Monday, August 28, 2006

Unburdening the Yanks

I really needed a weekend away from baseball. And, thanks to the inconvenient timings of the Angels series, I was able to successfully avoid the bulk of Friday and Saturday's bouts. Apparently I was fortunate; the results were typically pathetic, the absurd number of men left on base being the revisited main story – 13 on Friday and another 10 on Saturday. These numbers are expounded when you factor in the Yankees run totals from those days, 5 and 7, respectively.

I caught the first three and the final two innings of yesterday's game, which was a combination of unimaginable glee and pure disgust. How we're going to rely on Kyle Farnsworth in the eight inning of playoff games is beyond me. I've been behind this guy all year and have endured flat slider after flat slider after hundreds of pitches outside the strike zone. At this point, I'm quite sick of him, and will accept any and all related complaints. And the backup plan, the guy who might have been able to wrest some of the workload and related pressure from Farnsworth, isn't close to being ready.

The quick answer is to re-slot the bullpen. Move Proctor into the eight inning role, Villone into the seventh, and have Farnsworth work random spots in the sixth and seventh innings. The problem, of course, is the abuse Torre levies on his late-innings men. This is why Dotel's recovery is so integral to the team's success in the stretch. If he can return to form and lock down the seventh or eighth inning, that removes stress from the already overworked relievers. We are, after all, approaching bullpen abuse reminiscent of 2004. We don't want to fight that battle again.

2006GAL Rank2004GAL Rank
Scott Proctor661Paul Quantrill861
Kyle Farnsworth612Tom Gordon802
Ron Villone603Mariano Rivera747
Mariano Rivera5712

Thankfully, there's one more to take the load, though it doesn't seem to be helping too much. Proctor is on pace for 82 appearances, which will near Quantrill's mark. Farnsworth is on pace for 76, Villone 75, and Mo 71. Ideally, you'd like to see Dotel snatch up three or so innings from each guy, but he's not going to be able to accomplish that as he currently stands. This, I think, is going to turn into the story of September. No, wait, I totally forgot the way more important story.

Let me all tell you a tale about a man so great that his only downfall was himself. He goes by the moniker A-Rod, but those of us who don't hate him just call him Alex. Once upon a time, he was the best player in baseball, knocking 36 homers and 54 doubles at the age of 20. And, as if that wasn't enough, he hit 42 home runs and stole 46 bases two years later, firmly installing him in the elite class of the greatest game on the planet. Even as recently as last year, he hit an astounding .321/.421/.610. It seemed as if Alex would be remembered by gilded shrines memorializing his status a man among slightly lesser men.

Even the super-smart people out there who avoid the mainstream Yankees coverage are by now familiar with Alex's struggles at the plate. Even yesterday, as he broke an 0-for-20-something skid at the plate, he didn't look particularly comfortable. It was a pitch slightly above the waist from the lefty Joe Saunders, and Alex slapped it into center for a base hit. On the upside, it didn't look like he tried to do too much with the pitch. His swing looked pointedly shorter, and he just wanted to slap that ball somewhere for base hit. The problem I saw with it was that he was very slow reacting and deciding whether to swing. Had he started his swing sooner (as a result of deciding to swing earlier), he might have drilled that ball on a line to center. Of course, that might have headed straight into Chone Figgins's glove, but I would have rather seen a laser right to a fielder than to see his continued discomfort at the plate. It's like when your buddy is on a dry spell with the ladies; you'd rather see him have the confidence to talk to a beautiful woman and get rejected than sidle up next to the skankiest ho at the bar. However, sometimes it's that skank that puts you back in a more realistic frame of mind, so there is still hope for Alex's recovery. There's always hope when you're 31 and your past includes two MVP trophys.

I said that a lot would be revealed about this team over the 20-day stretch, but that turned out only partially true. We lost quite a few winnable games, especially earlier on (i.e. Chicago), which is disheartening, but it was nice to see them pick up all the pieces and throw them at Boston, who comprised just shy of a quarter of the stretch. Slaying their most direct competitor showed valor on the Yankees part, and gives me hope and confidence that this team can survive a playoff series or two (but hopefully three).

What we haven't seen is the recovery. The team still barely managed to tread water over the span, and much will be learned as they host Detroit and Minnesota this week. Four out of six here would be pretty sweet, as the following 11 days are filled with 10 games against Kansas City, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay. Then it's Boston at home for four, up north to Toronto, down to Tampa Bay (thank jebus there's an off-day in between), then back home to finish the season against Baltimore and Toronto. Judging by the way the team has played over this stretch, the strength of the division and the strength of remaining schedule, the Yankees are set up nicely for another AL East title.