— There was great rejoicing in Boston on Sunday night, and probably in every American League town not nicknamed the Big Apple. The mighty Yankees had been swept by the Red Sox, and there wasn’t anything good the most expensive and self-celebrated team American sports could take out of it.
There was no moral victory to draw comfort from in this sweep. The lining of the cloud that has enveloped the Yankees from Opening Day has been revealed, and it’s made of lead.
There have been sweeps before in the New York-Boston rivalry, and they haven’t always meant anything. But this one was telling. We had been waiting for this series to begin to sort out who the real powers are in the American League East. Were the Yankees ready to settle down and begin to win games? Were the Red Sox as good as they had looked in their recent winning streak? Were the Blue Jays going to continue to challenge for the division title?
We’ve got some answers. One is that the Red Sox are the power in the division. They’re far better at the top of the lineup than the Yankees with Jacoby Ellsbury — the guy who put a punctuation mark on this series with his stunning steal of home Sunday — leading off and last year’s MVP, Dustin Pedroia, hitting second. Kevin Youkilis, the cleanup hitter, won Game 1 with a walk-off homer in the 11th inning, and he’s as dangerous as anyone in the game right now. And Jason Bay, the man who made the Hub forget about Manny, hit the two-run homer off Mariano Rivera that tied Game 1 with two outs in the ninth.
The Yankee lineup is more expensive and sounds more impressive, but it isn’t. Derek Jeter has started well, but he’s not a leadoff hitter. Brett Gardner is an exciting player with unbelievable speed, but his .254 on-base average is not the stuff of which legendary leadoff hitters are made. Mark Teixeira, the big free-agent acquisition who turned down Boston for Yankee dollars in the offseason, is off this his customary bad start. Nick Swisher has been a wonderful surprise, and Robinson Cano is locked and loaded. But the Red Sox were the team that got it done when it counted. The Yankees were the team that didn’t.
It’s hard to see how the Yankees are going to get better quickly. There had been a bit of mythology accompanying the Yankees through the early weeks of the season. It was that as soon as Alex Rodriguez returned around May 15 from surgery to correct a hip problem that come up during the World Baseball Classic, the Yankees would be ready to begin their triumphant march back to the top of the division.
That myth had been dying a slow death before the season’s first meeting with Boston, as the Yankees’ pitching has proved to be something less than the major asset it was expected to be. After three straight losses, two of them by football scores, it’s already obvious that Yankee pitching, particularly the bullpen, isn’t just bad, it’s dreadful.
Yankee pitching is, in fact, the worst in baseball. At 6.41, the team ERA is nearly half a run worse than anyone else in the game. Even Washington, which has won just four games this year, has a team ERA that is more than one run a game lower than New York’s.
Chien-Ming Wang, the Yankees best pitcher before he was injured last year, can’t get anybody out and has been shunted to the disabled list while the team’s pitching doctors try to fix what’s ailing his delivery.
CC Sabathia, the huge — literally and metaphorically — offseason acquisition, has been OK, but hardly anything near the best pitcher in baseball, which his salary says he’s supposed to be. A.J. Burnett, the other free-agent signing, has been decent but not overwhelming. Joba Chamberlain hasn’t given up a lot of runs, but his velocity is down, his walks are up and he’s not averaging even six innings a start.
Of all the starters, only Andy Pettitte is pitching like he’s supposed to. But there was nothing he could do Sunday to win a game in which his offense contributed just one run to the cause. But when the team goes 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, that’s what you get.
The bullpen, other than Rivera — and even he failed against Boston — has been dreadful. In the first few weeks of the season, Brian Bruney had brought hope to the bullpen and a measure of security to seventh-inning leads as the bridge to Mariano Rivera. But with the rest of the bullpen barely more effective than a batting tee, manager Joe Girardi overused Bruney, who is resting a tired arm. They need him back desperately. Then they need at least two more decent relievers. And if the starters don’t start pitching like they’re supposed to be capable of pitching, that won’t help either.
The Yankees' offense has been potent; it’s averaging 5.82 runs per game. That’s tied for fourth in the American League, and it’s a number that will go up once A-Rod returns.
But without reliable relievers, the Yankees can’t even win the games like Sunday’s when they get a good outing from a starter. Sunday’s game was there to be taken by whichever team could invent a run. Boston did it, thanks to Ellsbury, who took third on a grounder to third, then stole home for the run that energized Boston and ripped the heart out of the Yanks.
Ellsbury got to third partially because of the efforts — or lack thereof — of Angel Berroa, the utility infielder the Yankees picked up before the season started. Berroa was filling in for Cody Ransom, the young third baseman who is doing an inadequate job of holding down third base for A-Rod.
Berroa contributed two errors to the cause Sunday and no hits. He’s a washed-up infielder who plays three positions badly. And he’s what the Yankees have to go to on a thin bench.
These aren’t little problems. If you can’t pitch you can’t win. If you don’t have bench depth, it’s going to hurt you. We saw what it means in three brutal losses in Boston, three games that were won by the team with the better pitching, the better hitting and the stronger resolve, the team that’s probably going to control the AL East: the Boston Red Sox.