When the Yankees got their season on track with a sweep in Baltimore, I considered it nothing more than the Bombers beating a team they were supposed to beat. Now, that’s not to downplay the significance of those three wins; taking care of the easy ones is more indicative of future success than beating the beasts.
As it it turns out, Baltimore may not be all that bad. I’m not quite buying into their status as AL East leaders, but the fact that they’ve gotten there shows they’re not quite as bad as I originally suspected. This is mostly attributable to a pitching staff which has thoroughly outperformed all reasonable expectations, led by sudden ace Jason Hammel.
Hammel came into last night’s start with an ERA of 1.73, a 1.08 WHIP, and a K:BB ratio just a tick over 3:1. If there was any concern about him, it would have been the fact that he has had trouble keeping his pitch counts down. Of course, that’s going to happen against the Yankees regardless of the pitcher.
The Yankees did run his meter to 101 pitches in six innings, but they were unable to muster much in doing so. Nor did getting to the bullpen allow them to tack on runs. All they could muster last night were seven measly baserunners. Fortunately for them, the one inning in which they sent more than four guys to the plate also featured a two-run Eric Chavez home run, and that provided all the offense necessary for the Yankees.
The fact that all the needed was that home run comes as a very pleasant surprise. The Yankees came in to this series just behind the O’s in the standings, but the road to that point has been entirely in contrast with the Baltimore method. The Yankees’ pitching rotation has been among the worst in baseball, but as I outlined yesterday, offense is just as important, and the Yankees have plenty of it.
One of the contributors to those pitching woes has been Hiroki Kuroda. Then again, he’s also been one of guys keeping things together. Confused? Yeah, so am I. Coming into last night, he had put together a series of starts in which he has been either good, bad, excellent or awful. Basically, his average has been mediocrity. But last night, he took it up a level, posting his second straight positive outing: seven innings, one run, four hits and one walk. He only struck out three, but he also needed just 87 pitches to get 21 outs. He pounded the O’s hitters inside with his fastball, setting up the slider for premium effectiveness.
David Robertson struck out the side in the eighth, and Mariano Rivera did his thing in the ninth, shutting down a lineup that had just come back from five runs down in the ninth against Oakland the previous day.
However, there are still issues with the Yankees. It was revealed that Nick Swisher is expected to miss the rest of the week with a strained left hamstring, yet he will not be placed on the DL. Injuries with that timetable are always tricky, as the decision is whether to play with 24 players for a week or without a starter for an extra week. But in this situation, with Brett Gardner already out and only two real outfielders on the roster, this means that Raul Ibanez and Eduardo Nunez will be given more and more opportunities to cost the Yankees games in the corners of the outfield. I give up on figuring out Joe Girardi’s April.
One more note from across the country: On my show last night (the podcast of which has been delayed by the fact that the show was done on location), I briefly discussed the start Matt Kemp has had this season, and how I’m not putting his 50/50 goal past him. Yesterday, Jayson Stark wondered whether or not it was the greatest April ever. While it would take some creative accounting to come to that conclusion, the fact is that the Dodgers center fielder (and my pick for 2011 NL MVP) put together a .490 OBP and .893 SLG%, blasting twelve long balls and scoring 24 runs along the way. He’s only succeeded on two of his four base-stealing attempts, so that level of immortality will likely have to wait. But with Albert Pujols crashing sown to earth, there is no player more primed to assume the mantle of Greatest in the Game than Matt Kemp.
Have you gotten comfortable with Kuroda? And just how good can Matt Kemp be? The comments section is just a quick downward scroll away.