Which Way On The Ladder?

As I stood outside with the dog, enjoying the breeze mitigating the sticky heat, I couldn’t help but think about the Yanks, really for the first time in a while uninterrupted or unencumbered by a sense of work looming. Not that there isn’t enough of that looming, just not immediately so. At once, it struck me. Despite the recently good stretch–and somewhat but not overly influenced by recent losses to Cincy and Pittsburgh–I’m still not sure just what to think of this team. The play has improved, both offensively and with the quality of the starts, and I get a good sense that the improved play will continue. But how improved? Will this team continue to play over .600 baseball, since neither Boston (with various injuries themselves) nor Tampa Bay (who swept the Cubs with the best record in the majors) are slowing down? Will the Yanks get more consistently good starts from Rasner? Can Giese at least plug a hole in the rotation after Wang’s serious injury? When will Cano come around? Can the Yanks continue to hit as a team? Will JD and Matsui get back soon, and will they stay hot after returning? Right now, it’s impossible for me to avoid the questions I have (above and more) about this team. New ones (JD and Matsui’s injuries; Rasner; Wang; off years from Jeter and, to a lesser degree but because of fewer walks and lower average, Abreu) have replaced many of the previous ones (lots of cold bats; Kennedy & Hughes’ poor performances and injuries), with Cano the biggest lingering individual question.

It’s also, shall we say, more than an uncertain situation for the rotation when the Yanks name second-stinter Sidney Stinking Ponson to start Friday night against the Mets. This guy didn’t cut it in 2006, when he was a five-start punching bag. Although he had good numbers with Texas this year (4-1, 3.88 ERA), the team released Ponson and accused him of poor character after multiple altercations with teammates and manager Ron Washington. Yet the Yanks start this guy instead of calling up a kid and giving him a shot. Interesting to note that some of the same things occur after Torre’s gone as when he was here. The apprehension about playing kids seems more systemic than the personal way in which many saw it last year.

Yet on the other hand, I can’t help but think that this team, this year, has just as good a shot as the 2002-2007 teams. I mean that not because I think they’re impressing as much, especially offensively, as years past; not yet anyway. Yet relative to the rest of the AL and the East, the Yanks are right there and in better shape in the standings, and with a better record, than they were in 2005 (39-39, 6 back and 6 in the Loss column behind Boston) and 2007 (38-40, 10 1/2 back and 10 in the Loss column behind Boston) at this time. That’s genuinely encouraging. Plus, they handled Central-leading Chicago, they’ve yet to face the LA Angels of Superfluous Acronyms, but have played very well the last three weeks–against Interleague competition. Even with injuries, inconsistency, and questions, the starts have been better and the bullpen has been fairly solid.  Joba has been excellent in the rotation. Starting the season well before injuring his foot, Bruney is working to get back. Starting the season poorly before exiting stage left with a strained lat muscle, Kennedy is as well. Giambi and JD have been excellent at the plate. A-Rod has returned very strong, Posada has come back very well, and Jeter and Abreu show recent signs of snapping out of funks.

The Yankees have hung in there despite a lot of bad luck following a lot of poor play. The next 17 games can go a long way to making up their 5 1/2 game deficit that is actually only 4 in the loss column to Boston, and answering some of my questions about how optimistic or uncertain to feel about this team. I’m leaning toward the former, but struggling with the latter.

Published in: on June 26, 2008 at 11:41 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. you make many good points- it’s hard to make a case for us playing in october when you think giese and rasner. it’s a bit disheartening – i absolutely believe in the concept of growing your own pitchers, but i happen to think cashman is far too enamored of his prospect collection and won’t be willing to make a deal that would further our playoff hopes.

    i’m very well aware of the school of thought that says one must hold back for a year or two- preserve the farm and then make a run for it all in 2010 or so- that argument doesn’t hold a lot of water with me. look at our big hitters. they are ALL in varying stages of decline with the possible exception of alex. the time to make a push with the guys we have now-is now.

  2. Shawn Chacon got himself in to trouble..

  3. Those two don’t exactly make me see the multicolored bunting either, Mike. They’ve helped, but for how long they can be effective, I don’t know. Rasner is already slipping, somewhat understandably. Interesting points about the prospects vis-a-vis the looming trade deadline, and the long-term view with the Yanks in real need of position players. As Mike Sommer and I have also discussed, there is a definite imbalance in the farm system between arms and position players. They have a lot of good pitchers, but may need to part with a couple, or package one or more with Melky, to improve the starters/bullpen. Matsui’s knees seem a real problem, JD has had some health issues the last couple years, expecting Jorge this year to have a 2007 year would be asking a whole lot, Giambi is back but in his last year and limited anyway, Jeter has tailed off the first half (probably somewhat due to the hand injury)–lots of potential for firepower still, but connected to lots of questions.

    I don’t consider myself an irrational win-now person, but rather someone who is patient with the kids but believes in putting the best foot forward. That can and more often should be through trying out prospects, instead of some recent organizational moves and debacles (Kevin Brown, to a degree Randy Johnson, Jeff Weaver, Esteban Loaiza, Jaret Wright) for mostly veterans, some aging, most of whom were high-cost, low-reward. I’m in favor of putting the best in-house options up instead of fishing for retreads, with the idea of playing winning baseball and not treading water. I’m glad the Yanks aren’t treading water now as they were for most of the first half. But they need to pick it up, and the best people to do that might not be here right now. I just don’t want a decent rental in a trade; better a strategic part–Fuentes or Marte as a good lefty reliever. That would probably take giving at least a good prospect.

    I’d like to see them go 12-5 in the next 17 before the All-Star Break. That would very likely move them closer to the top of the division, would get them 13 over .500, and would have come against Boston and AL teams too.

    When do the Yanks acquire Chacon, Leo?

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