The Yankees need to win just one of these final two games in Kansas City to stay on target by taking three of four from the Royals. Unfortunately, they'll have to do it with the weak back end of their rotation. Mike Mussina, who takes the ball tonight, is better than the disaster outing he had last time out in the series opener against Tampa Bay, but not by as much as he'd like to think. He has a 4.97 ERA on the season and a 4.71 ERA over his last five starts. He's very clearly the Yankees' number-four starter at this point, and his delicate diva act is getting old fast (and I say that as someone who finds his post-game churlishness hilarious and oddly endearing).
Before his last start, I reported that Mussina had a 3.40 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 11 starts with Wil Nieves behind the plate and a 9.00 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in four starts with Jorge Posada behind the plate (one of them being his injury-shortened outing in Minneapolis in April). That night, Moose was caught by Posada and gave up six runs in 4 2/3 innings pushing his Posada ERA to 9.53 and WHIP to 1.94. Well, Nieves is gone and Posada will be behind the plate again tonight, so Moose had better crank up his way back machine and remember how he turned in Cy Young-worthy seasons pitching to Posada in 2001 (3.15 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) and 2003 (3.40 ERA, 1.08 WHIP). Or, better yet, remember that it was Posada's advice on his changeup that stimulated a last gasp of brilliance early last season (2.42 ERA, 0.95 WHIP through the end of May (he might want to thank Jorge for his current two-year, $23-million deal while he's at it).
Whatever it takes, it sure would be nice not to have to rely on Kei Igawa's high-wire act for that third win of the series. Further complicating the issue, however, is the fact that the Yankees will face the Royals best pitcher tonight, the maybe-not-so-overpaid-after-all Gil "Ga!" Meche. Meche has gone 7-6 with a 3.63 ERA (130 ERA+) for a team playing .434 baseball, and very much deserved his All-Star selection. Then again, Meche has been coming back to earth over the last two months, posting a 4.50 ERA in June and July and a 5.40 ERA in his last six starts (yet somehow going 3-0 over that same six-start stretch). Still, Meche held the major leagues' best offense to two runs on five hits and no walks over seven innings in his last outing, which took place in Detroit as the Royals romped to a 10-2 win over the Central Division leaders, and in his only outing against the Yankees last year held the Bombers to two runs on five hits and a walk in six innings while striking out six.
Things have been easy for the Yankees over the last five games. That will likely change tonight. Here's hoping they can reignite that fighting spirit they displayed in last week's Toronto series.