Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Yankee stadium must seem like a pretty lonely place to Joe Torre these days. The writers of the baseball press just won't rest until he's fired by George Steinbrenner. There have been more than a few articles claiming that the Yankees have to make a change at the top in order to turn around their season. The Yankees currently sit in second place in the east, three games under .500 and 9-1/2 games behind the streaking Red Sox. Now I understand that the Yankees haven't exactly set the world on fire for the first 6 weeks of the season, but this all seems a little premature to me. I even read that Joe might have been fired if the Yankees had been swept by the Mets. Clearly Joe didn't think so since he sent out a rookie to pitch Sunday night's game.

The Yankees pitching staff has been devastated by injuries this year. Beginning in spring training with the injury to Chein-ming Wang and continuing through Darrell Rasner having his finger broken on Saturday. The Yankees have started 7 rookies through the first 6 weeks of the season. That hasn't been done in the major leagues since the 1800's. Not only has every starter been injured at some point, but their replacements have also been injured. The Yankees best starter to date, Andy Pettitte, has been the victim of an almost criminal lack of run support and the repeated failure of the bullpen. Andy should have at least 6 wins at this point, but his record stands at 2-3. The Yankees do have help in the form of Roger Clemens, on the way and Phillip Hughes should also be back at some point in the next month or so. The rotation should be fairly solid starting in June.

The Yankees have also been very unlucky to this point in the season. They are 2-8 in one run games. Their predicted record, based on runs scored and runs allowed, is actually five games over .500, so they've been playing in some bad luck. Now some teams play in bad luck for an entire season, but I'm assuming that this will all even out for the Yankees as the season goes along. The Yankee bats have also been inconsistent to this point. Arod started off like a house on fire in April, but has had a mediocre May, although he has shown recent signs of snapping out of his funk. Bobby Abreu, Robinson Cano, Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon have been less than stellar to date. Abreu looks totally lost at the plate and Damon has not provided any punch at the top of the lineup. Jeter and Posada have been carrying the offensive load for most of May. And while they have been close to spectacular, two players cannot carry an entire lineup. The Yankees will start to produce sooner rather than later and they will begin to resemble the fearsome lineup that they were predicted to be at the beginning of the season.

Will the Yankees catch the Red Sox? That really remains to be seen, but I wouldn't put it past them. The Red Sox have had the best possible scenario to this point in the season. They haven't had any major injuries, their starters have been going deep into games, and their closer has been almost perfect. They have even managed to withstand a mediocre start by Manny Ramirez and have the best record in baseball. It's possible that they may be able to keep this up for the entire season, like the '98 Yankees or '01 Mariners (they are currently on a pace to win 115 games), but that really isn't likely. They will probably hit a rough patch during the season and the question remains whether the Yankees will be ready to mount an assault at that time.

The bottom line is that the Yankees have been playing through the worst string of injuries that I can ever remember a pitching staff having. The offense has been struggling and has looked lethargic at times. However, none of this is Joe's fault. I have questioned his handling of the bullpen from time to time, but I do not believe that there is a person better suited to managing this team than Joe is. The Yankees are not a young team who would respond to someone yelling at them, they don't need a high energy guy or a corporate guy. They have what they need. A calming influence who can steer them through the daily storm that is the New York press. In New York, everyday is a crisis. Your fortunes rise and fall with each nights game. Joe maintains a very even keeled clubhouse. He is seemingly never in crisis mode. I think that does more for the psyche of the team than anything a rah-rah manager could do. Joe and Yankees will right the ship before too long. I don't know if they will right it in time to catch the Red Sox, but trust me, the Yankees will make this pennant race much more interesting before it's all said and done.

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