Remember when people started getting all concerned about Cliff Lee a few weeks ago? Heh.
Lee once again showed why the Yankees will pay whatever it costs to lock his services up this winter, tossing eight masterful innings of two-hit, one-run ball in leading Texas to a 4-1 win and three-game sweep of the Yankees at home for the first time since 1996. It also marked the first time the Yankees were swept on the road this season and the first time the team was swept in a three-game series.
It sure has been an ugly week for the Yankees, who are now 1-6 in their last seven games and might be riding a nasty seven-game losing streak were it not for a timely Nick Swisher home run. However, things really aren't quite as bad as they might seem. Consider the following:
1) The Yankees were three outs away from winning Saturday night's game, and it required one of the rarest occurrences in baseball -- Mariano Rivera being unable to shut the door -- for the Rangers to pull the victory out. As I mentioned in the Series Preview on Friday, we had every reason to expect that the Yankees would lose the games started by C.J. Wilson and Cliff Lee, and they nearly won the Wilson start too.
2) In line with #1, the Rangers faced the Yankees' three worst starters this weekend, while the Yankees saw three of Texas' best. The Rangers haven't even seen CC Sabathia since April. That's a huge advantage for the Yankees come next month.
3) Somehow, someway the Yankees hit zero home runs in Arlington. That fact in and of itself is unsustainable, and I wonder if the Yankees have ever had a three-game set at Texas where they didn't go yard at least once.
4) Hard to get too upset about today's loss. Cliff Lee, as we all know, is amazing, and he also got to face a lineup that didn't include Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner or Lance Berkman and that also featured Eduardo Nunez and Greg Golson at the bottom. Ironically enough Nunez wound up breaking Lee's no-hit bid up in the sixth, but either way this was not exactly a postseason lineup. In fact, it seemed like at least one key member of the Yankee lineup sat out in each game over the weekend. Texas did what it was supposed to do: Beat up on an undermanned and understaffed (rotation-wise) Yankee team that's trying to start getting some rest for its guys given that a postseason berth is all but assured.
5) Dustin Moseley actually pitched pretty well in this one (6 2/3 IP, 4 ER) before the wheels fell off in the seventh. Granted, he basically would've had to have been perfect to best Lee, but he still kept the team mostly in the game. Kudos, especially as I figured this one would be a blowout.
6) They only stranded three runners this game! Granted, that was a function of only producing two hits, but still, improvement's improvement. Additionally, I can't stress this enough: It's very difficult to win baseball games when your lineup only produces two hits. If your lineup gets held to two hits by Cliff Lee, you tip your cap and move on. The man is simply amazing at pitching.
7) The Blue Jays walked off on the Rays, so the Yankees still have the best record in baseball and a half-game lead over Tampa Bay. The postseason's three weeks away, and though they're certainly in a bit of a September funk, I have confidence that the team will gets its act together for October.
As I said to several people last night, better to have this rough stretch now than a month from now. Imagine this 1-6 stretch happened back in April? We'd all be jumping off bridges. While I'm sure there are several fans who are doing that anyway, it's a bit easier to stomach a stretch like this when you've still managed to maintain your hold on first place despite myriad injuries and a ragtag pitching rotation. We all know the Yankees are way better than they've shown this past week; it's only a matter of time before they start playing great baseball again.