Monday, July 13, 2009

Bitterly Disappointing

Normally you'd a take a 3-3 trip that included a stop in Anaheim and be happy going into the All-Star break. You'd figure take 2 of 3 in Minnesota and win one against the Angels a move on.

But Yankees fans are not happy this morning . Not after sweeping the Twins to move into a tie for first in the AL East before facing an Angels team that was missing three of its top hitters: Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera.

The Yankees needed to come out of this trip with a winning record. Instead they ended up getting swept by the Angels, following a 5-4 loss Sunday to drop three games behind the Sox in the division and stumble into the break.

There is no other way to describe what happened in Anaheim as anything other than thoroughly disappointing. After winning 13 of 15 games and coming into Angel Stadium as the hottest team in baseball, the Yankees were outplayed and outclassed by a team at far less than full strength.

And the biggest difference between the Angels ... and even the Red Sox, for that matter ... and the Yankees can be summed up by one play from Sunday. Yes, there were other examples, but this is the one that stands out.

Trailing 4-2 in the seventh with a run in, no outs, and Jorge Posada, who had singled in Melky Cabrera, on second and Brett Gardner on first following a throwing error by first baseman Kendry Morales, the Yankees failed to make the Angels pay because of an embarrassing lack of aggression.

Derek Jeter came up and smoked a single to right off starter John Lackey that Bobby Abreu fielded cleanly. But instead of sending Posada home to try to score the run, third base coach Bobby Thompson help up Posada. Let me repeat that, Thompson help up Posada.

Think the Angels would have help up the runner there? Think the Red Sox would have?

No way. And here's why: it's a low risk, high reward send.

Even if Abreu, with a terrific arm in right, throws out Posada by 15 feet, the Yankees still would have had runners on second and third with one out, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez up, and two cracks to tie the score.

By sending Posada there, you put pressure on the defense to make a play, and who knows what happens? Maybe Posada somehow beats the throw. Maybe the throw is off-line. Maybe Abreu airmails the throw and another run scores.

The point is this was a situation the Angels and Sox would have used to put pressure on the opponent and force the issue, but the Yankees didn't.

Instead they were slow and plodding and it killed them as Teixeira struck out and A-Rod grounded into a double play to let Lackey and the Angels off the hook, just as they did all weekend.

But the biggest problem the Yankees had against the Angels was their starting pitchers' inability to protect a lead and avoid the big inning. Sunday, though not as gut-wrenching as the previous two games, it was CC Sabathia's turn.

The Yankees grabbed a 1-0 lead in the third when Cabrera led off with a walk, went to third on a one-out single to right by Gardner and scored when Gardner broke up a potential double play, allowing Jeter to reach safely on a fielder's choice.

The lead didn't last long as Sabathia, like Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte before him, suffered a break down, this time in the fourth inning.

The Yankees were counting on Sabathia to come up with a huge effort. He's was brought in to be the team's ace and the stopper, but Sunday he's couldn't get the job done.

He ended up allowing five runs on nine hits and three walks in 6-1/3 innings. He struck out six and threw 71 of 114 pitches for strikes, but his job was to shut down the Angels and win the game. He didn't.

Macier Izturis led off the inning with a single and scored on an Abreu double to left to tie it at 1. Let me repeat that. Izturis went first to home on a double and scored. That's aggressive baserunning.

With one out, Gary Matthews Jr. then walked to put runners on first and second. Howie Kendrick then crushed a shot that got over the glove of Eric Hinske in right, scoring Abreu to make it 2-1. The only reason Matthews couldn't score was that he had to hold to make sure Hinske didn't make the play.

Brandon Wood then brought in a run with a ground out and Robb Quinlan drove in the fourth and final run of the inning with a single to center.

In this series, the Angels took every opportunity to pressure the Yankees, running at will, going first-to-third or even first-to-home, stealing bases and making the Yankees pay for every little mistake.

The Yankees continually let the Angels off the hook. Take the sixth inning for example.

Teixeira led off with a single and went to second with one out when Hideki Matsui hit a double play ground to short that Izturis fielded cleanly. Kendrick, however, failed to make the catch at second and the Yankees were in business with two runners on and one out.

The Angels made the Yankees pay for every error, every wild pitch, every passed ball. With a chance to make the Angels pay and get back into this game, the Yankees didn't capitalize, Robinson Cano flying out to center and Hinske striking out.

The Angels tacked on another run in the seventh and it proved to be huge. With two outs, Sabathia couldn't finish off the inning, allowing a triple to Chone Figgins and
a single to Izturis to make it 5-2. Phil Hughes came on to finish the inning, before pitching the eighth to officially become the only Yankees pitcher to be able to get outs in Anaheim.

The Angels went to their suspect bullpen in the eighth, lifting Lackey after seven after he allowed two runs on six hits and three walks, while striking out six.

Justin Speier came in to start the eighth and the Yankees' offense went to work. Matsui led off with a walk, and went to third on a single by Cano (think the Angels might have scored on that single? I do). Hinske then walked to load the bases for Cabrera, who singled to bring in just one (think the Angels, would have scored two on that single? I do).

The Angels then brought in lefthander Darren Oliver. Posada brought in another run with a sacrifice fly to center to make it 5-4 with just one out.

Nick Swisher then pinch hit for Gardner and smoked a low liner back through the box that Oliver somehow managed to snag out of the air and then double up Hinske at first. Threat over, and with it, the Yankees' chances of winning were just about done.

The Angels are an uber-aggressive team and the only way to beat a team like that is to play flawless baseball and to at least match their aggressiveness.

The Yankees did not do that, and after watching a super streaky first half of the season, I have to wonder if the Yankees have the personnel and mentality to be that aggressive.

Unless something disastrous happens, it's looking like the Yankees will make the playoffs this season, and if their track record of being a better second-half team holds true, there is a good chance they can win the AL East.

But given the Yankees' performances in Anaheim and against the Red Sox this season, we have to wonder if this team is built to be just another one-round-and-done failure.

So Brian Cashman, as you scour the trade market leading up to the July 31 deadline, I ask that you keep your eye out, not for the huge name player to stick into a lineup of All-Stars, but for a player who can come in change the personality of this team, who can help it become more aggressive and opportunistic.

We don't need another name. We need someone who will produce in big spots.

Otherwise, there will be more series like this.

Runners In Scoring Position
3-for-9 (.333)
217-for-819 (.265)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
151-for-547 (.276)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
All-Star break

Like Dave, I'm not going to get all wrapped up into this glorified exhibition or the home run derby. But I will have plenty to say, so keep checking in.

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