Monday, July 25, 2005

Screwed?

How quickly a 5-2, optimistic road trip turns into a 6-5, “at least we salvaged that last victory” trip. True, there are worse things than ending a road trip just over .500 and heading home a game and a half back of the Red Sox. But at this point in this particular season, the Yanks just can’t take too much solace in that.

If one positive is to be taken from the four game stint in LA, it has to be yesterday’s performance by Mike Mussina. The Yanks managed to squeeze four runs out of their six hits, and Moose picked them up, going six and a third strong. This is how it’s going to have to work for the rest of the season: bats picking up when the pitching goes south and vice versa.

But it’s not like I’m introducing a new concept at this point. Problem is, the pitching staff just isn’t consistent enough to pick up when the heavy bats have an off day. And even when the guys do come out swinging – see Saturday – there’s always that off chance that Kevin Brown will be on the hill. And no one can post an insurmountable deficit like Brownie.

So now we’re stuck, pondering the same questions we were pondering for the past four months: can this team win? What do they need to change in order to actually win?

Let’s take a look at the thus far dominant Chicago White Sox for a comparison. Their top five OPB players are Scott Podsednil (.366), Paul Konerko (.355), Aaron Rowand (.344), Tad Iguchi (.340), and Jermaine Dye (.327). Their top five in terms of slugging percentage are Dye (.505), Konerko (.487), Carl Everett (.460), Joe Crede (.436), and Iguchi (.428).

Now let’s examine our Yankees. The OBP leaders are Jason Giambi (.437), A-Rod (.417), Sheff (.392), Jete (.376), and Matsui (.371). And in slugging, it’s A-Rod (.589), Giambi (.534), Sheff (.532), Matsui (.518), and Cano (.489).

What gives? The fifth highest Yank in terms of OBP has a better percentage than the highest Sock, and the slugging percentage comparison yields similar results. But, to make more sense of the stats, the Yanks have scored 537 runs (first in the majors) to the White Sox 465.

Oh yeah, I forgot for a second that baseball wasn’t just about hitting. There are those guys who hit the mound once every five days and toss the ball to those hitters. And, contrary to what the Yankees may lead you to believe, some of them don’t serve up three or more runs on a daily basis.

They have a legitimate ace in Mark Beuhrle (11-3, 2.66 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) followed by two solid hurlers – Jon Garland (15-4, 3.19 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) and Freddie Garcia (9-4, 3.60 ERA, 1.22 WHIP). And on top of that, they have two guys that while not in the upper echelon of pitchers, aren’t guaranteed to get hammered every time out (and former Yankees) – Jose Contreras ( 7-3, 4.36 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) and O-Dawg Hernandez (7-3, 4.78 ERA, 1.57 WHIP in 13 starts).

It’s going to pain me to make the Yankees comparison here, but for the same of analysis, I’ll grit my teeth and bear it. Our ace is a shell of his former self, posting a 10-8 record with a 4.18 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP, while giving up a whopping 21 home runs. The best starter on the staff now is 36-year-old Mike Mussina, who actually has an ERA below 4 (3.83), but posts a 1.33 WHIP, which could get him into trouble at some point. Our most consistent starter, Chieng-Ming Wang, is likely out for the season after providing a solid 3.89 ERA to go with a 1.21 WHIP as a rookie.

Beyond that, we have Carl Pavano, who personifies the word “struggling.” He boasts an inflated 4.77 ERA to go with a 1.47 WHIP, and the most unearned runs in the majors. Then it’s Al Leiter, who was the worst pitcher in the majors before coming to New York, as ESPN decided to point out on a daily basis. He’s had one very good start and one “eh, it could have been a lot worse” start since coming over. I think we can expect more of a happy medium between the two for the bulk of his remaining starts, but of course there are no guarantees to that. And don’t even get me started on Brownie (4-7, 6.50, 1.72).

But what even further separates the Sox from the Yanks is the bullpen. Not that the tandem of Sturtze, Gordon and Mo is deficient in any way. But the Sox – wow. Mo may lead the pack with 25 saves and a 0.85 ERA, but the Sox have three guys who have been as good if not better than Gordon thus far. Cliff Politte (1.51 ERA, 0.77 WHIP), Dustin Hermanson (1.91 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 23 saves), and Neal Cotts (2.36 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) have been lights out, and Damaso Marte (3.03, 1.65) has added a depth to the bullpen nearly unmatched across the league. Hell, even Luis Vizcaino (4.11, 1.57 WHIP) hasn’t been horrible, certainly a step up from the fifth best guy in the Yanks pen – Scott Proctor (4.80, 1.47). And God help the American League if the Sox can land Billy Wagner.

After Sturtze, the Yanks have zero reliability at this point. Maybe Felix Rodriguez will be able to step up and take some of the load off this year’s incarnation of the Three Headed Monster, but that’s mere speculation at this point.

So it becomes obvious what is needed. Problem is, what we need just isn’t readily available. A.J. Burnett is the only solid arm on the market at this point, and the Yanks aren’t even in discussions for him. Shawn Chacon is an option, but that’s not something anyone should be getting excited over.

And the relief market looks even bleaker. Seattle’s Eddie Guardado has been mentioned in trade rumors, but his price will likely be high considering his 1.64 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. Combine that with his age (34), and it looks like the Yanks won’t be willing to pony up the prospects for him, even in a deal that would also bring over Randy Winn.

With just six days until the trading deadline, it doesn’t seem like the Yanks will be able to pull off a deal that will fix the problems of the current club. This may turn in to a loooooooong second half.