Monday, June 30, 2008

Hello Gardner, Goodbye Melky?

The Yankees called up Brett Gardner from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre today in a move that could have longterm ramifications for the team.

The speedy outfielder -- one of the club's top prospects -- batted .287 with three homers, 29 RBIs, 34 stolen bases and a .412 OBP in 80 games for Scranton. A slashing-type player who puts the ball on the ground and raises havoc on the basepaths, Gardner would provide the Yankees lineup with a dimension they haven't had in years.

You have to assume the club didn't bring up a prized farmhand to sit him on the bench, so there's a good chance he's going to play. The next topic to discuss is the reasons behind his arrival in the Bronx. The first possibility is that Gardner is simply a 2008 stopgap with Matsui on the shelf and Damon slowed with a bum foot. This would give him some big-league seasoning without overwhelming him. The second scenario is that the Yankees brass are putting Gardner on display as a potential trade centerpiece for a pitching arm. It's no secret the team is in desperate need for depth in both their starting rotation and bullpen, and with Gardner, Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata all in the system, trading away one of those prospects is certainly within reason.

Then there's the Melky Cabrera Conundrum. Cabrera has regressed offensively the past two seasons, and his inability to consistently get on base -- .246 average, .312 OBP through 80 games -- has surely become a concern for GM Brian Cashman. Cabrera isn't even 24 until August, but has his stunted development erased him from the Yankees' longterm plans?

I personally like Melky, but I've never been convinced that he's an everyday player. When he came up with Robbie Cano in 2006, he provided an important jolt of energy for what had become a moribund Yankees outfield. He plays a solid center field -- he led the Majors in assists in 2007 -- but his plate discipline is below-average and getting worse. Is he beyond repair? I doubt it, but I'm not so sure his ceiling is high enough to warrant the Yankees turning over center field for the balance of the decade and beyond.

Gardner may represent to the Yankees a more dynamic version of Cabrera. Just as Melky boosted the team in 2006, Gardner can become a sparkplug setting up the top of the Bombers order in 2008. If I were calling the shots, which clearly I am not, I'd say roll the dice on the kid.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Do you regret Johan?

When the Yankees famously refused to give up Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy for then-Twins ace Johan Santana last winter, the sentiment among Yankees fans was split nearly down the middle.

One camp said you couldn't pass up on the chance to acquire a left-handed ace in his prime, even if you were going to overpay in the longterm. The prospects, however highly-touted they were, were still just prospects. This made sense.

The second camp felt that the contract extension was too rich for a pitcher nearing 30. More importantly, the prospects represented a more organic and smarter route in taking the franchise to the next decade. This also made sense.

The plot foreseen in Spring Training rarely plays out to plan, and the 2008 Yankees are a prime example of that. Hughes and Kennedy are winless and injured. Meanwhile, Chien-Ming Wang went down with a serious foot injury, and suddenly the Yankees were supposedly in the market for an ace pitcher. It would seem New York had made a mistake in not acquiring Santana.

Or so you would think. Watching Santana pitch in yesterday's 3-2 Yankees win, it got me thinking how the risk of signing a pitcher to a big-money deal may not be worth it. The Mets owe their ace $137 million and in his first year with the team -- a time where they should be getting the best pitching of his career -- they are just 9-8 in his starts. He has pitched very well at times, but the Mets have now lost his last five outings. He has a strong 3.01 ERA for the season, but he has allowed 17 homers and has yet to pitch into the eighth inning. Great pitcher still? Sure. But slam dunk difference-maker? Apparently not.

It's too soon to write Santana off as a cautionary tale the way Barry Zito has shipwrecked the Giants, but it is safe to say that one pitcher doesn't cure an entire team. The Mets were a broken team before Santana arrived, and they are still very much a broken team now. Whether or not Hughes and Kennedy become contributors remains to be seen. But the Mets are proof that when it comes to pitching, there is no sure thing.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Split decision

You can't figure out baseball. You can say you have it solved, but then you're either ignorant to the truth or lying.

Take yesterday's split-stadium doubleheader against the Mets for example. Dan "Don't Call Me Don" Giese pitches four-plus piss poor innings (NYY now 0-2 in Wang-less starts), and the bullpen blows up, and before you know it you're a 15-6 loser in your home park. After that four-hour abortion of a game, both teams hop on buses and head to Shea for the second game, where future Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez was starting against current Hall of Famer drinker Sidney Ponson.

The Mets are set up for a sweep, right? Not exactly. Ponson pitches his way out of some early trouble and the Yankees bats come to life in a 9-0 win. Carlos Delgado, who had nine freaking RBIs in Game 1, couldn't get a hit in Game 2.

So no, I can't figure out this game and neither can you. All I can say with some modicum of certainty is that Ponson and Giambino probably had a meeting with their buddy Jim Beam after the game and Yankees fans -- presently company included -- slept much easier coming away with a split.

Ross Ohlendorf, ye of the disgraceful relief abilities in Game 1, can think about his strategy against Delgado on his bus rides through Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. When you're replaced on a roster by Kei Igawa (ERA of 0.00 yesterday!) you know you're doing something wrong. Meanwhile, in a move that mixed roster maneuverability and actual injury, Hideki Matsui was moved to the 15-day disabled list with a bum left knee. "If I needed to play right now, I could play as long as I don't run so hard," Matsui told Of course, this is a problem seeing as baseball requires you to run hard to succeed.

I wrote on June 17 that a then red-hot Yankees could conceivably go 9-3 the rest of their Interleague schedule. It hasn't exactly worked out that way, the Yanks are 5-4 with two games remaining against the Mets (Friday's rainout vs. the Bucs was moved to July 10). The team is playing OK at the present time, taking these last two games from a .500 Mets team would be a nice shot in the arm before opening a nine-game homestand against the Rangers (three games) Red Sox (four) and Rays (two). Whenever the AL East leaders and the AL Wild Card leaders are coming into your building back-to-back, you can mark it on your calendar as an important moment in your season.

But first things first. Pettitte -- who hasn't allowed a run in his last 19 innings -- gets the call today against Johan Santana. Pettitte is 7-4 with a 3.48 ERA in 17 career regular season starts against the Mets. Santana has pitched well this season (2.93 ERA, 95 strikeouts), but has only a 7-6 record to show for it. However, he's never lost to the Yankees, compiling a 4-0 record with a 2.98 ERA in 48 1/3 career innings.

Around The Horn: Pettitte is currently riding the second-longest scoreless streak of his career -- he had 22 scoreless frames in 1997. ... Santana has lost his last three decisions. ... Bobby Abreu went 4-for-4 in Game 2, raising his average to .285. He is on pace for 110 RBIs, which makes sense since Abreu drives in 110 runs every single season. ... Jeter's RBI double in the nightcap extended his hitting streak to 15 games. ... The Twins won their 10th straight game on Saturday, moving a full game up (one in the loss column) over the Yankees in the Wild Card chase. ... Vote the deserving Yankees into the All-Star Game on July 15.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Running blog - Yankees vs. Mets, Game 1

Hey everybody. Just woke up from a jet lag-induced power nap, perfect timing to write a running blog live from Brooklyn on the first game of a day-night, home-and-home twin bill between the Yankees and Mets. Luis Castillo scored on a David Wright single in the top of the first.

2:34 - The Giambino goes opposite-field (again!) for an RBI single to tie the game.

2:35 - The Giambino's burnt sienna 'stache just winked at me.

2:38 - It is so odd seeing Trot Nixon in a Mets uniform. Some guys only look right wearing the duds for one team. Meanwhile, My9 (watch Flava Flav in Under One Roof Wednesday's at 8!) announcer Michael Kay just said Nixon is a real "nose-to-the-dirt type of player". Is that an allusion to cocaine use? If so, not cool.

2:43 - The Captain gets caught napping, allowing Anderson to go from first to third when A-Rod makes a diving stop in the hole at third and throws late to first. Kay and Ken Singleton make no mention of this rare gaffe by DJ. Something tells me Jose Reyes would be getting called out, replete with replays, if he did the same thing. Reason No. 3,532 why Jeter leads a charmed life.

2:48 - Great job by Dan "Don't Call Me Don" Giese there, getting Schneider on a popup and then Reyes on a bouncer back to the box to escape damage in the second. In the words of the Cleveland Indians grounds crew in Major League, "Maybe this guy ain't so fuckin' bad."

2:51 - Alert: Robinson Cano's bat has come out of hiding. A double leading off the second gives him seven hits in his last three games. Would anybody be shocked if he was hitting .275 by the end of July?

2:58 - You gotta love the back end of the Yankees rotation. In Giese and Sidney Ponson, the Bombers have two starting pitchers today that have never won a game for them. $210 million doesn't get you what it used to.

3:02 - Giese has thrown over to first a whole bunch of times trying to keep Castillo close and Wilson Betemit has caught ever single one! When it comes to Betemit's D, you need to take what you get.

