The New York Yankees are in trouble. As a fan I feel the pressure and as an active onlooker I understand their current position. Since the all-star break, the Yankees are a mere 11-12, or one game under .500. They’ve seen their AL East lead shrink from a seemingly insurmountable ten games to a manageable five and a half over the much-improved Baltimore Orioles. While I view the Yankees as the superior team on paper, that phrase keeps popping into my head: “that is why you play the games.” With much of the Yankees’ season still to be played against their division foes, there is plenty of room for the club to either cement their position or incur a monumental collapse. Here are the reasons I believe the latter to be possible.
Hitting With Runners In Scoring Position
The Yankees offense has been anemic in these situations all year long. It is unprecedented in baseball to hit so poorly in clutch situations and still win games. However, the Yankees have been aided often by the homerun, a tool that will be much more difficult to pull out of their proverbial back pocket as the season wears on and they begin to face tougher pitching. Leaders such as Derek Jeter have to come through more often as success on a baseball team can often be contagious. The era of “Captain Clutch” has seemingly gone by the wayside as Jeter has only had RBIs in two straight games twice this entire season (once being the last two games), according to ESPN. To win some of these one-run games they have become accustomed to losing, raising their RISP average is paramount.
The Yankees have had four major injuries this season. The first was Brett Gardner, who has experienced lingering elbow inflammation and has been on the disabled list since April 18th. The Yankees have gotten by for the most part in left field with some occasional plays where I myself have said, “Gardner could’ve made that!” Having been alleviated somewhat by the acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki, the Yankees’ main hole that was left by Gardner’s absence was his blazing speed. Currently, New York stands in 25th place in Major League Baseball in stolen bases with a mere 59. In 2011, they ranked 4th in that department with 147 steals (Gardner had 49 of them) on the season. Speed is an element of their game not so easily replaced. The second was the loss of Mariano Rivera in May, which forced Rafael Soriano into the closer’s role (where he has mostly succeeded) and thinned out the depth of the bullpen. Next, the team saw the downfall of Andy Pettitte, a returning member of the “core four” and a player the Yankees expected to bring stability and experience to the pitching staff. I was encouraged to find out yesterday that Pettitte reported good news with his x-rays and an early September return is probable, barring a setback. He will be important for the postseason run, but his absence has been felt as Yankees pitching has been increasingly erratic of late. The final major injury that the Yankees suffered was to third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez unquestionably lengthens and strengthens the Yankees’ lineup. Whether or not you believe A-Rod is overpaid is pointless to the argument. He allows Joe Girardi to bat Nick Swisher or Raul Ibanez sixth instead of fifth, making the Yankees lineup that much more potent and dynamic. He is also still a serviceable third baseman and with Eric Chavez playing most days at the hot corner, how long will he be able to hold up with his well-documented injury history? With Gardner and Rivera likely done for the year, Pettitte and A-Rod must perform in their roles when they return, and quickly.
The Starting Rotation
Let’s just say the only pitcher I’m not worried about is ace CC Sabathia. I also expect Hiroki Kuroda to be fairly reliable, though we seen a couple of spotty starts from him this year. With Andy Pettitte on the disabled list for another month, Freddy Garcia is the going to be the fifth starter. Garcia has pitched to an ERA above five this year and has been inconsistent with his location, leading to bad performances. He will be a worrisome wild card for the foreseeable future. Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova (who was tattooed for seven runs last night against Detroit) have had control problems all year, which has led to an extremely high number of homeruns. If both pitchers cannot keep the ball down, especially in homer-happy Yankee Stadium, the Yankees offense will not be able to keep up. We are even seeing that now to some extent with their disturbing lack of clutch hitting in any form over the past month.
If these problems persist for the Yankees, they run the risk of seeing their slimming division lead disappear altogether. If a perfect storm of bad pitching and minimal clutch hitting ensues, the Yankees will indeed be in trouble for the rest of the regular season and in potential postseason games against the league’s best. If these sentiments sound alarmist, they are. But I’m a fan, how could I not worry after seeing monumental collapses each of the past few years (two of which happened in Queens)?