Rodrigo Lopez is not a good pitcher. I made sure to highlight this in last night’s game thread. He somehow manages to get by with the lowest swinging strike rate among NL starters along with one of the highest home run rates. He doesn’t walk many, but his other peripherals, including his ridiculously low groundball rate, indicate that other teams should destroy his mediocre offerings. Yet the Yankees couldn’t break through against him last night. It was just one more sign of a slumping offense.
For a while it looked like the Yanks had snapped out of it. After an offensive drought against the Blue Jays earlier this month they went on to score 19 runs in three games against the Orioles and then 22 in the three games against the Astros. The kicker, the game that seemed like it meant more than it did, came a week ago against Philly, when the team rocked Roy Halladay. And then the slump set in. Three runs, only two of which came against Jamie Moyer. One run against Kyle Kendrick. Shutout by Hansori Takahashi. Even when they scored five against Mike Pelfrey the next day they were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position. On Sunday they were 2 for 9.
Last night we saw more of the same. The team managed eight hits and two walks off Rodrigo Lopez, but just one of those hits came with a man in scoring position. That was Nick Swisher’s triple. Mark Teixeira could not follow with his own hit with a runner in scoring position. It cost them two outs to score Alex Rodriguez after he hit a no-out, RBI double in the sixth. Even in the ninth it took defensive indifference and two outs to bring home Brett Gardner. Trading an out for a run can be to a team’s advantage in some situations, but not when they’re down by four, five, or seven runs. The price for moving the man over was just too great.
On another night, at another point in the season, I’m confident the Yankees would have done to Rodrigo Lopez what the Diamond backs did to A.J. Burnett. They put the ball in play 28 times against him and managed hits on just eight. That’s a .286 BABIP, right around normal, but it wasn’t only the number of hits. It was the type of hits. FanGraphs had the Yanks at 18 fly balls and four line drives, with just six balls hit on the ground. Of course, three of those six balls on the ground went for base hits. Lopez this season has allowed 12.4 percent of his fly balls to leave the park, 11.7 percent for his career. Last night that was a big fat zero. Worse, they weren’t mere pop flies. They were what Baseball Info Solutions classifies as Fliners, combination line drives and fly balls. Some of these get classified as liners, some as fly balls. A-Rod’s and Posada’s rips in the eighth were both classified as flies, though they were well-struck balls that, at another time, probably would have left the yard.
There was absolutely no reason, under normal circumstances for this offense, that Lopez should have completed eight innings with 103 pitches. Had the Yankees offense not been slumping, he’d have been out right around the time A.J. exited. If things were going right, maybe Swisher jacks a three-run shot in the fifth rather than missing with a good swing and popping up to the infield. Maybe Curtis Granderson puts a ball in the air that gets past the shortstop. Maybe Teixeira drives home the runner one of the two times he came to bat with a man on third.
It would have taken quite an offensive feat to defeat the Diamondbacks last night. Burnett put them in a hole early, but it looked like they might be able to battle back if he settled down, as he he has after poor first innings a couple of times this season. He did not. With a smoothly running Yankees offense scoring six, seven runs isn’t a big deal. But with the way they’re currently playing it is. There’s not much to do about it, really. These are good hitters who just can’t string together hits. I have confidence that they can find a groove and do it. It’s the question of when that I’m not so sure about.