Things weren’t going so well the last time I checked in with this feature, but since then the Yankees have gone 14-5, kicking things off with a series win against the NL Central-leading Twins in the new ballpark in Minneapolis, then taking a big bite out of the soft part of their schedule by going 11-2 against the Indians, Orioles (twice), and Astros with only a series loss on the road to the upstart Blue Jays in the middle of that run to sour the mood.
That soft part of the schedule has been particularly beneficial to Javier Vazquez, who over his last six starts is 4-2 with a 2.94 ERA and has won each of his last three starts, posting a 2.57 ERA while striking out 22 in 21 innings against just five walks and 11 hits (albeit with four of those hits leaving the park). Vazquez was, however, responsible for the one loss against the Twins, as he gave up 5 runs in 5 2/3 innings, though the offense’s inability to get to Nick Blackburn was equally problematic.
The Yankees’ one loss in the seven games that followed was entirely the fault of the pitching as the offense staked CC Sabathia to a 9-3 lead against the Indians after four innings, but CC and the bullpen couldn’t hold it. Joba Chamberlain was the goat in that one, giving up four runs while getting just one out, blowing the save and taking the loss. That was the last of a bad stretch for Joba in which he gave up a total of 11 runs in three ugly outings, all Yankee losses, over a span of five appearances. Since then, he has allowed just one run in his last seven outings and hasn’t walked a batter.
The Yankees’ one loss in their last seven games was largely the result of the offense being stifled by Orioles pitching prospect Jake Arrieta in his major league debut. A.J. Burnett took the loss in that game, but pitched well enough to win (6 2/3 IP, 4 R). The Yankees also lost Burnett’s previous start, which was equally the fault of Burnett (6 IP, 6 R against his old team in Toronto) and the offense’s inability to do anything against young lefty stud Brett Cecil (8 IP, 1 R).
Cecil is now 7-2 with a 3.22 ERA on the season, and Arrieta is a highly regarded prospect for the O’s, so I can’t get on the offense too much for those two games. As for Burnett, he still has a 3.86 ERA on the season, which is better than his 2009 mark (4.04) and almost a dead match for his career ERA (3.84). His strikeouts are way down, but his walks and wild pitches are down with them. There’s not much to complain about. That he’s being outpitched by the rest of the rotation says more about the rest of the rotation than it does about him.
The only other Yankee loss over this recent stretch was a 3-2 loss in 14 innings to the Blue Jays in Toronto. You can again blame the offense for that one, but again Ricky Romero has a 3.29 ERA on the season and worked the first eight innings of that one, so again, tip your hat to a good young pitcher from the division who could continue to make life hard on the home nine for years to come. Also tip your hat to the Yankee bullpen’s performance in that one as Chamberlain, Damaso Marte, David Robertson and Chan Ho Park kept the 2-2 tie in tact for five innings in relief of Andy Pettitte before Chad Gaudin finally came in and lost it. Gaudin has allowed runs in four of his six outings since returning to the Yankees.
The end result of the Yankees’ recent feast on the soft, supple flesh of the leagues’ weakest teams is that they’ve pulled into a first-place tie with the Rays in the division and for the best record in the majors. Tomorrow they open a three-game set at home against a slumping Phillies team, then continue with interleague against the Mets, Diamondbacks, and the surging Dodgers before finding another soft landing with ten of 13 against the weaker teams in the AL West (including seven against lowly Seattle) before a mid-July showdown with the Rays in the Bronx.
Looking over the remainder of the schedule, the Yankees face the Rays and Red Sox for seven of ten games in early August followed by two against the Rangers, but otherwise they have plenty of landing spots until they hit a season-ending gauntlet that has them play 16 of their last 22 against the Rangers, Rays, and Red Sox, and 13 of their last 19 (or, if you prefer, 10 of their last 13) against the Rays and Sox. All the more reason for the Yankees to fatten up while they can, which is exactly what they’ve been doing.