Despite their poor play, the Yankees still have a playoff position in the standings. But their once insurmountable Wild Card lead now seems entirely surmountable. Toronto and Detroit are breathing down the team's neck, and, don't look now, but Boston is 7-3 over its last 10 games and has won 4 in a row. Remember when the Yankees used to do things like go 7-3 and win 4 in a row? Yeah, me neither.
It's easy to blame the pitching for the poor performance, but that isn't a fair assessment. With the exception of Javier Vazquez, who seems to be getting it together, every Yankee starter has an ERA under 4.00. The team had a bad run through the rotation (or two). That will happen.
The problems are the bullpen and the offense. The strong starts obscured the fact that while this team is good at scoring 4-6 runs and winning a 5-3 ball game, with so many big bats struggling it's not equipped to win those 8-7 games, or 11-10 games, which is what the recent homestands against the Red Sox and Rays required.
Here's a look at some of the slumping players, in no particular order, but with Mark Teixeira first:
- Mark Teixeira, .207/.324/.374
Tex is awful this year. He started out the month of May hitting around .333 and looked to be in the middle of repeating his comeback from last year, but he's since fizzled. Now he's mired in a 2-30 slump.
Making matters worse, no element of his game is up to par. His May "surge" has yielded only a .275/.353/.484 line. From the right side (53 AB) he's batting .264/.361/.509. As a lefty, you know, the side of the plate where he'll get most of his swings, he's hitting .185/.312/.319. Last season his OPS was .952 from the left side.
So, Tex stinks. There really is no silver lining. He needs to get it together, from the left side especially, right away. This can no longer be chalked up to early season struggles, which was a cop-out to begin with.
There is, however, one small glimmer of hope for a decent season out of our $181 million infielder. While Tex never stunk so much over two consecutive months last season, he did have at least two roughly as bad months (although his 2010 April was the worst month of his career, ever). His Aprils in 2009 and 2010 were both awful, and so far his 2010 May looks a lot like his 2010 June. Hopefully Kevin Long can help Tex see what he's doing wrong, and fix it fast.
- Alex Rodriguez, .293/.376/.485
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. That saying is probably more true in sports journalism than anywhere else. When the Yankees were pitching their way to 22-7 the team was unbeatable, even though it wasn't hitting well. Now, it's Tex and A-Rod who are slumping.
Alex isn't slumping. He had a bad April, batting only .250/.337/.440, but has gotten it together in May, where he's hitting .337/.417/.530. He's had only one fewer AB in May than in April, and has increased his offensive production in every category. Even in the past week A-Rod has been solid, managing a .318/.400/.500.
A-Rod faces two problems. First, he cannot deflate right now, not at all. If the big guy starts slumping then our 3-4 hitters really will be automatic outs and the team will struggle even more. So long as Tex is doing his best Juan Pierre impersonation A-Rod needs to OPS around .950.
A-Rod's second problem is a season-long issue. Right now he's on pace to hit 22 homers. That has accelerated from April when he was on pace to hit only 17 or so, but all good Yankee fans know the guy has had 30 bombs for 13 consecutive seasons. If he puts together a solid, but not spectacular season, questions will swirl, particularly about his 2009 steroids admission. No team needs that.
Derek Jeter - .278/.322/.397
Apparently Jeter was so impressed with the Red Sox signing Marco Scutaro that he's decided to play like him. The Captain's problem this season is that he's not taking his walks. His career IsoD is .071. This season it's only .044.
The difference is not trivial. Apply Jeter's career discipline to his current BA and his OBP becomes .349, which is much more respectable. To Jeter's credit, he's batting .346/.370/.423 over the last seven days. He may be coming out of it, but he's still not drawing walks (or hitting for power, but one problem at a time). In fact, his IsoD is DOWN this week, to .023.
Assuming for a moment that Jeter's struggles aren't due to an inability to hit as well as he did last season (due to age or injury), then he desperately needs to re-learn some patience. With so low an IsoD he'll live and die by his BA, and exaggerate his slumps.
- Brett Gardner, .299/.379/.377
The air is coming out of that balloon fast. To Gardner's credit, his season has exceeded all expectations and I'd be elated if this were his line at season's end (he's on pace for 64 steals). The problem is that he has completely and totally stopped hitting. In the last week he's managed .174/.269/.174.
The good news is that he's taking a good proportion of walks relative to his hits (Derek, are you listening? Talk to Brett!) but he's getting half as many of his hits to drop in as he was earlier this season.
Gardner is streaky. Last season his April OPS was .525 before it shot up to .955 and .918 in May and June. In July it plummeted again to .621. Grit will give us a wild ride this year, but he is in no way to blame for the offensive struggles. His name is first on the list of players who've exceeded all expectations. It's just that he's not hitting now - at all - meaning that 1-3 in the team's lineup is bad.
- Robinson Cano, .331/.380/.566
There's good news and less good news with Robbie, but I won't say there's anything bad about a guy with that line. The good news is that he's more disciplined at the plate this year. His career IsoD is .033. This season it's up to .049.
The less good news is that his pattern this year is a beefed up version of last year. In both seasons he burst out of the gate (Tex, are you reading this? He BURST out of the gate!) and drew more walks in the process. At the first whiff of a slump, however, Robbie went right back to pretty much only taking a walk by accident.
After a noticeable slump to start the month Cano is hitting again. But, his line in the last seven is .375/.375/.458. He has not taken a single walk in a week. Really, Robbie, not a single walk? You couldn't just throw one in there? Beyond that Cano's season has been awesome and he'll probably start on the All-Star team.
- Nick Swisher, .295/.384/.518
Nick is having a great season but it's not drawing much attention, perhaps because of his injury. He's also been solid in his return, batting .313/.421/.375. My one concern is the SLG (admittedly in a small sample). Hopefully he just hasn't gotten a pitch to crush yet and the lack of power since he's returned has nothing to do with his injury and the team rushing him back.
The rest of our core offensive contributors have been hurt. Francisco Cervelli has been great, but he's not Jorge Posada and he won't be able to keep his BA this high for the season. Curtis Granderson comes back Friday, and hopefully he'll leave his slump behind.
The good news is that with Curtis back the team will field a solid defensive outfield, and be in a position to place decent hitters in the entire lineup and solid professional hitters (career-wise, if not this season) in 1-7 at least.
Getting players back from injury can only help, but truth be told the onus of success rests on Tex and Jeter (assuming A-Rod's May correction is here to stay). These are top-of-the-order guys who are paid to carry a lineup.
I'd write about the bullpen but I don't want to throw up on my laptop.