It better not have been a playoff preview. After the Yankees won eight straight games from August 28 to September 4, giving them a record of 86-50, I started to wonder about A.J. Burnett, who has a 10-13 record. How many full-time starting pitchers (20 or more starts), I wondered, had posted a losing record for a team that won 100 or more games? To win 100 games, a team has to have most every aspect of winning working, offense, pitching, and defense, so I figured it couldn’t have happened very often—if a team won 100 games, chances are it didn’t tolerate a bad pitcher long enough for him to make 20 starts. It’s a trivial point, but I was curious if Burnett’s erratic performance for so good a team as the 2010 Yankees was unique.
I have an answer, but I hesitate to report it. Through 2009, there have been 93 100-win teams. The Yankees have had 19 of them. Should they add a 20th, Burnett won’t be an oddity. Fifteen of those teams have had regular starters post losing seasons. Two pitchers, Jim Kaat and Jason Marquis, even did it twice. Burnett would be the fourth Yankee to turn the trick, joining Dick Tidrow (1978), Luis Tiant (1980), and the great Jeff Weaver (2003).
The reason I’m not all that eager to delve into this bit of ephemera is that the 2010 Yankees may fail to qualify for the list. Seven games have fallen off the schedule since September 4 and the Yankees have won just one of them. The pitchers continued to be a drag, allowing about five runs per nine innings over that stretch. In a previous post, Cliff outlined reasons that one shouldn’t panic over the pitching, primarily that Chad Gaudin, Dustin Mosely, and Javier Vazquez aren’t going to be in the position to cause mischief come the postseason.
Cliff is likely correct about the Yankees being able to ignore the back end of the pitching staff in October, although the front end hasn’t been all that much of an asset of late either. So much depends on Andy Pettitte coming back, remaining healthy, and pitching up to his career postseason record (18-9, 3.90), If not, it’s pretty much Sabathia and pray for rain (and rain, and rain, and…). Meanwhile, the offense has gone completely cold. Some odd wind patterns kept a lot of balls in-bounds at Arlington that might otherwise have sailed into the seats, but the fact remains that since the big winning streak, the Yankees have hit two home runs in 279 at-bats. Albert Pujols hit two home runs in five at-bats on Sunday night alone. The Yankees rank third in the AL in team home runs, so this is, as John Lennon sang in his last song, most peculiar, mama.
As recently as that eight-game winning streak, the Yankees were crushing the ball all over the mall (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Gap window shattered by a well-struck fastball). They hit 15 home runs in 271 at-bats, slugged .550. The spigot is there, it just needs to be turned back on. That said, there are ominous doings in the trainer’s room, and if Brett Gardner’s wrist will no longer allow him to catch the ball and draw walks (about all he has been doing since he got hurt on June 28), if Nick Swisher’s knee is going alternatively going to hinder him (he’s hit .212/.297/.455 over the last two weeks) or keep him on the bench, the Yankees are going to be in a tough spot. The Yankees will still make the playoffs, but after that…