The Yankees won last night's contest against the Red Sox in typically dramatic fashion, with an A-Rod homer off closer John Papelbon in the 9th inning, to take two of three games in the Boston series. That's the Good News.
The Bad News will take a lot longer than that to describe.
Probably the most significantly bad aspect of yesterday's game was the fact that yet another Yankee starter failed to notch a Quality Start, and worse yet, went down with an injury. Andy Pettitte started the game and was cruising along through the first four innings, having allowed only two harmless singles and a walk in that span. But the fifth inning saw a very different Pettitte on the mound, as he emerged to protect the 4-0 lead to which he'd been staked by his teammates. He allowed three straight singles before finally retiring Julio Lugo on a strikeout, then allowed a three-run double and another single, one that got past RF Bobby Abreu and allowed another runner to score and lead-footed David Ortiz to reach third base. Ortiz eventually scored ona sacrifice fly, and an earned run was charged to Pettitte even though Ortiz is so sluggish that if Abreu had actually caught the one-hop single, he might have thrown out Big Fat Slow Papi at first base. Regardless, Pettitte was done after just 83 pitches, a victim of back spasms, though Joe Torre and others have indicated that they expect him to make his next scheduled start, on Friday against the lowly Pirates.
Though he did not play yesterday, news broke that Doug Mientkiewicz 's wrist broke, not to mention his slight concussion, suffered in a collision with Mike Lowell as he tried to field a bad throw from His Clutchness. Though it sounds mean to say it, this might not be such terrible news, as this injury should keep Minky's pinky-sized bat (.226/.292/.379) out of the lineup for 6-8 weeks as he heals. By then, the Yanks may have found someone who can both field AND hit, possibly even someone with three out of four working limbs, to play first base for them. Giambi, already relegated to DH-only duties, may also be lost for the year, and Johnny Damon, with exactly one game as a first baseman in his major league career, is not the answer.
Josh Phelps, to his credit, has managed not to embarass himself (yet), but if he continues his .281/.352/.406 hitting, he would almost exactly match what Mientkiewicz used to do when he was in his "prime", which was good enough to make him one of the worst-hitting regular firstbasemen in the major leagues.
There are, however, two possible answers, and neither of them rhymes with "Mark Teixiera".
One is Andy Phillips. I know, I know, he's had his chances, and you're right about that. Phillips, despite hitting better than .300/.380/.570 in AAA in 2004 and 2005, has a career line of .228/.266/.391 in the majors, which, on a scale of one-to-ten, is really lousy. He is, however, hitting .313/.383/.490 this year in Scranton/Wilkes Barre, and he's got some major league experience. A more intriguing option might be Scranton/WB firstbaseman Shelly Duncan, who's tearing up the International League this year, with a .307/.387/.625 line. His Slugging percentage leads the IL at the moment, and his 15 homers are one behind the league leader. Supposedly he made some adjustments in the offseason, and they hope he won't go back to hitting .250 and striking out once a game, which is the most likely eventual outcome, but the Yanks may be well-served to give him a shot while his bat is hot. (Baseball Prospectus, for all their wisdom and experience, did not see fit to even include him among the 1600+ players they analyzed for their 2007 book, after he hit only .256 with no patience at AA Trenton last season.) The Yankees can always send him back to the minors if he doesn't hit. Just ask Andy Phillips.
As for the Teixiera rumors, I hear those too. I also hear that Whitey Ford might come out of retirement to help shore up the bullpen, and that a crazy scientist has invented an invisible substance you could apply to a ball that would make it magically avoid your opponents' bats and/or gloves. Sure, those things sound nuts, but not as nuts at the possibility of the Rangers giving up one of the best hitting firstbasemen in the major leagues, in his prime, for something like Eric Duncan, Darrel Rasner, Melky Cabrera, some nameless pitcher and a bucket of used pine tar. The Yanks aren't going to surrender Phil Hughes for three months of Mark Teixiera, who's likely to sign with Baltimore in the off-season.
