The Blue Jays torched A.J. Burnett for eight runs on eight hits, with six of those hits coming in a ridiculous seven-run fifth inning that included six doubles (tying a Major League record). In a season of disappointingly poor outings -- this was the seventh start Burnett has yielded six or more earned runs -- this was probably A.J. Burnett's worst non-postseason performance as a Yankee. His ERA on the season is now 4.93, with a 4.79 FIP and 4.73 xFIP.
I've been a staunch A.J. supporter for a long time now, and even I am at the point where I don't know that I can defend him anymore. While I don't think the Yankees would have won the World Series without him last year, I'd also love to know what happened to the player that was the 4th-most valuable pitcher (5.5 WAR) in the American League in 2008. Regardless of the answer, it would appear that $16.5 million just doesn't buy what it used to.
I'm also beginning to get a bit frustrated with Alex Rodriguez, who longtime readers know I love and have defended more than any other Yankee during the past six years. I'm not frustrated about the lack of home run #600 -- shoot, if anyone in the media was actually paying attention this season they'd see that Alex obviously isn't hitting home runs at the same rate he has in years past, a development that's caused me great consternation -- but annoyed that he's starting to look old and slow at the plate in trying to reach that landmark total.
At first it didn't appear to be affecting him, but during the past week or so his at-bats have actually been hurting the team -- over his last 10 games A-Rod has accumulated negative WPA scores in eight of those contests. That's pretty damaging. I wouldn't go so far as to say that A-Rod the dangerous power hitter is finished, but unless he starts making some serious adjustments that will allow him to recover his lost bat speed, it's going to be a long seven more years in pinstripes.
Getting back to the game, believe it or not the Yankees actually held a lead for the first several innings on the strength of yet another Nick Swisher two-run home run (not only that, Swish would go on to hit a second home run in the ninth off Kevin Gregg!). I know Robinson Cano's having a season for the ages, but I'd love to start seeing a groundswell of support for Swish as MVP, who's stepped his game up to another stratosphere while the likes of A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson have struggled.
After falling behind 8-2 after that wretched fifth, I have to credit the Yankees for at least making the game somewhat interesting, chipping away in both the fifth and the sixth inning on the strength of a Mark Teixeira two-run bomb and Lance Berkman's first Yankee RBI. Credit to the Scott Downs and Jason Frasor for not letting the Yankees get closer than they did and holding on to the 8-6 victory for Brandon Morrow. Credit also goes to the Yankee bullpen -- outside of Sergio Mitre, who let his inherited runner score, David Robertson, Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain all did their jobs, each pitching a scoreless inning.
The loss combined with yet another Tampa Bay win, this time behind uber-prospect Jeremy Hellickson (by the way, how many absurdly good impact players does Tampa have down on the farm, anyway? Every season they bring multiple guys up from the minors who start ripping things up in the Bigs immediately, be it James Shields, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, David Price, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, John Jaso, Matt Joyce and now Hellickson. I know the Rays were terrible for 10 years, but good lord do they have one heck of a scouting and development team down there), has dropped the Yankees into a first-place tie with the Rays.
Frustrating as the Yankees have been during the last week or so I wouldn't get too terribly worked up about this. There are still two months left this season, and though the Rays are a very good team on a crazy hot streak right now (12-5 since the All-Star break) they're going to have to start losing some games eventually. Even if the Rays were to play at an absurd .706 clip the rest of the way, as long as the Yankees keep doing what they've been doing all year they'll still make the playoffs.
That being said, the Yankees do need to figure out a way to keep the Blue Jays from slugging doubles and home runs all over the place the next two games; otherwise things could get start to get ugly. While Toronto obviously has talented players, getting swept by a fourth-place team would be pretty embarrassing.