The Yankees came to life in May, going 17-8. But it was all for naught, as they gained only 1.5 games on Tampa Bay. The script must change…
The Yankees can take cover in the fact that since May 1, when they were mired in last place with a .500 record and trailing Tampa Bay by 8.5 games, the team has rebounded, moving up to third place while playing .700 baseball (17-8).
Of course, the trouble is the Rays, and Baltimore Orioles are keeping pace, leaving the Yankees with a gain of only 1.5 games, a full seven games behind, and the same number in the all-important loss column in the AL East standings (as of May 29).
The Yankees can only do what they do. Still, as we celebrate the first mark of the season with Memorial Day, there’s no reason to believe or think the standings will be any different on October 1, with the Yankees limping in as one of the Wild Card teams in the playoffs.
We knew the AL East would be a dogfight on Opening Day, and while Baltimore has surprised, it’s apparent to everyone they’re not going away. The Yankees can only be grateful the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox have many starting pitching issues.
Yankees: A Call For Action In Starting Pitching
Unless the Yankees make two improvements almost immediately, they will do no better in the AL East Standings than in May, no matter how good their record is.
In a nutshell, except for Gerrit Cole, who seems to struggle through six innings every turn in the rotation, the Yankees starting staff has been abysmal in delivering quality starts of six innings or more while surrendering three runs or less.
Rounding out the rest of the Yankees rotation, we have Domingo German, who is a time-bomb waiting to happen again – see domestic abuse charges (suspension) and too much sticky stuff (another suspension).
We can figure that Nestor Cortes will find himself again, but the only question after that is if he’ll be on a up slope or downslope once the playoffs begin.
Clarke Schmidt has made sixteen starts for the Yankees, none of them worthy of writing home about. At 26, he doesn’t have the stuff of (say a) Nolan Ryan, who was worth the wait before he harnessed himself to pitch until the age of 45.
And by the way, don’t look at the AL Team Pitching Stats where the Yankees are fifth best in the American League in earned-run average, and better than all teams in the AL East, because that masks the problem.
Because when you have a starting staff like the Yankees, who consistently roll out five innings (and sometimes less), the bullpen has to cover twelve outs almost every night.
In turn, Aaron Boone needs to call on four relief pitchers to cover one inning each to reach 27 outs. And, here’s the kicker because as good as the bullpen has been, you can bet the odds say at least one of those four pitchers will have an off night that results in increasing odds the Yankees will lose the game.
Nor should we buy into the Yankees hype that all will be well when Carlos Rodon and Frankie Montas return from injury. Like Luis Severino, who recently returned to the rotation but is still in Spring Training mode, Rodon and Montas have yet to begin Spring Training exercises, meaning pitching coach Matt Blake will have them on a strict pitch count that continues to tax the bullpen.
Translation: The Yankees had better start preparing to be buyers at the trade deadline to boost the rotation with at least one credible starter or at least an innings eater (think someone like Lance Lynn of the White Sox).
Yankees: Remove The Dead Weight From The Offense
However, as most Yankees fans know, the team’s problems also spill over into their offense. Remove Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Harrison Bader from the lineup, and what’s left, especially at the bottom of the order?
Anthony Volpe gets high marks for psychologically impacting the team in a positive way, but that doesn’t change the fact he is struggling to maintain the Mendoza Line (with a .200 BA).
Moreover, do the Yankees really expect us to believe Willie Calhoun is anything more than a journeyman 4A player or that Isiah Kiner-Falefa, despite his recent propensity to deliver a key hit, will ever raise himself to anything more than a pedestrian major league player? Ditto Jake Bauers, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Greg Allen.
Or, that DJ LeMahieu (at 34) is getting older earlier than hoped, and from here on into the end of his contract, anything near a repeat of his two batting titles is only a wish and a prayer.
Or is that Gleyber Torres is really the best the Yankees can do for a leadoff hitter?
Or will Giancarlo Stanton be able to stay in the Yankees lineup by serving as more than a DH without re-injuring himself?
Look, I don’t consider myself a glass-half-empty person, especially when it comes to the Yankees, who will still qualify as a Wild Card team for the playoffs despite everything.
Do They Mean It?
But these are a myriad of problems, and none of them can be ignored because if Hal Steinbrenner backs what he preaches when he says he means the Yankees are in it to win it (All!), then the Yankees payroll must rise considerably at the trade deadline when teams going nowhere fight to remove high salaried, though still useful players for another team like the Yankees.
More immediately, the Yankees can look to promote Oswald Peraza (.329 .380 OBA, 6 home runs, 16 RBI in 20 games), as well as encouraging a Round Three or Four for Estevan Florial, who is tearing up the International League (.322, .437, 12 home runs, 28 RBI).
At the very least, adding some youth to the Yankees’ active roster to complement Anthony Volpe should be the spark the team needs (see New York Mets).
As inferred before, there’s no need to panic because, as with nearly all past seasons, the Yankees will still be playing in October – even with the status quo.
But if the Yankees want to see the adjective “great” attached to this team, and not just “good,” Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman must get a lot more creative than they’ve proven to be.