Yesterday's off day signaled the approaching end of the toughest stretch of the Yankees' 2006 schedule. Their marathon of 18 games in 17 days is now history and just six home games against a pair of potential playoff opponents from the AL Central remain of a brutal 27-game stretch that began three weeks ago in Chicago.
That 18-game stretch was a success, but only because of the Yankees' five-game sweep of the Red Sox which inflated their lead in the AL East to the current 6.5 games. While that sweep was a singular accomplishment that can and should not be diminished, it was also the only of the five series over that stretch that the Yankees won, as they went 5-8 against the Angels, Orioles, and Mariners. Prior to that, they had dropped two out of three to the White Sox and even with the Boston series included, they're just one game over .500 since the White Sox series. In fact, one could argue that the Yankees' 6.5 game lead in the east has far more to do with the Red Sox collapse (Boston is 8-18 in August) than anything the Yankees have done, other than take advantage of that collapse head-to-head.
Now they have six games against the Tigers and Twins. The good news is that the Twins have a losing record on the road and, while the Tigers still have the best record in the major leagues, their star has faded to the point that the Yankees could tie them with a three-game sweep. The Tigers are currently suffering through a losing August, having gone 12-14 thus far this month including a 3-7 performance against Wild Card hopefuls Minnesota and Chicago. This past weekend they dropped two of three to a revitalized Indians club.
Replacing the injured Placido Polanco, out for the remainder of the season with a separated shoulder, with a platoon of Omar Infante and Neifi! Perez hasn't helped, but there are other problems. Magglio Ordoñez and Ivan Rodriguez haven't hit since the All-Star break (.242/.285/.335 and .285/.310/.387 respectively), with Rodriguez falling several spots in the batting order. Chris Shelton (.245/.310/.302 since the break) slumped his way off to the minors and was replaced by the perpetually overrated Sean Casey (.289/.314/.422 as a Tiger), and while getting Dmitri Young back has been a boon, it's come at the expense of playing time for Marcus Thames, though Thames has struggled himself in the second half.
On the other side of the ball, the bullpen has been better than ever in the second half, but the rotation has stumbled. Twenty-three-year-old rookie Justin Verlander has blown by his previous career high of 130 innings pitched despite skipping a turn early in the month. He's now at 158 innings and has a 6.83 ERA in August. Fellow 23-year-old Jeremy Bonderman, though safely within his innings pitched limits, is suffering through his worst month. Kenny Rogers had an ERA over nine in July, though he's rebounded with an outstanding August.
Then there's tonight's starter Nate Robertson. Robertson, like the Tigers themselves, was an early season surprise, going 8-3 with a 3.14 ERA in his first 16 starts. He then posted an ERA near six in July and, though he appeared to right his ship in August, was abused by the White Sox in his last start, allowing ten runs on nine hits, three of them homers, in 6 2/3 innings.
Opposing Robertson tonight will be Chien-Ming Wang, who, after three ugly outings, was dominant for the first three innings of his start last week in Seattle, before tiring quickly in the seventh.
Incidentally, the Tigers called up lefty Andrew Miller over the weekend. Miller will be the second lefty out of the Tiger pen, but what makes his promotion so compelling is that Miller was the sixth overall draft pick in June, this June. Miller has just five professional innings under his belt, all of them coming in the single-A Florida State League.
In other call-up news, the Red Sox have called up Carlos Peña. A year ago it was the Yankees adding Red Sox castoffs Mark Bellhorn and Alan Embree. Here's hoping this is a sign of order being restored to the rivalry.
Manager: Jim Leyland General Manager: Dave Dombrowski
Home Ballpark (2005 Park Factors): Comerica Park (98/98)
Who's Replacing Whom?
Sean Casey replaced Chris Shelton (minors)
Neifi Perez replaced Placido Polanco (DL)
Dmitri Young replaced Jack Hannahan (minors)
Alexis Gomez (minors) replaced Ramon Santiago (minors)
Wilfredo Ledezma replaced Roman Colon (DL)
Zach Miner (minors) replaced Bobby Seay (minors)
Andrew Miller replaced Chris Spurling (minors)
1B Sean Casey (L)
2B Neifi Perez (S)
SS Carlos Guillen (S)
3B Brandon Inge (R)
C Ivan Rodriguez (R)
RF Maglio Ordoñez (R)
CF Curtis Granderson (L)
LF Craig Monroe (R)
DH Dmitri Young (S)
R Marcus Thames (OF)
R Omar Infante (IF)
L Alexis Gomez (OF)
R Vance Wilson (C)
R Justin Verlander
L Kenny Rodgers
R Jeremy Bonderman
L Nate Robertson
L Wilfredo Ledezma
R Todd Jones
R Fernando Rodney
R Joel Zumaya
L Jamie Walker
R Jason Grilli
R Zach Miner
L Andrew Miller
15-day DL: R Placido Polanco (2B), R Roman Colon
60-day DL: L Mike Maroth, R Troy Percival, R Craig Dingman
L Curtis Granderson (CF)
R Craig Monroe (LF)
S Dmitri Young (DH)
R Magglio Ordoñez (RF)
S Carlos Guillen (SS)
R Ivan Rodriguez (C)
L Sean Casey (1B)
S Neifi Perez (2B)
R Brandon Inge (3B)