So what the hell happened in Kansas City? Steven Goldman offers his two cents on today's Pinstriped Blog. Joe Torre says it all comes back around to starting pitching. If you ask me, the pitching wasn't the problem. Yes, you'd like to see the Yankee starters dominate a hapless offense such as the Royals', but the 4.00 ERA they posted over three games is more than half a run better than the staff's season mark and Torre didn't have to use his bullpen much at all (2 2/3 innings of Sturtze, 1 of Gordon).
No, I blame the offense. This team is simply giving away outs, be it by starting Tony Womack and Ruben Sierra, a series of awful baserunning blunders, or simply by hacking their way into outs at the plate. The last of those is enough to make one wonder if Don Mattingly will ever get any heat from the local media. Don't get me wrong, I love and respect Donnie baseball as much as any pinstripe-blooded Yankee fan, but back when the Yankees were looking for a hitting coach after losing the 2003 World Series, I wondered if Donnie's personal history of contact hitting was less than ideal for a team built around working the count, drawing walks, and knocking them home with big blasts. Though I was very pleased when Mattingly was hired less than a week later, and thrill to the site of Donnie with his beat-up little black book consulting hitters before and after at-bats, I still wonder.
Heading into Minnesota, the Yankee bats get a break, as they will miss both Johan Santana (who struck out 14 Indians last night) and Hometown Brad Radke, who has walked just three men all season. But then again, to an offense that just scored a grand total of three runs against D.J. Carrasco, Ryan Jensen and the Royals bullpen, Kyle Lohse, Joe Mays and Carlos Silva could just as easily be Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire General Manager: Terry Ryan
Ballpark (2004 park factors): Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (102/102)
Who's replacing whom?
Joe Mauer inherits Henry Blanco's playing time
Justin Morneau inherits Doug Mientkiewicz's playing time
Juan Castro replaces Cristian Guzman
Michael Cuddyer, Nick Punto, Terry Tiffee and a rotating cast of infielders inherit Corey Koskie's playing time
Shannon Stewart picks up Jose Offerman's playing time
Joe Mays takes over Terry Mullholand and Seth Greisinger's starts
Jesse Crain inherits Joe Roa's playing time
Matt Guerrier inherits Aaron Fultz's innings
1B Justin Morneau
2B Brent Abernathy
SS Juan Castro
3B Michael Cuddyer
C Joe Mauer
RF Jacque Jones
CF Torii Hunter
LF Shannon Stewart
DH Lew Ford
R Matthew LeCroy (C)
R Mike Redmond (C)
L - Michael Ryan (OF)
S - Luis Rodriguez (IF)
S Terry Tiffee (IF)
L Johan Santana
R Kyle Lohse
R Joe Mays
R Carlos Silva
R Brad Rake
R Joe Nathan
R Juan Rincon
L J.C. Romero
R Jesse Crain
R - Matt Guerrier
L - Terry Mulholland
R - Luis Rivas (IF)
S Nick Punto (IF)
R - Grant Balfour
L - Jason Kubel (OF) (60-day)
In addition avoiding the Twins two best starters, the Yanks get the extra break of catching the Twins at a time when both Justin Morneau (elbow) and Joe Mauer (groin) are banged up and day-to-day. Morneau and Mauer are easily the two best hitters on an unimpressive (9th in the AL in runs scored) Twins offense. With them nursing injuries on the bench, the Yankees could be treated to a Twins infield of Cuddyer, Castro, Abernathy (or Luis Rodriguez) and Tiffee with Mike Redmond behind the plate. C'mon, Yanks, they're making it easy on you!
Or are they? If there's any consolation for the Twins offense (other than the fact that their New York counterparts are hitting like Castro, Abernathy, et. al themselves), it's that Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter have been smoking the ball of late.
On the flip side, the Twins starters have been historically stingy with ball four thus far this season, to the point that Baseball Prospectus has, not one, but two articles on the subject from this past week alone.
Speaking of which, you remember that stuff about the Yanks catching a break by missing Santana and Radke? Well Carlos Silva has a better ERA (3.09) than Johan Santana (3.67) and has no more walks than Bradke (3). Though he's third on the team in WHIP, his 1.19 would be second only to Chien-Ming Wang on the Yanks (1.14). Likewise, Joe Mays (3.70 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) and Kyle Lohse (4.21 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) have hardly been pushovers.
The good news is that Silva and Mays are striking out about 3 men per nine innings and giving up their fair share of homers and Lohse isn't far behind (or ahead) in either category. So, low K rates, impossibly low BB rates, that means lots of balls in play, which is usually a good thing for opposing offenses. The catch is that the Twins defense is third in the AL in Defensive Efficiency.
And don't look to the bullpen for a crack in the armor, the Twins relievers have combined for a 2.49 ERA. Let me repeat that: a 2.49 ERA combined, for everyone whose pitched as much as a single inning out of the Twins pen this year. Throw in a 1.10 WHIP and the devastating strike-out rates of their Big Three (Nathan: 10.41, Rincon: 10.64, Romero: 8.72) and it's just as well that the starters don't walk anyone, the Yankees are better off trying to get their licks in against the rotation than trying to run up the starters' pitch counts to exploit this water-tight pen.
Good luck with that though, this Twins staff as a whole leads the majors with a 3.37 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Yes, the 13 pitchers the Twins have employed have combined to post a lower ERA than the Yankees single top starter (Mussina 3.90, who draws the start tonight against Lohse, though both Johnson 3.92 and Wang 4.06 have pitched better than Moose looking at their peripherals).0 In fact, TanGorMo are the only Yankee pitchers of any kind with individual ERAs lower than the Twins composit staff ERA. Just what this ailing offense needs, right? Heh.
The Yanks enter this series just one game over .500. Break out the voodoo dolls.