The longer the losing lasts, the tougher it is to see the end. It becomes tougher still when the team’s primary strength, the offense, goes into a scoring drought. During the losing streak the Yankees have scored just 17 runs, or 3.4 per game. In May, during which they’ve gone 5-9, they have scored just four runs per game. It has led to what appears to be a record low confidence level. But really, it’s not all bad. Teams slump all the time, and it always seems worse than the reality. This was exactly the case the last time the Yankees went on a five-game losing streak.
For all the angst that September, 2010 caused, it did not involve a five-game skid. There were two four-game skids in there, but never five in a row. The last time the Yankees dropped five games was two years ago — at almost the same time of year as the current one. It started on May 2, with a loss to the Angels. (Which, as you’ll recall, followed a dramatic come-from-behind win the previous evening.) Five days, and short sweeps at the hands of Boston and Tampa Bay, later and they were 13-15, already five games behind the Red Sox for first.
At the time no one took those five losses lightly. The Yankees had gone through most of April with a record around .500, which didn’t match the hype. Alex Rodriguez was still out of the lineup, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira had gotten off to slow starts, and the team actually produced a negative run differential. The walk-off win against the Angels was uplifting for a fleeting moment, but a loss at the hands of Matt Palmer stung badly. But it didn’t sting as badly as the ensuing losses to Tampa Bay and Boston.
The second game of that Boston series was the most frustrating of all those losses. Joba Chamberlain started and promptly surrendered four runs in the first. He came back to strike out 12 in the game, absolutely stupefying the Red Sox hitters. Of course, all those strikeouts mean a high pitch count, and Chamberlain exited after 5.2 innings. In came the bullpen, which gave up another three runs. Not that it mattered. The Yankees scored only three, so they couldn’t have overcome the early deficit even if Chamberlain pitched all nine and struck out 20.
The Tampa Bay series hurt for different reasons. Down 3-0 in the eighth inning of the first game, they loaded the bases for Mark Teixeira, who cleared them with a double. Of course, that all went for naught in the 10th, when Phil Coke gave up a homer to Carlos Pena. In the second game they again tied the game in the bottom of the eighth, thanks to a Johnny Damon homer, only to have Mo blow the game in the ninth on a pair of home runs. That felt like quite the low point.
Things didn’t get better right away, either. While CC Sabathia turned in a marvelous performance that Friday, shutting out the Orioles, Phil Hughes got rocked the next day. A win on Sunday boosted confidence, but then they lost to Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays on Monday. Of course, immediately following that they rattled off nine straight wins, including walk-off weekend against Minnesota. So when things did turn around, they did so in exciting fashion.
While this five-game skid has hurt, I don’t think it was quite as bad as the one in 2009. That was full of frustration thanks to completely winnable games. There has been plenty of that this time around, true. But in 2009 it got to the point where I didn’t even watch Sabathia’s start against Baltimore. Tonight I’ll certainly tune in. We know that the team is much better than this. We also know that the best Yankees team in the past decade went through a similar phase at a similar point in the season. These things happen, and while they’re infuriating at the time, for the good teams they tend to blow over. If this is the worst it gets, it really won’t have been all that bad.