Having just taken five of seven from two of the three best teams in the American League other than themselves, including the league's most surprising and best team, the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees now have seven games against the league's two biggest disappointments, the Oakland A's and Cleveland Indians, two preseason playoff favorites whose records currently sit just below .500. Exactly what's gone wrong in Cleveland (it certainly hasn't been Casey Blake and Ben Broussard, who appear to have been traded to an alternate universe for their more talented evil twins) we'll examine on Monday. As for the A's, the answer is rather simple: injuries and a nearly complete offensive breakdown.
On offense Eric Chavez is putting together his best season and Nick Swisher has broken out to make Chavez's production seem tame. Frank Thomas has stayed relatively healthy and, despite a .234 average, has put up on-base and slugging numbers befitting his Hall of Fame talents. But everyone else has been a tremendous disappointment.
Consider these stats:
Bobby Crosby: .291 OBP
Dan Johnson: .335 SLG
Jason Kendall: .327 SLG
Mark Ellis: .302 OBP
A knee injury put Milton Bradley on the DL for more than a month, creating playing time for this:
Jay Payton: .266 OBP
Bobby Kielty: .320 SLG
And now Mark Ellis is on the DL, putting this in the line-up:
Marco Scutaro: .191/.290/.255
That doesn't even bring into account futility infielder Antonio Perez, who's single against the Yankees in mid-May remains his only hit of the year in 35 plate appearances, 16 of which have resulted in a strikeout.
If not for Swisher, Chavez and Thomas, the A's would be the worst offensive team in baseball. As it is, they're the third worst in the AL, with only the lowly Devil Rays and Royals below them
Then there's the pitching. Their young ace, Rich Harden, has made just six starts, the same number as replacements Kirk Saarloos and Brad Halsey. Harden is currently on the DL for the second time this year, this time with elbow problems that some believe could end in Tommy John surgery, which would be a huge blow to the franchise. The two A's relievers with the best ERAs, Justin Duchscherer and Joe Kennedy, are also on the DL having thrown just 28 2/3 innings between them (by comparison, Scott Proctor has thrown 40 1/3).
Among the healthy, Joe Blanton has disappointed, posting a 5.60 ERA thus far. Meanwhile scheduled fifth starter Esteban Loaiza, one of four ex-Yankees on the A's staff, has been both hurt and terrible, posting a 6.39 ERA in just five starts.
Tonight the Yankees face one of the few A's to keep his head above water, 25-year-old Dan Haren. Haren has essentially repeated his 2005 season exactly save for a nicely improved walk rate. Indeed, in the last meeting between these two teams, Haren pitched a one-run, six-hit, no-walk complete game gem to beat . . . well look at that, tonight's starter, Randy Johnson.
For all of his struggles, the Yankees have won Johnson's last three starts and the Unit himself appears to be coming around some, having struck out eight in two of those three games and pitched six scoreless innings in the other. Here's hoping he can take advantage of the week underbelly of the A's lineup and doesn't give Thomas anything to hit.
Derek Jeter will sit out yet again, but is expected to start tomorrow. Curiously, Torre has swapped Cairo and Cabrera in the order. Otherwise, with Jorge back behind the plate to catch the Unit, Andy Phillips is back at first base, and Bernie remains in right.