Commentary

It's the pitching, people!

Yanks can ruin BoSox's season, but thin rotation can ruin the Bombers' postseason

Updated: September 24, 2011, 12:13 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Before the New York Yankees got shellacked by the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, catcher Russell Martin decided to divert attention away from the real problem in the Bronx by turning his attention to Boston.

He said he hates the Boston Red Sox, intimated how much he loves the swoon they've experienced in September, then added that nothing would please him more than ending their postseason aspirations because "that's just the way you learn to feel about them around here."

The problem with Martin's thinking is its irrelevance. The fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with improving the Yankees' pitching, coupled with Martin's timing -- he provided bulletin board material in the immediate aftermath of Bartolo Colon surrendering seven runs (five earned) in three innings, before Scott Proctor further stunk up the joint -- simply highlighted a problem with the Yankees' priorities.

Pitching alone says this team is not good enough to make it to the World Series.

It is the World Series we're talking about, folks, right? I would hope so, considering that the Yankees, and their near $200 million payroll, have at least had the decency to make the postseason 16 of the past 17 seasons.

CC Sabathia is the Yankees' ace. Ivan Nova will be in the ALDS rotation. From there, the Yankees don't have a pitcher worth betting your money on. Yet, folks like Martin manage to somehow open their mouths.

Colon looks every bit like a man who has spent entirely too much time behind a Dunkin' Donuts counter instead of on a pitching mound. A.J. Burnett has been an unmitigated disaster since May. Phil Hughes simply isn't ready. There's no reason for any of us to have faith in Freddy Garcia. And the cumulative effect of it all should explain why manager Joe Girardi was quick to stifle some of the bravado oozing out of Martin's mouth.

"I don't ever like to fuel anything," Girardi explained to reporters. "But boys will be boys."

Actually, we need the Yankees to be a bit more than that if they're going to make any noise in October.

If they face the Detroit Tigers, they've got the soon-to-be AL Cy-Young winner, Justin Verlander, to deal with. If it's the Texas Rangers, you're dealing with an reigning American League champion that got to the World Series by beating these Yankees last year. The Rangers' squad is more seasoned and confident than ever, with a rotation that leads the AL in wins (71) and is third in ERA (3.67).

[+] EnlargeBartolo Colon
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesAfter a solid start to the season, Bartolo Colon hasn't picked up a win since July 30, a span of nine starts.

Wait! There's more.

They've got Michael Young, along with his 104 RBIs and his .335 average. There's reigning MVP Josh Hamilton, injured for a chunk of this season, still with a .301 average and 24 homers. There's Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz and a crew that's near the top of the AL in every major category, ranking first in batting average (.281), second in slugging percentage (.456) and OPS (.794) and third in runs per game (5.2).

These would be reasons for the Yankees to be concerned about someone other than the Red Sox, but perhaps it's wishful thinking that has Martin preoccupied with Boston.

Maybe Martin has noticed that John Lackey might be the only guy who's looked worse than Burnett on too many occasions this season. No one should doubt he's noticed how the Red Sox have suffered in every imaginable category, so much so that even David Ortiz acknowledged there's legitimate reasons for "panic" to have invaded Beantown.

The thing is, panic already exists in this town due to the ineptitude of Burnett, the spotty play of Colon and the reality that Sabathia, even though he's a legitimate ace, has been far from the ace Verlander has been.

Folks have actually employed the notion that Sabathia should not start in Game 1 if the Yankees face the Tigers just to avoid him going against Verlander. This is how suspect things have been for the Yankees.

So to know all of this, then to hear Martin talking smack about Boston and to hear Cashman not totally dismiss the possibility of Burnett making the postseason roster tells us the problems in the Bronx are every bit as significant as we suspected.

No wonder we've all been giddy since they clinched their postseason berth, like they've usually done for the better part of the past two decades.

We've got to take our celebrations when we can get 'em, right!

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE MLB HEADLINES