Yanks keep up the heat heading for Anaheim
With the way the Yankees and the Angels are playing lately, this could be quite a series coming up between them beginning Monday night. The Yankees will arrive in Anaheim on the wings of a five-game winning streak. The Angels, who were mired in last place in the American League West for most of April and May, have won six in a row and moved into second place, albeit 6 ½ games behind the Rangers.
The Yankees have moved up the AL East standings as well (to third place, 2 ½ games behind first-place Baltimore and Tampa Bay) with this hot stretch that has come at the expense of two of the league’s weakest clubs, Kansas City and Oakland. Hey, the Royals and the Athletics are on the schedule, right? You can’t play the Red Sox and Rays every week. Think of how fans would howl if the Yankees had not handled their struggling opponents? In fact, that 6-0 loss last Monday night to KC at Yankee Stadium had a lot of fans howling for improvement.
Well, they have gotten it. Sunday’s nifty, 2-0 victory was marked more by quality pitching than overwhelming hitting, which was a bit different from the previous four victories. The Yankees suffered a setback with runners in scoring position (1-for-11), but the way Hiroki Kuroda was mowing down Oakland hitters inning after inning Andruw Jones’ second-inning home run off lefthander Tommy Milone, the A’s best pitcher, was going to hold up.
The second of two doubles by red-hot Mark Teixeira gave Kuroda another run in the seventh, but he didn’t need it. The righthander fashioned eight shutout innings for the second time this season (the other was the home opener April 13 against the Angels) by keeping the ball down and using an impressive curve. The A’s managed only five hits, all singles, off Kuroda, who walked one and struck out three in lowering his ERA from 4.56 to 3.96.
Kuroda gave a lot of credit to his catcher, Chris Stewart, who caught him for the first time. Stew put on the gear because regular backstop Russell Martin could not play because of a stiff neck. CC Sabathia is 6-0 with Stewart as his catcher, so some of that rubbed off on Kuroda Sunday. The Yanks are 8-4 with a 2.80 ERA when Stewart is behind the plate.
Milone was the ninth starter this season facing the Yankees for the first time in his career, and Sunday’s victory pushed the Bombers’ record in those games to 5-4. Milone was impressive, however, but since a team cannot win a game by the score of zero to minus one he didn’t have a chance.
Not that the Yankees tore the cover off the ball. They are still straining in the clutch, which has been a season-long problem. Even in the winning streak, the Yankees are batting .200 in 40 at-bats with runners in scoring position. They stranded six base runners in the first three innings Sunday. The Yankees are batting .220 with runners in scoring position for the season and .125 in 112 at-bats in those spots since May 13.
Also disturbing is their record with the bases loaded. They had a chance to get on the board in the first inning by filling the bags with one out but did not score. They are a collective 8-for-48 (.167) with the bases loaded this year, which ranks 26th of the 30 big-league clubs, pretty odd for the team that led the majors in hitting with the bags juiced each of the past two seasons.
Fortunately, Sunday’s game was one that did not require slugging. That could change Monday when they run into a club equally sizzling.