Monday, July 09, 2007

The Yankees disaster of 2007

The Yankees enter the All-Star break at 42-43 and 8.5 out in the Wild Card race (seven in the loss column), the first time they've been sub-.500 at the break since 1995. That year, the Yanks took off after acquiring David Cone in mid-season, ripped off a 21-6 finish as the Angels tanked and squeaked into the Wild Card spot ahead of the Angels/Mariners (those two finished tied for the AL West crown, one game worse than the Yanks; Seattle won the one-game playoff). This year, that won't happen.

The Monk's preseason picks should be reprinted on toilet tissue so they can actually have some use. I picked the Yanks and the White Sux, the two biggest flops in the AL, to win their respective divisions. The Pale hos are simply horrendous on offense, and the solid rotation has been inconsistent at best (Contreras is reliving his 2004 in pinstripes, Garland just gave up 11 runs to the light-hitting Twins). The Yanks are a different story.

First, the general management failures. These are relatively easy to identify: (1) Cashman's new training guru who failed to prepare the team for the physical rigors of the sport, resulting in numerous leg injuries for the pitchers early in the year; (2) the decision to rely on Carl Pavano; (3) the decision not to pay for RedSawx killer Ted Lilly (8-4, 3.67 ERA for the Cubs) as the #4 starter and instead take a flyer on Kei Igawa -- a guy who will make Hideki Irabu seem like the paragon of intestinal fortitude; (4) failing to re-sign Bernie Williams -- couldn't he have helped when Damon went down and Abreu sucked?

Second, the field management failures. Also fairly easy -- Torre overused his bullpen in April and wiped it out. He failed to let his professional starters continue when they were going strong (see Pettitte v. Red Sox at Fenway, Mooooooooooose v. Angels in May, Wang v. Giants) and instead brought in the bullpen, which completely honked. Torre has been awful this year, period. The Yanks' expected W-L record based on runs scored versus runs allowed is 49-36. No other Torre team has ever failed to meet (within a game or two) or exceed its expected record (see 2004: expected, 89-73; actual 101-61). The Yanks are 6-14 in one-run games -- even an average record means that instead of 8.5 games back in the Wild Card race, they'd be just 4.5 out.

Finally, the on-field failures. Despite A-Rod's amazing first half (three game winning homers in the 9th, 30 HR, 86 RBI, 77 runs), and the solid play of Jeter and Posada, the team as a whole stinks. Abreu has been horrid except for one hot stretch (when the Yanks went 11-1), Damon is worse, Cano has been clueless until this week and Matsui stank before this homestand. The pitching is a mess -- the relievers lead the league in walks but are 11th in whiffs; the team is worst in the AL in strikeouts. That's not a problem when Clemens can go 8, whiff 3 and allow just a few hits, or when Wang does his sinkerball magic. But Mooooooose and Pettitte have less dominant stuff, which means if they don't get strikeouts, the balls in play get hit harder.

They've struggled against good teams (26-27). Worse yet, although the Yanks have swept Arizona and Cleveland and won 5/7 from Minnesota, they're just 16-16 against teams that are sub-.500. Compare that to 2006 (52-26), 2005 (59-34), 2004 (66-31) and 2003 (54-24). This is how a team rips off an 11-1 stretch, then nosedives to a 1-7 road trip to Colorado (scoring all of 5 runs in three games in the best hitters' park in baseball), San Francisco and Baltimore.

Yeah, they had injuries (Pavano, Hughes). No, the kids couldn't quite fill the holes in the rotation (DeSalvo, Clippard, Wright). And worse, some of the minor league prospects are in rehab after arm surgery or other injury (Cox, Sanchez, Ohlendorf). But that's no excuse. The Yanks have made bad bets, played poorly and need to suck less.

The opportunity begins Thursday -- four weeks against teams that are currently sub-.500, including 15 games against Tampa and the Royals, before a stretch of 20 games with 17 against Cleveland, Detroit, the Angels and Bawstin. Not much room for error, especially because another 1-7 stretch against stiffs would put the final nail in the season's coffin.

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