Monday, April 27, 2009

Yanks Don't Stack Up ... Right Now

After being embarrassingly swept by the Red Sox, any reasonable Yankee fan would have to conclude that our team's flaws have been exposed and we just don't measure up to the Sox ... yet.

Andy Pettitte got stung by the bad defense of third baseman Angel Berroa and a rough fifth inning as the Yankees dropped the series finale 4-1 to the Red Sox in Boston Sunday.

This was a series in which the Yankees had leads in all three games and had many opportunities to score more. Sixteen runs is not bad for a three-game series, until you consider that the Sox actually scored 16 in one game. It's even worse when you consider that with runners in scoring position the Yankees went only 7-for-42 (.167). With 42 at-bats with runners in scoring position, you'd think the Yanks would score a few more runs just by accident.

But here's the good news. The Rays are off to a terrible start, it's only April and the Yanks are only four games behind the first-place Jays and three behind second-place Red Sox. We all know it's a long season and there is plenty of time to turn it around. The Yankees just can't afford to wait for that to happen and can't afford to fall into a losing streak right now.

Here's what GM Brian Cashman, manager Joe Girardi and Co. must do to get things fixed, hopefully before the Sox come to town on May 4-5:

Fix The Bullpen
OK, that one is about as obvious as Suzyn Waldman saying you don't want to have lefties in the lineup against a tough lefthander such as, say, Jon Lester. But cold hard truth is that it is the Yankees' Achilles' heal right now and it cost us dearly against Boston. The injury to Brian Bruney and consecutive extra inning games stretched the bullpen to the point where it became ineffective. Changes must be made.

First thing Cashman must do is get a legitimate long man. Call up either Brett Tomko or Alfredo Aceves. It is ridiculous not to have long man on this roster and it has already hurt the bullpen significantly. You need a long guy, not only in blowouts, but in extra inning games, too. You'd think the Yankees would have learned after starting last season without a long man.

Currently the Yankees have 13 pitchers on the roster. Either David Robertson or Steven Jackson will be sent down to make room for Phil Hughes. The Yankees should replace the other with a long man. Tomko has been great, 1-0 with 0.96 ERA over 9-1/3 innings and six appearances at Scranton. Aceves is already on the 40-man roster and is starting at Scranton. He got off to a rough start, but may have turned things around in his last outing, pitching 6-2/3 shutout innings.

Also, 13 pitchers is just too many to be carrying. It leaves the bench very short. The Yankees need to send one down. I'd look long and hard at sending down Edwar Ramirez or Veras. Ramirez has not been one of the guys Girardi has been looking at for key outs in the seventh and eighth and his workload has been inconsistent. Veras is inconsistent. He can be great, but if he's not throwing strikes, then look out. The Yankees can't afford to have that kind of reliever right now.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have to figure out how to rebuild the pen without Bruney. Mark Melancon was very impressive in his debut, retiring the Sox with ease in the seventh. Even when he ran into trouble in the eighth, he kept his composure and got out of the bases loaded, no out jam. He has a terrific fastball that has life and the Red Sox hitters had trouble squaring up his pitches. Kevin Youkilis' ground ball single up the middle might have been an out against a team that had a shortstop with better range. I'm sure Girardi would like to ease Melancon into games, but the Yankees might not have a choice but to make him the eighth inning guy right now and gamble that he's up to the challenge.

Phil Coke was the only other reliever who seemed to be able to get outs against the Sox and he got several big ones against Boston's top lefties. He needs to continue to see more big spots. Jonathan Albaladejo was great in Friday's game but got hit Saturday. He's young and has shown the potential to develop. Keep trotting him out there in the seventh.

Unfortunately that leaves Damaso Marte, who has proven to be nothing more than a situational lefty. That makes the presence of a long man that much more important.

Hopefully Bruney is able to come back at 100 percent in 2-4 weeks, because we have seen just how important his presence is. And if Melancon is the real deal, well now were starting to talk about a strong unit.

Meanwhile, the Yankees scouts have to focus on middle relievers, because given the economy, there should be some good ones available as the trade deadline approaches. The Yankees will be in position to grab one or two. They just have to make the right choices.

