Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Destroy All Monsters

Just as I chronicled the success of two resurgent Yankees in my last post, we need to examine the struggles of two other Yankees in this edition. Mussina and Giambi’s rise to glory in April of 2006 coincides with an unfortunate skid for both Hideki Matsui and Mariano Rivera, which is most uncharacteristic of both men, as well as poorly timed.

As Mo is our Hall of Fame closer, I’ll save him for the end of this piece and allow him a chance to finish something off cleanly today. Let’s begin with Gojira. Matsui is struggling mightily. There’s no doubt about it and there’s nothing minor about it either. When the Beast from the East gets cold, he gets REAL cold. What are we talking about when we say “REAL cold”? Let’s look at Matsui’s line since the 11th of April in Kansas City.

In the 14 games from April 11th through the 26th, Hideki Matsui has hit 9 for 49, a .184 clip. He has walked 6 times to raise his OBP to a whopping .273, and his SLG is a dismal .245 during the stretch. Simple math tells us that the Japanese star is filling the 6th spot in the Yankee order with a .518 OPS over four and a half series. Hardly the numbers we expect from Matsui at this point in his Yankee career.

You can read the frustration on his face after each at bat, and it’s apparent he’s pressing. The problem is, he recently played in his 500th consecutive Major League game which got huge press over here in Japan. Why it’s important is a mystery to me. I know his combined streak of games played is tremendous, at almost 1800 games. I know the Japanese recently celebrated Hanshin Tigers outfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto’s 904th consecutive game without an inning missed. What I can’t figure out is why that’s a praiseworthy accomplishment. It, frankly, seems absurd and unfortunate to me. Take a rest.

To the Japanese, the ideal of never missing a second of work is very real. Your allegiance to the collective is the greatest gift you can give society, and there is absolutely nothing more valued in Japan than that. Matsui’s streak has taken on a symbolic importance to the international image of Japan. Torre is in the tough position of being obligated to play Matsui in some way, shape, or form every game. Matsui will never ask out, so it’s on Joe to put his head on the international chopping block. I know he and Matsui both feel that the slugger will hit his way out of it, particularly with the short porch in right, but one has to wonder if Gojira could use a break from looming over Gotham for a day or two.

Mariano Rivera’s woes are more illusion than reality, but they are there nonetheless. It’s the perspective we choose to take on Rivera’s performance this year that determine’s our reaction. To me, it’s not news. We’ve seen Mo struggle a bit early in seasons of late, and while he’s blown a couple of games this season, none of them have been to Boston. We all remember the red flags that went up over the entirety of Yankeedom when Mo blew a couple of early season saves to Ortiz and the Sox. This year’s losses to Minnesota and Tampa have been disappointing, but I think everyone knows that they are blips on the radar.

The larger issue to me, is that Mariano has been sitting in the bullpen for the entire month of April without a significant moment of heroics to point to. The Yankees offense has been so awesome in game we’ve won, that his majesty could rest comfortably on his throne. At some point this season, Mo will be needed 4 or 5 times in the span of a week. All of this will change and the ship will be righted. At the moment, a strange set of circumstances has left the King of All Closers a bit rusty and out of rhythm. Have no fear Yankee fans, the Sandman will be putting heads to bed sooner than you know it, and the more he gets against Boston in May, the better.