Friday, June 19, 2009

Just who exactly are these Yankees?

The popular thinking among fans and media this week leading up to the Yankees' three-game series with the woeful Washington Nationals all had more or less the same unifying theme. "Nothing less than a sweep!" was the cry, and on the surface it didn't seem to be asking for all that much. The Nats are baseball's worst team, after all. They had entered Yankee Stadium having won just five of their previous 30 road contests while their hot-seat manager had all but been asked what he'd like for his final meal.

But the truth of the matter is that sweeping any team, no matter how moribund it may be, is easier said than done. Baseball is not the NFL or NBA, leagues where the home favorite will almost undoubtedly crush the bottomfeeders. In baseball, the grind of the 162-game schedule coupled with the nature of the game itself -- a Major League pitcher can shut down any team on a given day -- makes the outcome far more difficult to assume. Unless you're sports-almanac-stealing Biff in Back to the Future II, you're not making millions in Vegas betting on the national pastime.

So it was with a stiff upper lip that I handled the 3-2 loss on Wednesday that evened the series at one and eliminated the sweep possibility. John Lannan is a lefty and he isn't half bad, and sometimes you just have to hand it to a dude. He kept the Yanks guessing all night and he went into the ninth inning, so you just have to tip your cap. Despite that, the Yankees still almost won the damn thing, if not for Robbie Cano's latest lesson in why not to trust him in a big spot.

That said, if you consider yourself even a halfway decent team, you have to take care of business in the rubber game last night. Maybe that's the problem here, the Yankees may consider themselves to be a much better team then they actually are. How else can you explain Thursday night's effort? They played the first three innings like they had a flight to catch, everyone that is except for Joba Chamberlain, who labored his way through six uninspired innings. Does anybody remember how exciting it used to be to watch this guy pitch? That seems like a long time ago.

But that's another story for another day. This failure fell on a lineup that managed just two runs in the final 18 innings against baseball's worst pitching team. Inexcusable. The culprits were everywhere, though it must always start at the top of the payroll. Just as Alex Rodriguez energized the team when he came off the disabled list, he is killing them now. His slump -- three hits in his last 10 games -- makes you scratch your head as to how this guy hasn't gotten even one day off since returning. People complained why A-Rod didn't keep the Yanks out of the double play in the ninth by stealing second on Wednesday, but the simple answer is that A-Rod cannot move very well right now. I was at two of the Subway Series games, and I cringed watching him maneuver around the basepaths. The guy looked like Mickey Mantle circa 1968.

Not having Jeter in the lineup was a great detriment, and there are at-bats these days when Hideki Matsui looks like he'd strike out in a t-ball game (see: Matsui v. Villone). Teixeira, meanwhile, has cooled off (5 for his last 27) and no one else on the roster has stepped in to pick up the slack.

The last two nights were nothing less than an embarrassment. This was a team that assumed everything and -- if not for some brutal outfield play from Elijah Dukes on Tuesday -- would've had nothing at all. You can only wonder what Ol' George would have thought about all of this. It's times like this where you really miss the big galoot.

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