Friday, May 25, 2012

What's Wrong With The New York Yankees?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
A-Rod homered twice last game, but the Yankees need more from their star 3rd baseman.
Rodriguez has only seven home runs this season, and is batting under .300.

With about a quarter of the season in the books, the Yankees find themselves just one game above the Red Sox for last place in the AL East.

What?! How could the Yankees and Red Sox both be at the bottom of the standings with 40 games already played? Usually the two teams are near the top of the standings, with the Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles trailing, but this year the standings are flipped.

So how could this happen?

The first obvious reason for the Yankees' early struggles is their injuries.

Mariano Rivera went down with a season ending torn ACL before he could even play in 10 games. Rivera was shagging fly balls during batting practice, when he fell awkwardly and grimaced in pain.

Mo's injury left a hole at the closer position. Initially, the Yankees moved David Robertson to closer, since he had been pitching well, but then Robertson got injured himself.

Robertson hasn't pitched in two weeks, and is still on the 15-day DL with a strained left oblique. Robertson's oblique has been feeling better, but Girardi is still locking him down until he is 100% healthy. He will likely return in the beginning of June.

The Yankees have also missed starting left fielder Brett Gardner, who has been out since mid-April with an elbow injury. Fortunately for the Yankees, Gardner should be back in the lineup soon. While Raul Ibanez has been playing good baseball in Gardner's spot, Andruw Jones has been playing poorly in left field. Ideally, the Yankees would like to play Ibanez at DH, and slide Gardner back to left field.

The next reason for the Yankees' early struggles is their pitching.

With the exception of CC Sabathia, the Yankees' starting pitching has been horrendous. The Yankees rank in the bottom third of the league in almost all pitching categories. New York ranks 22nd in ERA (4.13), 24th in WHIP (1.36), 24th in BA (.264), and 27th in quality starts with just 17. That means that in over 40 games, the Yankees have had quality starts from their pitchers in less than half the games.

How should the Yankees expect to win games if they are giving up the 10th most runs in the league?

Specifically, Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda have been absolutely atrocious. Hughes is 4-5 with an ERA of 4.94, while Kuroda is 3-6 with an ERA of 4.56. In addition, Ivan Nova, who had a streak of 17 straight wins at one point, has an ERA of 5.69. Nova can't expect to win games when he's giving up nearly six runs a game.

Good news for the Yankees is that Andy Pettitte is backing and pitching well. In three starts, Pettitte has had two quality starts, and has the lowest ERA on the team. Also, the Yankees' bullpen has been solid so far, with Robertson and Rafael Soriano both pitching well.

The next problem for the Yankees is their bats.

With the exception of Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and occasionally Nick Swisher, the Yankees' bats have been almost as bad as their pitching. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira have all been missing in action this season. The Yankees' three, four, and five hitters respectively are all batting under .300, all have under eight home runs, and have combined for less than 60 RBI's so far.

The Yankees aren't scoring, because when Jeter and Granderson get one base, no one can bat them in.

The bottom of the Yankees' lineup has been just as bad as the middle of their lineup. Russell Martin, who got off to a fantastic start last season, has been miserable from the plate this season. Martin is batting just .173, and has only four home runs and 10 RBI's.

New York's bats have been decent so far, but with the lack of pitching, they need to produce more runs in order to win games.

And believe it or not, a big contributor to the Bombers' early season struggles is their schedule.

Who would have thought that playing the Orioles and Blue Jays would give them so many problems. The Yankees are just 9-9 in divisional games this season. In addition to a tough division schedule, they have already played the Rangers, Tigers, Reds, and Angels.

The Yankees, who are 4-6 in their last 10 games, have a series coming up with the A's before they travel to LA and Detroit to play the Angels and Tigers again. Their upcoming road-trip is the longest of their season so far.

Fans shouldn't be too worried about the Yankees, who are 23-21. Eventually the Orioles and Blue Jays will cool down, and the Yankees will only have to worry about the Rays and Red Sox. Also, the Yankees will be getting a few players back from the DL in early June, which should help them win more games.

The most important aspects of turning around the season though, are getting quality starts from starting pitchers, and getting production from Cano, A-Rod, and Teixeira at the plate. Manager Joe Girardi needs to keep the team focused during this upcoming road-trip if the Yankees want to make a push for the top of the standings.

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