Thursday, May 24, 2007

Yankees Avert Disaster

May 24, 2007
By Anthony Tripicchio

Put your white flags away…for now.

The Yankees did what they had to do: they took two out of three from first place Boston in their latest series. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Yankees took advantage of favorable pitching matchups.

Both Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte gave them quality starts and, for a change, they won both games. Pettitte, who must be scratching his head with only three wins to show for a 2.66 ERA, pitched particularly well in a pressure packed rubber game of the series. He got the toughest draw of the three games in Curt Schilling, but still cruised to an 8-3 victory.

On paper, Mike Mussina versus converted reliever Julian Taverez seemed like a sure thing for the Yanks on Tuesday night. It didn’t turn out that way. If it had, they would have swept the Red Sox and put a dent in the deficit. They only delivered a ding with two out of three.

The only alarming sight of the series, for New York, was Mussina as they began to scale the mountain of a deficit in the division (which has now been trimmed to 9 ½ games). Mussina hasn’t helped them climb that mountain thus far and didn’t on Tuesday night either.

"I don't feel like I know what I'm doing or where the ball is going that much," Mussina told the New York Post. "It's frustrating when you don't feel like you know what you're doing out there, and that's a bad thing."

It’s a bad thing all right. Mussina is usually a joy to watch pitch because he works quickly, throws strikes, and paints the corners. Lately, he’s had no movement on his off-speed pitches and his fastball doesn’t have the velocity to get big league hitters out consistently. He’s quickly becoming another guy that will tax the bullpen with his short starts. Roger Clemens and Phil Hughes will be members of that club when they arrive for different reasons; Clemens because of his advanced age and Hughes due to pitch counts which will keep him on a short leash. At first sight of a hangnail, Hughes especially will be lifted from any game. You can attribute Mussina’s brief outings to ineffectiveness, however.

The 38-year-old control pitcher has been rocked in his last two starts and now sports a hefty 6.52 ERA for the year. He’s averaging less than five innings per start and opponents are batting .313 against him. Mussina’s struggles are a surprise after such a solid 2006 season, but he’s someone to watch closely over the next two months.

We were already watching the sleeping bats last week. Scoring 30 runs over the past five games, it’s safe to say that the bats have awoken from their slumber. Namely, Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui came alive to make contributions to a desperate lineup. Cano was 5-11 with three runs scored in the series and Matsui had a vital two-run-homer off of Schilling on Wednesday to propel the Yankees to an early 3-0 lead.

After the three game set at Fenway to kickoff June, the Yankees won’t see the Red Sox until late August. Some winning baseball in between now and then will chip away at Boston’s lead. Don’t wave those white flags just yet.

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