Where's The Clutch?
Everyone knows the famous story from Game 7 of the 2003 ALDS when Derek Jeter turned to Aaron Boone late in the game and assured him the ghosts would come out and the Yanks would win. That kind of confidence is great, but it seems that since then, all they Yankees' offense does is wait for those ghosts.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, make things happen, and that was never more obvious than on Jacoby Ellsbury's steal of home Sunday. Boston's attack is relentless. It scores in every way possible, can explode for multi-run innings at any point and knows how to deliver the knockout blow. And that is a huge difference between the two teams.

It was easy to blame Alex Rodriguez's inability to hit in the clutch for the Yankees' problems, but it is clear this season that the Yankees' problems are much deeper. So far this season, the Yankees are 41-for-179 (.229) with runners in scoring position. Last year they hit .261 with RISP. By comparison, they Yankees average with runners in scoring position in 1998 was .299 and in 1996 .293.

Rodriguez's return is going to help this team immensely, but he won't be able to fix everything. The Yankees need to become more dynamic offensively. Enough with the waiting for the big home run. It's time to get back to what worked for this team in thy dynasty years. The Yankees need their hitters to start trusting the guy behind them more and they need to be willing to sacrifice their stats for the good of the team. More hit-and-run, more hitting behind runners, more going back up the middle and the other way, and more simply looking for a good pitch to drive into the outfield with a runner on third with less than two outs.

Home runs are great, but I'd rather have a consistent offense that knows how to get runners in consistently, thus applying more pressure on the opposing pitcher to keep runners off base. Remember, in the four championship years, the Yankees never had a batter hit more than 30 homers in a season ... and that was during the height of the steroids era. The home runs will come, but they shouldn't be the focal point of the offense.

Quality Starts
It an easy stat to dismiss: no more than three runs in six innings. That's a 4.50 ERA at worst. Shouldn't a major league starter be able to do that on just about an every start basis? Well, yes, of course. But the stat is more important for the impact that kind of start has on a team's chances to win.

So far this season, in 18 games the Yankees have had seven quality starts. More telling, of those seven quality starts, the Yankees have won six. Of the remaining 11 games, the Yankees have won three.

With the bullpen in shambles, the Yankees need their starters to give them quality outings nearly every time out ... and they guys in the rotation all have the ability to do it.

Hey Dave...
I actually had a Red Sox fan tell me the Yankees shouldn't have pitched Mariano Rivera Friday because Mo has now blown 12 saves against them. Really??? Can you believe that??? Rivera's blown 12 saves against the Sox in 14 years and has 44 saves against them, going 12-6 with a 2.91 ERA. Prior to Friday, the last time he'd blown a save against the Sox was April 20, 2007 -- that's two years ago. He saved nine straight games against the Sox in that stretch.

By comparison, entering the season Jonathan Papelbon was 0-3 with a 4.43 ERA, with seven saves and two blown against the Yankees since 2006. Yet the Sox never would not put him in a save situation against the Yanks unless he was unavailable to pitch, as he was Sunday.

Here's the bottom line, these two teams know each other better than any other. And they know each other's closers better than any other. That's going make blown saves for each closer more frequent than their career averages. But you still put your closer in to close out the games.

Runners In Scoring Position
Yes, I'm changing this feature because of how inefficient the Yankees have become in this situation.
41-for-179 (.229)

Up Next
Monday at Tigers, 7:05 p.m., YES
CC Sabathia (1-1, 4,81) vs. Justin Verlander (0-2, 9.00)

Now is the time when Sabathia has to step up and be that ace the Yankees believed they were signing. With the bullpen spent and the team on a three-game losing streak, the Yankees need at least seven innings (hopefully more) with no more than two runs. And with Phil Hughes scheduled to start Tuesday, it is critical to getting this team feeling good again.


Dave said...

I know that Sox fan wasn't me. You have to rely on your closer no matter what unless they can't go. I think it is fair to say the Sox, more than other teams, have Mo's number. But that is relative, as his overall stats show.

Unknown said...

No Dave, it definitely wasn't you. But it's good to know that you see how faulty that Sox fans' argument was.