A brief entry for now, fellow seekers of wisdom and truth, as I take a few moments to myself between hospital visits. My father has had one surgery and got through, has another more minor procedure scheduled for this evening, but assuming all goes well he has received a stay of further surgery and will, I think-I hope-I wish, be released within a few days. He will not be entering the decathlon now or in the future, but he should be around to watch it, and at this stage that is something to be grateful for.
Speaking of gratitude, I am most appreciative of the Fates, or Bud Selig (who, after all, was one of the Fates during his youth in ancient Greece) for arranging a most compelling baseball season in this difficult season for my family. Every division has a compelling race, with the AL East proving to be a corker. I would also like to thank the Yankees for making Brett Gardner a regular. He is not one of the top run-producers in baseball due to his lack of power, but he is surely one of the most entertaining, a Deadball era throwback in an age of stationary sluggers. I should clarify my derogation of his offensive abilities; to be a tip-top player in this era, you need to throw double-figure home runs into the mix, but at .324/.404/.428 with 23 steals at a fine percentage, Gardner is doing just fine. He’s not elite, but he is having one of the top 30 or so offensive seasons in baseball. The average Major League left fielder is hitting .269/.337/.431; he’s doing just fine compared to the field. Throw in defensive value and versatility and you’ve got a killer player.
I haven’t figured out A.J. Burnett, but that’s okay because no one else has either. It would be easy, and I think facile, to say that this is who Burnett is, a pitcher who is shockingly inconsistent given the great stuff he possesses. There is an element of truth in that; even last year, he seemed to alternate between no-hit stuff and taking a shower at about 8:05. Yet, even if he was a bipolar pitcher, that meant he mixed in excellent performances with the bad ones. All we have right now is 17 days of bad, four starts that look like batting practice: four losses, 20 innings and a 10.35 ERA powered by a home run rate of 4.1 per nine innings. Burnett might not be injured, but he’s not just missing by a little. Bert Blyleven once gave up 50 home runs in a season. He allowed but 1.7 home runs per nine.
I suppose it’s obvious to say that Burnett is missing by a lot, but an injury would provide the easiest explanation for his problems. He has a history of getting hurt, and when pitchers start doing uncharacteristic things on the mound, an injury—which they pitcher might be concealing or might not know about, or the team might even be concealing—is the most likely explanation. If the pitcher is not hurt, what you’re left with is that he’s just "lost it," an unsatisfyingly amorphous non-explanation.
In another season, the Yankees might be able to cope with the deterioration of one stalwart starter, just as they might have been able to ignore the Great Vanishing Nick Johnson Caper. The AL East of 2010 does not allow for complacent hoping; the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays are all in the same boat: any single unaddressed problem could provide the other two teams with the opportunity to push them out of the playoffs. As such (1) the trading season is going to be fascinating, and (2) the Yankees have got to get Burnett diagnosed in a hurry, whether his problem be mental, physical, or somehow none of the above. Easier said than done, I know, and as such, completely unfair, and yet, that’s the state of things.