Thursday, July 30, 2009

Joba dominates Rays, Yanks take fourth straight series

Joba Chamberlain has had trouble with efficiency so far this season, but since the All-Star Break he has had no problem challenging opposing hitters and the results have been superb. He allowed just no runs and just three hits (all singles) over eight innings against the Rays on Wednesday, never allowing a runner past second base and helping the Yankees bounce back from a lackluster 6-2 loss the night before.

Robinson Cano continued his torrid hitting with two RBI, one on a groundout in the fourth and another on a sixth-inning two-strike home run off Rays starter Matt Garza, who was visibly upset about leaving one in the middle of the plate on a 1-2 count. Melky Cabrera and Mark Teixeira added ninth-inning home runs for New York, who took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

Brian Bruney came in to get some work in the lopsided game, but was pulled after allowing three hits including a two-run moonshot to Evan Longoria. The Yankees were forced to summon Mariano Rivera with a 6-2 lead, something manager Joe Girardi could not have been happy about. Bruney did the same thing a week earlier against the Orioles and continues to prove that he cannot be trusted, even in blowouts. It's a good thing the Yankees have other solid bullpen arms, but if Chamberlain continues to give them length along with Sabathia and Burnett, Bruney may not need to see significant innings too often in the near future.

This start from Joba came off the heels of the Yankees most disappointing game since the break, as struggling Rays starter Scott Kazmir allowed just six baserunners and one run in seven innings to LOWER his season ERA to 6.22. It was the first time this season Kazmir made it through seven full innings and counterpart C.C. Sabathia was very hittable for the second straight start, allowing nine hits and five earned runs in 5.2 innings, his shortest outing in almost a month.

The Yankees made two official errors in the game with a throwing error each by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, but it was the defense of right fielder Nick Swisher that was particularly atrocious. Despite not being charged with an error, he misplayed a Carl Crawford drive off the wall into a triple in the third inning and dropped a ball in the fifth while unnecessary sliding to the turf, turning a sure out into a triple for Ben Zobrist. He also misplayed a bouncing ball in the sixth inning, turning a single into a double for B.J. Upton and allowing Jason Bartlett to score.

Of course, this came just one game after he hit two home runs in the first game of the series, which the Yankees won 11-4. It has gotten to the point where you just have to take the good with the bad with Swisher but come playoff time, his deficiencies in the field could prove extremely costly for the Yankees.

In game one, New York scored three in the second and two in the sixth, with Cano and Swisher each picking up two RBI including back-to-back home runs in the sixth. Swisher added his second home run in the ninth and Johnny Damon belted a three-run blast a few batters later against the back end of the Rays bullpen. It's nice to see signs of life from Damon's bat, as he has seen his share of struggles at the plate since a hot start to the season.

Like Joba, A.J. Burnett continued his lights-out pitching of late, allowing just two hits, two walks and no earned runs over seven innings, striking out five. If Sabathia reverts back to his dominant form anytime soon, the Yankees could potentially have the most dangerous three-man playoff rotation in the American League. The Yankees are now 3.5 games ahead of the Red Sox and 7.5 in front of the Rays, and they've looked like a legitimate championship team ever since the start of the second half, doing it with timely hitting, solid starting pitching and great contributions from the bullpen. Now it's time to see if they can keep it up.

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