The calendar has flipped from September to October, and while the playoffs aren’t quite here, everyone can feel it. These last three games won’t mean much, except maybe to CC Sabathia, who tries for his 20th win tonight. The rest is just a tune-up. But for two Yankees, it will be about setting a tone for the new month, the one that, for the Yankees and their championship-focused mentality, is all that matters.
Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera have been slumping of late. That’s fine. The Yankees had matters pretty well at hand coming into September, so to have two-thirds of their outfield struggling wasn’t the worst thing in the world. As we like to say when players slump, better now than in the playoffs. Players streak and players slump. Neither lasts forever, which is why it’s perfectly fine that both have had their struggles in September.
Of the two, Johnny’s has been worse, if only because he’s a more important piece than Melky. While he’s still getting on base — a .347 OBP on the strength of 14 walks — Damon has seemingly lost the power stroke that made him a Yankee hero earlier this season. He has only four extra base hits in 96 September plate appearances, all doubles. Even worse, he has just 19 hits, making a slash line of .235/.347/.284.
It could be that Damon, who will turn 36 in November, is breaking down in his old age. But given the amount of rest Girardi has provided him, that seems unlikely. Damon has appeared in just 22 September games, starting only 20. He’s had two two-day breaks in the past 11, so there’s no doubt he’s as well rested as he’s been at this point. In that 11 game span, by the way, Damon is hitting .083/.267/.083. From September 1 through 19, he hit .298/.385/.368, so there was only a loss of power. There doesn’t appear to be any reason to think Damon will continue this slide.
Melky’s slump is less pronounced than Damons, but that’s because Melky has a lower baseline. In September he’s hitting .287/.361/.414, which is actually pretty good. In fact, if the Yankees could get Melky to hit that way consistently, he could definitely man center field. The problem, as with Damon, is his play of late.
We last wrote about Melky on September 8. He had just gone 3 for 4 with two RBI in the second game of the Tampa Bay doubleheader, in which he went 4 for 7 with a walk overall. Since our previous criticism, on August 19th, Melky had hit .348/.392/.464. But, just like every other time we criticize Melky, he turned it around. From the 8th through the 30th, Melky’s hitting .214/.302/.321.
Some players are going to slump in October. It’s just part of the game. If Melky continues hitting poorly, well, the Yanks just have to accept that. Thankfully, they can use Brett Gardner and have his speed in the lineup. But the Yankees can ill-afford to have Damon’s woes continue into the cool October nights. Unfortunately, there’s not much Girardi can do, other than to play Damon all three games this weekend and hope he hits a rhythm. He’ll have plenty of time to rest on Monday and Tuesday.