3:05 - The Mets don't have a single hitter in their lineup batting .300. Sad.

3:08 - Giese doesn't look too sharp, me thinks the Yankees will need to put some runs on the board this afternoon.

3:09 - Yeah. That's what I thought. Beltran hooks one into the bleachers in right for a two-run homer. 3-1, Mets.

3:16 - Derek Jeter extends his hitting streak to 14 games with a double into the right-field corner. It was the 400th two-bagger of his career. Seeing Nixon chase after a Jeter extra-base hit gave me an instant flashback of the Yankees' rally in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Beautiful times.

3:18 - Big early spot for A-Rod here. You want to see the Yankees stay close in a game like this.

3:20 - Why don't more players swing on 3-0? A-Rod just got a batting practice fastball and watched it sail by. Isn't that the perfect pitch for the MVP to drive? Anyway, he smokes a rocket past Reyes on the next pitch. 3-2, Mets.

3:24 - Man, Beltran plays a deep center field. I think you have to play shallow to be considered a great CF. Otherwise, it's kind of cheating, right? Anyway, Cano in a big spot with the bases juiced here. I smell a two-run double.

3:26 - Reyes makes a gorgeous diving stop to rob Cano of a two-run single. Fielder's choice, RBI for Robbie, tie game.

3:28 - Betemit's infield single scores Giambi. Hey, we'll take it anyway we can get it. 4-3, Yanks.

3:34 - Here's the bottom of the Mets lineup: Nixon (.138), Marlon Anderson (.207), Fernando Tatis (.260), Brian Schneider (.259). A Murderer's Row of the Mets' playoff chances.

3:42 - For those interested, reasons No. 1-6 why Jeter leads a charmed life:
1- Scarlett Johansson
2- Jessica Biel
3 - Jessica Alba
4 - Mariah Carey
5 - Vanessa Minnillo
6- Gabrielle Union

3:45 - Isn't it about time A-Rod starts considering a new song when he comes to the plate? I'm not saying I don't like "This Is Why I'm Hot" by Mims, but it's a bit stale at this point. Any hip hop fans have suggestions for the eternally un-hip Mr. Rodriguez?

3:47 - Bases loaded, two outs, 4-3 game. In the words of WFAN's Mike Francesa, haaa-uuuuge spot for Posada.

3:49 - Posada flies out to right. Let's hope Giese has another couple solid innings in him. Meanwhile, Jeter's Ford commercial where he's wearing glasses is on for the one millionth time this season. I'm sure the Detroit car manufacturer compensates its celebrity endorser well. Let's make that Reason No. 7.

3:53 - Reyes walks on a 3-2 pitch. There's no way he doesn't swipe second here.

3:55 - Reyes swipes second here.

3:59 - Giese leaves with the bases loaded an nobody out in the fifth. He is not very good. At all. Edwar Ramirez will try to limit the damage with 50 straight changeups.

4:04 - Ramirez allows a two-run double to washed-up Carlos Delgado. Ramirez is not very good. At all. 6-4, Mets.

4:18 - This game is draaaaaaaging. Playing at a four-hour pace right now, the 8:10 scheduled Game 2 start at Shea is looking bleak. Meanwhile, Jeter's up with runners on first and second and two outs. The Yanks are 4-for-14 with RISP. This has been a problem all year.

4:24 - Make that 4-for-15. Jeter weakly grounds out to first. C'mon Cap.

4:26 - A judge anyone who went to see The Love Guru. If you did see it and you enjoyed yourself, well, I hate you. Just an aside.

4:37 - Ross Ohlendorf gets the ball in a big spot here against David Wright. This could be the showdown of the game.

4:38 - Ohlendorf fits in perfectly with the Yankees bullpen in the way that he sucks. RBI single to right, 7-4. This one is slipping away.

4:42 - I have a bad feeling about this Delgado at-bat.

4:44 - I hate to say I told you so. Grand slam. 11-4, Mets.

4:45 - That may be the farthest up the right-center field bleachers I've seen a ball land. Delgado can still hit ... when he plays the Yankees.

4:46 - Here's the Yankees' biggest problem as of June 27. When they don't get at least five innings from their starter, they have no chance to win. Zero. The middle relief is that poor. Cashman needs a more reliable back end starter and another arm in the bullpen. Get to work.

4:47 - Ohlendorf is a graduate of the Carl Pavano School of Body Language. It makes me physically ill. The guy's a bum.

4:49 - I needed this to cheer me up. "I want to remind everybody that Wednesday night check out Flava Flav's hot new comedy, "Under One Roof". You've seen the real Flav, now he plays an ex-con who moves in with his rich brother and turns everyone's life upside down! "Under One Roof" every Wednesday at 8 on My9."

4:53 - A-Rod hits a freaking bomb into Monument Park. The ball's really carrying in that humid air. 11-5, Mets. I have no faith whatsoever in the Yankees bullpen, but it's important to note that the Mets suck. Let's see if they can get back in this.

5:03 - Time to hit the road, the dulcet tones of John Sterling and Suzyn ... well the dulcet tones of John Sterling will take me the rest of the way. Be back tomorrow with a full recap of what will end up being a lonnnnng day of action. Later.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Runnin' down a dream

It has to be a very special situation for me to miss a Yankees game. Tom Petty at the Hollywood Bowl constituted that last night.

The Heartbreakers killed, and so too did Joba apparently in a 10-0 win over the Pirates. Neat and tidy. I like countless other Yankees fans am trying not to get too worked up and put too much pressure on a young kid, but I'm just curious ... do we already have that true ace that we've been waiting for?

Let's let that soak in a moment.

OK, yeah. Anyway, three hours from now I'll be on a cross-country flight for a trip home to the mother land. I'm going to try to catch the Mets opener at the Stadium tomorrow and I already have tickets to the Saux opener next Thursday.

I'll check back with everybody tomorrow. Buck Foston.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stayin' warm by the hot seat

Some Yankees -- Jeter, Mo, Posada -- have earned your trust. Others have not. Today on River & Sunset, we will take a closer look at some struggling members of the New York Yankees and discuss how their job performance could affect their baseball future.

Darrell Rasner
The wheels have coming flying off the Razz bandwagon in June. He's 1-5 with a 6.00 in his last six starts, looking like a BP pitcher at times in the process. He was absolutely hammered by a middle-of-the-road Pirates team on Tuesday. If the Yankees weren't so thin in the rotation, he may have already started his last game.

Aaron Small has left 11 voicemails on Cash's phone since Tuesday night. As it stands, the Razz will likely get at least one more start and possibly even two before the Yankees are forced to look in another direction.

Kyle Farnsworth
Since Joba's move to the starting rotation, Farnsworthless has been predictably poor in the hugely-important eighth-inning role. In his last 14 appearances (14 innings) he has a 4.50 ERA while allowing opponents to hit .327 off him. Most alarmingly, he's already served up more homers this season (10) than all of last season (9) -- this just in little more than half the innings. He seems physically incapable of putting together even a week of strong outings.

Verdict: It's difficult to say how loyal Joe Girardi will be with Farnsworth. Where the faith stems from is unknown, but there doesn't seem to be any rush to move the big right-hander out of his current role. Jose Veras has pitched well this month, making him the most likely candidate to seize the role if Farnsworth continues to deal like the pitcher in the Century 21 Home Run Derby, only on ESPN.

Melky Cabrera
He may be just 23, but don't you get the feeling that the mystery of Melky is gone? He's a good center fielder, possessing solid range and a strong throwing arm. But he's a below-average offensive player who doesn't hit for average, has only marginal pop and doesn't steal bases. He also slides head first into first a lot, which is super annoying.

Verdict: If Melky continues to be a drag on the offense by the All-Star break, look for the Yankees to call up speedster Brett Gardner in hopes of a Jacoby Ellsbury-esque shot in the arm to the lineup. This move may be closer to happening than some people realize.

LaTroy Hawkins
I'll say this in defense of Brian Cashman: When he traded away Luis Vizcaino to the Rockies in exchange for Hawkins this winter, he had to have factored in that Joe Torre could've been charged with a felony for the acts cruelty he perpetrated upon Vizcaino's arm. After all, the poor bastard appeared in 83 friggin' games in 2007. That said, The Viz did have eight victories out of the 'pen and you would've thought Cash could have gotten something close to equal value in a trade. Instead we got a dude who makes Farnsworth look like Dennis Eckersley. You can currently see Hawkins serving as your team's porn theater mopup man, where he has posted a 6.12 ERA in 26 appearances.

Verdict: Barring some miraculous change in performance, Hawkins is a dead man walking. He could be packing his bags when Bruney comes off the DL next month. If not sooner.

Robinson Cano
I know, I know, he has no business being on this list. But we're now going on nearly three full months of lost baseball, this in a season when many predicted him to put up MVP-type numbers in a loaded Yankees lineup. And while his .235 batting average can be mostly attributed to a horrid .151 April, it's harder to figure out where his pop went (four homers in 281 at-bats) or why he's lost all cognitive ability to not swing at every pitch thrown in his direction.

