Yankees: Offensive Woes Continue, but AL East Still Up for Grabs
Watching Yankees on satellite in an unpretentious pub in Ocean City, Maryland earlier this week, my father and I were chatted up by a sixtyish hard-core Orioles fan. Over the course of our conversation, we discussed all things sports, pretty much the only acceptable topic for innocuous bar-chat with strangers.
One thing he said in particular seemed to epitomize the plight of fans of historically mediocre teams: “Each morning I wake up and pray, ‘Dear God, just let them be in it long enough for football to start.’”
And that’s when I realized: for the first time in my life as a Yankee fan, relevance until September was exactly what I was praying for, as well. Not a championship, not even a playoff bid, but simply a reason to watch.
This week was a particularly bad week to be among the fan base of a division rival, as the Yankees dropped five in a row and sank below .500 for the first time this late in the season since 2007. In the past two weeks, they have lost series to all of their AL East counterparts, including a sweep by the Blue Jays that negated the Yankees’ sweep of them at the Stadium a week earlier.
The Yankees’ most recent losing ways were again attributed to a lack of offense and inability to drive runners in. This season, they are hitting a meager .248 with runners in scoring position, and the biggest culprits in that category are Carlos Beltran (.167, 12 strikeouts) and Alfonso Soriano (.185, 18 strikeouts).
As a team in the past seven days, the Yankees are hitting .231. No everyday player is currently batting .300 or higher; Brett Gardner leads the team at .290.
Yankee teams, in recent years, have struggled with runners in scoring position, but often they were able to make up for it with home runs. But, this year they aren’t hitting round-trippers, either. They’ve hit only 73, six fewer than the league average. When they signed big lefty hitters like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury, they no doubt expected the home run total to be higher. In fact, Beltran has only one more home run than Gardner.
Perhaps an even more disturbing difference between this year and past years is that the Yankee lineup is so anemic, despite having been largely healthy throughout the season. Beltran and Mark Teixeira had brief DL stints, but for the most part, their lineup looks exactly the way it was expected to. They’re just not hitting, and there’s no “Well, everyone’s hurt” excuse to fall back on.
Fortunately, the Yankees began their road trip on a good note. On Thursday, they defeated the Twins 7-4, thanks to homers by Beltran and newcomer Zelous Wheeler, who had just been called up to replace Yangervis Solarte. Solarte was sent back to Triple-A after going only 11-for-68 in June and July and making some costly errors in the field.
Wheeler, besides giving John Sterling some interesting options for home run calls (“An OVER-zealous blast!” or “Be jealous of Zelous!” perhaps?), has the potential to provide the Yankees with some pop. He has 74 home runs in eight seasons in the minors, and a career average of .274.
The blasts by Beltran and Wheeler lifted Masahiro Tanaka to his twelfth win of the season, despite the fact that the ace gave up four earned runs (the horror) in seven less-than-sharp innings. Ironically, the win ended Tanaka’s streak of 16 straight “quality starts,” one of the most arbitrary and dubious stats in baseball.
We all know that, aside from Tanaka, Yankee starting pitching is a crapshoot, but for the Yankees to remain in the chase for a playoff spot, their hitting needs to reflect the proverbial back of the baseball card. The great thing about baseball is that a season is comprised of many hills and valleys, and it appears that in order to win the AL East this year, you need only to have a few more highs than lows: The Yankees, despite going 6-9 against division rivals in the last 15 games, are only 3.5 games out of first.
If all else fails, the Jets’ first preseason game is only 33 days away, which will inevitably lead to the question, “When does baseball start?”
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