The Yankees have fallen into a tie for first place in the AL East with the Tampa Bay Rays, and were fortunate enough to maintain that tie last night, despite a 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays, when the Rays were rolled by the Angels, 12-3. Both teams enjoy a comfortable, five and a half game lead on the Red Sox, who have been so decimated by injuries this season that they now get a special group rate at Mass General.
They're going to need that cushion, too, because 29 of the team's remaining 35 games will come against teams with winning records. Four of those are against the Oakland A's, whose record is just barely in the black at 63-62, and the six other games are against Baltimore, easily the worst team in the American League. They're already 10-2 against Baltimore and 5-1 against Oakland, so presumably they should win at least seven of those 10 games.
But the rest of the Yankees' remaining schedule is brutal. It includes:
- Six more games against Toronto, who lead the major leagues in homers by a comfortable margin, and who also have some talented - if inconsistent - young pitchers.
- Three games at Chicago, where the White Sox are 36-25
- Three games at Texas, where the Rangers are 42-22(!)
- Seven games against the Rays, tied with the Yankees for the best record in baseball, and
- Six games against the Red Sox, including three at Fenway Park to close the season.
It's perhaps also worth noting that the only AL teams who have winning records against the Yankees this year are the Rays (6-5) and the Jays (7-5).
In light of all of this, it is even more surprising to me that the Yankees' general manager, Brian Cashman, would have no apparent interest in bolstering the team's starting pitching for the stretch. Reports yesterday indicated that the Yankees had no interest in Hiroki Kuroda, the Dodgers' right hander who was supposedly being put on waivers.
Given how inconsistent A.J. Burnett has been, and how poorly Javier Vazquez has done of late after a stretch in which he looked pretty darn good, and the fact that Andy Pettitte is still hurt, how can the Yankees justify NOT looking for help?
But Cashman's assertion is that,
"What we got is what we're going with. I anticipate we are going to use the alternatives we have here."
According to Wallace Matthews of ESPN,
"That means youngster Ivan Nova, journeyman* Dustin Moseley and, hopefully, a return to form by Andy Pettitte, out since July 18 with a groin strain."
*Since when does pitching for two major league teams qualify someone as a "journeyman"?
Nova is 23-years-old and has an impressive, 12-3, 2.86 record at AAA Scranton this year, and the peripherals to back that up. He may be in the franchise's long range plans, but it would surprise me if the Yankees really wanted to lean on a rookie like that.
This is a team that historically has not been gun-shy about shoring itself up for the stretch drive - and indeed was thisclose to acquiring Cliff Lee about six weeks ago, at a time when Pettitte was still healthy and Vazquez was pitching well - so I find it hard to believe that they wouldn't want Kuroda or someone like him.
But then Cashman starts to really lay it on thick: "I haven't thought about him. I don't even know if he's on waivers yet. Besides, I'd be hard-pressed to find a pitcher on the waiver wire who can pitch better for us than Dustin Moseley has."
Really, Brian? A guy with a 4.53 ERA who's got a K/W ratio of 18/23 in 46 innings? That's, well, I'll just say it: mediocre. You can't imagine that there's someone better than that out there? Ted Lilly cleared waivers. So did Kerry Wood - for whom you actually traded - Jake Westbrook, Randy Flores, Kyle Farnsworth and Octavio Dotel.
As for Moseley, despite his 4-2 record (and the fact that he's won both a major and a minor league game I attended this year) he's really nothing special. He's got a 5.22 ERA in his spotty major league career and has been generally unimpressive in the minors, with a 4.97 ERA in 95 starts at AAA.
By comparison, Kuroda is 9-11 with a 3.48 ERA this year, and his ERA is no mirage of Dodger Stadium either, as his career road and home ERAs are nearly identical (3.67 vs. 3.69). So the man can pitch. And this year at least, he's managed to stay in the rotation all year.
He's 35 years old and will be a free agent at the end of the year, after making another $2.7 million from someone this year, but that's pocket change for the Yankees. He would obviously be an upgrade on Nova or Moseley and would provide some insurance in case Pettitte doesn't fully heal or Vazquez doesn't find his form again.
Incidentally, keeping Vazquez in the bullpen might be the best thing for everyone involved. He's allowed a .219 composite batting average on his first 50 pitches in games this year, but the opposition has hit .325(!) off him on pitches #51-75.
In any case, methinks that Cashman doth protest too much. He could obviously use the help that Kuroda would offer, now more than ever with Alex Rodriguez nursing a gimpy leg, and would gladly part with three million dollars of the SteinBrothers' money to get him, not to mention a few marginal prospects.
But of course since the Yankees have the best record in baseball, every other team (except perhaps the Rays, given that they're tied) would get a chance to claim the Japanese righty before the Bronx Bombers would ever get their chance.
The Red Sox in particular could probably use him, especially if Josh Beckett doesn't straighten himself out or if Dice-K's back flares up again. So, if there's any hint that the Yankees want him, Kuroda would never clear waivers. Cashman's doing his best to play that possibility down, but I for one am not buying it.