Monday, August 28, 2006

Down the Stretch


The Yankees have just finished their marathon stretch of 21 games in 20 days. They have just come back from an eleven day road trip in which they went 7-4 and saw their lead over the Red Sox grow from 1-1/2 to 6-1/2. All in all a very successful stretch of games. The Yankees magic number now stands at 27 and their postseason odds still stand at 98% while the Red Sox odds have dipped to 4%. Even with all the good news, there are still problems that need to be overcome before the team can start planning their 12th straight trip to the playoffs.

Chief among those concerns are the continuing struggles of Arod. To call his west coast trip dismal would be an understatement. He is currently mired in a 1 for 17 slump, in which he has struck out 12 times. At this point, he looks totally lost at the plate. Taking pitches down the middle for strike three and swinging at pitches in the dirt. He even made an errant throw which cost the Yankees three runs yesterday. He was not charged with an error because the Yankees did get an out at first base, but not turning the double play allowed the Angels to score runs which they would not have had. Thankfully the Yankees went on the win the game or his error would have been back page fodder. Arod's errors always seem to be very costly. Everyone is going to make errors, but for some reason his always seem to come back to haunt the Yankees. There is no disputing that Arod is a hard worker. In fact after yesterday's game, he went to the batting cages for 45 minutes to work on his swing. His problem is in his head. He is perhaps the most talented baseball player alive and yet his failures seem to be affecting his performance. He needs to remember why he loves the game. Why he loved the game to begin with. It just can't be that the played baseball because he was good at it. There has to be more. He needs to remember what attracted him to the game and he needs to start having fun again. New York has broken many a player, but it should not break Arod. And most importantly, the Yankees are going to need him if they plan to advance this October.

The Yankees pitching staff is not in the best of shape either. Mike Mussina is on the DL for another week, the bullpen has been overworked and they are relying a couple of rookies for important innings. Carl Pavano, who has been making rehab starts in the minors, is once again complaining of pain. He hasn't pitched in the majors since June of last year and at this rate, it may be next June before he does again. The Yankees paid him $40 million to be a solid contributor to the starting staff, but have seen little return on their investment to this point. Pavano has to be losing as much credibility with his teammates as he has with the NY press and the fans. I'm not sure he wants to pitch in NY anymore. He is scheduled to start on Thursday, it remains to be seen if he will pitch for Columbus, the Yankees or be shut down for what seems like the 100th time.

The Yankees have had good news on the Matsui front, as his rehab continues to proceed without a hitch. He is still hoping for a return by mid September. I think it would take a miracle to get Sheffield back before the end of the season, but the lineup will definitely get a boost from the return of Matsui. Melky Cabrera has done a good job of filling in and is actually a much better fielder than Matsui is (regardless of the constant harping of Michael Kay about the fielding prowess of Matsui), but he simply doesn't hit with enough power to be a corner outfielder. He is currently carrying an OPS of .767. Matsui provides a slugging percentage approximately 100 points above what Melky has done this year.

The Yankees come home and get a much needed day off today, but starting tomorrow they will face the Tigers and Twins for 6 games. It's a good test for the Yankees, because it seems that their most likely 1st round opponent will come out of the central division. The Tigers have the best record in baseball and the Twins have the best record for the past couple of months. The schedule gets easier after these six games with the Royals and the Devil Rays upcoming. The Yankees played .500 ball over their recent punishing stretch, but they must play better if they are to keep the pressure on the Red Sox. The magic number is 27, but the team should remember that it's easier to shrink that number when you win.

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