Some of you may have noticed that I've been away for the last ten days. I was in California for the wedding of two very close friends followed by an early first anniversary trip of my own. Since I've not been around to wrap up the last three series (the let-down against the Devil Rays, the crucial win against the Mariners, and the back-to-business sweep of the Royals), I thought I'd combine all three into a series wrap post here both to make up for those missing posts and to help me get back in the swing of things prior to the resumption of play tonight in Toronto. And so . .
Offense: The Yankees scored just 13 runs in the first four games while I was away, and averaged just four runs against the dreadful Devil Ray pitching staff, starting with Andy Sonnanstine having, by his own admission, the game of his life. They then flipped the switch and scored 42 runs over the last five games, putting up double-digit totals in three of the five.
Andy Phillips broke his wrist in the finale against the D-Rays and is out for the season (he's been placed on the 60-day disabled list). He went 2 for 3 with a pair of walks in that series before the injury and his final line on the season is .292/.338/.373. Jason Giambi has started four games at first since then to Wilson Betemit's two. Doug Mientkiewicz was activated from the 60-day DL when rosters expanded, but has only appeared as an in-game replacement, going 1 for 3 with a single, a strikeout and a sac bunt in five games. Derek Jeter left Saturday's game with a knee problem that's been described as irritation of the patella tendon in his right knee. He did not play on Sunday, with Betemit getting the start at short, but is expected to return to the lineup tonight. As per the stats above, Alex Rodriguez's mild sprained ankle looks to be about as big of a problem as the hamstring injury he suffered earlier in the year. He's hit seven home runs in the last five games, homering in each of those five contests.
Alberto Gonzalez, who hit .266/.319/.379 between double- and triple-A this season, with the bulk of his playing time coming in Scranton, but the bulk of his hitting having been done in Trenton (though he did hit ten triples in for Scranton), has seen some playing time as a defensive replacement. He made his major league debut on Sept. 1 with an inning at shortstop against the Devil Rays. He ground out as a pinch-hitter for Alex Rodriguez to end a seven-run seventh inning against the Mariners in his first major league at-bat on Sept. 4. He's still looking for his first major league hit and is 0 for 4 across five games. Bronson Sardinha was just called up on Sunday and is also making his first appearance on a major league roster.
Rotation: Despite the issues with Roger Clemens' elbow and Mike Mussina's ineffectiveness, the Yankee rotation turned in five quality starts in the last nine games including four of the last five. The one exception in those last five games was Ian Kennedy's outing in which he fell just an inning short, holding the Royals to two runs over five frames and throwing just 87 pitches. Kennedy has been a big reason for the rotation's success over the last nine games as he turned in a gem in his major league debut and has compiled the following line in his two big-league starts: 12 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 3 ER, HR, 5 BB, 8 K, 1-0, 1.42 WHIP, 2.25 ERA. Chien-Ming Wang, meanwhile, has reestablished himself as the Yankee ace, winning his 17th and 18th games of the season against just six losses and posting a 2.51 ERA across 14 1/3 innings in his last two starts and allowing just ten hits (though he also gave up a troubling seven walks). Andy Pettitte had a hiccup against the D-Rays (though he still pitched into the seventh and struck out seven against just two walks), but recovered beautifully against the Royals on Saturday. Phil Hughes looked lost against the D-Rays in the opening game of this stretch, but he too recovered with a strong outing in the must-win rubber game against Seattle (6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K). Perhaps most encouragingly, he got 13 of his outs in that game on ground balls or strikeouts and just four in the air (the last was a caught-stealing of Ichiro thanks to Jose Molina).
