By JORDAN IKEDA
I can’t say I’m ever really sad when the Yankees struggle. Quite the opposite reaction in fact. I read a recent Wall Street Journal article that tells the tale of how inconsistent the starting rotation has been and how they have struggled to generate quality starts. New York’s starters have allowed three runs or less in six or more innings just 10 times in 29 chances, a 34% rate that ranks 28th in the majors.
If it wasn’t for CC Sabathia’s win May 8, the Yankees would have had no starter above 50 percent. According to the article, the major league average this year is 55 percent.
Last year with the Dodgers, Hiroki Kuroda had quality starts in nearly 70 percent of his games. This year, he’s right behind Sabathia at 50 percent, continuing his consistent inconsistence by alternating between good and bad outings.
His overall numbers are quite impressive considering the switch to the American League. Over 36 innings of work, heading into Friday’s game against Seattle he had a 3.75 ERA and 22 strikeouts. A bit troubling is the rise in his WHIP. He’s currently sitting at 1.39, several notches above his career 1.20. It’s the increase in giving up walks and hits that has earned him a 3-4 record (that and a tough loss to Yu Darvish).
With the pitching staff’s struggles, season-ending injuries to Michael Pineda and Mariano Rivera, the recent demotion of Freddy Garcia, and the fact that the pinstripes are 2½ games out of first behind the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, Kuroda is going to need to be even better if the Yankees hope to have any shot at the playoffs. Well, unless you believe in the left arm of a 39-year-old Andy Pettite.
Yes, I’m smiling.
And the smiles continue as my other least-favorite team has fared even worse this year. For any Angels fans feeling down, just remember that the Boston Red Sox are doing even worse. Entering the weekend, the Sox boasted the league’s second-worst team ERA (5.31) and third-worst starter’s ERA (5.87) and are dead last in the AL East.
What’s more, the desperation in Beantown has reached such depths that Red Sox Nation is eagerly awaiting the return of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Yes, you read that right. This from the same fickle nation that wanted to trade him back to Japan for a sushi roll last year. The same nation that hated his attitude, his pitching style, his penchant for throwing too many pitches, his inability to speak English, his hair, his clothing, and everything about him in much the same way they might hate the colors purple and gold. The same nation that teetered on happiness when Matsuzaka underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery last June.
Matsuzaka began his rehab a couple weeks ago in High-A Salem, and got the whispers of doubt going again when he allowed six hits and three runs over just four innings of work. The whispers went away after his second outing at Double-A Portland, where he gave up one run and struck out seven over 4 2/3 innings. And while Daisuke was unsatisfied with his outing last Monday at Triple-A Pawtucket, the results were somewhat encouraging. He pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings with four punchouts and touched 92 mph on the radar gun, but issued three walks and didn’t got the five innings he had hoped for.
Most Tommy John recoveries take between 12 and 18 months. If Matsuzaka does not suffer any setbacks, he’ll be back in the Bigs in less than a year.
There remains some durability concerns as with any comeback. Even more so with a guy like Matsuzaka, who has struggled with injuries over the past three seasons. But, the timing couldn’t be better for his return. A year ago, when the injury happened, many wondered about what Boston would need of him. Many openly questioned how the 31-year-old would be able to crack a rotation that was then viewed as one of the best in baseball.
Fast-forward to today, and the ho-hum nature of Josh Beckett, the slow return from his own elbow surgery of John Lackey and the somewhat baffling struggles of Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard and Jon Lester have opened wide the door for Dice-K.
The best part for him is that there isn’t much downside. A free agent after the season, Daisuke has zero pressure thanks to the putrid Boston record. If he comes back and pitches well, he’ll find a bit of redemption with the Boston faithful and have reestablished a modicum of value as he enters free agency. If he struggles, well, everyone pretty much has that possibility tucked away in their back pocket.
Regardless, the insertion of a healthy Matsuzaka into the Red Sox rotation would almost certainly be a breath of fresh air for a team that is currently drowning. Remember, we’re talking about the only MVP the World Baseball Classic has ever known and a guy who once won 18 games and helped the Sox to a World Series.
Isn’t it funny how life works out sometimes?