Before I go any further in this post, let me inform you that this is not a reactionary post to yesterday’s loss. This is presenting something that is most likely well known by Yankee fans. Something that has been a big problem of late.
We have been hearing lately about Derek Jeter and how he not the same player anymore. Perhaps this is true, but let us step back and think for a minute. This is one bad season. Yes, he is getting older, but it may not be fair to overreact and christen his career “done” or it will “never be the same.” If this happens again next season, then there is a stronger argument against Jeter.
But, this post is not about Jeter. It is about something that the Yankees have lacked of late. Efficient starting pitching.
Outside of CC Sabathia (19-5, 3.02), the rotation is one giant question mark. Phil Hughes (16-7, 4.29), who emerged as a top of the rotation starter earlier this season, has just not been the same of late. Before the All Star break, Phil was 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP. Since the midsummer classic, he has been 5-5 with a 5.47 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. Lately, his location has been horrendous, and John Flaherty a few days ago mentioned that his arm slot has dropped, perhaps as a result of fatigue. He has never thrown this many innings in his career, and perhaps skipping a start would pay dividends for Hughes. Some may suggest that his struggles began when the Yankees skipped that start in June, but this is September. They will need Hughes come October, and a tired arm cannot be an excuse for losing a potential big playoff game.
Hughes is not the only culprit. A.J. Burnett (10-12, 5.15) and Javier Vazquez (10-9, 5.01) have only fueled the fire, which could also make it difficult for the Yankees to skip Hughes. Burnett was 0-4 in the month of August, posting a 7.80 ERA. Difficult to believe, but AJ has had a worse month this season, going 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA in the month of June. His stuff is there, but his command has not been consistently, resulting in those two horrific months. He is coming off of an eight strikeout outing against Oakland, so he must build on that and have a September like his April and July.
With Vazquez, his velocity and command is gone, which has resulted in batting practice. His fastball sits in the mid to upper 80′s touching the low 90′s at times. Hitters are just teeing off against Vazquez, hitting the ball long and hard. He has given up 29 home runs this season, making him third in the league in HR’s allowed behind Rodrigo Lopez of Arizona (33) and James Shields of Tampa Bay (30). He also gave up the only top deck home run in the new Yankee Stadium to Russell Branyan of Seattle. It was often thought that the top deck was unreachable in the new building.
Ivan Nova (1-0, 2.89) has stepped up and filled in nicely. He has impressed many with his composure and mound presence, even though his last start wasn’t his best work.
The Yankees do have hope on the way: Andy Pettitte (11-2, 2.89). He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Monday followed by a rehab start in either Scranton-Wilkes/Barre or Trenton. The Yankees rotation has missed Pettitte’s consistency and his “Pettitte-ness” on the mound.
Even through the starting woes, the Yankees have the best record in baseball at 86-51, 2.5 games ahead of second place Tampa Bay and 10 games ahead of third place Boston. But, it is no secret that the Yankees September schedule is difficult, perhaps the most difficult September schedule in Major League Baseball. They will be facing teams such as Texas, Tampa Bay, Boston, and Toronto, teams that can and will eat alive bad starting pitching.
They desperately need both Hughes and Burnett to step up, because this October, they will need four starters. With their offense, and the emergence of the bullpen, they should have no trouble defending their title if their starting pitching can get straightened out. Until then, it remains a huge question mark, making the month of September that much bigger of a month for the team.