2012 Yankees: Five reasons to panic

May, 24, 2012
5/24/12
1:13
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William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireMark Teixeira looks positively lost at the plate. And it doesn't seem like his usual early-season slump.
As a firm believer in the philosophy that it's never too early to panic -- after all, what's the point of panicking when things are already hopeless? -- I present five things that could test even the staunchest Yankees fan's faith. (Click here for five reasons to believe.)

1. The division is better. The AL East was tough enough when it was a two-horse race. It became brutal when the Tampa Bay Rays figured out how to play, too. Now, with the Orioles looking like they plan to stick around and the Blue Jays always dangerous, especially at home, it's truly a jungle out there.

And let's not forget the new single-elimination wild-card format. Time was when a 90-plus-win season pretty much guaranteed the Yankees at least a first-round ride. Now, 95 wins might not be enough.

2. Mark Teixeira. The Yankees have gotten used to putting up with Teixeira's annual slow start. They also have gotten used to his 35 homers and 115-120 RBIs. But this year, whether it's the cough, the shift or the raw juice diet he went on during the spring that peeled about 20 pounds off his frame, Tex doesn't seem to have the same pop in his bat as before.

And for a club that relies on its infielders for much of its power production, that could be a real problem.

3. Kuroda, Nova and Hughes. For a club that came into spring training with "too much starting pitching,'' the Yankees seem to be back where they were at this time last year, with two reliable starters (CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte) and a trio of question marks. Hiroki Kuroda has been inconsistent, and the jury is still out as to whether his stuff will work against AL lineups as well as it did against the anemic NL West.

Ivan Nova has been alarmingly hittable, and while Phil Hughes looked good his last time out, he could revert at any time to the pitcher he was in April. Kuroda, Nova and Hughes have a combined 11-13 record and 5.05 ERA; their continuing ineffectiveness is a big reason the Yankees haven't been able to string together more than three consecutive wins since April.

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4. No Mariano. This one would have been higher except that Rafael Soriano has been spotless so far in the closer's role. But aside from shortening games and altering opposing manager's late-inning strategies during the regular season, Mo was especially dominant, and especially important, in the postseason.

Will you --or the Yankees -- be as confident with Sori on the mound in the ninth inning of a playoff game?

5. Silent Hal. In some ways, having a rational presence like Hal Steinbrenner in the driver's seat might be an improvement over the knee-jerk responses of his dad, the late Boss. But something about the silence and disconnect between the owner and the front office is disconcerting, perhaps because we all became so accustomed to the instantaneous responses of the old man.

Although sources tell me Hal has been in touch with the manager and GM regularly during the club's recent rough spell, he seems to be more occupied with balancing the budget than toppling the division.

The owner's disinclination to panic ... may be the biggest reason to panic of all.

What do YOU think? Tell us in the comments section.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Jacoby Ellsbury
BA HR RBI R
.291 8 46 47
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Teixeira 17
RBIM. Teixeira 48
RB. Gardner 58
OPSJ. Ellsbury .777
WM. Tanaka 12
ERAM. Tanaka 2.51
SOM. Tanaka 135