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Be afraid, Yankee fans — be very afraid.
A couple of weeks ago everything seemed all sewn up — the Yankees had vanquished the Red Sox, and all everyone wanted to know was if this year’s editions was as good as the 1998 team. A couple of more games like yesterday’s, and they’re going to be wondering if this team is as good as the 2008 Yankees.
The problem, as it has been for the Yankees since 2004, is the starting pitching, and this year it manifests itself in the hefty form of Joba Chamberlain. A year ago he looked like the greatest young phenom in baseball; now he’s a weight dragging down the rest of the pitching staff.
Sunday’s outing against the punchless Seattle mariners — dead last in the American League in both batting average and runs scored — was an out and out disgrace that would have earned any other pitcher a demotion to Double-A.
Chamberlain went just three innings, was hammered for seven runs on six hits and three walks, handing the Yankees their second series loss in the last ten days. And the excuse was the recent A.J. Burnett mantra: “If not for one or two bad pitches …” Memo to A.J. and Joba: a three-run homer is not — repeat, not — one mistake. It is, at the very least, three mistakes.
Joba hasn’t gone more than five innings since August 11, and in his last seven starts, has gone just 20 innings, giving up 39 hits and walking 12 against just 17 strikeouts. Let’s make that even more dramatic: in his five starts since the Yankees began this ridiculous “New Rules” (with apologies to Bill Maher) approach, Joba has pitched 16 innings, given up 23 hits, struck out 10, and given up 14 earned runs for an eye-gouging ERA of 7.87.
He has become the biggest Yankee bullpen drainer since Jaret Wright; the only redeeming factor in yesterday humiliating 7-1 loss to Seattle was Sergio Mitre, who pitched five innings on scoreless one-hit relief — but that’s five innings that he didn’t get to pitch in a game the Yanks had a chance to win.
Is there a team in baseball with a worse record of developing young pitchers than the Yankees? Was there any more illogical way to bring Joba along than to put him in games where he was expected to only go three or four innings? If whoever is calling the shots in the front office had conferred with Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave “No Man Is An” Eiland and at least agreed to put Job aback in the bullpen to be worked in front of Phil Hughes, they might at least have something to show for all the absurd coddling and pampering of Joba. All they’ve got now is a big fat ugly decision as to whether or not he should be included on the postseason roster — and if the numbers mean anything, the answer to that question is an emphatic no.
A couple of weeks ago the Yankees turned down every chance to go after several pitchers who could have helped them, the very least of them Cliff Lee, who was snapped up by the Phillies. Now they head into a potentially nasty stretch, including three with the Angels in Los Angeles then three games with the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, in which they may not even be able to hold onto their five game lead. If Andy Pettitte’s shoulder doesn’t hold up tonight, it’s desperation time.
What’s the big difference between the 1998 and 2009 Yankees? Try this: In 1998, the Yanks weren’t going into the last nine games of the season wondering if they were the best team in the league.