Remember when, during the original Star Wars (Episode IV for you younger fans), Ben Kenobi pulls a Jedi mind trick on a pair of stormtroopers? “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” he intones – and the troopers repeat mindlessly after him. We Yankee fans are wondering if ol’ General Obi Wan was employed by the Yankee front office to pull a similar trick on us during the off-season. “These aren’t the pitchers you’re looking for…”
After twelve games, the Yankees are 6-6. While a .500 is hardly the record that the team’s fans expect, the Yanks could be worse off. Equally unsteady play from the rest of the AL East means they haven’t dug themselves a major hole – they’re only a game from first place (but also only two from last). That being said, the fans are grumbling and we all know that in days of yore, King George would have Joe Binder on speed dial.
Much of the grumbling seems to be centering on the offense. While it’s sputtered at times, and Yankee hitters have done a miserable job with RISP (their team .240 batting average in such situations is 26 points below the league average), the offense has still scored the second most runs in the league. Simply put, even if A-Rod and Robbie Cano continue to have dismal 2012 seasons, the rest of the team should still score enough to keep the team in any game.
No, the problem has been the starting pitching. 12 starts, but only four of them have been “quality starts” – that is, at least 6 innings and no more than 3 runs allowed. At this point, only one starter has a better than league average ERA (Ivan Nova, at 4.15). The rest of the rotation have ERA’s north of 5. The back end, featuring Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes have been particularly putrid so far: the pair have combined to allow 34 baserunners, 17 runs and 5 home runs in only 18 innings over 4 games. It’s gotten to the point that the Yankee hitters have to feel as if they’re down by four before they even leave the clubhouse on days when either of the duo pitches. The rest of the staff hasn’t been much better, although CC Sabathia seemed to finally wake up in his last start. The book is still out on Hiroki Kuroda: he threw a game for the ages during the home opener, but followed it up by throwing batting practice to the Twins last night.
And right now, hopes are pinned on the returns of Andy Pettitte and Michael Pineda. While you would be hard pressed to say either can be worse than the current fourth and fifth starters, a dose of realism is in order. Pettitte is returning from retirement, will be 40 in June and hasn’t thrown 200 innings since 2008. Pineda was a phenom for Seattle during the first half last year. His fastball disappeared after the 2011 All-Star break, along with his success. The Yankees diagnosed him with a shoulder strain during Spring Training, which is why he is currently on the DL. If Pettitte is a victim of Father Time and/or Pineda can’t rediscover the velocity that made him a feared righty last year, then the Yankees season might well be sunk. Because let’s face it: Kuroda might be experienced, but he lacks the stuff to be a true number 2. Nova is probably in the right spot as a number 3 guy. But Garcia is quickly proving that last year’s high batting average against isn’t something that you can pitch around consistently. Hughes is showing that 2010 wasn’t a break-out season for him, but rather a wondrous year in an otherwise sub-par career.
Tonight is another game and another start for Hughes. It’s time for he and Garcia to prove they can get guys out in the major leagues. If they can’t, then 2012 is going to be a long season.
***UPDATE: Game in progress, top 1st. Hughes wasn’t helped by an Eduardo Nunez error, but he’s allowed four runs. ***