A more likely possibility is Todd Helton. The Rockies slugger's career stats have gotten a lot of help from the thin air in Denver, but make no mistake, the man can hit anywhere. His career line of .296/.395/.508 is about as good as Teixiera's overall numbers anyway, and that's with the 110-point OPS boost that Mark gets from Ameriquest Field. Helton's 33 instead of 27, and he's definitely not the hitter he once was, plus he has another five years and about $90 million owed to him with his current contract, so the Yankees, who can afford to overpay for someone like that, won't have to give up as much to get him. As a 10-and-5 player, he can veto any trade, but why wouldn't he want to go to the Yankees, where he might actually get a chance to win? As an excellent fielder and an excellent hitter, he could be a star in New York, at least for a year or two. Players with his skills (and in good physical condition) tend to age pretty well, so there's no reason he couldn't be a productive hitter into his mid to late 30's. The only question is what it will take to get him.
But whatever they do, they'd better do it soon. Already 24-30, 12.5 games out of first and seven games out of the Wild Card race, the Yankees are in dire need of a winning streak. It sure was nice to take 2 out of 3 games against Boston in separate series in the last two weeks, but losing five of the six games in between those two series got them into a hole from which they may not be able to climb.
For perspective, since it happens that the 54 games they've played make up exactly one-third of the schedule, so we can easily multiply some of the players' stats by three and see how they'd fare if they kept this up for the entire 162-game schedule.
Derek Jeter: Hitting .333, that means he’ll be hitting .999 by the end of the year! Wait a minute, I don’t think it really works that way. Actually, he’s on a pace for 219 hits and 102 runs, 12 homers and 15 steals, all of which are right in line with his usual performance, though the steals are a little low, and the 15-caught stealings pace would be a career high, as would the 33-error pace. Yikes.
Jorge Posada: Leading the AL with a .362 batting average, but last year was the first time in history that an American League catcher won the batting title, and the first time in 65 years that any catcher won a major league batting title, so somehow I doubt that he can keep this up. Ditto for the 57-doubles pace, but he’s having a fine year, by any measure.
Alex Rodriguez: On a pace for 60 homers, 141 RBIs, 147 runs, and three extra-marital affairs. All of those numbers seem readily achieveable.
Bobby Abreu: Hitting better of late, he’s actually on a pace for 27 doubles, 24 steals, and 105 runs. Unfortunately, he’s also on a pace to whiff 135 times and to hit .244 with so few homers that Antonio Alfonseca could count them on one hand. I guess $15 million doesn’t buy what it used to.
Johnny Damon: His gimpy legs have him somehow on a pace for only 18 doubles, but 27 steals (and zero CS!). The .251 batting average and nine homer pace would make this his worst year since 2001, which he spent in cavernous Oakland Coliseum.
Robby Cano: Also on a pace for 9 homers and 45 doubles, but also 27 walks against 117 strikeouts, and three steals in 15 attempts. Unfortunately, I think those numbers could all come to fruition.
Andy Pettitte: Assuming that his back is OK, Andy’s on a pace for a 2.96 ERA in 228 innings, with 27 Quality Starts, but only a 9-12 record, because the Yankees never hit when he’s on the mound. Hopefully that will change without the quality in his pitching dropping off.
Chien-Ming Wang: No other Yankee pitcher is on a pace to qualify for the ERA title (162 innings) but Wang is closest, at about 159.
Mike Mussina: Right now, he has two Quality Starts, or one less than Casey Fossum. Who sucks. A lot. He’s on a pace for a 6-9 record and a 6.25 ERA in 120 innings. His “fast”ball has been in the 81-84 mph range, but he doesn’t have the experience that Jamie Moyer has with surviving ijn that range, so he’s getting lit up. Stanford boy is smart enought to make adjustments…I just don’t know if it will matter, as the famous knuckle curve hasn’t exactly been fooling anyone either.
Roger Clemens: On a pace for a 0-0 record with 0 strikeouts, 0 Quality Starts and a 0.00 ERA. Oh, and about $18 million in salary. If his “fatigued groin” doesn’t heal soon, he may achieve all of those numbers.
Mike Myers: Normally a LOOGY, he’s been called upon to do long relief several times this season. He’s currently on a pace to make 81 appearances and to pitch almost 70 innings, which would be a career high, and nearly twice as much work as he’s typically gotten in his 12-year career. Given the workload and his age, 37, I think it’s fair to wonder whether the 3.06 ERA is likely to stay that low.
Righty relievers: Scott Proctor, Luis Vizcaino, and Brian Bruney are all on a pace to pitch about 80 innings or so, which is to be understood given how unreliable the starters have been.
Mariano Rivera: On a pace for 60 strikeouts in 57 innings, but also an ERA over 5.00 and only 15 saves. He should do better than that, but this will be the worst year of his career before it’s all over.