Monday, August 07, 2006

This is When It Gets Tough

Let's just say this was an acceptable weekend. We won two out of three, which is always acceptable for a division foe. It is extra acceptable when the Red Sox drop two out of three, moving us up a game in the standings. One quick thought before I get to Mike Mussina.

I don't think the importance of sweeping the Blue Jays is adequately stated at this point. If the Yankees make it to the World Series this year, you can look right back to the Jays series as a serious turning point. Of course, the obvious place to look is the sweep of the White Sox in the series after the All-Star break, as the Yankees have been hot ever since. But to sweep a division rival and for all intents and purposes knock them out of the AL East race is just huge. The Jays can play great ball for the rest of the year, but because the Yankees utterly dominated them for three straight games, they stand only a minimal shot of playing past October 1.

Now on to the Moose. The bats are in order and are only going to get stronger. This means, as we've known for quite some time, that we're going to need some top-notch pitching out of Wang, Moose, and Randy. They're our top guys, they have to anchor the rotation so that when Wright and Lidle inevitably screw up, we'll be able to recover. While stellar in April and May, Mussina fell off a bit in June, recovered at the end, and slipped again in July. August didn't get off to such a hot start, either.

In his final two July starts, Mussina was spot on, going seven innings and allowing one run while striking out six and walking two. He followed that up with a four-inning shutout of the Mets, but was unable to continue on after a lengthy rain delay. And, if you remember, he complained of a groin problem when exiting. It appears that the injury lingered throughout July. His numbers from July 5 through August 5


There's only a slight shift in peripherals, so it appears that luck is a big factor here. He's still striking guys out at a more than acceptable rate, and still refuses to walk too many batters. All of his ratios appear to be in order, though he could do himself well by cutting back on the homers. It's mainly due to his extreme flyball tendencies, as he's sitting on a 1.02 ratio His hits per nine has increased over the aforementioned period, so inducing the ground ball may be the remedy for Mussina's woes. Of course, that's much easier for me to sit here and write than for Mussina to do, but yeah, that looks to be the problem.

Have I mentioned that I'm on the Bobby Abreu bandwagon? The more he plays, the more I see that he's the perfect fit in this lineup. As the No. 3 hitter, he adds a threat to the basepaths. Damon, Jeter, Abreu, and Alex all pose basestealing threats, making pitchers especially uneasy. And then you have Giambi batting fifth, where his low average/high OBP/high Slugging make him a perfect fit. The top four are hitting and on-base machines, and Giambi packs the base clearing power.

Enjoy the day off today, folks, because we're hitting the 2120-day stretch. No days off, so there has to be at least a prayer going out for rain at some point along the way, preferably on Thursday the 17th, a home game against the Orioles that immediately precedes the five-game stint in Boston. Not only will that give the team a rest, but it will allow for a bit more flexibility in the rotation.

There's more injury reprieve on the way. We know that Cano will return on Tuesday (good timing by Cairo on that injury), and now there are whispers circulating about Carl Pavano and Octacio Dotel. Not that I have faith in the return of either, but they're both working in the minors, hopeful for a September return. Dotel has been working out in the Rookie league, and Pavano is set to make a start on Thursday for the Tampa Yankees.

I know everyone is down on Carl Pavano, and for good reason. The guy signed a huge contract and came in with corresponding expectations. He pitched like crap upon arrival, which has everyone thinking that he's a bum. I don't disagree. However, I do think that he was injured some time in Spring Training 2005, and pitched at far less than 100 percent until he was sidelined in early July. The bone chips he just had scoped out almost certainly existed throughout 2005. So to judge his effectiveness for the Yankees on his abbreviated stint last year isn't exactly fair.

We all know how good Pavano can be. We also know how disappointing he's been. There doesn't seem to be a place on this team for him, but with the two huge question marks in the rotation, he could provide some innings down the stretch. However, since he's been out all year, I don't expect he'll be able to build up enough stamina between now and September 1 to really play a part in the rotation. The bullpen may be his home in September and October, where I think he could be put to quality use. He'll replace Sidney Ponson, which makes plenty of fans happy. And, bum or not, I would think the guy could tough it through one inning at a time, providing an even more solid bridge to Mariano. If the Yanks can stock the bullpen with Villone, Pavano, Proctor, Dotel, and Farnsworth before Mo, they'll be set. This gives you multiple options, meaning that many of the guys won't have to pitch back to back days.

This is all speculation based on a notion that Dotel and Pavano can not only come back, but be effective. But dammit, we have to have some hope in us that those investments will pay off in some way. It's not like the stock market where we can sell off these failed endeavors. No, Dotel and Pavano are like Certificates of Deposit: you're stuck with them until a certain maturity date, lest you pay an early withdrawal penalty (the penalty being the remainder of the contracts...not so attractive). In these situations, all we really have is hope. Now I feel like a goddamn after school special.

Tomorrow will be another edition of my weekly drubbing of a sports columnist. I'm trying to pick an author in a different region, but if anyone has seen some especially bad New York sportswriting today or over the weekend, forward it along to me.