By Jason Keidel
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I understand how perilous it is to pick on the Yankees, to poke holes though Darth Vader's mask. As an admitted Yankees fan, I come off as an impatient, infantile elitist who bristles at the first scent of trouble. If the Yankees don't win at least 95 games every year, we whine. And there's some truth to that.
But the Yankees – yes, I'm making it official – cannot win the World Series this year. In fact, they can't even reach the Fall Classic.
Let's take the whining up an octave: they may not make the playoffs.
And while cyberspace is gurgling with blogs about the Bombers' dearth of decent hitting, leaving small villages on base, in scoring position, late in games, that's not the problem, not by a long shot.
Baseball, as the ancient axiom tells us, is about pitching. And the Yankees have little of it.
For all the gripes and sour grapes over their hitting, the Yanks are still fifth in the American League in runs scored, and just three runs behind Baltimore for third place. Besides, the Yankees have way too much fortified lumber for a prolonged slumber. But there's no panacea for their pitching woes, because they have no talent.
CC Sabathia is the only certified stud in the rotation. And it's frightening – if not appalling – to ponder the second best hurler so far, Hiroki Kuroda. At 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA, it's hard to imagine the geriatric Japanese pitcher improving on mediocrity.
Phil Hughes (3-5, 5.23 ERA) has been enigmatic, at best. And for all the talk about Ivan Nova's ascent to Ace status, he's got a hefty, 5.44 ERA. Michael Pineda's ERA has been MIA since he appeared through the Florida fog overweight and with a bum shoulder. Sabathia aside, every regular starter has allowed way more hits than innings pitched, even if you omit Freddy Garcia (0-2, 8.27 ERA). David Phelps is a nice story, but he's David Phelps.
While no one doubts the courage or caginess of Andy Pettitte (who's pitching tonight) the iconic graybeard is still galloping to get back into game shape. And not even the greatest Yankees lefty since Whitey can fill the chasmal gaps or fix the blown gaskets in the Yankees' rotation.
The Yankees' bullpen was supposed to be the steel curtain that ended the show after six innings. Now, Dave Robertson is hurt, and Rafael Soriano never proved he could bask in Broadway's glow without burning in its glare. Overall, the team's ERA is tenth in the AL – worse than the Mariners and White Sox – and unlikely to climb unless they make a midseason trade.
Also, we must concede at some point that the Orioles aren't a fluke, particularly considering their manager, Buck Showalter: the patron saint of turning lost causes into contenders. No one doubts the Rays are for real. And since the Yankees plunged to fourth place at the hands of the Blue Jays, who just leapfrogged them in the standings, Toronto could be serious. All the esteemed "baseball people" gushed about Toronto's young talent before the season started, and they're over .500 despite the fact that all-world slugger Jose Bautista was batting .195 a few days ago.
Finally, there's the small matter of the small man who pitches like Superman every fall. The Yankees wlll not, cannot, perform high deeds under brown leaves because…
Mariano Rivera chased that innocuous fly ball in the fading light at Kauffman Stadium and, in an agonizing loop of bad luck that has defined the Yankees' pitching in 2012, the Immortal Mo popped his ACL snagging the rawhide.
I still can't purge the picture of Rivera wincing while he hugged his right knee on the warning track, A-Rod mouthing "Oh, my God!" repeatedly from home plate while every Yankee in uniform sprinted out to rescue the greatest closer ever to grip a ball.
Bullpen has become a sore on the soul of every team in the sport ever since the closer became essential. And no team has had more serendipity in that department than the New York Yankees. From Joe Torre to Girardi, the endgame has been the simple transaction of trotting to the mound, slapping the butt of a beleaguered setup man, and tapping the right wrist to summon Sandman.
That option is gone. As difficult as it is for Yankees fans to absorb the Brooklyn Dodgers' old mantra, I'm afraid "Wait until next year" is something that applies to all juggernauts, and Evil Empires.
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