The Yankees are must-watch TV right now, winning their ninth straight to Crazy Stein the Orioles, 7-4. It started out badly for the Yankees, for Joba took a liner off the side of the knee from Adam Jones, tried to pitch on, but was eventually removed for precautionary examination. Thankfully X-Rays were negative, and he has a bruised knee–no bone or structural damage. As I commented at The Sommer Frieze, is it me, or are Yankee pitchers getting hit on a daily basis?
Thankfully also, the Yankees have a long man (AHEM!) in Alfredo Aceves to fill in. Although Aceves pitched 2 innings the night before, he went 3 1/3 of excellent scoreless relief, allowing just three hits and a walk while fanning one. Aceves has been nothing short of tremendous and, in swinging between short and long stints, Mendoza-like in his rubber-armed efficiency, with an impressive ERA of 1.32. Albaladejo was poor, forced to go longer than he should have and getting touched up for four runs, including a pair of solo shots from Roberts and Markakis. Veras allowed two hits in 1 2/3 scoreless relief, and Mariano notched his ninth save of the year and 491st of his incredible career with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
An important commonality in all three wins against Baltimore was scoring runs early, something the Yankees were hard-pressed to do in the first three games against Minnesota. Including the last game against the Twins, the Yanks have scored 19 runs in the first three innings of the last four games, outscoring the opposition 19-3 in those frames. Scoring early provides a huge advantage, forcing the other team to play from behind, play with pressure, ensure that every play, every pitch is true or risk falling farther behind. Yesterday, four doubles from Jeter, JD, Teixeira, and Melky the Once-Again Clutch with a walk from Swish made it 4-0 before you could say Chris Ray. The Yanks made it 6-0 in the second when Robinson Cano uncorked a laser over the wall in right, scoring Brett the Jet who had walked. Matsui capped the scoring with a rocket of his own into the second deck in right. Both were fastballs on the inner half, belt-high from Adam Eaton, who did not have good stuff last night and paid dearly for it.
As an aside, while many things about the new Stadium have really irked me, I must say how much I like the proximity of the second decks in the outfield, especially in right. They’re very reminiscent of the original Stadium in location, how low they hang. Fans there will get loads of action and fly balls. Among some things the organization utterly botched and need rectifying this off-season about the new joint, that’s not one of them.
Damon sat with a sore neck from the night before, and Cano tore it up in the two-hole, going 3-4 with a single, double, and homer, driving in 3 to amass a .317 average and 25 RBIs in the first quarter-season. His resurgence has been vital to the Yanks’ compiling (with this win streak) a pretty good start of 24-17. Teixeira has worked his way up to .250 with a 2-3 game, with his 32nd RBI. He has a four-game hit streak, and his average has jumped 52 points with A-Rod in the lineup behind him. After hitting just .200 in April with 3 homers and 10 RBIs, he’s hit .297 in May with 8 homers and 22 RBIs, with more than a week remaining; great to see. Melky the Once-Again Clutch has been tremendous, one of the Comeback Players of the Year in the majors honestly, going 1-4 with 2 RBIs, his 18th, batting .319. He’s done so much to solidify the bottom of the lineup. Matsui’s fifth homer and 14th RBI put him at .252, and hopefully Matsui can bump his average up a bit. The Yanks could use a hot Matsui and, going 5 for his last 32 over the last 10 games he’s played, I can’t help but wonder if he’s gone cold or if his knees are acting up. Jeter had the double, his 9th, batting .273, and Swish had a single and two walks, batting .238 but with a robust .383 as a result of his team-high 29 walks. I love that the Yankees went 4-7 with RISP, stranding but six. Although much of that was in the first with the carousel of doubles, who cares? When runners were on, the Yanks plated them more often than not; great work.
As a result of New York’s nine-game streak and Boston’s sweep of the Jays, things have tightened considerably in the East, with the Yanks but 1 1/2 behind Toronto, and Boston sandwiched in between a half-game back. Of equal importance to me is the fact that the Yankees are tied with Toronto in the loss column or, as John Sterling would joke, the A.I.L.C.–the all-important loss column. Don’t ignore the Rays, who are still a game under .500 but have played better ball lately. Baltimore, meanwhile, has the third-worst winning percentage in baseball at 16-25 which, at that rate, would mean yet another losing season is already in the works. Wouldn’t that actually be a losing percentage? I mean, let’s give credit where due. To a good degree a product of their poor pitching, the Orioles’ organization flat-out sucks.
Things will get considerably tougher for the Yanks with the Phillies in town for three. Leading the NL East, Philadelphia has scored the second-most runs in the NL, leads the senior circuit in homers with 56, and is tied for first in the NL with RISP at .292. As I suspected but certainly not to this degree, Ibanez has been a great acquisition, hitting .349 with 15 homers, 40 RBIs. Sandwiched between the excellent Utley and Howard and batting third, Ibanez gives the Phillies a tough top four, with Jimmy Rollins leading off and due to come around. Werth and Victorino are no slouches, either. Their pitching can be had with a five-plus ERA, but the Phillies will provide the Yankees with a stiff test and, while I always want the Yankees to win every game, I’d settle for 2 out of 3 should it occur against Philly.
Speaking of stats, especially since I haven’t done this in some time, here are some worth considering for the Yanks. They are third in the AL in runs scored with 232, seventh with a .271 batting average, lead the league and majors with 66 taters, fourth in OBP at .352, are twelfth but much improved of late with RISP at .263, are seventh with RISP two outs at .265 and seventh with the bases loaded at .342 after all those early-season struggles in so many of these categories.
The pitchers still need to be a bit more consistent, but things there have improved as well of late. Pitching has had everything to do with why the Yankees have won nine straight, with the staff having allowed just 34 runs in the last 10 games and 29 during the winning streak. While the bullpen has logged the fourth-most innings in the AL, they have the sixth-best BAA at .252, despite all the injuries. Crucially, while the Yanks’ starters have had their travails, their 5.12 ERA stands ninth in the AL–and is better than Boston’s starters’ by the way. Mind you, that’s with Wang’s 800-pound ERA of 34.50 lurking menacingly in the statistical room. In sum, while there are some areas for continued improvement, and the team could use some more consistent bullpen work (and a couple different relievers in my esteem), they’re on the right track.