Baseball's regular season is a long road. With the completion of game 135 tonight exactly five sixths of that road will be in the Yankees' rearview mirror. Also in the Yankees' rearview mirror is the entirety of the American League. They hold a 10.5 game lead on a playoff spot, a 7.5 game lead in the AL East, and 7 game lead for home field.
As such, the Yankees have the luxury of not having to put the pedal to the floor heading down the stretch. They didn't have to panic and make a deal for a brand name fifth starter at either trade deadline. They don't have to rush Sergio Mitre back after he took a liner off his arm last Saturday. They don't have to trot Mariano Rivera out to the mound while his groin is bothering him. They don't have to bend their already flexible rules as it pertains to Joba Chamberlain's innings and push him because they need to win games.
All of those factors will be in play tonight. Chad Gaudin, the swingman pitcher the Yankees acquired in place of a bigger named starter, spot started in place of Mitre last night and required 5.1 innings of relief from the bullpen. Mitre will start Sunday, on seven days rest and having pitched six innings just once in seven starts this year. Rivera, who did not throw his scheduled bullpen today, will be unavailable for the third consecutive game. And Joba Chamberlain will make his second consecutive start on regular rest but with a strict pitch and inning limit.
Last Sunday, Chamberlain was on a 50 pitch or 3 inning limit. He got through three on just 35 pitches. I haven't seen it posted anywhere yet, but I'd imagine that he'd be capped at about 60 pitches or 4 innings today.
The fact the Yankees even considered that Joba would reach 50 pitches prior to completing three innings speaks to how poorly he's pitched of late. Since throwing eight shutout innings against Tampa Bay on July 29th, Joba has made five starts to the tune of an 8.22 ERA and 2.00 WHIP. Opponents are batting .323/.414./500 off him during that time and he's walking a Bruney-esque 5.87 per nine. He's averaged 18.78 pitches per IP during that stretch, so a three inning start tonight is a distinct possibility. Yet the delusionary Joba still insists he's pitching well (see the 5:50 update). I'm hopeful that tonight he'll turn in a performance that a more discerning observer would deem acceptable.
Either way, the Yankees will likely need four to six innings from the bullpen tonight. With Gaudin having started last night, Mitre going Sunday, and Alfredo Aceves having thrown 2.1 innings last night, they're without their usual long relief options. My guess is that Mark Melancon will follow Joba for two or three innings, then it's anyone guess from there. With Mo being day-to-day they'll likely not use Phil Hughes for more than an inning. Thankfully even with Mo and Alf presumably unavailable, they'll still have nine men in the bullpen due to September call-ups, and six of them didn't pitch last night. It should be enough to get them through the weekend.
As for the Blue Jays, they'll also send a struggling starter to the mound. Roy Halladay was one of the big name starters the Yankees were rumored to be pursuing at the deadline. The Jays ended up overplaying their hand and held on to Halladay. A Cy Young candidate at the deadline, Halladay has been horseshit since, going 2-4 with a 4.71 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP since, as opponents are OPSing .860 off him. One of those losses came against the Yanks on August 4th, his second straight poor start against the Yankees. They'll look to hang another "L" on him tonight.
Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher get the night off, replaced by Ramiro Pena and Eric Hinske respectively. Johnny Damon slides up to the leadoff spot, and Hinske, interestingly, bats second.
Heading into Memorial Day weekend, the Yankees had a nine game winning streak going. I wrote this preview, featuring "Once" from Pearl Jam. The Yankees lost that night.
Heading into Fourth of July weekend, the Yankees had a seven game winning streak going. I wrote this preview, featuring "State of Love and Trust" from Pearl Jam. The Yankees lost that night.
Now we're heading into Labor Day weekend (or Labour Day for the Jays fans) and the Yankees have a seven game winning streak going. In an effort to prove how non-superstitious I am (or how stubborn and stupid I am), I'm going to roll the dice again.
"The Long Road" was originally written for Mirror Ball, the 1995 album from Fack Youk's favorite Canadian, Neil Young. Pearl Jam was his backing band for the album. "The Long Road" was one of two Eddie Vedder tunes that didn't make the final cut for the album, and were later included on Pearl Jam's EP Merkin Ball, considered a companion piece to Mirror Ball.
With the Yankees in Canada this weekend, hopefully this song's connection to the Canadian Young will bring a little better luck. And hopefully tonight Joba will pitch well, even if he cannot stay around for long. Either way, tonight's another step on the season's long road.
And I wished for so long,
I cannot stay,
All the precious moments,
I cannot stay,
It's not like wings have fallen,
I cannot stay,
Without you something's missing,
I cannot stay.