Monday, June 29, 2009

If This is Wang, I Don't Want to be Right

A baseball weekend is in the books, and easily the biggest news across the League is the dramatic turnaround (AGAIN) of the Yankees. This Yankee squad is one of the streakier teams in the League, which is a tad odd given the veteran make-up of the team.

Very young teams will often win in waves. The Marlins opened the season 11-1, then lost just about every game for the next 2 months before remembering how to win about 15 days ago. But that's to be expected with rookies, sophomores and guys that have only been in the league for a short term -- they are prone to let their emotions get the best of them, and both good and bad sentiments will snowball.

The Yankees are an interesting exception to the rule. This team is made up of old farts like Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and various others; guys that have been around the block enough times to know that one win does not a championship make, and one loss doesn't end your season. There are a few youngsters on the team, but none saddled with the burden of leading the team. So, who, or what, is responsible for these veterans going on such blatantly hot and cold streaks?

Well, the "what" could be a few things. A series with the Red Sox hasn't helped much. Figuring out the wind and dimensions of a brand new ballpark was also a bit of a win blockade. Then, as soon as every member of the sportswriting media had written an oh-so-special piece about how the Yankees' new ballpark was a shell of the old one, and blah-de-blah, the Yankees learned how to win at home, and sportswriters had to turn to something else.

My disdain for these members of the media blowing little stories out of proportion is a rant for another day (I really don't care what the opposing manager said about the "smell" of the new ballpark versus that of the old one, and the "advantage" that smell gave the Yanks). This article is about the Yankees streakiness, and subsequently, a sinkerballer named Wang. The streaks this year seem worse, for whatever reason, than those of years past, and I can only think the biggest factor is Joe Girardi. The stressed-out, second-year Manager seems to take his team with him when he's up, and brings the bunch down when he's tumbling.

Take the current win streak -- the Yankees were sliding, not spiraling so much, but losing games that were more than winnable. Then, midway through the middle game of an interleague set with the Braves, Joe Girardi decided to flip the switch. The Yankees had a baserunner picked off (though replays later showed the runner, Brett Gardner, was safe), and Girardi got himself tossed. It appeared to be a case of Girardi pleading with the umpire to toss him, and after Girardi took too much time, "blue" grudgingly complied. The Yankees went on to win that contest 8-4, and haven't looked back, taking 5 straight, the last 3 against their Subway rivals.

What's more, the starting pitcher in the most recent victory, posted late last night, was the formerly 0-6 Chien-Ming Wang. Wang has been slowly getting better since his return. Mind you, "slowly" is a bit of an understatement, but the sinker is starting to move again, and his velocity has hit the mid-90's. Getting a chance to run through a pathetic Mets lineup wasn't a bad thing for him, but that first win might very well take the monkey off Wang's back. We shouldn't forget, this is a pitcher that won 19 games in 2007. He doesn't strike out many, but when he's on his game, he doesn't walk many, either. Somewhere deep in my mind I even thought Wang might be a bit of a sleeper draft pick this year, but he didn't turn out to be healthy.

The Yankees are going to be large favorites as long as they're on a winning streak, so for the bettors, this might not be the best time to hop on the train, but now is an outstanding time to eyeball the Yankees starting rotation for wins. A.J. Burnett is heating up, Wang looks like he might be able to keep the Yanks in the game, C.C. is C.C., and so on and so forth.

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