Sunday, June 16, 2013
Don't expect the cavalry to save the Yanks
By Wallace Matthews
The Yankees held on for as long as they could in the absence of their biggest Bombers.
ANAHEIM -- Throughout this unprecedented run of injuries that has decimated the New York Yankees and reduced their lineup to what hitting coach Kevin Long referred to as "the B-squad," there has always been the feeling in the back of many minds that, at some point, the cavalry was going to ride back to save the day like the climax of some John Wayne western.
Well, by now it should be apparent to even the most fervent Yankee believer not named Joe Girardi that the cavalry is not riding back, and that the fort is going to have to be defended by the men who are already there, under siege and barely holding it together.
Already, the Yankees had gotten back two of their injured regulars, Curtis Granderson and Kevin Youkilis, and practically before they could lace up their new spikes, they found themselves back on the DL.
And on Saturday, a third regular who was thought to have rejoined the team for good, Mark Teixeira, went down again with a recurrence of an injury the Yankees had proclaimed healed.
Even granting the fact that it is still relatively early in the season (there are 94 games yet to be played) and the Yankees are still relatively close to the pace in the AL East (in third place, four games back of the division-leading Boston Red Sox), there comes a point when enough is enough, and when the injuries are simply too much.
It may be that the Yankees are at that point now.
Vernon Wells has seen his performance decline after a hot start to the season.
The loss of Teixeira in the fourth inning of Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels -- incidentally, the Yankees' fifth loss in a row, the fourth straight game in which they scored just two runs, and a loss that left them on the verge of suffering back-to-back sweeps and the catastrophe of a 3-7 road trip -- not only reminds you of the folly of assuming that at some point, all the currently injured Yankees will miraculously recover in full and return to spark the team’s resurgence.
It also demonstrates how woefully inadequate the replacements for those injured players are now, and have been for the past three weeks.
All of them have since declined in performance, Hafner by 50 points, and Wells by 41.
But the team-wide decline has been longer and slower than that, and only now so readily perceptible. At the end of April, the Yankees were hitting .261 as a team and averaging 4.6 runs per game. In May, they hit .233 and their average runs per game dropped by a full run to 3.6.
Halfway through June, the bottom has fallen out. In the 14 games played this month, the Yankees have hit .217 and are scoring an average of three runs a game, and falling. They haven’t scored more than two in a game since last Tuesday, June 11, in Oakland.
Girardi continues to say he "has faith" in his lineup because of the way it performed in April. And while it's true that athletes, and human beings, are generally as good as they look on their best day, the best days for a lot of these Yankees may well be behind them.
It may be that the April Yankees were playing well above their capabilities, and not -- as Girardi would like to believe -- that the June Yankees are playing well under theirs.
And even if the truth lies somewhere in between, even the manager had to acknowledge -- as he did one game before Teixeira’s re-injury -- that the team he has now may well be all the team he will have for the rest of the season.
All along, we have believed that if only the replacement Yankees could hold down the fort for a couple of months, the "real" Yankees -- Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Granderson and Teixeira -- would come storming back to the rescue at midseason.
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But already, Granderson came back, played eight games, and went down again with a broken hand. Youkilis went on the DL for a month, came back, played in 11 games and went down once more with the same back injury, only worse -- and you would probably not go broke betting that he is headed to the operating table.
Same for Teixeira who, in his 15th game back after missing the first 53, couldn’t make it through four innings before leaving with the same type of injury Jose Bautista tried to play through last year, only to wind up having season-ending surgery.
Rodriguez has only just started running the bases, lightly. And Jeter never did make it out of spring training before re-injuring his ankle and having to start all over.
So now, what should make anyone believe that a few more days of rest will restore Teixeira or Youkilis, or that neither Jeter nor A-Rod, both of whom are closer to 40 than 35, will make it through their latest rehabs without more setbacks?
As for Granderson, he still has a pin in his hand that must be surgically removed. After that, it is anyone’s guess how long it will take him to be ready. Francisco Cervelli, with a similar injury, had his pin removed more than two weeks ago and is still too swollen and sore to throw a ball or swing a bat.
What the Yankees saw in April was in many ways a fantasy, the temporary return to glory of players who had not been really productive for years.
What they are seeing now is cold, hard reality, that injuries do not magically heal up on players in their mid-to-upper 30s, and that the sudden resurgence of players who had seemed finished just a year ago is often illusory and misleading.
The Yankees will win a ballgame again. And because their pitching has been so good, they will probably win enough ballgames to stay in the playoff hunt for much of the season.
But unless GM Brian Cashman is on the hunt for some serious impact bats at the trade deadline -- and he seems to have some surplus pitching to spare in Ivan Nova and Joba Chamberlain -- the Yankees have no realistic hope that their roster will be upgraded significantly between now and the end of the season.
The replacement Yankees held down the fort for as long as they could, but without a cavalry riding to their rescue, it doesn’t seem likely that they can hold it much longer.