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Howzit Goin’? Not S’Good

Posted By Cliff Corcoran On May 25, 2010 @ 4:00 pm In Cliff Corcoran | Comments Disabled

When I last checked in with this feature, prior to the Yankees last visit to Fenway Park, the Yankees were 19-8, just one game out of first place, and had lost just one series on the season. Since then, they’ve gone 7-10, lost three more series and split a fourth, and fallen a full six games behind the Rays. The upside is that they’re still in second place in the American League East and are tied with the Twins for the second-best record in the AL.

The Yankees arrive in Minnesota tonight in the midst of their first full-blown slump of the season. Over their last 15 games they are 5-10, and they have won just one of their last six contests. Prior to Sunday’s game, Joe Girardi identified a “multitude of problems” that have contributed to the team’s woes, including starting pitching, the bullpen, and clutch hitting. To my eye, the last of those has been less damaging than the first two.

The Yankees’ one win in their last six games came in the game in which they scored the fewest runs, their 2-1 victory over the Mets on Friday. In the five losses over that stretch, the Yankees have scored an average of five runs per game, well above the league average of 4.52, but have allowed an average of 7.2. That’s on the pitching.

When I last checked in, the Yankees were 18-4 in games started by the top four men in their rotation (CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes). Since then, Sabathia has made just one quality start in four appearances, posting a 5.96 ERA, A.J. Burnett has posted an 8.15 ERA in three starts, Phil Hughes has given up nine runs in 10 2/3 innings over his last two starts, and Andy Pettitte had his first bad start of the season, giving up seven runs (six earned) in five innings against the Rays. In the ten games covered in that last sentence, the Yankees have gone 2-8. Six of those losses can be blamed entirely on the starting pitching, while both wins can be credited to the offense, with the bullpen sharing credit on one.

Meanwhile, Javy Vazquez has made two quality starts in as many attempts posting a 1.35 ERA and this line: 13 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 13 K. However, Javy was twice skipped over for Sergio Mitre, who pitched well for a spot-starter, but took the loss in his first start after giving up four runs (three earned) in 4 1/3 innings. That’s an seventh loss that can be blamed on starting pitching.

Of the remaining three losses from the Yankees’ 7-10 stretch, one was the fault of the offense, which failed to score a run for Javy Vazquez in Detroit as the Tigers won 2-0. The other two can be hung on the bullpen. Those two losses came in a three-game stretch a week ago during which Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera both got hit hard in back-t0-back outings.

Chamberlain has made one appearance since then, but it was a dominant one in which he struck out three men in 1 2/3 perfect innings, stranding two inherited runners to boot. Rivera has also made just one appearance since then, but he again gave up a run on a pair of hits, though he still escaped with the save in a 2-1 Yankee win over the Mets. Still, I’m not concerned about those two long-term.

Yes, the Yankees have some hitters who are struggling, specifically two- and three-spot hitters Brett Gardner (1-for-18 with just one walk), and Mark Teixeira (3-for-25), but Teixeira singled in his last two at-bats, and the lineup is slowly returning to health with Curtis Granderson looking good in his rehab assignment with Scranton and likely to be activated when the team returns home to face the Indians this weekend.

Granderson’s return, along with Nick Swisher’s return to action in the Mets series, will put the Yankee outfield back at full strength and allow Marcus Thames and Juan Miranda to settle into a platoon at designated hitter, and Randy Winn to return to his role as a speed-and-defense sub.

Despite being ravaged by injuries (Jorge Posada remains out with a broken foot and Nick Johnson could be lost for the season) and having several late-inning rallies have fall just short, the offense is not the problem. It is, after all, putting together those late-inning rallies in the first place. Rather it’s the need for those rallies, created by poor performances from the starting pitchers, that has been the problem.

I’m not terribly concerned about that either. Phil Hughes was due for some correction, but he has only had two bad starts, and the last against the Mets wasn’t that bad as he struck out seven men in 5 2/3 innings and allowed just four runs, one on the last pitch he threw. CC Sabathia had an unusually strong April, so his May struggles just feel like compensation for that. I have no doubts that he’ll dominate in the second half as he always does. Andy Pettitte has only had one bad outing, and he earned it with his best start to a season ever. Javy Vazquez and A.J. Burnett still have some proving to do, but Vazquez is well on his way and Burnett has always been inconsistent, so he’s not pitching out of character.

It’s not been a lot of fun to watch, but the Yankees recent skid hasn’t hurt them that much and doesn’t seem likely to continue much longer. But as for how it’s going . . . meh, it’s been better.

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