Through 82 games last year, the 2009 Yankees were 48-34, one game back of the Boston Red Sox in the Al East. This year’s squad is three games better in every sense. Overall, the team is 51-31, a three-game improvement over last season, and the Yanks have a two-game lead, also a three-game improvement over last season. Yet, the two clubs are nearly diametrically opposite in most ways.
As last night’s win over the A’s showed, the 2010 iteration of the Yanks relies extensively on starting pitcher. Facing a struggling Ben Sheets, the Yanks couldn’t do much offensively, but Javier Vazquez shined. His outing and the bullpen work from Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera brought the team’s ERA down to 3.95 and its FIP to 4.08. Last year’s team had a 4.45 ERA and a 4.49 FIP. Just imagine now if the non-Mariano pieces in the pen were any good.
So how are the pitchers getting it done? As expected, they’re doing so by limiting the number of men on base and the number of home runs while keeping the strike out totals relatively high. The team’s overall K/BB ratio is 2.23 this year, and it was 2.05 last year. Pitchers have allowed 20 fewer home runs this year in six fewer innings. The runs just melt away as the balls stay in the park.
Offensively, though, the Yanks are, as Mike noted in his midseason status report, struggling a bit. The team’s .271/.354/.434 batting line pales in comparison with last year’s .276/.358/.472. The .038 point drop in team OPS comes directly from a Yankee power outage. Last year’s club had hit 167 doubles, 13 triples and 125 home runs through 82 games. This year’s team has 126 doubles, 20 triples and just 91 home runs. Even still, the Yanks’ 439 runs scored are second only to Boston amongst all Major League teams.
So what’s the difference? We know that Derek Jeter is having a down season, and we hear rumors of a Mark Teixeira revival even as his triple slash remains below his career norms. It took Teixeira until yesterday, after all, to out-slug Brett Gardner. A-Rod’s power is down significantly as well. The unspoken areas of concern though have been the Yanks’ center field spot, something Joe touched upon last week, and the designated hitter. Yanks’ DHs have so far put up a .769 OPS whereas Hideki Matsui and his supporting cast sported an .858 mark in 2009.
The Yanks have a few solutions on hand that could start to address these problems. Juan Miranda, recently returned from the DL, has gone on a hitting tear. He’s OPSing over .875 vs. right-handed pitching at AAA and could help fill a DH platoon with Marcus Thames on the days Jorge catches. Kevin Russo is, at this point, dead weight on the active roster, and giving Miranda a shot could be worth it. Jettisoning Chad Gaudin and Chan Ho Park for some combination of Romulo Sanchez, Jonathan Albaladejo, Mark Melancon or, when healthy, Sergio Mitre could bolster the pen as well.
Ultimately, though, the team should be happy with its play through 82 games. A.J. Burnett will be better than his season averages say he is; Javier Vazquez has a 3.05 ERA over his last 65 innings; and CC Sabathia has a 2.00 ERA over his last 45 innings. The offense is showing signs of life, and the team has a two-game lead. The 2009 Yankees went 55-25 over their remaining 80 games, and while we shouldn’t expect the Yanks to play .688 between now and October, duplicating their first half will be enough to guarantee a playoff berth. Still with the trade deadline looming, the Yankees in 28 days will look much better than the team does today.