Monday, August 01, 2005

Randy Just Being Randy

I got a lot of crap from some people – well, my buddy Andy at least – when I wrote a piece criticizing Randy after his dominant performance against the Twins. It’s not like he was in a funk or anything; quite to the contrary, he was 4-0 over five decisions with a 2.97 ERA after that game.

The brightest spot of Randy’s newfound consistency: it came at a time when the team mentality is, “we have to win every game Randy and Mussina pitch.” With the pitching staff in arrears, those two are the only guys who can really be expected to win anything. The rest of the staff is experimental at best, with the bulk of our opening day crew on the DL.

But Randy wasn’t in top form yesterday, which hasn’t been uncommon this season, surrendering six runs over seven and a third and leaving the game down 5-2, and it was quickly 6-2 after a Juan Rivera sac fly allowed Orlando Cabrera, Johnson’s runner, to score.

And to think I was just about to grant Randy some amnesty. It did seem like he may have been finding his form. Maybe not his old form, because it should be a foregone conclusion at this point that the Randy of old only exists in spurts.

Then he goes and pitches another questionable game. True, it wasn’t the debacle that his July 1st start was (seven runs over five innings), but Randy did himself no favors yesterday despite going seven and a third.

It’s not like this is news or anything. Randy has lost a step, and there’s little evidence to argue against that point. I know there are plenty of Yankees die hards out there who are still in denial, that still think Randy has enough gas in the tank to lead us to a World Series triumph. I just don’t understand how that thinking can still hold up, considering his performance through four months.

I do realize that the last person I counted out was Jason Giambi. And I do realize that my foot was lodged snugly my mouth for quite some time during his recent surge. This isn’t quite the same situation, however. Randy didn’t have a parasite sharing his meals and a benign tumor last year. Actually, Randy was 16-14 with a 2.60 ERA for the worst team in the majors last year, both in terms of wins (51) and runs scored (615).

It’s fruitless at this point to dwell on Randy’s shortcomings, since I’ve done so in the recent past. What I will say, however, is that he better have most of these six and seven runs out of his system. It’s August, and the Yanks are actually behind in the division, and what we need most is starting pitching (a more obvious statement has never been made).

With 59 games remaining, Randy should have about 12 starts left, considering the Yanks go with him every fifth game, not day. I’d say we need him to be 8-2, 7-3, or something in that vicinity, but I just don’t see that happening. He’ll probably finish out the season at 16-9 with an ERA in the high threes, which isn’t terrible by any measure. WARNING: oncoming cliché. It’s just not the Randy we’re paying $16 million for.

What’s worse than his performance is his explanations/excuses following each of his poor starts. It started with the weather, followed by his rhythm being off. Then it was the acclimation back to the American League. But, come the end of May, Randy found himself out of excuses, so his statements to the media were along the lines of, “I don’t want to be pitching this poorly,” and “Obviously I don’t want to be allowing so many home runs.” No shit, Sherlock.

But there are glimmers of light in the Yankees pitching rotation. Al Leiter has been much improved over his performance with the Marlins, and isn’t a half-bad facet in our rotation. Shawn Chacon pitched six quality innings before goofing during his warm up tosses in the seventh. His only gaffe was walking three, which is forgivable at this point. Aaron Small has been the most pleasant surprise thus far, providing the Yanks two quality starts in a row. And as I’ve said in previous posts, I’ll take six or seven innings with three runs any day of the week at this point, especially if he can fit in the five hole.

Carl Pavano is on his way back, and depending on the report you read, he could be back as early as this week. I know that expecting Pavs to pick things up and finish the season strong is nothing more than wishful thinking, but maybe his time on the DL has given him time to get his head on straight. He proved last year that he has the stuff to thrive as a money pitcher, but has yet to demonstrate that to the bloodthirsty fans in the Bronx.

With a rotation of Johnson, Mussina, Pavano, and a combination of Leiter, Chacon and Small, the Yanks are in at least decent shape as far as starting pitching goes. The one thing we’re lacking is a dominant ace, which places us in a boat similar to last season, when our hitting just couldn’t finish the job.

The Yanks have proven that they’re capable of scoring six runs a game, which is phenomenal. But they certainly can’t score six runs in each and every game they play. The pitching has to step up and keep them in a game where they only put up two or three runs. Otherwise, failure down the stretch is certain. And whether he looks like the Randy of old or the Randy of new, he’s where the pitching staff begins.

Thankfully, it still ends with Mo.