Thursday, August 18, 2005

Over?

I’m not saying it’s over, but tonight it felt like it was. All over. Nothing. No division, no Wild Card, nothing. If the demoralizing loss two nights ago was an omen, then the demoralizing loss last night was confirmation.

I don’t want to say all of this; I want to be a Believer. I want to be able to say, “Those two losses aren’t a problem. We’ll just pick it up, sweep the White Sox, and eventually sweep Boston at the Stadium to put ourselves right in the middle of things.” But recent history precludes me from making such statements.

All this inconsistency is killing me inside. The wins bring back memories of a time when the Yanks went up on you and that was it. Game over. And no deficit was insurmountable. The comeback kids. But the losses conjure thoughts of Pat Kelly, Alvaro Espinoza, Kevin Maas, and my personal favorite, Andy “Stanky the Yankee” Stankiewicz.

This is a time when we should be getting psyched up for the home stretch. September baseball, baby! A new season. A mini-season the Yankees have owned since 1998. But now Yankees fans, en masse, are biting off their fingernails night after night, praying for the team to eek out a win against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Call us spoiled, but this is baseball in New York. It’s been the routine for years now. The team tears it up during the regular season – though they always hit some kind of skid along the way – and test their mettle in the playoffs.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were going to avenge the humiliating loss to the Sox last year. But then John Henry bribed our entire pitching staff to take a dive, leaving us with a scrub rotation of Randy Johnson (not bribed, he just sucks), Mike Mussina (a Stanford man wouldn’t accept such a bribe), Al Leiter (Henry bribed Larry Beinfest to release him), Shawn Chacon (the bribe that backfired) and Jaret Wright (Henry didn’t recognize his name, so he didn’t bother to bribe him).

The Yanks have 42 games remaining, so this seems like a premature rant. But it’s not. It needs to be said, and it needs to be said now. We’re only 4.5 off of Boston’s division lead, and a mere 1.5 behind Oakland for the Wild Card, but the team is going to have to turn everything around in these 42 games to pull this one off.

Problem is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team this inconsistent all the sudden find something solid to cling on. And it’s not like we have a solid pitching rotation we can use as a foundation; hell, if we had a solid rotation, we wouldn’t be in this mess right now. If we could count on the arms to come through when the bats have an off night, we’d be the ones in first place, looking down on the lowly Red Sox.

That’s not to say the pitching is the entire problem. Mussina has provided quality innings this year, Chacon has been a monster of a surprise, Small – despite last night – has been solid, and Mo, save for a few aberrations, has been the best closer in baseball. There are flaws in our batting order as well.

Namely seven, eight, nine – any combination of Bernie, Tino, Posada, Womack or Bubba. Now, I’ll grant Bernie and Tino some amnesty, since they’ve been producing a bit lately. But Posada (managing a .265 average in August, and that’s a good month), Womack (need I go into statistics with him), and Bubba (.175 average, .233 OBP).

This is problematic for Jason Giambi, who is much more productive, obviously, when he’s seeing quality pitches. But after his recent resurgence, pitchers are finally figuring out to feed him a steady diet of off-speed pitches, knowing that even if they put him on for free, the three guys hitting behind him don’t pose much of a threat.

Yankees teams in the recent past have had flaws, but not as glaring as this year’s incarnation. This should make things exciting, however, to be in a bona fide pennant race. And it would, except the Yankees’ flaws are so egregious, it may just make it impossible to stay in this thing.

But that’s mere speculation at this point. Because as I said, there are still 42 games left to erase a 4 and a half game deficit. And since six of those 42 are against the Red Sox, the thought that the season might be over after last night’s game is a ridiculous notion, right?

It’s ridiculous if you think a team can play significantly better in the last 42 games of the season than they have for the first three quarters of it.