Verdict: You have to wonder where Yankees brass stands on Cano circa 2008. Is he a franchise cornerstone for the next 10 years, or is he the most valuable trade commodity they have as the deadline nears? After signing him to a longterm deal this winter, a trade would be shocking. But then again, so too has been his descent into mind-numbing mediocrity.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rasner meets his maker

During the brief course of this blog's existence, I have spoke often of how The Curse of Aaron Small would likely consume poor Darrell Rasner in the end. Tonight, it did.

You see, once Rasner started the season 3-0, the New York media immediately likened him to to the journeyman Small, who improbably went 10-0 for the Yankees in 2005. That's a lot of pressure to put on a middling right-hander, and not surprisingly, Rasner went on to lose his next four starts.

But the Curse didn't get truly meta until tonight at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. That's because Aaron Small, the Aaron Small, a true ghost of Bombers past, visited the Yankees clubhouse to chat with old friends and presumably complete the destruction of Rasner's once-promising life.

You can guess what happened next. Rasner got pilfered by the Pirates, allowing seven runs on 10 hits over five miserable innings in a 12-5 Yankees loss. I can only picture Small perched high above the field cracking a crooked smile, striking a match across his stubble and lighting a Marlboro Red. Mission accomplished.

Meanwhile, the blood-thirsty media was already on the hunt for its next sacrifice. Well, if you count My9 as an actual media outlet. Here was Tuesday's "My9 Fan Blog Call To Action" poll, posted in the top of the fifth before Rasner's body was even cold.

"Do you think that Dan Giese can be the Yankees Aaron Small of 2008?"
Are you kidding me? Besides being grammatically incorrect, that's just wrong. Poor Dan Giese is a dead man walking and he doesn't even know it yet.

A spooky telecast included one last frightening bit of news, delivered in soul-destroying fashion by Michael Kay:
"I want to remind everybody that Wednesday night check out Flava Flav's hot new comedy, "Under One Roof". You've seen the real Flav, now he plays an ex-con who moves in with his rich brother and turns everyone's life upside down! "Under One Roof" every Wednesday at 8 on My9."
Chilling stuff in Pittsburgh tonight.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Meanwhile, back at the farm

Under Brian Cashman's guidance, the Yankees' farm system has gone from wasteland to one of baseball's best in a few short years.

With the Bombers on a travel day, I figured today was as good a time as any to check in with five prospects making noise in the Minors. If you're a farm junkie, these are all familiar names, but in each of their cases it's interesting trying to project when and where they will fit in the Yankees' future plans.

All stats are through Sunday's action.

Austin Jackson, OF
Trenton Thunder (Double-A)
.283 BA, 7 HR, 45 RBIs, 11 SB, .364 OBP, .445 SLG

An eighth-round pick in the 2005 Draft, Jackson's stock has risen quickly in the organization. His home run and RBI totals are team highs in Trenton, and his steal total ranks second. Jackson made a name for himself in Tampa last year, hitting .345 with 15 doubles, six triples and 10 homers in just 67 games. Baseball America has called him the most athletic player in the Yanks' system and the Texas native entered the season as baseball's 24th best prospect by ESPN's Keith Law:

Jackson has good speed, a solid-average arm in center and good instincts on fly balls, but still has some work to do at the plate. His setup is excellent and his path to the ball is short, but he needs to continue working on keeping his weight back to get more power from the contact he makes, and he's too eager to chase the ball up. He's a potential middle-of-the-order bat because of his power and improving plate discipline.
The Yankees don't have a distinguished track record of developing outfielders into stars over the past 25 years -- Bernie Williams being a notable exception -- but the system is stacked right now with high-ceiling talent. Jackson is just 21, which likely makes him a season or two away from joining the big club in a full-time capacity. Melky Cabrera is the current Yankees center fielder, but you get the feeling his grip on the job is tenuous. The talent bubbling down below will only make the Melky's hot seat warmer. With two 30-something veterans flanking Cabrera, the Yanks outfield should be wide open for new blood in the near future.

Jose Tabata, OF
Trenton Thunder (Double-A)
.231 BA, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 10 SB, .308 OBP, .285 SLG

An international signee by the Yankees in 2005, Tabata joined the Thunder this season and is still playing catch up following hand surgery last August. Jackson's presence in Trenton has shifted Tabata from center field to right, but he has a strong and accurate arm that fits in nicely on the corner. Tabata is just a baby who won't turn 20 until Aug. 12, and the biggest question mark surrounding him is how long it will take to get all the way back from the broken hamate bone suffered late last season. ESPN's Keith Law ranked Tabata as the game's No. 21 prospect.
Tabata has a quick bat and great hand-eye coordination, and he squares up balls as well as anyone on this [Top 100 prospect] list. He also has good pitch recognition, although that can manifest itself in working the count to get to a fastball he can drive.
With Jackson, Tabata and Brett Gardner all at a similar development stage, it will be interesting to see how the Yankees play this down the road. It's hard to imagine the parent club nurturing three young outfielders at once. But as things stand now, Tabata seems to have the tools to be a big-time contributor once he gets 100 percent healthy.

Andrew Brackman, RHP

The Yankees opened up their checkbook to sign North Carolina State star Brackman after selecting him as their top pick (30th overall) in the 2007 Draft. It seems there are the advantages to hiring Scott Boras as your agent, contrary to what Alex Rodriguez may tell you. Brackman has yet to throw a pitch in the Minors; he signed too late to play in 2007 and then underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in August. He's currently rehabbing the elbow, and was set back three weeks following an appendectomy on June 12. Despite these pitfalls, Brackman is scheduled to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. At 6-foot-10, the 22-year-old throws a mid-90s fastball and also possesses a two-seam fastball, knuckle curve and changeup. Elbow issues are a concern, but this is the club's most promising prospect.

Alan Horne, RHP
Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees (Triple-A)
2-1, 3.70 ERA, 24.1 IP, 22 K, 10 BB

Elbow injuries don't scare the Yankees. Horne is another example of this, he already had a Tommy John surgery under his belt when the Yanks took him in the 12th round of the 2005 Draft. The Draft was already old hat for the 6-foot-4 right-hander by then -- he had previously been chosen by the Indians in 2001 (first round) and Angels in 2003 (30th round).

The 2007 season was a big one for Horne, named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Award. He went 12-4 with a 2.97 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 158 strikeouts in 142.1 innings for the Thunder. This season has been more modest in its production, but the 24-year-old remains on track to join the Yankees' rotation in the near future.

Brett Gardner, OF
Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees (Triple-A)
.292 BA, 3 HR, 29 RBI, 29 SB, .408 OBP, .436 SLG

The third highly-touted outfielder on this list, Gardner is said to be the fastest player in the organization, and his stolen-base total at Scranton-Wilkes Barre speaks to that. He was drafted in the third round of the 2005 Draft and has shown an ability to hit and get on base on every level. His speed makes him a natural fit in center field, but Jackson may send Gardner to left in the Bronx. At 24 years old, he is the closest of the bunch to big-league ready, and Melky's middling play may leave the door open for a promotion as early as this summer.

Having a sparkplug like Gardner at the bottom of the lineup during the dog days of summer has to be a tempting proposition for Mr. Cashman.

Pettitte power in the Bronx

Andy Pettitte is a man possessed.

Since serving up Jose Guillen's grand slam to cap a 10-run outing on June 7, the veteran left-hander has been baseball's best pitcher. After six more innings of shutout ball in the Yankees' 4-1 win over the Reds on Sunday, Pettitte is 3-0 in his last three starts, allowing one run over 21 innings. He's lowered his ERA from 4.99 to 4.04 in that span.

Not bad for a guy that had some Yankees fans -- including me -- wondering if his best days were behind him. With the Wanger sleeping in a boot, the Yankees need Pettitte to win his customary 15 games. At 8-5, he's well on his way to that mark with a chance to eclipse it.

Here's the thing about the Yankees rotation. As presently constituted, it's pretty decent. Much better than people give it credit for anyway. It was easy to write the rotation off as a wasteland after Wang's injury -- and it certainly remains suspect in the back end -- but the 1-2-3 punch of Mussina-Pettitte-Joba is very solid. I don't think I'm alone in my worry that Moose's rejuvenation won't last six months, but working under the guise that it does, we're not in as bad a spot as initially thought.

Of course, we're putting all the pressure in the world on Joba's shoulders again, which is asking a lot from a dude that's started four games as a pro. But does anybody think Hoss is going to wilt in the spotlight this summer? Exactly. The Yankees got 35 wins out of Wang-Pettitte-Mussina a year ago and easily advanced to the postseason. Doesn't it seem well within reason that Mussina-Pettitte-Joba could reach or even surpass that total this season?

