2005-04-29 / Sports

Are The Yankees Scared Of Their Slow Start?

The Angels’ Jose Molina swipes the tag on Derek Jeter in a 5-4 Bombers’ loss at Yankee Stadium last week. (AP/Julie Jacobson)The Angels’ Jose Molina swipes the tag on Derek Jeter in a 5-4 Bombers’ loss at Yankee Stadium last week. (AP/Julie Jacobson) By Michael Avallone Sports Columnist

Things aren’t exactly running smoothly in the Bronx right now. Forgetting about Alex Rodriguez’s monster game last Tuesday, the Yankees are only 9-12 following their 5-1 loss to the Angels last Wednesday night at the Stadium.

More than likely, we’ll still see the Yanks win 95-100 games, earning themselves the right to play into late October. However, there is a small chance that New York’s problems go a bit deeper than just early-season hiccups. The team is starting to age, and former stars like Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Mike Mussina and Tino Martinez are clearly on the downside of their careers.

Add in the fact that the pitching staff is in flux right now – save for Randy Johnson – and the Yanks may be facing more of a challenge than they – or anyone else – expected. Jaret Wright is out for a minimum of six weeks, Carl Pavano has alternated good starts with bad, Kevin Brown is now the most hated Yankee since Ed Whitson and Mussina’s Orioles days seem further and further away each time he takes the mound.

Against the Texas Rangers this past weekend, the Bronx Bombers were outscored 6-0 and 5-0 in the first two games…before they even had a HIT. The Big Unit saved them from a sweep on Sunday, but the good vibes didn’t last long. The announcement was made that Wright had torn scar tissue in his shoulder, a feeling he said was comparative to a 2001 injury – when he missed virtually the entire year.

With each passing start, the Yanks decision to non-tender Jon Lieber looks more and more foolish. Now a Phillie, Lieber is off to a 4-1 start in the City of Brotherly Love. In comparison, the ENTIRE Yankee rotation has won six games.

Members of the Yanks hierarchy in Tampa pushed hard for Wright following his 15-win season with the Braves. Only one problem: tlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone has a way of getting something out of nothing and with a pitcher that has a history of serious arm trouble, a three-year, $21 million pact was suicide.

As for Brown, he’s already worn out his welcome after poor 2004 campaign. Breaking the non-pitching hand after a late season start last year didn’t endear him to teammates or management either. With his myriad of excuses, poor pitching and surly attitude, Brown’s days in the Bronx may be numbered. Wright’s injury cancels all of those plans for the foreseeable future. Now New York is stuck with a $15 million-a-year pitcher who can’t get past the fifth inning.

It appears the decision to let Andy Pettitte go in the fall of 2003 was smart from a baseball standpoint, but thinking Brown would fill his spot in the rotation was one of the biggest blunders the team’s management has made in years. Unfortunately, those mistakes have become more and more frequent than in seasons past.

With a barren farm system, suspect pitching and an aging roster, the Yanks are forced to win with what they have. One constant during the 1996-2000 dynasty was stability. However, what New York has done since Luis Gonzalez shocked Mariano Rivera in the 2001 World Series is eerily similar to the late 1980s.

Is it a coincidence that the seeds for the Yankees success were planted when Gene Michael ran the club during George Steinbrenner’s suspension in the early 90s? Decide for yourself. Fortunately, the Yankees have time on their side. It’s too early to panic, no matter what The Boss says. The calendar reads April and that means there is five months of baseball still to be played. The Bombers can definitely turn it around.

The question is do they still have the horses to do it?

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