- Last Updated: 1:06 PM, July 8, 2012
- Posted: 1:58 AM, July 8, 2012
BOSTON — For the Yankees, let’s start with the positives. They have earned that.
They won the first two games at Fenway Park, which assured going into the break with no worse than a five-game lead in the majors’ toughest division and with no less than a 7 1/2-game advantage on the Red Sox.
You never want to forgive a stinker, but the Yankees were kind of set up for one in the nightcap last night. They had won a long game Friday night to open this series, then pummeled the Red Sox 6-1 in the afternoon yesterday.
They then seemed to take the night off. The problem was there was an actual game scheduled. The Yankees committed four errors and also let what amounted to a Red Sox B-squad lineup amass 17 hits. So rather than choke a little more life out of the reeling Red Sox, the Yankees lost, 9-5.
Even with this clunker, the Yankees have established themselves as the class of the AL East, full of depth and power and resolve. They will be tough to beat. But let us remember that at this time last year the Red Sox clearly were the AL’s elite team, a status that would continue to August.
But the elements they overcame earlier — namely troubling pitching depth — blew up in September. They collapsed out of the playoffs and never really have been right since. Thus, simply blowing off the Yankees’ shortcomings because they are winning now would be folly.
Which brings us to Phil Hughes. There was no doubt that he was undermined badly by poor defense. With a clean game behind him, perhaps, he goes into the break with double-digit wins. But he cannot be exonerated from this loss. He was hit hard by a batting order that outside of David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez was comprised of the supplementary and the anonymous; more Fort Myers in March than The Rivalry in July.
“A lack of sharpness showed up,” Hughes said.
So did a familiar problem. Going into yesterday, Yankees pitchers were holding hitters to a .169 average after getting ahead 0-2. But Boston went 4-for-6 last night off Hughes after falling behind 0-2 and hitters are now at .250 on the season (25-for-100) in such situations against the righty.
Hughes has no trouble getting ahead, but when he does not have his best fastball/location combo — like last night — he still does not have refined enough secondary pitches, notably a changeup, to disrupt timing. Hughes loses efficiency and effectiveness, there are no uncomfortable at-bats. It leaves him more untrustworthy as more vital games loom.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” Hughes said. “I’d like to be more consistent in the second half.”
CC Sabathia is due back from the disabled list during the first turn of the second half. But the uncertainty remains about a No. 2 starter, especially with Andy Pettitte not due back from a fractured ankle before late August, at the earliest. In this series, Hiroki Kuroda blew a 5-0 first-inning lead (the Yankees recovered to win) and Hughes blew a 3-0 first-inning lead. Again, this was against a devastated lineup.
And the reality is the Yankees also are operating with less bullpen in support of their rotation than they had most of the first half. The downside to winning, but winning close so often over the last several weeks has been the heavy workload on the pen — even as manager Joe Girardi tries to distribute the load. The Braves had as bad a flameout last September as the Red Sox because their bullpen had nothing left after a taxing first few months.
Cory Wade and Boone Logan, who had been key elements in giving the Yankees as deep a bullpen as any team, appear out of gas. Wade does not look salvageable. He is offering batting practice, not major league pitching. Logan has yielded runs in each of last four outings (five runs in 2 2/3 innings) as the improved control/strikeout dominance that made him as good a lefty reliever as there was in the AL has disappeared.
Maybe the break will revitalize Logan. Or maybe the Yankees will get a pleasant gift in the coming weeks in Joba Chamberlain to deepen the late-game look.
At present, none of the problematic issues are undercutting the Yankees. They lead the AL East and have so far owned The Rivalry. But last year’s Red Sox are a cautionary tale against July — or even September — overconfidence.