Thursday, July 23, 2009

Yankees Smellin' Like A Rose

The Yankees are rollin' so well, that even when someone makes a terribly embarrassing play, redemption is right around the corner.

Just ask Nick Swisher. He went outhouse to penthouse in a matter of just a few batters.

Brian Roberts led off the third inning Wednesday by lofting a drive to right-center that Swisher got to in time to make a nice a running, but simply missed the ball, which bounced off his glove for a two-base error.

He made up for it four batters later, makes a running catch deep in right to rob Ty Wigginton of a two-run double and end the inning.

The two plays helped A.J. Burnett to his ninth victory of the season and Jorge Posada homered in the Yankees' 6-4 victory to sweep the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, their sixth straight coming out of the All-Star break. The Yankees are now 20 games over .500 (57-37) for the first time this season. They are 44-22 since Alex Rodriguez returned on May 8.

The Yankees had jumped out to a four-run lead and Swisher's error put Burnett in a hole and had Yankees fans cursing.

Let's be blunt, the Yankees defense from their corner outfielders has been nothing short of awful. How many times have we seen Swisher or Johnny Damon misjudge a ball, or take a bad route, or just plain drop a ball? Too many.

With Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner, the Yankees can survive with one sub-par corner outfielder, but two is too much. One has to wonder if Brian Cashman will look to make a move to bring in an outfielder with a better glove. If Damon and Swish don't pick it up defensively, it's going to hurt the Yanks in a big spot.

But Wednesday was not that spot.

After Roberts reached, Adam Jones followed with a single to put runners on the corners with no outs. Burnett then got down to work, getting Nick Markakis to pop to short left and striking out Aubry Huff.

Swisher then made amends for his gaffe.

"If I was an ice cream, I'd be Rocky Road," Swisher joked after game.

Of course, the Yankees have plenty reason to be jovial. They jumped on Orioles starter Jason Berken early, hit in clutch situations, and cruised to an easy win to remain in first.

Derek Jeter got the Yankees going in the first with a double and moved to third on Mark Teixeira's one-out single. Rodriguez followed with a single to bring in Jeter and after Hideki Matsui grounded into a forceout and Posada walked, Robinson Cano singled to bring in Teixeira and Swisher singled in two more runs to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead after one.

Posada added a two-out homer in the third and the Yankees were in control against the last-place Orioles.

Burnett, meanwhile, had his real good stuff, which is to say that his break stuff was so sharp that it was difficult to control.

He got through the third and powered his way through the first six innings.

He ran into a little trouble in the seventh and nearly got out of it unscathed, but his stuff was just a little too good. Robert Andino led off by beating out a dribbler for a single and went to third on Jones' one-out double. Markakis brought in one run with a sacrifice fly to center with Jones going to third. Jones then came in when Burnett stuck out Huff with a pitch in the dirt that got away from Posada for a wild pitch, allowing Huff to reach.

Burnett, who is 7-2 with a 2.31 ERA in his last 10 starts, allowed just those two runs on six hits and three walks in seven innings with six strikeouts. He threw 66 of 104 pitches for strikes and made things easy for the bullpen.

Unfortunately, things could have been even easier for Hughes in eighth, but the Yankees' tendency to be less than aggressive over basepaths rared its ugly head again.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Yankees had a chance to get a run back. Gardner was hit by a pitch and stole second before Jeter struck out. Damon then singled to left and third base coach Robby Thompson held Gardner at third.

What was he thinking? Anyone?

Left fielder Felix Pie charged the ball and fielded it with his momentum heading toward the plate. But he doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, Gardner is as fast as anyone and the Yankees had a three-run lead.

Thompson should have gambled and forced the Pie to make a perfect throw. If Pie makes a great throw, the Yankees still have a runner on second with two-out and Teixeira up. If Gardner makes it, a run is in and the Yankees have a runner on second with one out.

Instead, Thompson held Gardner and Teixeira lined into and inning-ending double play. It's especially aggravating when you consider the fact that the Yankees went 7-for-15 with runners in scoring position, but scored just six runs.

As it was, the Yankees did get another run in the eighth when A-Rod singled to lead off, stole second and scored on Posada's one-out double.

With a four-run cushion, Joe Girardi decided it was time to get Brian Bruney back on track. Bruney hadn't pitched since July 10 at the Angels. He has not had good stuff and lost his job as the eighth inning guy to Hughes.

The Yankees are going to need Bruney and they have to get him back on track. And for two batters in the ninth Wednesday, he looked real good, striking out both with his sharp slider and 95 mph fastball.

And then it all fell apart. Jones launched a homer to left and Markakis followed with one to right. Girardi then pulled Bruney and called on Mariano Rivera, who struck out Huff to end it for his 28th save.

Depth is the one thing the bullpen could use a little more of and getting Bruney back on track would keep Cashman from looking for a trade and possibly giving up the next Ramon Ramirez. In addition, when he's right, Bruney is a guy who can handle the eighth, which would give Girardi more options in late game situations.

Bruney threw the ball better Wednesday than he had in some time, and that is something to build on.

But what's more important is that the Yankees continue to build on this winning streak and build a cushion in the AL East. The Red Sox dropped their fifth straight Wednesday night, giving the Yankees a two game lead. That means in the span of just six games, there has been a five-game swing in the standings.

If anything, that teaches us no lead in the division is safe.

Runners In Scoring Position
7-for-15 (.467)
230-for-866 (.266)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
13-for-47 (.277)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
164-for-594 (.276)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Thursday vs. A's, 7:05 p.m., YES
Vin Mazzaro (2-6, 4.09 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (9-6, 3.66)

This is a make up of a game that was rained out in April. Burnett and Girardi said after the game that the starters are now taking the baton and running, competing to outperform the previous game's starter. Next up is Sabathia and the Yankees could use a complete game from him. Don't get me wrong -- the bullpen has been great, allowing just three runs in 14-1/3 innings, but it can use a day off. Sabathia is supposed to be the staff horse, let's see him carry the load.

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