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Saturday, June 15, 2013
Can't anybody here hit this baseball?

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- You need to go back nearly a quarter century, back to the days when Jesse Barfield was the most productive hitter in their lineup and the manager's job was a tag team of Bucky Dent and Stump Merrill, to find a Yankees team as offensively challenged as the one we are watching right now.

That 1990 team averaged an anemic 3.72 runs per game, on its way to a mere 67 wins and a seventh-place finish in a seven-team division.

Joe Girardi
Is there anyone as confident in the Yankees' anemic offense as skipper Joe Girardi?

This team, which is averaging an only slightly better 3.9 runs per game, will win more than 67 games, and the possibility remains that it will be in the playoff hunt right to the end because, for the past 18 seasons, the Yankees always have been.

But the possibility also looms that we have seen the best of this team already and that, after a surprisingly good start, these Yankees are in an irreversible downward slide.

Certainly, they looked that way Friday night against the Los Angeles Angels in a game that saw them snap a scoreless streak that reached 21 1/3 innings, 17 2/3 of which were put up in Thursday's 18-inning loss to the Oakland Athletics, only to start another one, this one at 5 1/3 and counting, after just one productive inning.

The 5-2 loss in the opener of a three-game series with the Angels represented a new low, a continuation of the offensive woes that seemed to have begun weeks ago, now compounded by defensive screwups and baserunning blunders that can be caused by only one thing.

Panic.

"I know people say we're pressing," said Joe Girardi, a man immersed either in a limitless well of faith or a bottomless pit of denial. "I've had a hard time figuring out what 'pressing' means. I know what it means in basketball. I just think guys are going to give a good effort, and that's what you want. They're going to work hard, and sometimes results are not going to be there, but eventually they're going to be there."

Eventually, yes, because that's how baseball goes. But not on this night, or in the past four games, all losses, in which they scored a total of 10 runs.

I could give you the gory play-by-play, but all you really need to know about is the eighth inning, an inning that started out with great promise and ended in epic failure. It had all the makings of a breakout inning but turned out to be a live demonstration of the state of the Yankees' offense in a nutshell.

It began with a leadoff single by Jayson Nix and continued with a walk to Mark Teixeira. Now, trailing by two runs, the Yankees had two runners on, none out and Robinson Cano, Vernon Wells and pinch hitter Ichiro Suzuki, representing some 6,000 major league hits, 2,300 major league RBIs and 42.5 million major league bucks.

The Yankees could not have hoped for a better situation or a more optimistic outlook.

And then this: Cano, who got ahead of reliever Kevin Jepsen 3-0, swung at a 3-1 pitch that would have been ball four and popped out to left. Wells worked his count to 3-1, also, but, after fouling off two hittable pitches, flied out to right. And Ichiro didn't even bother to work the count, swinging at a 1-0 fastball and fouling out to shallow left.

You can talk all you want about Andy Pettitte, who did not pitch well despite his manager's insistence that he did -- he allowed a season-high 11 hits and probably would have given up eight runs rather than four had the game been played at Yankee Stadium -- and about David Adams and Reid Brignac letting a pop fly drop between them, a comic miscue that turned into a painful eighth-inning run, or about Brett Gardner's baserunning gaffe in the fifth inning, when he ran the Yankees out of the frame by trying to go to third on a ball hit to the shortstop.

But the real reason the Yankees lost this game, and the three before it, was because, once again, the Bronx Bombers were a dud at the plate.

"If we want to win games, we have to score more than two runs," said Wells, who broke his own 0-for-12 streak, including an 0-for-8 on Thursday, with a fourth-inning single.

That much is indisputable.

What is very much in dispute, however, is Girardi's insistence that this is merely a temporary run of bad luck.

In the manager's defense, he had very little to work with at the start of the season and now has even less. His lineup Friday night included three hitters -- Teixeira, Brignac and Austin Romine -- who started the night with batting averages below .165. By the end of the game, they were all below .160.

And, when it came time for a bat off the bench in that pivotal eighth inning, the only one Girardi could go to was Ichiro, a slap hitter whose OPS is a sickly .665. But, hitting for his right fielder, Thomas Neal, Girardi's only alternatives were Travis Hafner, who does not own a fielder's glove, and Lyle Overbay, who can be trusted only with a first-baseman's mitt.

This is not the manager's fault, or even the general manager's. They have had to scrounge to fill holes vacated by injury and then to refill those holes when the replacements got hurt. Earlier in the day, Kevin Youkilis was placed on the DL for the second time this season with what is sounding like a serious back injury.

But where Girardi is at fault is in denying that there is anything wrong here that a timely hit or two cannot fix.

Last year, when his offense was sputtering, Girardi expressed his faith in his roster based on its past performances. But then, the names last year were Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, players who had some history winning with this ballclub and could reasonably be counted on to have some more.

This year, working with a crew assembled of castoffs and newcomers, Girardi has no past performances to lean on.

Which is why, when he was asked before the game what his confidence was based upon, all he could say was this: "I still have faith in them, I do. I really think that they're going to get it done. They're very capable of doing it; we've seen them do it during the course of the season; and I think they'll get it done."

That is the type of blind faith that borders on wishing and hoping and, ultimately, begging.

Right now, the Yankees are begging for runs in a way they haven't in nearly 25 years.

And even a man as faithful as Joe Girardi is having trouble figuring out where they will come from.