Friday, August 28, 2009

Yanks AL East lead down to six games after losing two of three to Rangers

While the Red Sox were busy taking three of four from the fading White Sox, the Yankees lost the opener and finale of their series against Texas, who now trails Boston in the Wild Card race by 1.5 games.

I said I was interested to see how Joba Chamberlain would react to pitching on eight days' rest, and the results were terrible. Texas has one of the American League's better offenses and they pounded Chamberlain over four innings to the tune of seven runs, as Joba allowed nine hits and walked three.

The Yankees scored four runs in the first inning on a two-run double by Hideki Matsui and a two-run homer from Jorge Posada. It was 4-2 heading into the fourth inning when everything came undone for Chamberlain. After retiring the first two batters of the inning, he walked Ivan Rodriguez and allowed a single to Chris Davis.

Future All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus singled home Rodriguez for his third RBI of the game and three consecutive singles later, the Yankees were facing a 7-4 deficit. That deficit would grow to 10-5 heading into the ninth inning, when Jason Grilli and Frank Francisco almost gave it all back.

Grilli walked Johnny Damon to lead off the inning and allowed a single to Mark Teixeira, leading manager Ron Washington to summon Francisco to protect the lead. After a walk to Alex Rodriguez and an RBI single from Matsui, Posada reached on a swinging bunt to third that cut the lead to 10-7.

Robinson Cano singled in two runs to cut the lead to one and put runners on first and second with no outs. A failed sacrifice bunt by Nick Swisher set the stage for Melky Cabrera to be the hero. But Cabrera ripped a line drive right at Andrus, who doubled off pinch-runner Jerry Hairston Jr. at second to end the game.

Andy Pettitte would help the Yankees bounce back in game two with his fifth quality start in his last six outings, allowing just two runs over seven strong innings to pick up the win and tie Lefty Gomez for third on the Yankees all-time wins list. The Yankees took a 4-2 lead into the seventh and exploded for five runs, starting with a based-loaded two-run single from Derek Jeter. Swisher followed with an RBI double and Teixeira drove in two with a long single off the base of the right field wall as the Yanks took game two of the series, 9-2.

Pettitte has pitched great of late for the Yankees, which is nothing new as August has been one of his strongest months over the course of his career. And the Yankees have needed him more than ever with the struggles of Chamberlain, who is proving most of the New York media correct that this innings limit is not helping him or the team right now.

If this limit continues to hamper Joba's consistency, the Yankees should consider putting him back on regular rest for the final two or three weeks of the season, especially if he's going to be a part of their playoff rotation. Limiting his innings has had extremely negative results so far and if this continues the Yankees won't have much choice in the matter, especially if they have legitimate World Series aspirations.

A 7-2 loss in the final game of the series marked the first time the Yankees have lost a series in a month. A.J. Burnett finished an uneven August with a solid performance, striking out a season-high 12 batters over six innings of work and allowing just two hits. But one of those hits was a three-run home run by Ian Kinsler in the fourth inning, which proved to be enough for Texas.

Phil Coke relieved Burnett in the seventh only to allow three hits including another three-run bomb, this one to Davis. Kinsler added a solo shot in the eighth as the Rangers crept closer to Boston in the Wild Card standings with a 7-2 victory.

After a strong June, Coke has struggled in July and August, allowing 17 earned runs in 18.1 innings. Alfredo Aceves has struggled for the past two months as well, allowing 21 earned runs in 31 innings. The resurgence of Brian Bruney (nine August innings, one earned run) has certainly helped in the late innings, but the Yankees will need at least one of Coke or Aceves to return to early-season form if they plan on shoring up their bullpen outside of Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes, as David Robertson has struggled in his last two outings as well.

With the Angels on the verge of adding Scott Kazmir to their rotation, the Yankees are slowing down at a bad time. No one could have expected them to stay as hot as they were out of the break, but their recent inconsistencies in the bullpen and the rotation are scary.

As good as their lineup is, pitching is what wins playoff games, especially in the bullpen. The Yanks still have work to do in the season's final month if they want to prepare themselves to win the AL pennant, and putting a damper on Chicago's playoff hopes in their next series would go a long way towards that goal.

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