I know I said last week that I’d do a full breakdown in previewing this series, but frankly, I’m winded. While no one expected the Yankees to win more than on game in Boston last weekend, their being swept in a series that was actually more evenly matched than most anticipated was a bitter pill and their three loses this past week that have pushed their overall slide to six games has even the most optimistic Yankee fans shaking their heads.
The Yankees are languishing in last place with the third worst record in the AL and the fifth-worst in baseball, yet their Pythagorean winning percentage is .562. There are two reasons for that. The first is that the Yankee offense, despite being shut out for the first time all season last night, is still the most productive in baseball, scoring six runs per game. The second is that the Yankee bullpen, which looked like a major strength entering the season, has blown seven saves. Losing close and winning big, that’s how a team underperforms it’s Pythagorean, and that’s exactly what the Yankees have been doing. Only two of the Yankees’ 12 loses have been by more than two runs. Think about that. Eight times they’ve been a bloop and a blast away from tying or winning a game in their final at bat, but eventually lost (two of those close losses were walk-off jobs in Oakland) including five of their current six-game losing streak. On the flip side, three of their eight wins have come in their final at-bat (the two game winners by Alex Rodriguez and Giambi’s tie-breaker in extras in Oakland).
That’s exhausting baseball, and exhaustion is exactly the problem. The rotation was supposed to shape up before it shredded the bullpen. That didn’t happen. The offense is the best in the league but the best isn’t good enough to overcome the team’s pitching woes. Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte give the Yankees a powerful 1-2 punch atop the rotation, and both will face the Sox this weekend, but the Yankees have lost four of the five games those two have started because of the strain placed on the bullpen by the rest of the rotation. The pen appeared to get a reprieve with Wednesday night’s rain out, but having already soured on Japanese import Kei Igawa, who’s been pulled from the rotation, the team asked 20-year-old rookie phenom Phil Hughes to make his major league debut last night and thus needed another 4 2/3 innings from the bullpen. With the pen already exhausted, however, there was no one Joe Torre could turn to as a long man for mop up duty short of Igawa himself, so those 4 2/3 innings saw him burn through four of his seven relievers.
As a result the only fully rested relief arms for tonight’s game are Luis Vizcaino, Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera, who have been the team’s worst performers in the early going. Vizcaino was the pitcher most abused in the early going, but there’s reason for optimism with Farnsworth and Rivera. Rivera, of course, is Mariano Rivera, and pitched a scoreless inning on Monday, working around a hit to strike out two. Farnsworth, meanwhile, has turned in a scoreless frame in each of his last four outings, allowing just two hits and a walk over that span while striking out three (though three Ks in 4 IP is still a bit low for him).
In other good news, Wang looked like he was in midseason form in his debut on Tuesday, picking up the loss only because of the failures of the bullpen, and Hideki Matsui has also hit the ground running since being activated from the disabled list on Monday going 2 for 7 with a homer and five walks (.583 OBP). It may not seem like it, but the Yankees are a strong team than they were a week ago heading into Boston.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, were merely .500 on the week, dropping a pair at home to the Blue Jays by a combined score of 17-6, but beating the Orioles twice in Baltimore by a combined score of 11-3. The good news is that the Yankees will be facing the guys who pitched against Toronto (Tim Wakefield and Julian Tavarez), and not the ones who faced Baltimore (Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett).
Tonight, they get their second crack at Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Yanks touched Matsuzaka up for six runs in seven innings on Sunday, one of them coming on a Derek Jeter homer over the Green Monster. On the other hand, Matsuzaka struck out seven Yankees and walked just one. Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte excelled against the Sox a week ago tonight, holding them to two runs over 6 1/3 innings, but Andy’s peripherals were less impressive than Matsuzaka’s. I’m anticipating a pitchers’ duel tonight, which should simply add to the exhaustion factor for those of us watching the game, but could be a benefit to the Yankee bullpen.
The Red Sox roster is unchanged from last week, though Coco Crisp has been struggling with an oblique strain, allowing Wily Mo Peña to start in center and do things like hit game-breaking grand slams against Orioles closer Chris Ray (sound familiar?) and strike out ten times in his last five games.