Monday, August 20, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back

The Yankees have remade their bullpen over the past month and from the small sample that we've seen so far, it seems to be working. At the trade deadline, all the talk was about that fact that the Red Sox had sealed the pennant by trading for Eric Gagne. The Yankees had tried to get Gagne, but the asking price was too high. Gagne was the closer in Texas at the time and is the all time record holder for consecutive saves. Of course he set that record about 5 arm surgeries and 15 trips to the DL ago, but he had put up very good numbers for the Rangers. The Red Sox already had an All-Star set up man in Okajima, but they proceeded to make Gagne their primary set up man. Since taking over that role, he has blown 2 saves, lost another game and has an ERA over 12. It may turn out to be that the best trade the Yankees made at the deadline was in making no deal at all.

The Yankee bullpen, which was woefully mismanaged by Torre at the beginning of the season, may in fact become a strength down the stretch. Joba Chamberlain has electrified Yankee fans with his 99MPH fastball and his 90MPH slider. He has already won over the traditionally hard to please fans and his entry into games is almost as anticipated as Mariano's. Torre has strict guidelines about his use which have become known as the Chamberlain rules. Because he has never been used as a relief before this season, he cannot pitch on consecutive days and he must have the same amount of days of rest as innings pitched. He is projected as a starter next year and the Yankees are doing everything they can to protect his valuable right arm. Edwar Ramirez struck out the side in his first inning of work yesterday and his change up is almost as devestating as Chamberlain's slider. Luis Vizcaino has taken over the primary set up role and has done a stellar job since overcoming his early season over use. Even Kyle Farnsworth has shown signs of life with four consecutive scoreless appearances, including striking out both Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez (the leagues leading hitter) in his last outing.

One of points I made earlier in the season when the Yankees were floundering, was that Torre needed to make better use of his bullpen. He relied on the same people consistently and eventually they wore down. His use of the bullpen this weekend was very judicious and they all did their job. The bullpen went the entire series against the Tigers (who are second only to the Yankees in hitting in the AL) without giving up a run. That speaks volumes to how far they have come in a very short time. Of course this could all turn around against the Angels, but for now they have turned what was a weakness into a strength. Mariano Rivera, uncharacteristically had three subpar performances in a row before righting the ship on Saturday afternoon, but he is still the most imposing figure on the mound in baseball. He is human and he will get beat occasionally, but with a game, series or season on the line, there is no one I would rather see on the mound.

The Yankees still have an uphill battle to make the playoffs, but they certainly seemed better armed than they were just a month ago. Four games doesn't seem like all that daunting a task, especially for a team that has been as far as 14-1/2 games behind the Red Sox, but the schedule for the remainder of the season favors the Sox and the Yankees are going to have to take at least four of their six remaining head to head contests to have a realistic chance of overtaking them. The Red Sox do not look like a team on the verge of collapse and with their formidable rotation, they should be able to avoid any prolonged slumps. It's still the Red Sox pennant to lose. Of course if Gagne continues to cough up games, all bets are off. Beware of what you wish for, Red Sox fans, you might just get it.

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