A doubter will likely counter that the rotation's back end is worse off than last season, but a closer look at the numbers show the Yanks got very little beyond their big three in '07. Yes, Roger Clemens returned last June, but people seem to forget that Roger Clemens, well, wasn't very good in his final season. He was paid $4.5 million a month for six wins in 18 starts with a 4.18 ERA. "But Dan, the Rocket's presence went beyond wins and losses! He was a valuable teacher and role model to the young guns, making him worth every cent!" Right. Obviously, Hughes and Kennedy (combined 0-7, 8.06 ERA, both on DL) have taken Roger's lessons and blossomed like beautiful butterflies.

In truth, the '07 Yanks got Clemens' six wins and five more from Hughes and that was about it. The team's other big winner was actually Luis Vizcaino, who compiled eight victories out of the bullpen. Naturally, this performance prompted Brian Cashman to trade the right-hander this winter for LaTroy Hawkins, who is basically Luis Vizcaino only 18 percent shittier. My only guess is that Luis made fun of Cash's Oakley sunglasses or something.

So, 41-35, five games behind Boston in the East, 3.5 games behind Tampa Bay for the Wild Card. We're doing just fine right now. After a travel day on Monday, the Yanks and Darrell Rasner begin a three-game series against the Pirates at PNC Park before a weekend series against those goofy Mets.

Let's have another good week.

Around The Horn: It looks like the return of the great (drinker) Sidney Ponson will happen on Friday against the Mets. He will not be making his scheduled Minors start on Thursday, a sign he'll take the ball in one of the split doubleheader games. ... Jason Giambi is hot again, picking up two more hits on Sunday, including a key two-run double. He also apparently made the decision to dye his uncle mustache a dark shade of brown, which puts the Giambino one step closer to a neighborhood watch list. ... Kyle Farnsworth had to get stitches on his pitching hand after he was injured trying to corral a comebacker with the one part of his body that's made him a millionaire. "Hey, it's instincts mannnnnnn!" Michael Kay, apparently unaware that Farnsworth is a bad, bad baseball player, spoke emotionally and in hushed tones about the potential of losing the right-hander for an extended period of time. Anyway, Farnsworth has apparently done this before (a genius, he is) and the Yanks believe he'll avoid the DL. All I can say is thank Jesus. ... Hideki Matsui looked terrible trying to run out a grounder on Sunday, a sign that his recently drained knee is far from 100 percent. It's hard to imagine him being anything other than a pinch-hitter until the Yanks get the designated hitter spot back on Friday. ... Vote the deserving Yankees into the All-Star Game on July 15. We need some guys to serve up atomic wedgies to that little midget Pedroia.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

'Boy, that escalated quickly.'

I have to admit, I didn't see the Yankees' hot hand going cold in such an instantaneous manner this weekend. It's not the end of the world ... the biggest regret here is that New York blew back-to-back chances to pick up ground on Boston but whatever, it's June. Salvage the finale on Sunday and dismiss the losses quicker than tepid Mike Myers retread.

Dan "Don't Call Me Don" Giese made his first career start today, and he deserved a far better fate. The prototypical "crafty" right-hander, Giese cruised through six innings before, for the second straight game, a Yankees starter was unable to escape two-out trouble in a tight game. On Friday, Mike Mussina got burned by the only-stoppable-by-the-second-base-bag Jolbert Cabrera after Joe Girardi had Jay Bruce intentionally walked. This strategy did not make Stanford's shining light happy.

Today, Giese had a chance to exit the seventh inning unscathed with two outs and runners on second and third, but instead he allowed a clean two-run single to left by Edwin Encarnacion for the first runs of the game. Jose Veras entered and promptly allowed an upper tank job to Corey Patterson and that was that. I mean, when you're facing a superstar ace the likes of Daryl Thompson, you have to be as stingy as possible, you know?

For those keeping score at home, the Yankees are now 0-1 in games in Chien-Ming Wang's rotation slot. I stated on Monday that the Yankees will need to go at least 7-7 in this position to keep them above water as their ace attempts to make it back by Sept. 1. I also stated in that post that the offense will need to help pick up the slack for their missing ace during this time. Obviously, they are not readers of my Web log. Not cool.

As far as the Moose-Girardi Passions episode on Friday night, I can see both sides of the debate. Mussina is a respected veteran having a fine season, and it makes sense that he'd want to decide whether or not to go after a rookie -- highly touted or not -- in a big spot. Girardi, on the other hand, is a young manager who got burned in a similar situation in April when Moose went after Manny Ramirez with unsatisfactory results. If he has 20 years under his belt I don't see him making the decision for his pitcher. But this seemed to be a situation where a stubborn veteran clashed with a newbie manager. I'm sure it happens.

In the end, Mussina probably just should have gotten Cabrera out. That's what I would have done if I was him.

Around The Horn: When Veras allowed Patterson's back-breaking homer Saturday, it marked the first outing he had allowed a run since June 3. That spanned seven appearances. ... Robbie Cano went 0-f0r-4 with six LOB on Saturday. He has showed signs of exiting the fog of late (sound familiar?), but facts are facts. It's June 21 and he's batting .229. What the hell happened here? ... The fact that Reds manager Dusty Baker struts to the pitcher's mound with a toothpick in his mouth is pretty awesome all things considered. Kind of makes you wonder if he's ever toothpick-less in his life. Too many ... bad jokes ... cannot compute. ...There was a David Weathers sighting in the Bronx today, which led to my realization that Weathers has been in the league for parts of 17 (17!!??!) seasons and is thus likely a millionaire several times over. River & Sunset would like to congratulate David Weathers for making a pretty good life for himself. P.S. Thanks for '96. ... Vote the deserving Yankees into the All-Star Game being held in the Boogie Down. Seriously, do it. If I have to look at Kevin Youkilis' vagina beard on July 15, I may just lose it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Last look at 'The Kid'

I have never been more afraid of an opposing player than Ken Griffey Jr.

That's saying a lot. In the past 20-plus years as a Yankees fan, I've seen some real pinstripe assassins. Edgar Martinez, Juan Gonzalez, Chuck Finley, Randy Johnson (on two levels), David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Chone Figgins, just to name a few.

And while all the above players instilled varying levels of fear, none had the knee-quaking power of Griffey, who routinely torched the Yankees throughout the mid-90s. I remember being at Game 1 of the ALDS in 1995, a 9-6 Yankees win in which Griffey hit two of the five homers he'd ring up in the series. Sitting in the right-center-field bleachers, my brother and I watched in awe as the second homer ricocheted like a bullet off the Bud Light sign facing the upper deck. When the Mariners won a dramatic Game 5 at the Kingdome, it was only appropriate that Griffey scored the winning run, his beaming face from below the mob plastered on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

He came up as "The Kid", a nickname that reflected the idea that he would never get old. But Griffey was scientific proof that everyone does age ... some faster than others. His days as a truly dynamic player were over by 30, as a mountain of injuries stole hundreds upon hundreds of at-bats from him. He's been left out of the steroids witch hunt presumably due to this fact, which is amazing considering he was the game's greatest player during the hey-day of MLB drug culture. The Griffey of today bares only a passing resemblance to the slugger who ruled the 90s. At 38, his face has hardened and his once svelte build has been replaced by a gait in his walk and a paunch in his midsection. Years of injuries have transformed him from five-tool superstar to lumbering slugger.

That said, he is undoubtedly a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But like The Mick before him, Griffey stands as one of baseball's great "What If's", a once-in-a-generation talent whose body never quite let him reach his potential. That he has 600 homers and fans speak of him with regret goes to show how truly special he was.

This weekend doesn't guarantee to be Griffey's final games in the Bronx. There have been rumors that the Rays are interested in a trade, but it's likely any deal is contingent on Griffey proving he's more than a injury-plagued .244 hitter. It's quite possible that's what he is at this point. If this is the end, watch closely at the one thing that hasn't changed for Junior. He still has that swing ... one the prettiest home run strokes you'll ever see from a left-handed batter.

So when Griffey steps into the box tonight at the Stadium, I can promise you that the nostalgia hound in me won't be rooting to see him put one into the upper tank (presumably off Kyle Farnsworth in a 5-4 game). However, if the Yanks are up 10-2 in the eighth and the bases are empty, welllllll ...

Don't tell Hank and long live "The Kid".

And the train keeps rollin' ...

These are very good times in the Bronx. This was my favorite victory of the streak so far, a grind-it-out 2-1 win where pitching and defense willed the team to its second straight three-game sweep. These are exactly the type of games the Yankees have been losing in the playoffs the past three seasons.

