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Three Week Stretch Could Make Or Break Yankees' Season

May 28, 2011 - John Whittaker
After two months, Yankees fans don't really know what to make of the 2011 team.

We'll all know more after the next three weeks. Starting with this stretch in Seattle, the Yankees will face the A's, Angels and Red Sox in three-game sets, a four-game series with the Indians and then a three-game set with the Rangers. Only the A's have a losing record, though they possibly have the best pitching staff of anyone in the league.

If you had told most fans that would be the case with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia taking regular turns in the rotation, Phil Hughes missing most of the first two months, Nick Swisher hitting .202 and Rafael Soriano not only breaking down but pitching like Scott Proctor (after six arm surgeries), that you'd still be within shouting distance of Boston, most fans would have been happy.

Through two months of baseball, the Yankees and their more than $200 million payroll are one game behind Boston for first place in the American League East. Still, I have no idea how good they are. Largely, they've beaten the team's they're supposed to beat, but I'm not sure what to make of that three-game sweep by Boston a couple of weekends ago or the struggles against Toronto. I think it's safe to say Brian Cashman is feeling the same way.

After seeing the offense bog down against hard-throwing rookie Michael Pineda on Friday, the Yankees came back Saturday to face Felix Hernandez, who is only the reigning Cy Young Award winner who rival general managers lust over the same way like horny 15-year-olds. All five Angels starters have ERAs of less than 4.13. Brandon McCarthy's 4.13 ERA is the highest among Oakland's five starting pitchers. If Boston chooses to set up its rotation for the Yankees, they could be facing Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, three power arms that give the Yankees trouble.

If you want to see how the Yankees could fare in the postseason, look no further than the next two weeks. If the team struggles to score runs, Brian Cashman could be forced to make a deal before the trade deadline for a bat — problematic because he's still probably looking for make a move for a frontline starter unless he really feels comfortable with Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett for the duration of the season.

There are some hitters who could be on the trading block in the coming weeks — including possibly Hunter Pence of the Astros, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome of the Twins if they continue struggling and even San Diego's Ryan Ludwick — who wouldn't cost the Yankees an arm and a leg in a trade. The problem becomes what the Yankees do with their most underperforming hitters. Jorge Posada is a fan favorite even though he's hitting .183. And, he wasn't happy about hitting ninth against Boston on national television. What happesn when he's sitting the bench three or four days a week? Everyone loves Nick Swisher despite his .202 batting average. How will he take a demotion? Will he still be the same happy, bubbly, pie-throwing Swisher?

Just spitballing here, but if the Yankees don't do anything before the deadline, it's a sign Cashman is chalking 2011 up to a building year. Posada is a free agent after the season while the team has an option on Swisher that might not get picked up if he continues to hit .200 with not even a scintilla of power this season. When their contracts come off the books, the team might be able to make some moves to get younger for 2012.

Given the way some of the Yankees hitters have fared against mid-level pitchers, I think the Yankees have to hope they manage a split of these upcoming series and just stay within striking distance of Boston in the American League East while hoping Swisher and Posada step it up. If not, they're probably playing for the Wild Card.

Last Week's Record: 4-2.

Division Standing Through 49 games: 27-22, second place, 1 game behind Boston.

What I Liked This Week

Curtis Granderson (.381, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 9 R), Alex Rodriguez (.458, 1 HR, 3 RBI) and Mark Teixeira (.292, 3 HR, 7 RBI) are carrying the offense right now, with no one else really contributing with any regularity. In addition to his hitting, Granderson is showing an ability to steal bases at key times that Brett Gardner needs to begin taking notes on. Rodriguez has come back from his two-week slump to hit the ball hard while Teixeira has been really solid.

With the news that Rafael Soriano is out 6 to 8 weeks and may be done for the season (seriously, why do the Yankees insist on signing overpriced relievers from other teams?) it was reassuring to see David Robertson throw 2.1 shutout innings, striking out four with no walks. Meanwhile, Joba Chamberlain threw two shutout innings. If you're going to Chamberlain and Robertson in the seventh and eighth innings of close games, you're alright as long as their control is decent. I wonder if Brian Cashman will try to find Soriano's replacement at the trade deadline since that route has worked so well in the past (Jay Witasick, Gabe White, Damaso Marte, Dan Miceli, Bret Prinz, ... take a breath, because we're not close to done here yet ... Felix Heredia, Felix Rodriguez Buddy Groom, Alan Embree, Wayne Franklin). Only I can get ticked off over something that was a good thing this week.

What Concerns Me

A.J. Burnett may be leveling out a bit, but if he's good for 11 innings, 5 earned runs and 10 strikeouts every week, you'd probably take it. In both starts, though, you could see Burnett starting to miss spots badly to set up scoring opportunities late in the game — which makes me think that maybe Joe Girardi missed the obvious warning signs that a fresh arm was probably needed. Bartolo Colon got roughed up a bit in the sixth inning of his start against Toronto, but part of that was a managerial decision to walk two hitters in an attempt to set up a double play. But, when Colon starts walking hitters, it's probably a sign he's tiring and needs burritos and a reliever — which makes which makes me think that maybe Joe Girardi missed the obvious warning signs that a fresh arm was probably needed. Sense a pattern here?

What's Coming Up: Two games with Seattle, three games with Oakland, one with Anaheim.


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