That brings us back to Clemens, who left his loss in the opener against Seattle after four innings due to elbow pain having allowed five runs on a walk, a hit batsman, a wild pitch, and eight hits including a solo homer by Ichiro. Here's Will Carroll's take on Clemens from the middle of last week:
Roger Clemens is going to take a cortisone shot to try and lower the swelling in his elbow. There's a bit of confusion as to how the injury happened--Clemens said it happened after blisters on his feet caused him to alter his mechanics, while my sources say that he's had elbow soreness for the past couple of starts. Either way, the hope is that the spike will get him past the acute stage and safely back on the mound. There's really no available solid evidence as to what's specifically going on; initial descriptions of the symptoms sounded like the injury was a bone spur, but recent descriptions sound more like its simple irritation and inflammation. Few pitchers know their deliveries as well as Clemens, so if it is in fact a mechanical problem, I imagine it will be fixed quickly. If it's more than that, then it will still fall upon Clemens to decide if he wants to or even can pitch through the pain in what could be his final shot.
Clemens has since pitched a bullpen, but the Yankees are still waiting to hear from him about how it went. They expect him to start on Sunday in the finale of the Red Sox series, but it's all up in the air for now. The two off-days on Thursday and yesterday allowed the Yankees to skip Clemens' turn in the rotation, but they've decided to have Mike Mussina, who pitched poorly in relief of Clemens against Seattle (3 2/3 IP, 7 H, 2 R), take the hill tomorrow night anyway. Given their comfortable position in the standings (3.5-game lead in the Wild Card), it's a solid gamble to find out of Moose has benefited from his time off by starting him against a mediocre opponent (the Jays are, as always, just a game over .500), while lining up Pettitte, Wang, and Hughes for the Boston series should Clemens need a longer layoff himself.
Bullpen: Outside of a select few, the bullpen has been awful of late, posting a 5.53 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP over the last nine games. Here's how it breaks down:
Mariano Rivera has allowed just one base runner (a two-out single by Jason Smith in Sunday's finale) over his last four outings, striking out six in 4 1/3 scoreless innings. In fact, if you include the Boston series, Mo has retired 20 of the last 21 batters he's faced over six appearances. Kyle Farnsworth has retired his last nine batters in a row, striking out six of them, though he did allow a Jose Vidro single to start the ninth in the opener against Seattle. Joba Chamberlain only pitched twice in the last nine games, and only struck out one man in his three innings of work while allowing a pair of singles. He still hasn't allowed a run, however.
Edwar Ramirez struck out three men in his inning and a third in the finale of the Tampa Bay series, but he also allowed a single and a pair of homers (to the otherwise punchless Josh Wilson and Akinori Iwamura) plating three runs. He's pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings since then, but struck out only one more. Meanwhile his major league homer rate of 3.14 HR/9 is extremely troubling. Chris Britton's return to the majors in the Tampa Bay opener was ugly (2 2/3 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, HR, 2 R). He then retired seven of his next eight batters across three outings, but coughed up another run to the Royals to cap that last appearance, walking the unwalkable Tony Peña Jr. in the process. Luis Vizcaino only pitched twice in the last nine games and was awful both times totaling five runs on five hits and two walks and just one K while getting just three outs. Similar things can be said about Brian Bruney, who only pitched twice and allowed four runs on a double, a homer, and four walks while striking out just one in 2 1/3 innings.
Other than Mike Mussina, the only Yankee to make a relief appearance over the last nine games not mentioned in the above was Jose Veras, who pitched 1 1/3 hitless, scoreless innings in the Tampa Bay finale, walking two and striking out one. Meanwhile, with rosters having expanded, the bullpen now also includes the activated Ron Villone, and call-ups Sean Henn, Jeff Karstens, Kei Igawa, Matt DeSalvo, and Ross Ohlendorf, the last of whom is making his first appearance on a big-league roster.
Given the ratio of offensive duds to studs above, the issues with Mussina and Clemens in the rotation, and the struggles of the bullpen, there are a lot of reasons to worry about this team. At the same time, they have a 3.5-game lead in the Wild Card with 19 left to play and their only remaining series against a team more than a game over .500 is this weekend's three-game set in Boston, a team they swept at home two weeks ago. The second-place Tigers have a similar schedule (Twins:Blue Jays::Indians:Red Sox), but the Yankees only have to match their performance to cruise into the playoffs. If they don't sort out their pitching and struggling hitters in the process, however, they're almost guaranteed another first-round exit at the hands of the Angels.