The Tenth Inning – Week 3 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
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By Mike Ivcic
As the season continues, it is becoming more and more apparent that parody has indeed become a critical element of baseball. Teams like the Pirates, Royals, and Marlins all sit above .500 and appear ready to at least challenge bigger market teams with higher payrolls for spots in the playoffs. Last weekend, however, the team with the highest payroll, one of the most stories franchises in all of sports, drove up I-95 for meeting at Fenway Park with their archrival and promptly got swept. While the sweepers, the Red Sox, are now cruising along with a 10-game winning streak, the “sweepee,” the Yankees, find themselves at the exact break even mark, 9-9 and third in the AL East. Since most people expect New York to be in the running for October baseball, here’s how they shape up now and what they need to do to prove the pundits accurate.
The Yankees have two glaring weaknesses right now – health and the bullpen. Sure, A.J. Burnett couldn’t hold a 6-run lead Saturday and Chien-Ming Wang’s ERA is higher than most NFL’s teams points-per-game total, but with the lineup in the Bronx, the starting rotation will be fine. C.C. Sabathia has always struggled in April, Andy Pettitte has done more than expected as the team’s number 4 starter, and Burnett will overcome a rough outing and be fine. Wang’s brutal start and subsequent injury issues are indeed a concern, but not of epic proportions like the other areas.
The bullpen currently consists of Mariano Rivera and six guys the Yankee beat writers and broadcasters couldn’t even pick out of a police lineup, let alone you or me. The easiest and most effective solution would be to move Joba Chamberlain back into the setup role, but from Hank Steinbrenner to Brian Cashman to Joe Girardi, all indication is that won’t be happening – ever. Sure, most Yankee fans would prefer Joba as a setup man and Phil Hughes as the fifth starter as opposed to the current collection of rookies and retreads occupying the 8th inning job, but it won’t happen. Look for the Yanks to make a deal for a veteran set-up man sometime before the trading deadline to give Mo some help in the back end of that bullpen, and until they do no lead is safe.
Speaking of Rivera, one final thought on the bullpen – don’t pitch him against the Red Sox again. When Jason Bay, one of the newest members to this whole rivalry, is hitting game-typing homeruns, it’s time to simply admit that the team owns the player, in this case Boston owning Rivera, especially at Fenway. He’s the greatest closer ever, but just not against the Sox. Leave it alone.
As for injuries, while he might be scorned publicly as a prima donna and is for sure grossly overpaid in today’s economy, the Yanks need A-Rod back and badly. First, without Rodriguez the lineup is way too left-handed dominant. Cano, Matsui, Damon all hit left-handed, and while Teixeira and Posada are both switch-hitters, they’ll never see a lefty since Jeter is the only righty who would scare any opponent, which isn’t saying much. Once Rodriguez, and right fielder Xavier Nady, return, a likely lineup like the one below would help overcome some of the potential pitching issues.
SS Jeter R
That also doesn’t include Nick Swisher, who as a switch-hitter can spell Nady against tough righties and either Damon, Matsui, or Gardner against lefties. The balance and depth to that batting order would be ridiculous, the bench would be versatile and formidable, and the pressure would decrease dramatically on the pitching staff. While the addition of another pitching in the bullpen would surely be of comfort, it’s the addition of those already on the roster that the Yankees need the most.
Overall, this team will be in a dogfight to avoid missing the postseason for the second consecutive season, but the talent is clearly present to be the best team in baseball. The keys are performance and health, and that, as they say in Bristol, is why they play the games.
This week, watch for…
Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper
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