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It's early, but getting late fast

The Yankees exit April with a slew of problems
04/30/2008 11:13 AM ET
By Steven Goldman / Special to YESNetwork.com

Phil Hughes' pitches and psyche have taken a beating.(AP)
The Yankees find themselves facing a similar question when they look around the league and see teams with functional offenses and pitching staffs. As of Tuesday night's game, much of their preseason plan is in ruins. While the season is by no means over, it is in a period of deep distress.

Jorge Posada is gone. No one knows for how long. Alex Rodriguez is gone. No one knows for how long. The offense had all the zing of flat seltzer even when they were young and had hair, and the manager has a weird habit of benching the hot hitters. Ian Kennedy is walking batters like he was Tommy Byrne, something that suggests a major breakdown in Kennedy's arm or psyche given that his entire existence as a prospect is owed to his exceptional command. Phil Hughes has an ERA of 9.00, which would be a great ERA to have if they handed out bonuses for finishing the season with an ERA between 8.00 and the speed of light. This is not quite how it was supposed to go for the new Tom Seaver. Or the first Fred Seaver. Or Fred Seaver's uncle, who everyone always felt was a little "odd" because he always insisted on throwing to an emu instead of a catcher.

Now, the wheels may not come off completely, because three-fifths of the rotation is pitching quite well and the bullpen has been surprisingly resilient, as Joe Girardi shows a willingness to give consistent work to untested relievers even after they'd given up a run or two, a concept that was completely alien to Joe Torre. On paper, Morgan Ensberg and the soon-to-return Wilson Betemit make for a decent patchwork replacement for A-Rod, though not a team that can equal his production — you can't ask that, only that they keep the club above replacement level at third. That they should do.

Catcher is another kettle o' fish. After Posada, the deluge. Jose Molina's .245 on-base percentage is not out of line for his skill set, and the Yankees did a major disservice to Hughes on Tuesday by saddling him with Chris Stewart, who seemed as if he'd never caught a Major League pitcher before. When you see more of the catcher's number than you do the pitcher's, something has gone terribly wrong.

Now, for a flashback to some good old days that weren't always that good: we have long since passed the point of the season when the Boss would have reassigned the hitting coach to the Yankees' Q-level farm team in Burma. The team's approach at the plate has, on the whole, been abysmal. The Yankees are ninth in the league in walks and 10th in OBP. Players who we would expect to take a walk — Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bobby Abreu, Ensberg, A-Rod — have been hacking, or were, in some cases, as some of them are temporarily indisposed.

Batting average comes and goes. Players slump and get hot. There are offensive years and pitching years and sometimes it rains. Even comedians rise, peak, and have third acts like Robin Williams. Selectivity persists. Selectivity abides. And then there's Robinson Cano, who is an indictment himself.

April is almost over. Something's gotta give. Will it happen on May 14 at Tampa Bay, or May 19 on the off day after the Mets?

THE AROUND
• The wonderful thing about the Mariners' double play combo of Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt is that they can hit .300 and still not contribute offensively.

• Do the Toronto folks realize that having Roy Halliday throw one complete game loss after another is actually showing up their flawed approach to team building rather than his dominance? That's actually a sidebar to the complete game coming back from the brink of extinction this spring, itself a symptom of lowered offensive levels.

• When the Dodgers won last night and reached .500, Andre Ethier went 2-for-3, Matt Kemp went 2-for-5, Andruw Jones went 1-for-3, and Juan Pierre was nowhere to be seen. An old dog can learn new tricks.

• David Wright's game-winning single Tuesday night came off of John Van Benschoten. That's because last night was that special night each year when the Pirates try to get something out of John Van Benschoten. In other news, the Pirates are working on a new plan to end the partition of Ceylon. And then the Yankees will put a farm team there, prompting a new catchphrase: "No one ever comes back from riding the Ceylon shuttle."

• What can one say about the Rangers that hasn't been said about failed Central American states? The 1:1 strikeout-walk ratio is like something out of the 1950s. Now is a lot like the 1950s, actually, only the economy was better then and you could still get new episodes of the Lone Ranger on the radio.

• Max Hastings writes the most dense, cranky war histories of anyone in the war history business. If he did musicals, they'd be sung through and feature songs about how Eisenhower should have said held his hands over his ears and shouted "La la la" whenever Montgomery tried to take him to lunch. Reading the new Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45, I learned that 4,000 elephants sacrificed themselves for the British cause in Burma. No word on what the British have done to make it up to the elephants. I still have 500 pages to go.

• Another book you have to read if you dig movies is Pictures at a Revolution. The five best picture nominees of 1967, "The Graduate," "Bonnie and Clyde," "In the Heat of the Night," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," and "Dr. Doolittle," from conception to completion, as movies struggled to shake off artificiality and false piety, plus a lot of great anecdotes about Rex Harrison brawling with his wife, who liked to do handsprings while not wearing underwear.

Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible appears weekly on YESNetwork.com. "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel is available at Amazon.com and a bookstore near you, as is "Mind Game," about the intellectual conflict between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Steve's Pinstriped Blog is available weekdays on YESNetwork.com, and more Steve can be found at Baseball Prospectus Web site. Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com. The opinions stated above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to anyone connected in an official capacity with the YES Network.
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