Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the Yankees' starting pitching this weekend is that while they have their problems, they're not alone among playoff contenders. Up in Boston, an allegedly healthy Jeff Niemann got rocked by the Red Sox yesterday, leaving Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey to search for those "mechanical flaws" that pitching coaches make a living identifying. Meanwhile, a struggling Cliff Lee was scratched from his scheduled start tonight because of a strained muscle in his lower back.
But to be sure, the Yankees rotation still has some issues — about as many as a team with the best record in baseball can have, especially when it's just two games removed from an eight-game winning streak. On Saturday, the bullpen — and Marcus Thames — bailed out Javier Vazquez (five earned runs in four and two-thirds innings), and on Sunday, Phil Hughes combined two of his troubling habits (failing to put batters away with two strikes and allowing home runs at Yankee Stadium) by allowing two Toronto homers on 0-2 counts.
Yesterday, A.J. Burnett was done in by two two-out singles by Brian Roberts, including one in the seventh that broke the 3-3 tie. But unlike so many of Burnett's starts this year, he at least kept them in the game by avoiding any disastrous innings. It's not exactly ideal, but considering how streaky Burnett's been this year, a so-so outing in which the Yankees at least had a chance to win is probably still a step in the right direction. In fact, a year ago, during the Summer of Pie, the Yankees probably would have won this game in the ninth. But things are a little different this year, and not in a good way.