Uncertain Universe: Questions Follow Yankees on the Road

David BulmanContributor IApril 20, 2008

Although the season still feels as fresh-faced as Phil Hughes, almost a month has passed with almost no indication of how this year's campaign will shape up.

Speaking of our 21-year old supposed messiah, it is difficult to recapture the feelings of limitless potential associated with the phenom in and around the first six innings of his start on the first day of May last year. He had been prematurely promoted then, but his second start of the season seemed to prove that another true Yankee was (finally) among us.

As rookies will do, he took some licks and managed to scrape out a respectable 5-3 record, an ERA under five, and even got the lone Yankee win of the 2007 postseason.

But despite a promising spring, Hughsie (0-3) has failed to go more than six innings this year. His one-to-one K/BB ratio is alarming, and he seems rattled by borderline calls that don’t go his way.

Pegged as a number three (or even two) starter this year, and a future ace, the Yankees have two options: let Hughes find his way, perhaps resigning themselves to the dreaded “re-building year”, or send him on a quest of confidence, despite the immediate need for solid starting pitching.

Hughes’ performance so far may be a tough pill, but it’s pretty clear that the pitching has been to the first twenty games of the year what Alex Rodriguez was to last April. Jorge, A-Rod, and Captain Derek usually sound like part of the All-Star Game lineup, but this year it’s more like trainer Gene Monaghan’s lineup.

Worse still, is there a more frustrating player in pinstripes than Robinson Cano? His honey-sweet swing has produced far too many towering pop-ups, and even though his pinch-hit game-winner is probably the defining moment of the season so far, it’s getting late already.

Let’s face it, 10-10 never feels good to a member of Yankee Universe. But if Rivera-to-Wetteland take two wasn’t shortening games to seven innings, it would certainly be worse. Throw in the (unsurprising to anyone who’s watched him for the past two years) performance of Chien-Ming Wang, and some surgically professional starts by Andy Pettitte, and it has to take some pressure off the youngsters.

We all want quality starts every day of the week, but part of me also feels like if they can distribute 150 starts across five or six starters, the long-term (a.k.a. October) payoff will be greater than the short-term growing pains.

No days off, combined with only one week of baseball weather, might be the reason for the slow start. As I was recently reminded, the Yankees are a summer team, and nothing thus far has suggested that they won’t be able to keep close in the division, which looks much tougher after three weeks than was originally thought.

The Yanks currently stand three back (I need not mention to whom), with a tough part of the schedule (trips to chilly Chicago and Cleveland, followed by a home stand against the surging Tigers, M’s, and Indians) upcoming. The next three weeks are going to define the remainder of the season.

The Yanks have proven to be very streaky in the early going, usually a sign of shaky pitching, but also a product of the 19 different lineups used by Joe Girardi so far.

We Yankee fans have a tendency to panic, so I’ll leave you with this thought. One year ago, the Yanks were 8-12, swept consecutively by Boston, Tampa Bay, and Toronto. Mo had zero saves, Joba Chamberlain was but a twinkle in the eyes of the most ardent farm-report scanners, and Joe Torre seemingly had no answers.

Today’s immediate future is certainly uncertain, but I’ll take April 2008 thus far. The offensive track-record is too good, and when the pitching is your life vest, you can turn the ship towards the storm. Let’s get ready for three great weeks of baseball.