Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Game 71: Hot 'Lanta

Daytime highs in Atlanta today were in the low 90's and by the time game time rolls around this evening, it should still be in the upper 80's. During the hottest stretch of the season thus far for the Yanks, a road trip through Miami and Atlanta, their bats have gone cold. Averaging fewer than 3 runs per game, they were held to one run by Josh Johnson on Saturday and the Marlins and shut out by Tommy Hanson and the Braves last night. Before that, they managed only 7 runs in three games against the Nationals.

It certainly hasn't been the pitching. Aside from CC Sabathia's early exit from Land Shark Stadium, the Yanks haven't allowed more than four runs in any game. Out of the past six contests, the Yanks have lost three of them while holding their opponents to three runs or fewer, something they hadn't done all season until that point. When pitchers struggle, it's easy to point the finger at one guy. When it's the offense that is faltering, the failure is more often projected on the team as a whole.

Over the last 13 games, the Yankees OPS leaders are Hideki Matsui (okay) and Brett Gardner (yikes) and they've combined for only 48 at bats. The least productive hitter with significant playing time? A-Rod at .486. That's an OPS that even David Ortiz can scoff at. If we gave A-Rod credit for energizing the team upon his return, he certainly deserves some blame for this recent slump. Unfortunately, as Tyler Kepner points out, there's no guarantee that he'll return to form.

The slumping bats have in turn put Joe Girardi back onto the hot seat. Local scribes have speculated that is Girardi fails to make the playoffs with a $200M payroll once again, it could be the very last time he gets the chance to manage in the Majors. There have been conflicting reports, but some have said that the decision to bench A-Rod came from the front office. The fact that Angel Berroa was on the roster that entire time, presumably ready to play in place of A-Rod, but was never used would seem to back that up.

Girardi getting overruled when it comes to the handling of the team's most valuable asset seems a bit like the Joba Rules being imposed on Joe Torre. If the front office needs to step in and make decisions because they don't trust the manager to, it probably doesn't bode well for Girardi's future as Yankee skipper.

Of course, with a dominant performance by the offense or Joba Chamberlain tonight, these issues could be temporarily swept aside. Joba had a respectable start last time out against the Nationals, going 6 innings and allowing three runs, but was still tagged with the loss. Given the way the offense has (not) produced recently, they might need to do better than that.

Tonight will be yet another chance for the Yankees to shake the notion that they can't hit pitchers they haven't seen before, as the Braves send Kenshin Kawakami to the mound. The Japanese rookie turned 29 on Monday and aside from Hideki Matsui who can't play the field and probably won't face him, he is completley new to the Yanks.

If you look at the MLB odds page on Bodog, the over/under for the game sits at 9 runs. Neither Kawakami or Chamberlain have allowed more than three earned runs in a start since the beginning of May, they are playing in a National League park and neither of the line ups have been able to manage much offensively as of late. All of these things would seem to portend another low scoring game. But baseball in funny like that... perhaps things are about to heat up.

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