Joba Chamberlain provided another fine outing (9 Ks, 3 BBs, 1 ER) before Girardi pulled him at 100 pitches with two outs in the sixth inning, a move that ultimately cost Hoss his first victory as a starter. C'mon Joe ... I know you have an investment to protect, but with the bases empty that was an overly cautious move. That said, the timing of Chamberlain getting stretched out and Wang going down may end up saving the Yankees season. As Pete Abraham brilliantly put it today, without Joba the Yanks rotation would've been "Andy and Moose and reach for the Gray Goose." Now you have three better-than-average starters here to hold down the fort while Wang attempts his comeback. A dependable fourth starter would still be optimal -- no Sid Ponson, it's not your drunken arse -- and I fully expect a veteran pitcher to be coming our way in the next week or so.

Meanwhile, the bullpen continued to be the silent hero behind the Yanks' rise from .500 hell. Jose Veras has been a godsend of late (1.93 ERA in June) and Mariano Rivera is somehow, some way, having the best season of his career at 38 years old. Meanwhile, yesterday I said for about the 12th time since I started this blog that Kyle Farnsworth is a bad, bad baseball player. This remains more-or-less accurate, but I have to admit I've been a little less nervous with him on the mound of late.

I do talk about Farnsworth a lot, but the bottom line is, like it or not, this dude has a huuuggge role on this team right now. On a somewhat related note, I think a reason why Farnsworth catches shit that goes beyond his mediocre stat line is that he looks like a kick-ass reliever, and when we don't get the results to match the look, it becomes especially jarring. You could easily see him being the teammate that takes out eight dudes in a Boston bar brawl or starring as the brutish closer buzzing Corbin Bernsen with high heat in Major League 6: This Is Just Sad. Instead, he's just another well-built dude with a tribal band who happens to be a middling professional relief pitcher. He's still giving up too many homers, but I'd gladly take what I've gotten out of him this month the rest of the way.

The Yanks have to contend with another ace as they go for their eighth straight win. This time it's Edinson Volquez, "the other man" in the trade that sent Josh Hamilton from the Reds to the Rangers. Volquez has been likened to a young Pedro, and his stats this season certainly speak to that. I'm looking forward to see how he does in front of 55,000 fans at the Stadium. Mussina will counter for the Yanks, looking for his 11th win. He needed six months to get 11 victories in 2007. Amazing.

Around The Horn: Hideki Matsui missed his second straight game on Thursday after having his left knee drained. That always sounded gross to me. Godzilla could be back in the lineup Friday. ... Alex Rodriguez's four-game homer streak was snapped Thursday, however, the reigning American League MVP has now accumulated the minimum number of at-bats to enter the AL batting race. He jumps in on top, tied with the Twins' Joe Mauer with a .335 mark. A-Rod has one batting crown to his credit, when he batted .359 for the Mariners in 1996. ... The YES Network has scored a big addition in David Cone, who continues to be a source of insight (and amusement) during each telecast. On Wednesday, Michael Kay stated that Padres ace Jake Peavy was a "God-fearing man" who didn't use bad language. When asked by Kay if he ever had teammates who didn’t swear, Coney deadpanned, "None that I trusted", sending Kay into a fit of uncontrollable cackling. Good stuff. ... There are several Yankees regulars having strong statistical seasons. Vote them into the All-Star Game and keep those stinking Red Sox out of the Bronx on July 15. ... Volquez notched his 11th quality start of the season against the Red Sox on Saturday. It's the longest quality start streak by a Reds pitcher since Jose Rijo had 15 straight in 1993. I believe King George traded Rijo for a mock turtleneck in the 1980s, reason No. 2,321 why Donnie is sitting in Evansville without a ring right now.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Six in a row

God, I love playing the National League.

Another night, another win at home over the Padres. Even Darrell Rasner vs. Jake Peavy wasn't enough for the hapless Friars. That's six in a row and nine of 11 folks.

Was it just me, or did it seem like the Yankees were toying with San Diego tonight? Even when the pitching faltered, the offense would answer back immediately to keep the lead safe. Alex Rodriguez homered for the fourth time in as many games, Johnny Damon continued to be a spark plug at the top of the lineup, and Mariano Rivera kept up his Superman act of 2008.

This win did put all the Yankees' warts on display in a subtle way, however. Rasner's start was nothing to get excited about (five innings, two runs, five walks), and the fact that he's now the No. 4 starter in the rotation is a scary thought. Wilson Betemit is a shitstorm defensively, booting yet another routine grounder in the first (this team needs a capable defensive first baseman in the Doug Mientkiewicz mode. Hey, how about Doug Mientkiewicz?) Last but not least, the bullpen remains a huge weakness -- Edwar Ramirez is always one high changeup away from disaster and Kyle Farnsworth proved for the 3,484th time since joining the Yankees that he is a bad, bad baseball player.

So yes, contrary to their record the past week, the Yankees are not perfect. But this is not the time to nitpick. Let's enjoy this hot streak. At 39-33, the Yankees have started their march toward the postseason more or less at the exact same time as a year ago. Joba goes for the sweep tomorrow. It seems inevitable, doesn't it?

Keep winning series. Keep winning series. Keep winning series.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I've got to admit it's gettin' better ...

Turns out the sky isn't falling in the Bronx. In fact, the sun remains safely in orbit, shining down on River Avenue as bright as ever.

Such are the spoils of life when you're riding a five-game winning streak. The Yankees have finally -- finally -- left the maddening see-saw act behind and are playing inspired ball with an offense playing up to its capabilities and a pitching staff hitting a groove top to bottom. The Yanks dismantled the Padres, 8-0, on Tuesday, notching back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2005.

Playing the trash that inhabits the majority of the National League doesn't hurt. My God, the Padres are awful. A gallery of the grotesque. The Astros and their carnival joke of a ballpark aren't much better. But you can't take anything away from the Yankees, they're playing good enough to beat anyone right now.

Randy Wolf's Yankees audition will likely end up on an American Idol outtake reel. Jason Giambi is on pace for 43 home runs (what?!?), and Andy Pettitte ... sweet Andy Pettitte ... I will never doubt you again.

At 38-33, you can only hope and pray the days of .500 and oddly-drawn parallels to the 1959 Chicago Cubs are a thing of the past. Unfortunately, the Red Sox continue to play well despite injury issues of their own, keeping the Yankees at a safe distance of 5.5 games. The American League Wild Card is a different story, however, where the Bombers sit just 3.5 games behind the ready-to-dive-like-Greg Louganis Tampa Bay Rays.

The upcoming schedule is generous. Two more games against the heinous Friars, three games apiece against the Reds and Pirates and then a four-game set against the disfigured New York Mets, who should just pitch a circus tent over Shea at this point. As an aside: God, how I love to watch the Metropolitans burst into flames. Their meltdowns are like presidential elections; they happen once every four years and get dissected by the media on every possible angle. It is sweet goodness.

Interleague Play may have taken away my ace, but I'm sure as hell going to make sure I take a sack full of wins on my way out the door. If the Yanks keep up their inspired play, it's not asking too much to ask for a 9-3 mark before New York returns to Junior Circuit play. Right? Right. How does 47-36 sound on June 30 with a seven-game homestand opening against the Rangers and some team from Boston?

It's all there for the Yankees. They just have to take what's rightfully theirs the next two weeks.

Time to achieve elevation.

Around The Horn: Dan "Don't Call Me Don" Geise will make the start in place of the Wanger on Saturday. It's the right-hander's rotation spot to lose for now. ... The Yankees' five-game winning streak matches their season high. ... Since Jose Guillen's grand slam capped a 10-run nightmare of an outing against the Royals on June 7, Pettitte has allowed one run over 15 innings with 15 strikeouts. His ERA has dropped from 4.99 to 4.29 in that span. ... Since May 4, Giambi is batting .355 with 12 home runs and 26 RBIs. Como se dice, All-Star? ... Speaking of which, keep the stinking Red Sox out of Yankee Stadium on July 15. Cast your All-Star ballot right here. ... Kyle Farnsworth Terror Alert: Last three outings, 3 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 HR, 1 K, 1 BB. Threat Level: GUARDED. ... Darrell Rasner, currently fighting an uphill battle against The Curse of Aaron Small, is looking to snap a four-start losing streak on Wednesday. He draws reigning NL Cy Young Jake Peavy, making his second start since coming off the disabled list. Peavy will be making his first career start at Yankee Stadium. ... A year ago, Joe Torre and Willie Randolph were starring in Subway commercials together as the managers of New York's baseball teams. Today, Torre is managing a crappy NL team and Willie is a unemployed martyr. The lesson here? I don't know ... but Subway sucks.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Math, Wang and the future of the 2008 Yankees

Welcome to today's dissertation, a self-help guide entitled "Surviving Without Your Ace In A PED-Free World". Your professor today will be me, some random dude with a blog.

Listen, it goes without saying that this was a huge blow. You didn't need The Genius, Lanny Poffo, to tell you that. But if Chien-Ming Wang's early return timetable of Sept. 1 proves accurate, the Yankees are not dead men walking. Far from it. The proof is in the numbers, so please get out your pen and paper and feel free to ask questions.

