Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Twice As Nice

It's never easy to sweep a doubleheader, but when you can throw CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett on the mound, the odds tilt greatly in your favor.

Sabathia struck out 10, allowing one run on three hits in seven innings in the opener and Burnett shook off his recent slump and allowed one run in six innings as the Yankees took a Labor Day doubleheader from the Rays 4-1 and 11-1 on Monday at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees this morning stand nine games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East and their magic number is down to 16. The Yankees' magic number for clinching home-field advantage in the playoffs is 19.

While Rogue Nation continues to cling to hope that they'll be able to overtake the Yankees, the reality is that it's just a matter of time before the Bombers lock up the division. After sweeping these two from the Rays, that reality has to setting in on Red Sox fans. The tough games remaining on the Yankees' schedule are simply becoming fewer and fewer.

Here's my prediction: The Yankees clinch the division Sept. 22 at the Angels, and clinch home field four days later at home against the Red Sox.

But that's still a couple of weeks away. Let's deal with yesterday first.

The only down note out of the two games was that Derek Jeter went 0-for-8 combined, leaving him four hits shy of passing Lou Gehrig for the Yankees career hits lead. But don't worry, Jeter will get there and it will happen on this homestand.

Sabathia didn't get the victory in the opener, but he was simply brilliant, allowing just an Evan Longoria homer in the second and then going toe-to-toe with Matt Garza. He walked four, threw 71 of 118 pitches for strikes and lowered his ERA to 3.40. He deserved the win, but did nothing to hurt his chance for a second Cy Young Award.

The offense finally broke through in the eighth against Lance Cormier. With the score tied at 1, Nick Swisher walked, Mark Teixeira singled to send Swish to third before advancing on a throwing error, and Alex Rodriguez was walked intentionally to load the bases.

Robinson Cano then delivered in the key at-bat in the game. He fell behind Cormier 0-and-2, stayed disciplined and didn't chase a pitch out of the zone and then lofted the next pitch to center for a sacrifice fly to give the Yanks the lead.

With Mariano Rivera back and ready in the bullpen, that's all the Yankees really would need. But this offense is relentless and continued to pound away. Jorge Posada, who threw out Carl Crawford trying to steal in the top half of the inning, followed with a single off Chad Bradford to bring in Teixeira and Eric Hinske then lofted a sacrifice fly to right to score A-Rod and make it 4-1.

Rivera then came on an struck out two and recorded his 39th save of the season and 35th straight. Rivera is tied with the Angels' Brian Fuentes for the AL saves lead and Rivera's next save will give him 40 for the seventh time in his illustrious career.

Still, heading into the nightcap, there was reason for concern. Burnett hadn't earned a victory since July 27 and had going 0-4 with a 6.54 ERA in his last seven.

And when the Rays scored on consecutive doubles by Gabe Gross and Longoria to take a 1-0 lead in the first, things did not look good.

But Burnett settled down in the second and then was able to relax thanks to an eight-run third, highlight by a three-run homer to center by Teixeira, the first of his two in the game. Melky Cabrera, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jose Molina also had RBI singles in the inning.

Teixeira's leadoff homer to right-center in the sixth sparked a three-run inning and gave him 35 homers and 106 RBI on the season. That's not too bad for his first season in the Bronx. Imagine what this guy will do once he gets comfortable in New York.

Burnett ended up allowing four hits and three walks. He struck out eight and threw 64 of 99 pitches for strikes.

Most importantly, after five rough weeks, he finally looked like the guy who was dominant in July and we can only hope that will continue through the rest of the month and the playoffs.

And if Burnett and Sabathia pitch like they did Monday, the Yankees will have few worries in the postseason.

Runners In Scoring Position
Game 1
1-for-7 (.143)
Game 2
9-for-19 (.474)
361-for-1,316 (.274)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
144-for-497 (.290)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
296-for-1,043 (.284)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Tuesday vs. Rays, 7:05 p.m., Local TV (Check your listings)
David Price (7-7, 4.75 ERA) vs. Chad Gaudin (5-10, 4.98)

Price is prone to bouts with inefficiency and the Yankees are one of the most patient teams in the league. If they can be patient and work the count against the talented, but young lefthander, the Yankees should be able to force him out of the game by the sixth and then go to work against the Rays weak bullpen. Gaudin, meanwhile, should be able to go deeper into the game than the 3-2/3 innings he did last time out in Toronto on Thursday. Gaudin has been used sporadically since joining the Yankees and is making just his third start.

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