Despite their recent rash of injuries, things have been going fairly well for the Yankees since they opened the season by dropping four of their first five games on a West Coast swing. Since returning to the Bronx for their home opener, the Yanks have lost just two of eleven series (their lone game in Fenway not counting as a series) and have only lost back-to back games twice. The problem is that they did this against the Royals, Orioles, Devil Rays, Twins (who were one of those series losses), Rangers, and a crippled A’s team. True, the did take three of five from the Blue Jays, who currently trail them by just a half game in the standings, but they also dropped three of four to the Red Sox, who lead them by the same distance.
Starting tonight, the Yankees will play six games against their two closest rivals, who also happen to be two of the three teams in baseball (the Blue Jays being the third) with the most similar records to the Bombers. Following that, they’ll alternate series against patsies (Royals, O’s) and the first place Tigers and Red Sox (yes, again). In total, 14 of the Yankees next 20 games will come against teams that currently sport better records than the Yanks’.
This isn’t the best time for this sort of thing. Hideki Matsui’s out until August at the very earliest. Gary Sheffield is nursing a mysteriously slow-healing wrist injury. Carl Pavano’s return has been dashed. Octavio Dotel isn’t here yet. Shawn Chacon’s shin will indeed force him to yield Sunday’s start to Aaron Small. And now Bubba Crosby has hit the DL with a hamstring injury, yielding his roster spot to Mitch Jones.
Jones has a strong throwing arm and a ton of pop in his bat, but will make Melky Cabrera look like Willie Mays in the outfield and Andy Phillips look like Rod Carew at the plate. Jones struck out 174 times in 128 games with Columbus last year and had 41 Ks in 39 games before being called up. Jones is a career .247 hitter in the minors, and was hitting .239 in Columbus this year. Yes, players such as Adam Dunn can be tremendously valuable despite high K-rates and low averages due to exaggerated power and patience, but Jones is unlikely to pull off such a feat making his major league debut at age 28. Unlike Andy Phillips, who’s major league debut would have come much earlier if not for an injury and the Yankees’ refusal to reward his triple-A performance appropriately, Jones has never appeared to be a major league-ready player, and to my mind, still doesn’t. Not that Jones will see much action. As a righty OF/1B, he’ll slot in behind Andy Phillips on the depth chart. That’s a frightening place to be.
The good news is that Jason Giambi’s tweaked neck didn’t cause him to miss more than one game. He returned to DH duty two days ago and played in the field yesterday, collecting two walks and a double in seven trips to the plate. He’ll be the starting first baseman throughout the weekend’s DH-less series at Shea Stadium. The Yankee outfield will be Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon (who’s nursing a foot injury that has been alternately described as bone chips and a stress fracture), and Bernie Williams. Jones, Phillips and Kevin Reese will be limited to pinch-hitting duty, though I must say, I’d rather have the righty Phillips and the lefty Reese pinch-hitting than Miguel Cairo and Bubba Crosby. Kevin Thompson, meanwhile, remains in Columbus as the Yankees want him to continue to start down there rather than ride pine in the majors.
As for this weekend’s opponent. The Mets season has thus far has been an exaggerated mirror image of the Yankees’. They built up what was briefly the majors best record against awful teams (7-1 against the Nats and Fish to start the season), and built upon it by splitting against middle-rung opponents (5-4 vs. Atlanta, splits with the Brewers and Padres, a 2-1 series win against the Giants) and adding a 3-1 stretch against the Pirates and Nationals.
The worm has turned, however, as the Mets have gone 3-6 against the Phillies, Brewers and Cardinals over the last nine games as injuries have reduced their rotation to employing the likes of tonight’s starter Jeremi Gonzalez and, yes, Jose Lima. Injuries have bit both teams hard. While the Yankees are losing outfielders on what feels like a daily basis, the Mets have a small Tommy John epidemic on their hands as three of their pitchers, ex-Yankee Juan Padilla, and both pitchers from the Scott Kazmir trade, Victor Zambrano and Bartolomo Fortunato, have had the surgery in the last two months.
Indeed, just as the Yankees are paying the price for their failure to sign a strong fourth outfielder, the Mets are paying dearly for Omar Minaya’s string of dreadful starting pitching transactions. Beyond the Kazmir trade–which has Bagwell-Anderson, Ryan-Fregosi, Brock-Broglio written all over it–Minaya flipped Jay Seo for Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll this past offseason and dealt Kris Benson for the abysmal Jorge Julio and also injured John Maine. True both Sanchez and Julio have pitched reasonably well thus far this year (Sanchez has a pretty ERA but unimpressive peripherals, Julio has an ugly ERA but, much to my surprise, better peripherals), but apparently neither inspires enough confidence in Willie Randolph to convince him to move Aaron Heilman, who has been nails as a setup man, into the rotation. The Mets handling of Heilman is yet another item on an increasingly long list of mistakes Minaya and Randolph have made with their rotation. The end result is that they’ve managed to turn Scott Kazmir into Jose Lima. Good work, guys.
Randy Johnson faces Jeremi Gonzalez tonight. That used to be a mismatch. Until Johnson proves otherwise, it looks a lot like a shootout right now.