According to my schedule, Wang will miss his final two starts of June and then approximately 12 turns over the course of July and August. That's 14 in total.

If you believed this was a playoff team prior to the injury (which I for one did), it would be foolish to discount their chances over 14 starts. If Wang is pitching like Wang, which he was in last two outings prior to his foot imploding, you would expect to win between 10-11 of games he started, regardless if he got the decision or not, right? Right. So let's go on the high side and estimate the Yankees would have went 11-3 in games started by their ace.

There are three ways the team can go here.

The first scenario is the Yankees catch lightning in a bottle and match or exceed Wang's production. This could happen if the team traded for an ace who then pitches up to his potential, or another Aaron Small arrives, something that's not scheduled for 9,997 years.
What would this be on par with? Matt Nokes comes out of retirement to steal Posada's job, wife.

Possibility #2 is the doomsday scenario, a theory your friends in Boston, Oakland and St. Petersburg are pulling madly for. All fill-ins in the rotation implode and the bullpen can't pick up the slack, leading the Yankees to win between two and four games in Wang's place. This would be breathing-with-the-help-of-a-respirator time by the time Sept. 1 rolled around. I think I'm going to be sick, so let's just move on.
What would this be on par with? Carl Pavano takes a break from banging models in Miami and decides to dominate the game like Brendan Frasier in The Scout.

The final scenario involves New York playing around .500 ball, winning between seven and eight games out of 14. The team gets a few quality starts and the offense starts cranking, bludgeoning its way to wins. It's a tactic that doesn't work in the postseason (see: 2005, 2006, 2007), but it remains effective when facing the weak underbelly of American League middle relief.
What would this be on par with? Billy Crystal moves into a locker in the Yankees clubhouse convinced that he is Roger Maris.

Of course there are other factors in play here. The remaining rotation must more-or-less maintain their overall production, and the bullpen must be able to cope without their best innings-eater on the hill. But numbers are numbers, and if you keep your head above water over the course of those 14 games, you'll still be in the game for the regular season's stretch run. George Oscar Bluth once said the jury was out on science, but basic math is irrefutable.

There, don't you feel better now?

Surveying the Wang fallout

Though hardly surprising following Sunday's foreboding reports, today's announcement on Chien-Ming Wang was a stomach punch nonetheless.

General manager Brian Cashman told Pete Abraham that we could see Wang back on the mound in September, though you have to think it's possible the right-hander has thrown his final pitch of 2008. His right foot is in a boot for six weeks, which means he'll be unable to perform any baseball activities until Aug. 1 or thereabout. And that's assuming Wang's foot has fully healed by the time that boot is scheduled to come off. I haven't heard the "s" word mentioned (surgery), so I guess we can take solace in that.

As I stated in an earlier post today, how Yankees management reacts to this setback will be the true barometer of how serious the organization is about building a champion from within. If the team ships Robbie Cano and Austin Jackson to Cleveland next month for C.C. Sabathia, we'll know that the club's offseason edict was nothing more than talk. Cashman said today that a trade was unlikely, but I'll believe that when the trade deadline comes and goes.

That said, it'd be at least understandable if the Yankees were to alter their business plan in light of recent events. This is a team with a $210 million payroll, so it makes sense to me if they were interested in seeking outside help to get the proper return on their investment.

Be back soon with a breakdown on what the Yankees have to do in Wang's absence.

Bad news on the Wanger

The Yankees have released a statement on Chien-Ming Wang, and it's not good.

RHP Chien-Ming Wang was examined today at New York Presbyterian Hospital Columbia Medical Center by Yankees Team Physician, Dr. Stuart Hershon and Dr. Jason Greisberg, Foot and Ankle Specialist.

Imaging studies revealed a mid-foot sprain of the Lisfranc ligament of the right foot and a partial tear of the peroneal longus tendon of the right foot.

Wang will be on crutches and wear a protective boot for a minimum of six weeks.

Back later with my thoughts. Life is empty.

Wang update No. 1

This does not look good at all. No official word yet, but Tyler Kepner's story today paints a grim picture. According to Pete Abraham, news coming from the clubhouse and other sources doesn't sound positive either.

That build-from-within idea seemed cute during the Johan sweepstakes in December. It doesn't seem like such an easy practice when you're clawing for your life in the middle of a season though.

Assuming Wang is shelved for an extended period, the Yankees' "new philosphy" is about to be put to the ultimate test.

Back with updates as I hear them.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

How long can you hold your breath?

How frustrating has this Yankees season been? Well, only in 2008 can you win a game by 13 runs and still lose.

Of course, the loss was Chien-Ming Wang, the team's No. 1 starter and rotation lynch pin. Right now, the Yankees are calling it a right foot sprain with an MRI exam set for tomorrow. I'm no pessimist, but it didn't look good when it happened, and when asked by Pete Abraham if he thought the injury was serious, Wang ominously replied, "“Maybe. I’ll know tomorrow.”


On a personal level, seeing Wang pull up lame brought back bitter memories of former Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who ruptured his Achilles' tendon in Week 1 of the 1999 season and was lost for the year. The injury doomed a Jets team that had been picked by many experts to go to the Super Bowl. I worried Sunday that Wang had suffered the same fate as Testaverde, though the Yankees ruled that injury out after the game.

While a baseball team losing its ace may not be as devastating in its totality as a football team losing its star quarterback, it goes without saying that the Yankees' season would be in serious jeopardy if Wang were to miss a significant amount of time. Brian Cashman would likely be forced to explore a trade for an upper-tier starter, Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia being an enticing target. In the meantime, Mike Mussina would be asked to go from feel-good story to 39-year-old ace.

The sad irony is that the Yankees had finally hit their stride 70 games into the season, now winners of four straight to reach a season-best four games over .500 (37-33). With the notable exception of Robinson Cano, the lineup has returned to the patient group that has worn out pitchers for the past seven years. New York's third-inning pitch selection against Houston ace Roy Oswalt was a textbook example of this offense's philosophy done right.

But all that good cheer must move to the backseat now, as the Yankees and their fans hold their breath waiting for word on their ace. On Wednesday, I wrote in this space that ace or not, the Yankees needed Wang:

It's impossible to understate how important Wang is to this team. Pitching at the top of a rotation buried in question marks, the Yankees need him to win 18-21 games while tossing 210-plus innings in the process.
Five days later, the starting rotation is looking at a potential doomsday scenario. If you're a Yankees fan, I would suggest you keep your fingers firmly crossed until Tuesday. I know I will.

Around The Horn: Give credit where credit's due ... the bullpen is getting the job done, and that includes (gasp!) Kyle Farnsworth. During New York's four-game winning streak, the 'pen has allowed just one run over 11 innings. ... Is it just me, or does Alex Rodriguez seem like he's ready to go on one of those epic A-Rod tears? He absolutely destroyed Wesley Wright's first pitch to him in the sixth inning, connecting on his 12th homer of the season and second in two days. ... I'm sorry, Minute Maid Park is one of the most unimpressive new stadiums I've seen. It's too small, and left field is just a mess on every level. I guess you can't expect too much from a place that used to be called Enron Field. ... Johnny Damon had four more hits on Sunday to raise his average to .328. Como se dice, All-Star? Damon is joined by Alex Rodriguez (.326) and Hideki Matsui (.325) in making up 3/5 of the American League's batting leaders. ... The Yankees are off on Monday, their first open date since May 29.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Joba rules ... seriously

The Joba Chamberlin Project has now taken on full form, and the results are exciting to say the least.

The right-hander has officially graduated from awkward scientific experiment to full-fledged starting pitcher. Yesterday against Houston: six innings, six hits (all singles), one run, two strikeouts, four walks (two intentional). The numbers themselves don't blow you away, but it was great to see he gave the Yankees his first legitimate start, one that didn't involve Dan "Don't Call Me Don" Geiss or Ross Olendorf pitching by the fifth inning.

Best of all, his 88th and final pitch of the night was a 97-mph fastball that caught Astros catcher Brad Ausmus looking. Seeing Hoss impact the direction of an entire game, as opposed to just one inning, showed why he needs to be a starter on this team. That he has five out pitches, and isn't losing velocity as the game goes along, makes that even more clear.

Don't call him an ace yet, because that's going to take time. Joba is sure to have the same growing pains the best pitchers had at 22. That said, he has a 2.84 ERA as a starter and it's quite possible the Yankees have a kid that's stepping into the rotation instantly competitive and sometimes even dominant. I don't have to tell you how rare this is.

It may have seemed a bit unorthodox at times, but the Yankees did a good job during this whole transition thing. Over the course of a month, Joba went from setup man to starter and it has never felt forced. They won four of the five games he appeared in during the stretch. It's reporteed his next start will be topped at 100 pitches, but Joe Girardi basically said after the game it's now a judgment issue over pitch count, i.e., just like any other pitcher in his rotation.

