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Panic in the Bronx

April 30, 2007 | By RotoRob | comment on this post
New York Yankees manager Joe Torre could be looking for work soon.
With the Yanks floundering and his job possibly on the chopping block, Joe Torre may soon need rescuing.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the New York Yankees are is a tailspin, having dropped eight of their past nine games. But this just isn’t any slump. With a 1-5 mark against Boston thrown into that mix, the team may be entering full panic mode.

Just look at the signs:

  • Prized prospect Philip Hughes was summoned from the minors after last weekend’s four-game sweep in Fenway. Weren’t the Yankees trying to avoid rushing him?
  • Manager Joe Torre’s job is once again in jeopardy as George Steinbrenner is one pissed owner right now.

So the Bronx Bombers are now 9-14, sitting six and a half games back of the first place Bosox. Thanks to injuries, the pitching staff is in disarray, something I worried about towards the end of spring training.

As much glee as the Red Sox fan in me extracts from the Yankees’ struggles this year, I know they will turn it around. In fact, just by pointing out how crappy they are playing, I am virtually assuring the team of a rapid turnaround (for reference sake, see what the Mariners have done since my damnation of them last week). Anyways, wasn’t it just two years ago that this team was in a similar predicament with an 11-19 start? A 10-game winning streak sure rendered that moot and the Yanks went on to win 95 games and the AL East title.

But is this the year the best team US$195 million can buy will have their run of nine straight AL East crowns snapped? Let’s examine what’s gone right and what hasn’t so far in New York, two lists that are not exactly balanced at this point, especially considering how every little that goes wrong is magnified by the media.

What’s Gone Wrong?

  • Pitching is the main culprit here. The team is dead last in saves, with Mariano Rivera’s now seemingly annual April struggles helping to postpone his first save until Saturday. Naturally, the ‘this is the end for Mo’ chatter is in full swing.
  • The starting rotation has been even worse, as ‘ unbelievably ‘ the team has yet to get a quality start in any of its 23 games to date. Where should we start with the rotation?
  • Mike Mussina’s suddenly annual trip to the DL came early this year, courtesy of a hamstring injury. He’ll be back Thursday, and he better bring his A game.
  • Chien-Ming Wang also had a hammy issue which caused him to start the year on the DL. He’s made two less than impressive starts since his return, pitching yesterday with a broken nail on the middle finger of his pitching hand. Plenty of his owners are ready to show Ming their own middle finger thanks to his unsightly 5.84 ERA.
  • Carl Pavano’s strained right forearm landed him on the DL and the fact that the Yanks need him back (he threw in the bullpen this weekend so is getting close) speaks volumes. After all the grief Pavano has given the Yanks, no one would have batted an eyelash if this guy had been run out of town, $40 million deal or not; now the team is banking on him taking the ball every fifth day.
  • Jeff Karstens had his fibula fractured by a line drive on Saturday, an injury that will knock him out for a couple of months and could very well doom him to middle relief long term. If the Yanks still need starting help by the time Karstens is ready to return, then there really will be cause for panic. On the plus side, Kei Igawa will get another shot at the rotation now that Karstens is out. His six shutout innings in relief of Karstens on Saturday was promising, but previous to that, the consolation prize from the Dice K sweepstakes had taken two serious beatings and had struggled with his control in almost every start.
  • Humberto Sanchez was lost to the team for the year when he underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this month. Considered the best of the three prospects New York received from Detroit in the Gary Sheffield deal, he’s exactly the kind of depth pitcher the team could have called upon to help out with the rotation currently in tatters. Instead, it looks like his future will limited to bullpen duty when he returns in 2008.
  • Bobby Abreu has two hits in his last 30 at-bats and just snapped a career-worst 0-for-19 skid. Yes, he’s racking up SBs with five already, but he’s not getting on base at anywhere near his traditional clip.
  • As good as a defensive first baseman that Doug Mientkiewicz is, he’s been virtually an automatic out in the batting order. The dude who ran off the ball after the final out in the Red Sox 2004 World Series win is batting just .154 with five RBI ‘ three of them coming Sunday on a home run. Before that, Mientkiewicz was swinging a potent .140 bat with a pair of RBI.
  • Johnny Damon’s back is acting up so he’s off to the chiropractor. It was bad enough Saturday that he DHed while Jason Giambi made his first start at first base. Damon’s been running (five steals), but a 4-for-32 slump has him down to .229.
  • The team isn’t dominating at Yankee Stadium (6-6), but on the road, the Yanks have really had their issues with a 3-8 mark. And they’re headed out for a three-game set in Texas starting tomorrow night. Of course, night play hasn’t been kind to the Bombers yet either, with a 5-10 record under the lights. They’ve also been a flop in close contests (1-5 in one-run games).
  • Hideki Matsui, about as durable a player as you’d find in baseball since coming to New York and certainly well before that, has suddenly had to deal with injuries the past two seasons. A hamstring problem landed him on the DL and he’s just 3-for-17 since his return. He has just one extra-base hit all season.
  • Robinson Cano, everyone’s pick for a future batting champion, is stuck in a 1-for-18 rut that’s dropped him to .270.
  • Torre’s recent decisions are being closely scrutinized. Why did he start Karstens, who was hammered by Boston the week before, as opposed to Igawa? Why did he leave Sean Henn in on Sunday to face Manny Ramirez, who took him deep for a two-run shot in what was still a close game up to that point? These are the kinds of questions the local media is currently asking more often than usual.
  • Torre, of course, has bigger concerns than his job right now with his brother undergoing a kidney transplant.

