In case you haven't been following MLB in the last week, the once AL East leading New York Yankees just escaped the worst losing skid since 2007, one that reached six games. Through the first 16 days of May, the Bombers posted an uncharacteristic 5-10 record, half of those losses coming to divisional opponents.
During this six game losing streak, New York has given up a lead of three runs or more in two games, and 14 of the 39 runs scored against them were scored past the sixth inning.
Although the 25 runs scored on Yankee starters in the first six innings of games merits the some immediate attention, I don't think Brian Cashman needs to be looking into adding to his starting rotation. Rather, I believe in a follow up season to the 2010 "Year of the Pitcher", where pitching trends don't seem to be changing, the Bombers need to target their middle relief.
The reason for this is that Yankee starters have actually defied most of the predictions that they would be the downfall of the Empire in 2011. New York saw the retirement of veteran Andy Pettitte, missed out on coveted free agent Cliff Lee, and failed to negotiate a trade for former Kansas City ace Zack Greinke.
And as if this bad luck hadn't left enough question marks in New York's rotation, exit Phil Hughes stage right. After he contributed 18 wins to the Yankees' 2010 campaign, Hughes was put on the DL after 10.1 innings with a frightening case of "dead arm".
Yet even with all of these complications to the Yankee pitching staff, starters C.C Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia had led New York to the top of the East division, and a 3.62 team ERA.
Now, I will put that number I mentioned before (14 runs scored against Yankee pitchers past the sixth inning) into perspective. Three of the six games in New York's losing streak would have been chalked into the win column had these runs not been allowed; and all 14 of them were allowed by Yankee relief.
So, granted 25 runs in the first six innings of six games is unacceptable for any starting rotation, Yankee bats were able to keep up with this figure through six, and its not something many people expect to continue seeing from starters who proved early in the season that they have what it takes to win.
Now, its time to find a solution to this problem. But before I offer one I want to make one thing clear. In spite of the recent struggles New York has experienced, they aren't the Minnesota Twins, or the New York Mets, who's laundry list of problems gets bigger with every passing game.
What I mean is that if Cashman can swing a deal for a single player to pitch in the middle and/or late innings of games, and take some pressure off of the lost soul of Joba Chamberlain, then we wouldn't see home runs by Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the eighth inning of games (See: BOS @ NYY, May 15).
This player would only need to provide some middle relief, as Mariano Rivera has continued to hold down the closer position. I'd also remind you that Rafael Soriano has yet to live up to his expectations, and once the tightness in his elbow is relieved, there is no reason to expect that he won't.
So, who should Cashman have his eye on?
Two guys who come to mind, who I think would fit nicely into New York's bullpen, are Michael Wuertz from Oakland, and Shawn Camp from Toronto.
Michael Wuertz could be an instrumental piece to the Yankees run back to the top of the East division and, as is expected, a 2011 playoff run. He hasn't gotten much use in 2011 but in the final year of his contract, he brings his A-game for every inning he gets called in to pitch.
Through 9.2 innings in 2011, the 32 year old has 13 K's, an ERA of 0.93 and a WHIP of 0.72. He's used to being a setup man in Oakland, and he would fill that position quite nicely in New York, giving Soriano time to properly and fully rehabilitate his elbow.
Also, since the Yankees obviously aren't opposed to having closers play relief and setup roles, Wuertz and Soriano could pair up to be the most dominant set-up tandem in baseball.
The Yankees have more than enough young talent in the farm system to fulfill a number of needs in Oakland. Eduardo Nunez proved that he can perform at the big league level in 2010, and could provide utility and a bat with power potential at the SS and 3B positions. The Yankees also have a young bat by the name of Slade Heathcott, who has performed well at the single A level, showcasing promising plate discipline.
With Oakland's "Moneyball" managing style, and New York's talent-filled minor league system, you can be sure that Cashman would be able to swing a deal for the veteran arm of Wuertz before the deadline.
Shawn Camp, at 35 years old has shown in 2011 that he still has a lot to offer in the middle and late innings of ballgames. Through 21 innings with the Blue Jays this season, he has posted a very respectable 2.14 ERA and allowed only a single home run.
Although Wuertz would be a better option for the seventh and eighth innings as a relief and potential setup man, Camp has the ability to cover the entire middle of the ballgame, and from the fifth to seventh innings, he could be a very smooth transition to a strong setup/closing core of Wuertz and Soriano.
I'll also point out that during the losing streak, New York allowed several tying or go-ahead runs in the fifth to seventh innings. As I noted before, New York possesses a very strong farm system, and the name Slade Heathcott could again be in discussions, even though the Blue Jays have a strong core of young outfielder talent in their minor league system (This could give Alex Anthopoulos an opportunity to trade the electric bat of Travis Snider).
The Yankees could also offer one of their many pitching prospects to strengthen the already talented Blue Jay pitching staff. The accurate throwing David Phelps could be a viable option. In 2009 Phelps posted a 10-3 record with 90 Ks through 112.2 innings in the South Atlantic league, and was a SAL All-Star. A young arm like this could fit in very well with the young core of Blue Jays pitchers.
As the first quarter of the 2011 baseball season comes to a close, there is no reason for Yankee fans to hold their breath, as the Bronx Bombers have once again shown that they possess the talent to make a run for their 28th World Series title.
There is no need for a pitching overhaul, but with the right addition(s), there is no doubt that the New York faithful will be in a position to celebrate yet another group of World Champions.