It's a very short list of guys who I never want to miss pitch. When Roger Clemens first came to the Yankees, he was one. When I was in school in Boston, Pedro starts were required viewing. Now comes Chamberlain, a kid with all the promise in the world taking the ball every fifth day for a team that desperately needs an X-factor.

Must-see-TV, indeed.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Godzilla strikes on his b-day

There are times when you watch Hideki Matsui and you can't help but be unimpressed by him.

He does have the all-time record for meek groundouts to second, after all. And sometime around 2005 or so, he lost all ability as a defensive player.

But then you get night's like Thursday in Oakland that will restore your faith in Godzilla. A Yankees offense sleepwalking yet again until Matsui steps up with the bases loaded in the sixth inning and drives the ball. He drives it so hard in fact that it clears the 20-foot-high wall in right-center without a sweat. It was all the Yankees got, or needed, in a 4-1 rubber-game victory.

Keep winning series. Keep winning series. Keep winning series.

The birthday boy Matsui wasn't the only hero at McAfee Coliseum. Yesterday in this very space, I worried like a school girl that Andy Pettitte's struggles were more than just a bad streak. And then he goes out and fires an eight-inning, one-run gem that almost restored enough faith in Louisiana to make me think Britney was hot again. Almost.

The lesson here is you should never doubt a historically consistent player -- or in Britney's case, live off cocaine and Mountain Dew. Because a consistent player will go through their funks but always come out in more-or-less the same place on the other side. The length of the baseball season allows this. Matsui and Pettitte are consistent Yankees. Pettitte has proven he's probably going to give you 15 wins. Matsui has shown he'll provide you with 100 RBIs.

I'll take these type of guys over a streak hitter or pitcher any day. Substance over flash my friends.

Next stop is Houston, where you can say Joba Chamberlain is making his first "real" start. His pitch count is at 90-95 pitches, a limit that actually allows him to pitch into the sixth-inning and beyond if he's effective. My prediction is that Joba delivers a fine performance tonight, six innings, eight strikeouts and a win that finally puts the Yankees back to two games over .500.

Which they'll then of course follow with losses in the last two games of the series to fall back to .500. There will be more comparisons to the 1959 Cubs. I'll write an "I'm sorry" letter to my mom and drink a bottle of anti-freeze. Baseball ... catch the fever!

Around The Horn: The Yankees pick up Interleague Play with 15 consecutive games against the National League. They lead the Majors with an all-time winning percentage of .582 (113-81). ... Mariano Rivera is now 18-for-18 in save chances this year, building on his career-best start to a season. Even the biggest of Mo fans has to be surprised how damn good he's been this year. ... Joba is starting opposite Shawn Chacon tonight. Along with Aaron Small, Chacon was a Godsend to the Yankees in 2005, and of the two, he seemed more apt to become a contributer for New York down the line. But he got off to a slow start in '06, and then was drilled in the shin by a line drive, an injury he never shook. He is 0-1 with a 14.54 ERA against his former teammates in a 4 1/3-inning sample. ... Robinson Cano went hitless yesterday and is now in an 0-for-12 and 2-for-20 slide. Girardi could use someone on the roster who can push him a little because he's definitely wearing goat horns in the first half. ... A bunch of the Japanese media guys presented Matsui with a birthday cake prior to the game yesterday. Those adorable scribes even had Hideki's age (34) spelled out in strawberries. How adorable! The weird part is, Matsui declined to have any of the cake, which I'd like to think prompted several awkward sideways glances before a clearly uncomfortable Matsui edged away from the group. Dick move Godzilla!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Razz's house is not a home

There's not too much to say about last night's ho-hum 8-4 loss to the A's at McAfee Coliseum on Wednesday. I worked the game for, and one of the angles coming in was Darrell Rasner's homecoming. You see, the Razz is from Carson City, Nev., and as a boy his family would make the three-hour trip to Oakland to see a pre-PED abusing Mark McGwire hit .201 or something.

With 25 friends and family in attendance, the Razz got his butt whipped, which surely led to about 25 awkward voicemails this morning. Those who have been reading this blog of course know the reason why the right-hander has now lost his last four starts ... it's the Karmic Curse of Aaron Small. Quick background: Once Rasner improved to 3-0, he was anointed by many as the next Small, the journeyman right-hander who somehow went 10-0 for the 2005 Yankees. What people didn't realize was that bad pitchers go 10-0 once every 3,000 years exactly. That Yankees fans thought they were getting two of them in one decade speaks of our unflinching hubris.

This was Rasner's first truly poor start, but his leash will be short nonetheless. With Ian Kennedy coming back in a week or two, Rasner will likely be the odd man out unless he spins a few gems in a row. Even if he does, who else would lose a rotation spot? Pettitte has been awful of late, but he's a golden boy. Wanger, Joba and Moose aren't going anywhere. Barring an injury, me thinks the Razz should start to make himself familiar with the cozy confines of the bullpen.

So, back to .500 for the Yankees at 33-33, or as Derek Jeter succinctly put it after the game, "consistently inconsistent". It's about winning series though, and taking two-out-of-three against a scrappy Oakland team would be a success with Joba set to start the opener in Houston on Friday. Pettitte is on the mound tonight, and it's scary to think, but I don't know what to expect from him at this point. In the past, I would always think the end to a Pettitte slump was always a start away. But the 2008 version of AP frightens me a bit.

Not Kyle Farnsworth appearing-from-behind-the-left-field-wall frightened, but frightened nonetheless.

Around The Horn: Wednesday's loss marked the 23rd time the Yankees have been exactly .500 this season, equaling a Major League record set by the 1959 Chicago Cubs through 66 games. ... Jason Giambi's team-leading 15th homer of the season on Wednesday was his 192nd as a Yankee, tying Tino Martinez for 14th place on the club's all-time list. In a related story, Tino is still overrated. ... Pettitte has allowed 14 runs on 20 hits in two June starts. He had an 8.31 ERA in two starts against the Athletics last year. ... Mariano Rivera had the day off on Wednesday after appearing in four straight games. Mo is 17-for-17 in save opportunities in '08, the farthest he's gone into a season without a blown save. In a related story, Rivera is still somehow underrated.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ace or not, Yanks need Wang

With the game hanging in the balance yesterday, Chien-Ming Wang showed why he's been baseball's winningest pitcher the past three seasons and, at least for one night, showed the gumption of a true ace.

In a month of struggles, the right-hander had Yankees fans worrying about their No. 1 starter. Wang's sinker wasn't sinking, his control had deserted him. Was it a funk, or was there something physically wrong? His deficiencies following a red-hot April had become a primary reason behind New York's inability to paddle out of sight of the .500 mark.

And now here we were in Oakland, in the opening game of an important six-game road swing. Wang had put the leadoff man on in each of the first six innings, a Wilson Betemit misplay away from escaping each of those frames unscathed. But the seventh brought the greatest test. Bases loaded, one out, the A's just a single away from sticking the Yankees with a momentum-burying loss.

On this day, Wang would not be denied. With Kurt Suzuki at the plate, the right-hander reached back for that sinker that had turned on him in his last six starts and this time it rewarded him. Suzuki hit a sharp grounder to Alex Rodriguez at third, starting an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

Quality relief from Veras and Rivera and a 3-1 victory was born. Yankees fans could breathe a sigh of relief. It turned out the Wanger didn't win his final game in pinstripes on May 2. You could hear the sound of rejoice from Taipei to da Bronx, to yes, Los Angeles.

It was a gutty performance by Wang, because he was again without his best stuff. When you put on the leadoff man in seven straight innings, it's typically a recipe for defeat. But Wang kept it together, and his ability to induce ground balls and double plays helps to make up for the fact that he'll never be a power strikeout guy. He's not a conventional ace by any means, but he certainly delivers similar results when that turbo sinker is going right.

With the Yanks rotation in flux this season, they need consistency from Wang more than ever. When your ace is on the mound, you should feel like you have a good chance to win even if your offense doesn't bring its best game to the table. That was certainly the case on Tuesday, as the mighty Bombers were flummoxed by the dynamic Dana Eveland. Wang bent but didn't break, a mentality this team needs from him more often in games where his best stuff isn't there.

It's impossible to understate how important Wang is to this team. Pitching at the top of a rotation buried in question marks, the Yankees need him to win 18-21 games while tossing 210-plus innings in the process. Sure, it's asking a lot of any pitcher, but he is our ace, right?

Well, he's our ace now anyway. At this point, whether or not he's a true No. 1 is inconsequential. They just need wins, and lots of them. Yesterday was a good start.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The life of a west coast Yankees fan

The Yankees are in Oakland tonight, where they'll begin a three-game series with the Athletics. Many of you will see only the early innings of the game. Some of you will miss it altogether. 10 p.m. ET start times will do that to the common working stiff on a Tuesday.

