, allowing a 7.71 ERA in the month (and perhaps being injured, per Pete Abe). Dave Robertson (8.81 ERA) also had a month to forget in the bullpen, and Edwar Ramirez returned to his Three True Outcomes ways (3 HR, 4 BB, 13 K in 11 2/3 innings, good for a 6.73 ERA). Girardi leaned pretty hard on the bullpen all month long.

Story of the Month: Since 1996, when the Yankees almost blew their division lead with a 13-17 month, August has been very good to the New York Yankees. They've had a winning record every year since, and with the exception of 2001--where the Yanks squeaked by with a 15-14 mark--the month has tended to be a difference maker--while their opponents hit the doldroms in the dog days, the Yanks surge ahead on the depth of talent a ginormous payroll can buy. The month's 13-15 finish in August 2008 is the result of the Yanks taking beatdowns from some of the best teams in the league (2-4 against the Angels, 1-2 against the Red Sox and Twins) while not making up the difference against some teams that weren't quite of that quality (2-2 against the Rangers, 2-4 against the Blue Jays). As I mentioned this morning, this isn't going to get any easier--the Yanks have 13 games against division-leading opponents in September, plus three games against the Red Sox.

Around Yankeeland, an eerie level of acceptance has set in: this just isn't our year. Much of this season has been a wait for the Pinstriped surge that never arrived--that 18-9 month that declares that your team's a contender, or at least a real threat if it came down to a short series. Indeed, every Yankee team since 1996 has had at least one month where they had single-digit losses. Even if the Yanks were to keep up that streak with a 17-9 September, the Red Sox would have to go 10-16 (and the Twins would have to go 12-13) for the Yankee Stadium's swan song to continue into October. People aren't even dreaming about that possibility. Some, like Hank Steinbrenner, have already started to look ahead to this winter's free agent market.

Looking Ahead: Derek Jeter comes into September needing 45 hits in 28 games to reach 200 for the season. The most hits Jeter has ever had in a month is 50, which took him 32 games in August 1998. The next most was 44 hits, which Jeter has managed twice in his career. The ten hits that he stands away from Lou Gerhig's all-time Yankee Stadium mark is much more manageable, given that there are 10 home games left. If the Yanks stay in rotation, Mike Mussina's remaining starts this season would fall against the Rays, Mariners, Rays, White Sox, Jays, and Red Sox, a pretty tough schedule. He needs wins in four of those starts to become a 20-game winner for the first time in his career.

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