Rangers 8 Yankees 6: Fading

Last week, I read through a good deal of David McCullough’s 1776 about the travails that the American army faced during the early phase of the War for Independence as well as the political climate in both the rebellious colonies and in England itself. While I had various problems with the book, not the least of which was McCullough’s treating race as a throwaway subject in the first several chapters I read, it did probe General Washington well. One particularly significant passage in the book, that certainly applies with assessing the Yankees as well, explained that the political leaders in America came to appreciate Washington in good part because Washington saw things the way they were, not the way he wanted them to be–a crucial difference.

The Yankees are fading in the standings and as a team, losing tonight 8-6 despite a late comeback and, in losing again to Texas, dropping to 6 1/2 games behind Tampa in the East. They’re lacking in crucial areas despite good moves at the trade deadline. For whatever reason–injury, combination of ailments, just finally an off-year like Mariano had to a degree last year–Jeter is having the kind of off-year that only the most torrid streak could pull close to his career average. At .279, he’s 38 points below his career average entering the 2008 season. Perhaps he’s hurt and not saying so, perhaps his body is starting to betray him bit by bit, perhaps he’s slowing down, perhaps he’s doing a lot well with bad results (though I’m wary of the last possibility). But his production in every statistical category is down (average down 38 points from pre-2008 career numbers, OBP down 45 points, power numbers down, stolen bases down), resulting in him at the #2 spot in the lineup being a significant under-producer. He’s sticking out like a sore thumb amidst JD, Abreu, A-Rod, and now Nady. Early in the season, he was at one point hitting .429 (9-21) with RISP, two outs. Now he’s at .319, but he’s gone 6-26 since (.231). How long can he stay at #2? It’s 113 games into the year, and their two-hole hitter, let’s face it, is unfortunately dragging down the offense. I love the guy–he’s The Captain and all heart with still lots of ability–and I suspect he’s injured to a degree.  But how long can the Yankees keep him there, struggling or at best treading water statistically the last month, and hope to gain ground? More and more, waiting for Jeter to pick it up offensively is going basically on hope. I’ve not lost it, and to give him credit he’s been pretty good in the field including tonight, but for whatever reason he’s just not producing enough at the plate.

Melky is just clueless at the plate. So often when I watch him, he seems to be intent upon hacking his way on base, of swinging at whatever pitches come his way–far inside, ducking low and away–as long as he’s swinging. Then again, that presumes he’s at the plate with a mindset, which I honestly question. If he has one, I’ve yet to decipher it. Why he was in to pinch-hit for Christian is beyond me. Since Giambi pinch-hit for Molina already, Pudge was entering anyway and would have been a better option than Melky’s anemic bat. What happened? Melky popped out, to no one’s surprise.  Watching him at the plate just bothers me.  Good fielder, but he’s been so bad at the plate that center field is a position to target this off-season–which is coming closer in the rear-view mirror at this rate. Let’s be honest.

This team still struggles with RISP, is still 11th in the AL batting with RISP. Tonight, the Yanks were 1-5, getting a sac fly but hitting into 2 DPs–four DPs in all tonight–stranding seven throughout the course of the game. The only hit with RISP the Yankees got was Sexson’s gland-slam in the eighth to pull the Yanks to within 8-6. Entering tonight’s game, A-Rod was batting .245 with RISP. Last year he hit .333 with RISP.

The Yanks still struggle against lefties, eighth entering tonight’s game with a .265 average. Worse, they still struggle against young, unknown pitchers especially left-handers, making them all look like Koufax. Tonight, Matt Harrison, a 22-year-old lefty entered the game 2-2 with a 7.40 ERA yet, with some defensive help but also not being overworked on another hot night, never saw more than four batters in the first six innings he pitched. Head-scratching stuff.

Pettite has been awful of late at just the wrong time–10 1/3 IP, 20 hits, 14 runs earned, 6 walks, 9 K’s, and 3 HRs his last two starts. He’s either been great or lousy in stretches this year. Coinciding with Joba’s injury and the inconsistency at the back of the rotation, Lefty’s struggles have hurt even more.  The Yanks issued eight walks tonight, just abysmal.  In the last three starts, they’ve walked 21–seven a game.  That’s brutal and an utter reversal of the post-break run fueled so much by an over-achieving, efficient staff.  That’s gone.

Finally, the team is still, for all their improvements and upgrades through trades and call-ups, just not consistent.  After starting hot after the break going 8-0, they’ve lost seven of their last ten, including four of their last seven at home.  I’d contend that, for all their moves, the team’s persistent issues result in, but also result from, a lack of consistency, a consistent inconsistency.  Just as the Yankees couldn’t get above .500 without dropping back for so much of the first half, then couldn’t move up without paying for the same real estate twice, so to speak, with losses erasing wins, now most of the Yankees gains in late July have been erased.  After winning eight straight and being up 13 games over .500, the Yanks are back down to 9 games over .500.

It’s too late in the season for such problems to continue, injuries or not.  I still maintain hope in this team, but time is running short and, despite the tease of late July, this team is not much better off than it was six weeks ago.  A bit better, yes, and not out of the playoff hunt by any means.  But with injuries mounting, the staff inconsistent and the bullpen recently overworked, and the team’s particular offensive issues continuing, this team needs to straighten things out and fast.  Should they return home with a losing record on the road trip, especially a bad one such as 3-7 or worse 2-8, they’ll very likely have given back everything over the last six weeks and faded too far from the playoff chase.  At this rate, should they continue to struggle and falter, that’s a very real possibility.