I, on the other hand, will be watching my first game of the season where the sun isn't still up by the time the final out is recorded. Such is the odd existence of the east coast sports fan living on the left coast. New York's 10 p.m. start is my 7 p.m. start. New York's 7 p.m. start is my 4 p.m. start. And yes, New York's 1 p.m. start is my 10 a.m. start.

This isn't the worst thing in the world. Since I don't have a typical 9-5 job, the 4 p.m. starts are great, usually occurring during a break in my work day while also freeing up my nights. I usually sleep until 10 a.m. anyway on weekends, and there's really nothing better than waking up to a Yankees game. Tonight's 7 p.m. game will be a new California experience for me, which is funny since I've spent my entire life watching baseball games during the summer from 7-10.

I don't really know too many baseball fans in L.A. The Dodgers consistently draw a good crowd, but all anybody seems to really care about are the Lakers. They also really like avocado.

It's weird out here.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Running to stand still

First things first. Don't worry about Mariano Rivera. He's the greatest closer ever, but he's also just like every other reliever in one way ... he goes through funks. He'll have a stretch this season where he has trouble getting people out for a week or two ... and this might be the beginning of that. It may last long enough for some columnists to say his tank is running on empty. That's always funny.

The real culprit in today's 3-2 loss was the damned offense, which continues to revel in agonizing inconsistency. Mike Mussina should be in the clubhouse right now talking to reporters about picking up his 10th win in the second week of June. Instead, despite eight innings of two-run ball against a last-place team, he's hooked with a maddening no-decision. And while Luke Hochevar may be a decent young pitcher and possibly even be a cool guy, he ain't Cy Young. He entered Monday with a 5.13 ERA. One A-Rod homer in six-plus innings? Luke Hochevar? Seriously?

Yeah, yeah, they were this close to a win. A single by Melky Cabrera in the ninth likely would have taken the game and series. But you can't win in every walk-off situation. Two of the last three Yankees wins were of the last at-bat variety, and the law of averages dictate that's not going to happen every time. We should be thankful we're 3-2 in the last five games. It very easily could have been 1-4.

So here we are again. Hitting the road for a three-game set with the A's at 32-32. Will the real New York Yankees please stand up? Because frankly, this is getting annoying.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Searching for the winning formula

Now these are types of wins that good teams produce. Nothing flashy on Sunday, just a 6-3 workmanlike effort over a Royals team still presumably shell-shocked from yesterday's tragic theater.

Last year's Yankees team -- a great one, by the way, if not for Wang's choketastic ALDS meltdown -- won games all the time like this. The formula is as follows: Opponent's starting pitcher worked into high pitch count by patient Yankees lineup until he's forced out of game between innings four and six. Starter is replaced by typical chink in opponents' armor -- middle relief. Once tapped into suspect bullpen, Yankees put up crooked number before turning it over to Joba and Mo. Done and done. And that's how you go 37-18 over your final two months.

Of course, Joba is gone from the bullpen now, which will put more onus on the starting rotation he's now part of. The 2007 team had a very 1996 dynamic to it with Joba-Mo playing the Mo-Wetteland role. This 2008 bunch still needs to figure out its formula for victory. By moving your best setup asset to the rotation, it could be assumed the starting rotation will be asked to carry a bigger load than in year's past.

Only problem is, it's a bit of a stretch to assume the rotation as currently constituted is capable of that. Right now you have Wang (steady despite recent downturn), Pettitte (a legitimate question mark), Mussina (in the midst of a unlikely career renaissance), Rasner (probably already pitching at the best of his potential) and Joba (too soon to say what to expect). Does that look like a bunch that's going to consistently carry you into the seventh inning and later? This is essentially still a team built to rely heavily on its bullpen.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Not a shocker that the bullpen needs to perform better for the Yankees to start gravitating away from that damned .500 mark. Brian Bruney is said to be coming back in a month, which could bring a big boost if he's as effective as he was prior to the foot injury. Counting on another Chamberlain to appear from the depths of the farm system is asking too much. Realistically speaking, a trade seems to be the most sensible route to address this issue. How many more Kyle Farnsworth terrorist attacks do you need before you properly defend your fair team, Cash?

So, in summation, we'll do the Peter Gammons breakdown on the 2008 Yankees as of May 8.

If the Yankees offense continues to produce, if Mariano Rivera remains his dominant self, if Joba Chamberlain can progress steadily, if Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes can figure out their problems, if Brian Bruney can come back and pitch effectively, if Brian Cashman can pull off a trade to bolster the bullpen, if Kyle Farnsworth can announce his retirement from baseball to become a professional buck hunter ... then the Yankees will be back in the postseason in 2008.

Doesn't sound that bad, right? Right guys???? Nevermind.

Around The Horn: Joba's second start was a step in the right direction. His lasted into the fifth inning, allowing three runs on five hits, striking out a career-high five. His pitch count will be risen to 90-95 for Friday's outing against the Astros. I predict a big performance there. ... Johnny Damon continued to spurn me for leaving him on my fantasy bench this week, following his six-hit Saturday with another two base knocks Sunday. His .328 average is only one point behind Hideki Matsui for the team lead. Como se dice All-Star? ... Speaking of fantasy, for those not paying attention to KC baseball -- and who among us would admit to that -- Jose Guillen is on pace for 120 RBIs. He's likely a free agent if you're in a mixed-league format. ... The Giambino continues to rake, he hit his third homer in four days on Sunday, giving him 14 for the season. That equals his 2007 power output. If he ends up going 37 and 100 on us, it's not going to be so easy to cut him loose, right? ... Dan "Don't Call Me Don" Geiss picked up his first Major League win on Sunday, following Joba in the fifth inning with 2.2 scoreless innings. To quote the construction worker in Major League, "Maybe [this guy] ain't so fuckin' bad."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

An afternoon to remember

Usually when a guy sitting on the bench of your fantasy team goes 6-for-6, a suicide watch would be in order in my place of residence.

But not today. Because when Johnny Damon's sixth (SIXTH!) hit of the day dropped into the right-field corner of Yankee Stadium, it clinched an 12-11 Yankees win in one of the wildest games you'll ever see. If you were there, or if you watched on TV, you know that this isn't an understatement.

Baseball is the best game in the world on so many levels, but the last two New York wins exemplify this more than anything. In Thursday's walk-off victory, you had no reason to believe the Yankees would come out on top, and yet Jason Giambi's big swing changed that in a heartbeat. Then came today. This was a game, despite the increasing odds, you never thought they'd lose. Watch enough games at Yankee Stadium and you start to get a feeling when that wave is coming, when 55,000 fans are staying until the final out and the opposing pitcher starts to feel the weight of a borough on his shoulders. I've always found the idea of "Yankee Stadium Mystique" a little, well, cheesy, but there's something about that old ballpark that still lends itself to special things happening. Saturday was just another example.

Andy Pettitte's alarming struggles continued, but the offense -- following a stinker on Friday -- picked up their veteran left-hander in a huge way. The Yanks erased a 5-2 deficit in the fifth, a 10-6 deficit in the seventh and eighth, and finally, an 11-10 deficit off one of the American League's best closers in the ninth.

How amazing was this game? Damon set a career high with his six hits, raising his average to a pretty .326. Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez both delivered tape-measure blasts -- Giambi going 15 rows up in the upper tank while A-Rod just missed dropping his bomb into the bleachers beyond the bullpen. On the Royals side, Jose Guillen had about as good a game as you can have, homering twice -- including a shocking grand slam off Pettitte in the seventh -- while adding two outfield assists. David DeJesus -- a very good player when he's on the field -- provided an even more shocking moment with a solo homer off Mariano Rivera leading off the ninth. Not to be undone, the rock, Jorge Posada answered with a solo shot of his own with one out in the bottom half of the inning, as Soria blew his first save of the season.

That all set the stage for Damon, who shaved his mustache this morning but pulled up his socks, a style that's not soon to disappear after today's masterpiece. A game like this shows just how dangerous the Yankees still are. Yes, it was against the lowly Royals, and yes, Pettitte's struggles are a real concern with an already thin rotation. But this team can be a hitting machine when all its pistons are pumping, and Yankee Stadium remains the ultimate home-field advantage.

Everyone keeps waiting for that moment where the Yankees will "get it", and take off toward another postseason appearance. Everyone thought that would happen Thursday, and then they stunk up the joint in the Royals opener. This win gives the Bombers another potential springboard in what has been a maddening season. Sitting at an even 31-31 with 100 games to play, can the Yankees go 60-40 (or better) to claim that playoff spot? Not an easy task, but certainly not impossible either.

These are the games, these amazing games, that make being a Yankees fan so fun, because I feel like I root for the only team that consistently does this stuff. This never-say-die comeback stuff, where ESPN anchors have to bite their tongue to keep from revealing their displeasure and Yankee Haters across the country curse to the heavens in frustration.

Yeah, this is my team. To paraphrase Joltin' Joe, I'd like to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee ... fan.