What’s Gone Right?

  • Um, Alex Rodriguez is back, baby. This dude is on a mission unlike anything in recent memory. He homered 14 times in his first 18 games, looking like a cinch to break Albert Pujols’ mark of 14 April homers. Okay, so A-Rod has gone five straight without launching one, so he has to settle for a tie for the April dinger mark, but man, is he ever locked in. A slow start for Rodriguez would have made him an easy target for the Yanks’ woes considering the recent history, but the fact that he’s essentially carrying the team (they are first in the AL in runs scored) has rendered him beyond reproach at this point. We’ll have to wait for another .071 showing in the postseason before we can jump all over him.
  • Derek Jeter is doing his thing, going yard Sunday to extend his hitting steak to 17 games. From a fantasy perspective, the normally very intelligent base stealer is struggling (just 2-for-5 so far), and I’m not happy with his run production, but honestly, what is a slump for this guy? Two games without a hit?
  • Andy Pettitte was bitch slapped by the Sox on Friday, but it was the first time he’d given up more than two earned runs in a start since his return to New York. I’d be worried about his command if I owned him, but the hit rates have been good.
  • Yes, the Yanks are five games under .500, but that’s not indicative of their play. They’ve outscored the opposition 131-125 and should have a record of one game over .500 based on Bill James’ Pythagorean theory.
  • Giambi’s power seems to have dried up somewhat, but he’s batting over .320, harkening back to the days when he would regularly finish in the top 10 in hitting and challenge for a batting title, as he did in 2001.
  • Even at age 35, Jorge Posada continues to show improvements, batting .311 with power (.500 SLG) and productivity (15 RBI).
  • Josh Phelps has resurfaced as a back-up first baseman and power hitter off the bench and although his opportunities have been limited so far, he’s delivered when he’s been called upon, batting .280. Damn, he even was used as an emergency catcher late in a recent game, the first time the former Blue Jay catching prospect had donned the tools of ignorance in a big league game since 2001. Could Mientkiewicz’s inability to hit my great aunt’s weight prompt more PT for Phelps?

So what now?

Jeter has spoken out in defense of Torre. General Manager Brian Cashman says he is to blame for this current mess. However, neither man is responsible for an injury situation that has made it impossible for Pettitte, Mussina and Wang to pitch together in any rotation turn yet this season. You can make the argument, as I suggested in my column last month that maybe the Yanks should have seen this coming with a house of cards rotation that has already been forced to trot Darrell Rasner out there three times, go to Chase Wright twice and bring up the team’s top prospect way before they wanted to.

You know this team is going to bash; no one doubts that. But it will soon be time to start beating the bushes for pitching help. Roger Clemens must be licking his chops right now. What a perfect scenario for him to ride in on his white horse. How may times a day to you think Cashman calls the Rocket?

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