Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Feel Not-So-Good Win

Joba Chamberlain, Nick Swisher and the offense had the Yankees on their way to a second straight feel-good victory.

The bullpen turned it into an stressful, angst-ridden thrill ride.

Clearly, no lead is too big for this team right now.

Joba allowed one run on three hits and three walks in seven innings, Nick Swisher homered from each side of the plate and the offense had a seven-run fourth inning in an 8-6 victory over the Tigers in Detroit Wednesday.

For the second straight game, the Yankees were on their way to a dominant victory against the AL Central's first-place team. They got a strong start from Joba, clutch hitting with runners in scoring position and two big homers. They appeared to have the Tigers put away.

But the bullpen nearly turned into the night of the living dead.

Actually, to blame the entire bullpen is not fair. Phil Coke relieved Joba in the eighth and was perfect, striking out one. He's been the one middle-reliever who has been consistenly getting outs. (I won't count Mark Melancon based on two outings). And that's when the trouble started.

Joe Girardi turned to Jonathan Albaladejo to close out the game. Albaladejo, like nearly every other Yankee pitcher, was hit hard in his last outing against the Red Sox Saturday. Giradi put in Albaladejo to get him some work and help rebuild his confidence. It was a chance for Albaladjo to show Saturday's outing was just a blip in his development as a reliable reliever.

It wasn't a blip. Albaladejo was hit hard, allowing four runs on three hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. He left with the Yankees leading 8-3 and two runners on. Girardi had a choice between a warmed-up David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, who had just started loosening up. Neither were great choices at that point, but Girardi went with Mo over the inexperienced Robertson. It didn't matter as Curtis Granderson sent Rivera's second pitch over the right field wall. Rivera settled down to get the last out and the Yankees were able to finally breath easy.

It's unfortunate that the bullpen takes the focus away from the good things to come out of this victory, but until Brian Cashman and Girardi figure out a way to solidify this group, no lead will be safe, the Yankees' ability to come back will be hampered and the team's fortunes will remain solidly in doubt.

The Good
There was a lot in this game, but let's start with Joba.

Chamberlain (1-0, 3.13 ERA) was shaky in the early going, throwing first-pitch balls to five of his first seven batters and eight of his first 12. He ran into trouble in the third when he loaded the bases with one out on two walks and a single. He escaped the inning allowing only one run by striking out Miguel Cabrera on a nasty curve, and once the Yankees' offense gave him a big lead, he seemed to settle down.

Joba, who has allowed only two earned runs in his last 12-1/3 innings, threw 88 pitches, 50 strikes, touching 96 mph with his fastball. He struck out six, kept hitters offbalance by effectively mixing in his slider, curve and change, and avoided getting into deep counts, making this one of the more efficient starts of his short career.

More importantly, it was the Yankees' second consecutive quality start, coming on the heels of Phil Hughes' brilliant outing Tuesday. The Yankees need their starters to get rolling, and Thursday A.J. Burnett will get then chance to build upon what Hughes and Joba started.

Meanwhile, the offense picked up where it left off Tuesday, maintaining the relentless attack it had discovered.

The fourth started with Swisher's three-run homer with runners on second and third and one out, and the Yankees continued to pound away at Tigers starter Rick Porcello. Melky Cabrera and Ramiro Pena followed with singles. After Jeter grounded into a fielder's choice, Johnny Damon doubled in Cabrera to knock out Porcello. Mark Teixeira was walked intentionally to load the bases and Hideki Matsui cleared them with double before Robinson Cano lined out to end the threat.

In the fifth, Swisher became the 10th Yankee to homer from both sides of the plate and Cano singled in the seventh to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 16.

And the most encouraging part of this is that Alex Rodriguez could be back in 10 days to bolster the lineup and solidify what has been a very weak third base. He's scheduled to play in a minor league game Thursday.

What We Learned
The best way the Yankees can overcome their bullpen deficiencies is to keep getting quality starts (six innings, no more than three runs allowed). They've received one in each of the last two nights and won both, and for the season, they've won eight of nine quality starts.

Runners In Scoring Position
3-for-7 (.429)
49-for-204 (.240)

Up Next
Thursday vs. Angels, 7:05, YES
Anthony Ortega (0-1, 7.20) vs. Burnett (2-0, 5.47)

Burnett will try to bounce back from his meltdown in Boston Saturday and a strong start will go a long way to helping the Yankees forget about that miserable experience. Of course, the Angels have long been the Yankees' nemesis, but these Angels are a few notches below their teams of recent years. Their starters are injured, their offense is weak, Yankee killer Garrett Anderson is now on the Braves and the Angles are 9-11, a game out of last in the AL West. The Yankees need to beat up on this team while it's down and hopefully end their troubles against the Angels once and for all.

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