Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Power outage in the Bronx

At some point this Yankees team is going to need to realize that giving away games -- whether it be June 30 or Sept. 30 -- is not sound business practice. This is especially so when you're buried in third place in your division.

If you're looking to point fingers in Monday's maddening 2-1 loss to the pitching-starved Texas Rangers, look no further than an offense that redefined inept in another series-opening defeat. The Yanks managed just four hits against Scott Feldman and three relievers (they probably wouldn't have done any better against Corey). The 1-2-3 positions -- with Brett Gardner making his big-league debut at leadoff -- went 0-for-12 with a walk. The bottom of the lineup -- significantly weaker with Molina catching and Matsui sidelined, by the way -- went 1-for-9. In between was a pretty outstanding hustle triple by The Stache and Alex Rodriguez's 16th homer, a mammoth shot into Monument Park that put him into a tie on the career homers list with Jimmie Foxx (534).
I was at the Stadium with my old man last night, a muggy night in the Bronx where 53,000 fans waited and waited and waited for someone to step up and save Mike Mussina from a loss he didn't deserve. Instead, Moose fell to 10-6, now with just one win to show for his last four starts. Meanwhile, the Yankees seem to be inching toward the precipice of another funk, just when they looked to have put their season back in order. They finished June with a 16-12 mark, achieving a winning month behind a seven-game win streak from June 12-19. However, since June 20, New York has suffered through another stretch of mediocrity, going 4-6.

Three recurring problems cropped up in yesterday's loss. First, the offense continued its periodic disappearing act, falling into a lull where runs become scarce for games at a time. Since their 9-0 win over the Mets on Friday night, the Yanks have managed just five runs over the last 27 innings. They should consider themselves lucky to have one win in that three-game stretch.

Then there is the issue of the Yanks' continued struggles in series openers. They went 3-6 in June openers, 3-6 in May and 5-5 in April. That's 11-17 in series openers for the season, which needless to say, puts added pressure on a team.

Finally, there is the issue of home-field advantage ... or lack thereof. Last night's loss dropped the Yankees to 22-19 at the Bronx, a stunning record for a team that has dominated at home throughout the decade. Is it possible that the jolt of energy of playing in front of 50,000-plus people is providing more energy to the opponent than the host at this point? You'd like to hope not, but comparing the Yankees' home mark to that of the two teams ahead of them in the AL East is jarring. The Rays own a 31-13 record at Tropicana Field while the Red Sox are a dominating 31-10 at Fenway Park. A near-.500 record for the Bombers is no way to say goodbye to Yankee Stadium.

Joba gets the call tonight looking to even the score with Texas. Here's to hoping he continues on his ascent to acehood.

Around The Horn: Brett Gardner may have been hitless in his debut Monday, but he certainly showed flashes of the exciting player he is. He worked the count full in his first two at-bats, showing the plate discipline that he's known for. That first plate appearance ended in a routine roller to first, which he nearly beat out with his blinding speed. After beating out a routine double-play ball in his third and final at-bat before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, Gardner stole second easily despite a pitchout. I'm liking what I see, hopefully he gets another start tonight. ... Mussina finished with eight strikeouts Monday, setting a season high. He has 58 K's in 98.1 innings. ... Jorge Posada is 4-for-his-last-23, dropping his average to .286. He and Robbie Cano each stranded three runners in Monday's loss. ... Dan "Don't Call Me Don" Giese's rotation days are officially numbered. He came on to pitch the ninth inning yesterday, giving up a pair of hard-hit balls but coming out of the inning unscathed. Sidney Ponson will now likely take over The Wanger's spot. ... Vote the deserving Yankees into the All-Star Game on July 15. The polls close at 11:59 p.m. ET on July 2.

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