Published in: on August 5, 2008 at 11:49 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i gotta give you a lot of credit for your optimism.

    with the team playing as badly as they are and have been for most of the year blame can be handed out to just about everyone–i’d like to take up some space here on the internet complaining about joe girardi- i’m going to blame him for melky’s at bat ( i loved the way you described him tonight). who in their right mind would send melky up to bat in that critical a situation when you have pudge ? i realize that there was only one out, but why give it away? he could have just as easily GIDP.
    i’d like to have a word about our great captain. he’s at the plate against a guy that just isn’t throwing/can’t throw strikes-johnny damon takes a walk- the great jeter–he still thinks he’s the hero when those days are long gone-it’s 3-1-
    why not take a pitch -you probably will get an RBI and an ay bat for our hottest hitter of late-bobby. but no-the hero swings- i’ll grant you he hit the ball-if that had happened on a 3-2 count, so be it. but c’mon it was FAR more likely that you would have gotten on base showing the patience to take at least one more pitch. rally over.

    sexy–too little -way too late.

    it’s hard to make an argument that there is any way they make it to the playoffs unless the sox and the rays both have epic collapses. i see that as unlikely. as i said over at The Frieze-this team is one year too old and a couple of years too young- the injuries have been catastrophic, but think about all the losses to the bad teams of both leagues- the reds, the royals, the rangers, the O’s, the pirates for heaven’s sake-the tigers when they were utterly hopeless.

    they have been a mediocrity that got hot for a couple of weeks in july-that’s about it.

    i’ll still keep watching- and rooting, but i’m letting myself down as easy as i can.

  2. I’ll tell ya Jason, you’re summaries are incredible. Anyway, this isn’t the Yankees’ year and I think management knows it because you don’t hear any grumblings from Hank. I think that they knew that there would be growing pains and I wouldn’t doubt that they had 2009 marked on their calendar for making the playoffs. Hank loves prospects and he is willing to wait and see how they perform. He has patience whereas his father did not.

  3. True on DJ. You know I’ve been on him for a while now regarding 2008. What gets me (besides the decline in OPS+, BA, OBP, SA…power, speed, heck throughout the entire board) is that he’s only ATTEMPTED to steal 8 times. Heck he was 34 for 39 just two years ago.

    Re: Melky, yes I look for an upgrade. Whether it turns out to be Gardner or Austin Jackson (and you have no clue how they’d fare in 2009) or someone else, the fact is that Melky is regressing over the past three years. The BA is down, the OPS+ has gone 95, 89 and what now..75? As I mentioned on the Frieze, a possibly low cost/high reward option could be Rocco Baldelli on the F.A. market this offseason. Just 27, if he can get healthy and regain his skills, he could be low risk and cheap. But I’m down on Melky…and not just on his physical skills. His MENTAL ones too.

  4. I guess you know me too well, Mike. I was thinking this post sounded negative but, upon re-reading it, I guess there are, if not optimistic sentiments, overtones of hope within it. I couldn’t agree more about Girardi last night sending in Melky to pinch-hit. His pitching calls Sunday with Edwar in the 8th and Monday with Marte in the 9th were open to question, but in some ways were hard-and-hard-place decisions (and upon reflection the guy to turn around Sunday was Aybar, not Teixeiera). But Melky to pinch-hit? If Melky and not Pudge were such a fine pinch-hitting option, why did he sit for the past couple days? Poor decision from Girardi who, on the whole, has been pretty good this year and very good with budgeting the bullpen. On Jeter’s 3-1 swing, I didn’t think that was a bad pitch to swing at, and he did the right thing by steering it to right. But he hit it right at Kinsler. The Captain has grounded into a remarkable 18 DPs. Great points about the ages of the team Mike, and I was both nodding and shaking my head when reading your list of bad, costly losses by the Yanks. How many “could-have, should-have” games…

    Many thanks, Sean and for people who haven’t visited Sean’s terrific Yankees Daily, I’d heartily encourage you to do so. Like Mike and Greg from Sliding Into Home, Sean does extensive minor-league work. You may be right about the Yankees’ fortunes this year, and it’s a good point about what patience the younger Steinbrenners might have. It also may reflect Cashman’s influence, and I agree with the approach, win or lose–be patient with the kids and don’t deal them capriciously for expensive, older players.

    Agreed about Jeter, Mike S. Watching him this year has made me wonder if Jeter has some foot/leg ailments. He just lacks that burst going from home to second, first to third, as you say not trying to steal. A case in point: when Abreu screwed up on the base paths Sunday, Jeter looked a bit slow pushing off third. I don’t know if it’s age or an injury, but he seems slower, sad to say. As per your e-mail, Baldelli is a good call, Mike. I loved watching Baldelli a few years ago. He could run very fast, hit, hit with some power, and what I liked most made good judgments in center for a young player. If he were healthy, he’d come cheap with Upton patrolling center in Tampa. Melky’s gaffe a couple weeks ago, when he booted the ball after waving for the roll call, was an abject embarrassment.

    Great comments, everyone.

  5. Sidney was pounded in Texas inhis debut against his former club. He doesn’t have the most attractive numbers posting a sub 5 era and is 8-2 opposite Texas. The bullpen is falling apart down the stretch and I would think Marte and Robertson can find there form with some rest. This series looked appealing from the start the Yanks can only hope for a split at best. This .500 ball ain’t going to cut it Joe’

  6. Agreed all around, Leo, and it sure doesn’t cut it. This was a series that had us salivating, now we’re dying for a split to get the heck out of Texas. The bullpen is starting to show signs of overwork and, to be fair, they couldn’t continue to be torrid forever. Robertson worked out of the jam in the sixth well last night and fanned four in 1 2/3, and I think would have looked better in the stat line had Bruney pitched out of the seventh. The kid has lots of life on his fastball, and was throwing 92-93 regularly. That’s plenty, especially with a good curve.

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