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Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River

Today’s sermon will be brief: the Yankees have had a major consistency problem thus far. Even with the thrashing at the hands of the Red Sox, they have they have gone 12-8 in their last 20 games, which will get you to 97 wins if you carry it through over a full season. On the other hand, if you want to pull back the camera to 30 games, they’re only 15-15. At 40 games, they’re 21-19. As Ray Davies asked, where have all the good times gone?

With the injuries to Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain, the panacea for what ails the Yankees will be identified by man as a cadre of new relievers. When Amauri Sanit has a spot on the 25-man roster (does he know that someone in the front office has been exchanging pictures with Anthony Weiner? That’s the only explanation), it’s tough to argue. With four-fifths of the starting rotation less than a sure bet to finish the season in an upright position, never mind pitch effectively, some will say that starting pitching is what is required. With A.J. Burnett not turning in quality starts any more often than last year, with Ivan Nova proving again and again that his future is in middle relief, with the Armless Horseman likely to rise from the grave and seek vengeance against Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, it’s difficult to argue with them.

Some, like your host, will look at Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada (despite his current five-game hitting streak), Eduardo Nunez-the-nearly-everyday-player, and think, "You can’t keep expecting 50 percent of the lineup to do 100 percent of the work. Another bat is the ticket. Pitching is hard to come by, so don’t raise the bridge, lower the river—if you can’t allow fewer runs, score more."

Which perspective is right? Do the Yankees need relief help, starting pitching, or another bat? The answer, my friends, is "Yes." The Yankees could benefit from all of the above.

Having said this, I don’t believe they will actually be able to improve in all three areas. Resources, both on the supply and demand sides, are limited. Instead, what I am trying to suggest is that it is best to avoid schematic thinking in trying to conceptualize what the Yankees need. The answer isn’t one thing. It could be hitting or pitching, starters or relievers, or some combination thereof. It could be not subordinating the pennant race to Derek Jeter’s entirely personal quest for 3,000 hits, but hey, that’s not going to happen, at least not for another few days. Actually, I don’t expect much to change when Jeter reaches his goal—what could?—but that’s a discussion for another day.

The good news is that there are a myriad internal options for the Yankees to play with. They can call any of their pitching prospects up to pitch out of the bullpen, even if that pitcher is ultimately ticketed for the rotation. Remember, just about all pitchers reap a performance benefit from pitching in relief—they can junk their weakest offerings and just throw hard—so there is no good reason that putting a starter in middle relief can’t work out. Plus, if it was good enough for Jim Palmer, it’s good enough for any pitcher. They can also skip this step, and just

Similarly, the Yankees can finally pull up Jesus Montero—he’s been slumping lately, but that’s a transient illness given his track record—or try almost anyone they think might hit up to the league average. At this point, any answer depends on what they’re willing to do and their own willingness to avoid tunnel vision or preconceived notions about what’s good for developing young pitchers—Joba should have proved that there are a few wrong answers but no right answer and a million different paths that one can take. The one you think is right, well, it ain’t necessarily so.

If forced to sum all of the foregoing in one sentence, it would be this: don’t use a narrow conception of what escape looks like to convince you to like back and surrender to the trap. Don’t let unlikely consequences deter you from acting. Just do something.