We’ve been having a great time up here in Boston. Our basketball team, the Boston Celtics (perhaps you’ve heard of them) just won the NBA championship last night by tearing the Lakers of Los Angeles limb from limb, burning their villages and abducting their women, who, let’s face it, were only too happy to be saved from their unsatisfying unions with the Tinseltown hoopsters. Earlier this year, our football team, the New England Patriots, made a bid for NFL history, winning an unprecedented 18 games in one season before appearing in the Super Bowl for the fourth time since 2001. (Somehow, I can’t quite remember what happened in the Super Bowl itself. Let’s just move on.) And of course, back in the fall, our major league baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, won its second World Series of the past four seasons. Boston these days is naught but trilling laughter, babbling waterfalls, and frolicking unicorns. (And gloating.)
Alas, our good friends to the south have not been so lucky. New York once had a basketball team. This was replaced some months ago by a sexual harassment boondoggle, and the Knickerbockers (as I believe they were called) have not been heard from since. Their football teams have had mixed success. One team, the Jets, has a fixation with videotaping rivaled only by Paris Hilton’s. The other team, the Giants, has fared better—but again, I’m suddenly drawing a blank about what actually happened with them last season. Strange. And finally, their two baseball teams have also left something to be desired. The Metropolitans recently suffered an embarassing front-office meltdown after suffering a humiliating sub-.500 start after suffering a truly mortifying collapse at the end of last season. And the Yankees—oh, the Yankees. Long looked to as the balm to soothe the frighted souls of tortured New York sports fans, the Yankees are currently only adding to the angst along the Hudson. Is there any hope that the Yankees will turn things around in time to save their city? Let’s take a look.
Their starting pitching has been bad, ranking towards the middle-bottom of the league in nearly every statistical category. Their defensive efficiency is in the bottom third of MLB. They’ve been beset by injuries. All of these were entirely predictable, but what has surprised so far is that their offense, while still one of the top five offenses in the AL, has not been enough this year to get them out of third place behind the Red Sox and the Rays.
So what do they need?
The obvious place to start is with their starting pitching, which has been inconsistent and injury-ravaged. Now, with ace Chien Ming Wang on crutches for the next six weeks, Yankees fans are anticipating a trade. At Yankees Chick, Maureen has an open letter to CC Sabathia. At River Ave Blues, Mike has a rundown of some other possibilities, acknowledging that the price for CC may be too high. Certainly, acquiring a durable, dominant starter would give the Yankees a huge boost and would set them for the postseason, where having a one-two punch in one’s pitching rotation is de rigeur.
But they may want to take a more conservative approach. After all, Mike Mussina is having a very good year. Andy Pettitte has actually been pitching better than you think he’s been pitching, thanks to a lousy BABIP. Joba Chamberlain’s transition to the starting rotation has been very promising. And Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy certainly have time to come off the DL and contribute. In fact, the Yankees are still so convinced of Hughes’ enormous potential, he’s still considered “untouchtable” in any trade deal.
Finally, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, Carl Pavano is set to return in August. Now, no one in New York wants to count on Carl Pavano. And I freely admit that the concept of hanging your postseason hopes on a man with scarcely more than 100 innings of work since 2005—the man who once went on the DL with a bruised ass, for crying out loud—does have an air of the ridiculous about it. But it’s not like he’s Matt Clement. If the Yankees do decide they simply must acquire a starter, it might be a better move just to go for a relatively cheap innings-eater than spend a lot of prospects on a mid-season replacement for Wang.
Because while acquiring a Sabathia-level starting pitcher would certainly be an enormous boost to the team’s outlook, the Yankees still have a good shot at getting to the playoffs without making any moves at all (advancing is anther story). Keep in mind that their offensive attack has also been blunted by injuries. There was an uncharacteristic stint on the DL for Alex Rodriguez, an all-too-predictable injury to aging catcher Jorge Posada, and day-to-day aches and pains for Derek Jeter. Jason Giambi was, for much of the start of the season, mired in a terrible slump. Johnny Damon also began rather anemically. All of this combined for a slow start by the vaunted Yankee offense—emphasis on “slow.” The Bombers have never been known for their speed, and so far this year Yankee baserunners have been even slower than usual. (Cashman really ought to pick up a few defensively-minded speedsters to come off the bench.)
However, the Yankee offense is clicking on all cylinders at the moment, pounding their foes with 29 runs over their last three games. Have they turned a corner? Perhaps.
But I’m not entirely convinced. Because so far this season, despite scoring a lot of runs and hitting a lot of extra-base hits, the Yankees rank 9th in the AL in walks, tied with the Indians and just above the Baltimore Orioles. The four teams below them include notoriously free-swinging teams such as the Angels and Royals. Last year, the Yankees finished third in the league in walks. So for New York’s offensive outburst to stick, their hitters are going to need, in the immortal words of Axl Rose, just a little paaaaatience, yeeaaaaaaahhhh.
And that might not be such a bad attitude where their pitching situation is concerned, if the only option is a half-season rental that ends up costing them key prospects. Indeed, patience could be just the ticket, given that New York can unload a number of contracts at the end of this season if they so choose, including those of the aforementioned Mssrs Pavano, Giambi, Pettitte, and Abreu.