Alex Belth has asked me to fill in again this week with the explanation that he's getting married. He's used this excuse on four previous occasions, so all I can say is that this time I'd better see a ring on his finger when I bump into him.
I warned Alex that I didn't have anything good to say about the 2007 Yankees, and I'm warning you now in case you want to go read something else. My bad feelings about this year's team go beyond the recent rash of injuries, but I may as well deal with those before moving on.
Matsui's hamstring, I think, is a fluke, and he'll be back strong. I'm fed up with Mussina and especially Pavano. Mussina has increasingly become a frequent breakdown pitcher, one whose usefulness to the Yankees is very nearly at an end. Even when he's not hurting, he's wasting so much time trying to make that perfect pitch that he's usually teetering by about the fifth inning and threatening to be a burden on the bullpen. Pavano is simply a disaster, one of the highest priced in Yankee history. I think he's poised, when he comes off the DL, to replace Jaret Wright as the team's number one bullpen drainer. What, oh what, are the Yankees going to do when Andy Pettitte hurts himself? (And he will, you know it, before the season is over, probably before the first half of the season is over.)
Looking around the rest of the lineup, I don't see much to cheer about. Towards the end of last season, Jason Giambi, who really ought to know better, made an ass of himself by contributing all kinds of needless verbiage to articles written about Alex Rodriguez. My favorite comment, and I'm quoting from memory was, We really don't know who A-Rod is. We'll find out in the next couple of weeks. Well, when do we find out who the real Jason Giambi is? Actually, I guess we already have. He is now a practically useless ballplayer. He performs like 42-year-old man. He can no longer field and can't hit to the opposite field, which takes 40 or more points off his batting average. As for his base running ability, any time the Yankees get three hits without scoring a run, Giambi is usually involved.
Giambi is such a bad fielder the Yankees have had to compensate by giving a roster spot to Doug Mientkiewicz. There is no bigger mystery to me than how a team with the biggest payroll in baseball continually gets stuck with players like Mientkiewicz. I don't know that he's all that good a fielder, but even if he was the second coming of Don Mattingly or Keith Hernandez he would still be a huge liability. He is one of the worst hitters I've ever seen, the first man I can honestly say would lose a home run derby to Sal Fasano. How is it that the Yankees cannot find at least a player of average ability to put into the lineup at this key hitting position?
I can't say a great deal that is complimentary about the stars, either. A-Rod's hot start is probably for real, but I'm not yet convinced that his third base woes are over. Jeter's fielding problems are, I fear, for real and may be linked to his rumored back trouble. (Note his relative lack of power so far.) Yankee fans are reduced to saying "Wait till Chien-Ming Wang comes back," but if I was Wang and looking at the prospect of having opposing batters hit ground balls to this infield, I think I'd stay on the DL.
It's possible that if the Yankees go on a tear then the ugly disaster of the last road game in Oakland—the worst pitching I have ever seen from Mariano Rivera—will be erased. But with this rotation—and if you put a gun to my head right now, I couldn't tell you the starters the Yankees plan on using for the next five games—I don't see how any consistency is possible.
I guess this all sounds a bit doomsdayish, but the truth is I can't lose. If I'm right, I'll just remind all of you that you heard it here first. If I'm wrong, I'll be as happy as the rest of you.
Allen Barra is currently writing a biography of Yogi Berra.