Thursday, May 31, 2012
Yanks may not be around in October
By Wallace Matthews ESPNNewYork.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If Bill Parcells was right, then the New York Yankees are in trouble.
The prototypical football coach liked to say, "You are what your record says you are,'' and if that is true, the Yankees' record after the first 50 games of the 2012 season says they are better than average, and less than very good.
Their 6-5 victory over the Angels on Wednesday night, in Game No. 50, was important because it prevented L.A. from sweeping the Yanks; an Angels sweep would have wiped away all the momentum New York had built up in the first three games of this nine-game, three-city road trip. The win was also important because it kept the Yankees just two games back of the co-AL East leading Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, and just a game back in the loss column.
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Other than that, if the Yankees after 162 games are the same team they are after 50 games, there isn't going to be any October baseball in New York except for the final three-game series of the regular season against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"It's nice, because 4-2 so far on this road trip sounds a lot better than 3-3,'' Joe Girardi said after Wednesday's win, a product of the long ball and the bullpen.
But over the course of an entire season, the Yankees' 27-23 record in the first 50 games projects to 87.48 wins at the end of the season -- OK, round it up to 88 -- and that probably won't even be enough to get them the second wild-card spot.
Understanding that 50 games is not a definitive sample, and teams like the Yankees can be capable of running off long stretches of winning baseball (in fact, they had the same record after 50 games a year ago and went 70-42 the rest of the way). But a fairly representative chunk of games has already been played.
And the team we have seen so far has shown some unexpected weaknesses -- they certainly have not hit as expected, as a unit or, with the exception of Derek Jeter, as individuals, nor has the starting pitching other than CC Sabathia shown any sort of consistency. As a result, the five-game winning streak that was snapped by the Angels on Monday night was their longest of the season.
Asked if the team had performed up to his expectations so far, Girardi said, "I'm always greedy, but we're holding our own. Would I like to be 40 and whatever that comes out to? Sure, but we're not. We just have to keep trying to plug away."
To be sure, there has been one costly injury, the torn labrum suffered by Michael Pineda; one potentially devastating injury, the torn ACL suffered by Mariano Rivera; and one injury that may be costing them even more than they realize, the elbow strain that has limited Brett Gardner, their most dynamic player on the basepaths, to just nine games this season.
And there was the loss of David Robertson to an oblique strain, an injury that robbed the Yankees of one of baseball's most effective setup men.
Mariano Rivera's injury may have cost the Yankees a few wins so far.
But with nearly one-third of the season gone, who would have expected that a healthy Alex Rodriguez would have just seven home runs and 19 RBIs, and his slugging average would be just .424, 31 points lower than Jeter's?
Or that Mark Teixeira would be struggling as he has this year, or that Robinson Cano would appear to have regressed a bit as a hitter, and even at times, in the field, or that Russell Martin would still be struggling to get his batting average above the Mendoza Line?
There have been pleasant surprises, as well. Heading toward his 38th birthday, Jeter had the best April of his career and is hitting a solid .336. With 16 home runs already, Curtis Granderson is proving that last year's 41 bombs was not only not a fluke, but quite possibly something he can improve upon this year. After an awful spring, Raul Ibanez has been a dangerous bat as the left-handed DH.
And even with the loss of Mariano, the Yankees' bullpen continues to be one of the strongest units on the team. Rafael Soriano has been a new man in the clubhouse since being elevated to the role he came here wanting to play, and he has converted all six of his save opportunities.
Cory Wade showed plenty Wednesday night, bouncing back from surrendering the walk-off home run that won Monday's game for the Angels to get the biggest out of the game on a seventh-inning strikeout of Howie Kendrick after falling behind 3-0.
The situational guys, Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley and David Phelps, have performed mostly well; and Boone Logan, thrust of necessity into more late-game duty, can be hit-or-miss but often comes up with the big strikeout when needed.
As for the starters, after Sabathia there is Andy Pettitte, whose comeback has passed the "nice story'' stage and now has to progress to the next level, where he starts pitching against, and beating, the better teams in the league.
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Hiroki Kuroda fluctuates between brilliant and beatable, and the jury is still out on Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes, both of whose ERAs are closer to 6.00 than 5.00.
Still, the big story of the first 50 games has been offense, or lack thereof. After leading the AL in runs and HRs last season, the Yankees are tied for the lead in HRs this year, but are only fifth-best in runs scored. They are hitting .266 as a club, third in the league, but the recurring theme so far this season has been situational hitting.
Night after night, their success rate with runners in scoring position has been poor, and most strikingly, the team that led baseball in hitting with the bases loaded the past two seasons is batting just .151 this year in what should be a hitter's dream situation.
"I really can't explain it,'' Rodriguez said. "For me, for 17 years, it's a position that I've relished. I think overall our at-bats haven't been really quality. The one thing is, [the pitchers are] the ones that have the pressure. They've got to throw strikes.
"Now me, I get myself out,'' he said. "Chasing borderline pitches. There are some pitches that are sort of sucker pitches, pitches that look like strikes but they're not, or pitches that look like they're decent pitches but they're pitchers' pitches. I don't know if I'm overanxious, maybe being a little overaggressive. Just trying to crush and do damage."
Rodriguez has done little of that so far this season. After hitting two home runs against Will Smith on May 23, he has had seven hits, all singles, and two of them infield hits. He is not the only struggling hitter in the Yankees' lineup, but as the usual cleanup hitter and the team's highest-paid player, he is the one most often singled out.
"I wouldn't call him just a singles hitter,'' Girardi said. "He's got seven home runs and we're 50 games in, so that equates to over 20 home runs during the course of the season. This is a guy that can get really hot and carry a club. I expect it to happen. I can't tell you 100 percent it's going to happen, but I expect it to happen."
It's got to happen for somebody, and soon. The Yankees are never going to be sellers at the trade deadline, and I suspect they will be in this thing close to the end, but if the next 100 games go the way the first 50 have, the final dozen may not mean much at all.
If the Yankees are what their record says they are, then right now, they are not quite good enough.
The good news: They've got 100 more in which to get better.