Take away a masterful performance by Andy Pettitte Friday night, where he pitched eight scoreless innings in a win over the Reds, and this easily would have been the worst stretch of the season for the Yankees. Even with that start by Pettitte, it's hard to argue this isn't the worst patch so far. The Yankees split a two-game series with Baltimore, then got swept two straight by Toronto before losing two of three to Cincinnati in the first interleague series of the year. In all, the Yankees have lost five of their last six and six of their last eight games. The stretch has the Yankees barely above .500 for the season, at 21-20, good enough for fourth place in the AL East, just one game in front of cellar-dwelling Boston. Baltimore has a 5.5-game cushion over the Yankees. The worst part of it all is the Yankees just aren't winning games late this year, which was a former staple (anyone remember pie?). In both losses this weekend against Cincinnati, the Yankees couldn't get the job done late, first falling short in a comeback attempt and then not being able to push across a run in the final innings to back a strong performance by CC Sabathia. The Yankees need to find that magic at some point soon.
|Andy Pettitte threw eight scoreless innings Friday. (AP photo)|
The High Point
For the second week in a row, this spot belongs to Andy Pettitte. Friday night's performance was simply masterful, as he allowed no runs, four hits, one walk and struck out nine in eight innings. Pettitte had to be as good as he was because the Yankees' offense wasn't doing their part to make things easy in the hurler's second start of the season. The Yankees were clinging to a 1-0 lead for most of the game before finally putting together a solid inning at the plate, scoring three runs to put the game away in the bottom of the eighth. Pettitte, meanwhile, allowed just four singles in winning for the first time since July, 2010. He now has 241 wins in his tremendous career and is the clear No. 2 starter in the rotation. Robinson Cano and Raul Ibanez both homered in the eighth to set up an easy ninth for Boone Logan to finish off the shutout.
The Low Point
There's a lot to choose from, especially with a stretch that has the Yankees losing five of their last six, so we'll go with the final game of the week, Sunday's loss to the Reds. The Yankees got a winning performance from Sabathia on the mound, as he pitched shutout ball for six innings before allowing three in the seventh. Even with that let-up by the Yankees ace, allowing three runs should almost always be enough to bring home a win for the so-called Bronx Bombers. That wasn't the case Sunday, and hasn't been the case this entire season. Besides Ibanez, who put the Yankees up 2-0 with a two-run home run in the sixth, there isn't anything to get excited about on offense, where clutch hits are few and far between. Yes, the pitching has been suspect for a good part of the season, but the Yankees simply aren't getting clutch hits. As a team, the Yankees are batting .231 with runners in scoring position, with Cano, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez all batting under .220. That won't win games, let alone a world championship.
|Raul Ibanez has been one of the few clutch hitters. (AP photo)|
Raul Ibanez: The thought-to-be-washed-up Ibanez has revitalized his career, becoming one of the few trusted bats, at least for now, in the lineup. He went 5-for-12 in the three-game series with the Reds, hitting two doubles, two home runs and driving in five runs. On the season, Ibanez is batting .273 with nine homers and 27 RBI. He's second on the team in home runs and tied for first in RBI.
Andy Pettitte: He's become the No. 2 starter in the rotation after two years away. That's all that needs to be written on how good Pettitte has been since his return from retirement.
Robinson Cano: A good sign for the Yankees offense is Cano finally regaining his stroke at the plate. This week he went 9-for-25 with five doubles, a home run and two RBI. He's upped his average to .309, now it's time to up those four home runs and 16 RBI this season with another big week.
Russell Martin: The catcher looks done at the plate, going 1-for-13 this week with a home run Saturday against Cincinnati. He's batting .168 on the season, which has to be raising some kind of red flags with the Yankees' hierarchy. He might be able to call a good game behind the plate, but how long can the Yankees continue to put him in the lineup when it's almost an automatic out?
Hiroki Kuroda: He was rocked by the Blue Jays Wednesday, allowing seven runs in five innings. He allowed three home runs in that game and has let up five long balls in his last two starts. He's continued a weird trend of pitching well one start and then poorly the next. This obviously was the latter.
Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod blasted a shot that he and everyone in the ballpark thought was a home run Sunday against the Reds, which came with Rodriguez basically posing in front of his dugout after flipping his bat. The only problem was the ball ended up being caught on the warning track for just another loud out. That has been the story of the season for Rodriguez. This week A-Rod had just one double and a single RBI. He has five homers and 15 RBI this season, numbers that are way too low for a player of his stature. Hopefully A-Rod hasn't lost his power stroke, because he's going to be in the lineup for a long, long time.
The Yankees have to use this week as a springboard toward making a move to the top of the AL East standings. First, the Yankees stay home for three games against the Kansas City Royals, who bring a 16-24 record into the series. A sweep would be nice. Then, it's a trip out West for a three-game series with the 21-21 Oakland Athletics over the weekend. It's a favorable six-game stretch, one the Yankees should take advantage of.