Sep
04

Is it time to panic?

By

(J. Meric/Getty)

Not so long ago, I wrote an uncharacteristically pessimistic post that was admittedly a bit trollish in its conception: exploring the problems and challenges that could face a Yankee team that at the time enjoyed a comfortable six-game lead over its division rivals.  While the Yankees had several hurdles to overcome, I concluded that the division lead along with the talent gap between the Yankees and their pursuers should allow the Yankees to cruise to a division title and playoff berth.

I still believe that to be the case, but the events of the last few weeks have increased the likelihood of an different outcome.  The combination of poor play by the Yankees and strong performances from the Rays and Orioles have whittled the Yankees’ division lead down to one game.  In Wild Card race, the Oakland A’s have gone on a tear, and currently hold the same record as the Bombers.  Suddenly the possibility of the Yankees losing the division or even missing the playoffs doesn’t seem so remote.  The specter of a monumental collapse a la Boston in 2011 looms over the collective psyche of nervous Yankee fans, who fear karmic payback for their schadenfreude of yesteryear.

Since the folks here are mostly rational, I thought it would make sense to analyze which contributors to the Yankees’ struggles seem likely to persist, and which ones may be resolved going forward.  I’ll take a look at some reasons for why Yankee fans should be concerned, as well as some reasons why things are still looking promising.  Feel free to add your own to the list if I leave anything out.

Reasons to panic

Death by bullpen:  Outside of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson (who have had their occasional slip-ups), the rest of the Yankee bullpen has been unreliable of late.  This has at times caused Joe Girardi to make multiple pitching changes in a single inning, delighting binder-joke aficionados worldwide.  It has also made keeping leads in the middle innings a difficult task.  Cody Eppley in particular seems less effective than he was earlier in the season, Joba Chamberlain has struggled mightily since returning from the DL, and Derek Lowe has been awful since the Yankees acquired him.  Boone Logan has continued to hold down the fort, but his heavy usage could take a toll on him.

Injuries: Although Alex Rodriguez just returned, the Yankees are still suffering injuries to several important contributors.  Andy Pettitte hasn’t pitched a rehab outing yet, Curtis Granderson has been hampered by hamstring tendinitis, Mark Teixeira is still out, and Robinson Cano may have tweaked something in his hip while going after a ground ball in the 9th inning yesterday.  These injuries have forced the Yankees to rely heavily on their bench.  While some bench players (Eric Chavez in particular) have been up to the task, others (I’m looking at you Andruw Jones) have struggled mightily.  The Yankees have gotten by so far in 2012 with solid contributions from their bench, but their recent offensive woes (wRC+ of 74 the past 2 weeks) show the effect that losing several middle of the order contributors can have on overall offensive production.

Reasons to relax

Help is on the way: Alex Rodriguez’s return instantly lengthens the Yankee lineup, adding some desperately needed right-handed power to a team that has been punchless of late.  Mark Teixeira, Andy Pettitte, and Ivan Nova are on the road to recovery, and could provide some much needed depth to an anemic lineup and struggling rotation respectively. 

Slumpbusters: Of late, the Yankee lineup has struggled offensively.  Only three members of the Yankee lineup have posted above league-average production over the last 2 weeks: Robinson Cano (146 wRC+), Derek Jeter (137 wRC+), and Nick Swisher (128 wRC+).  While this trio has been carrying the offense, the rest of the offense has been putrid.  This includes (skip this section if you have a weak stomach) Russell Martin (56 wRC+), Curtis Granderson (36 wRC+), Eric Chavez (40 wRC+), Ichiro (10 wRC+), Andruw Jones (-8 wRC+), and Raul Ibanez (-25 wRC+).

With only one third of the lineup performing anywhere above the league average or near their career norms, there is no wonder that the Yankee lineup has had trouble scoring runs of late.  It seems improbable that this horrific stretch can continue, and eventually some of these guys can turn things around.  While several of these guys have been horrible all season, there is enough talent there for a few of them to get things going again.

Look at the schedule: While the Yankees’ schedule for the beginning of September is tough (two more games against the Rays and four against the Orioles), things soften up for the Bombers after the big rivalry games.  There is one more three-game series against the Rays, but otherwise, the Yankees’ opponents include the Twins, Red Sox, and Blue Jays.  A few years ago this would have been a formidable slate, but at a collective 51 games under .500, the Yankees shouldn’t have too much to worry about.  This is especially true if the Yankees get some of their starters back and contributing by then.  Baltimore also has a light schedule (though a three-game series against the suddenly-good A’s could prove challenging), while the Rays have some tougher matchups remaining, including the White Sox and the Rangers.  If the Yankees can survive the games against Baltimore and Tampa with their lead intact, they should be able to hold their ground against some weaker opponents down the stretch.

Overall, the Yankees do have some real concerns to address down the stretch.  Getting some injured players back could help, but the fact of the matter is that this team has looked lifeless over the past few weeks.  A combination of crappy hitting, sloppy fielding, and poorly-timed pitching meltdowns has resulted in some frustrating losses recently.  Two thirds of the lineup needs to either get healthy or remember how to hit, and the Yankees will need to get some big performances from their starters to prevent the bullpen from getting overexposed.  I still think this team has too much talent, especially when compared to Baltimore and Tampa, to lose this division.  The favorable schedule also helps in that regard.  But as they say, these games aren’t played on paper.  A number of players will have to start living up to the numbers on the back of their baseball card if the Yankees are going to make a run into October.

Categories : Analysis

78 Comments»

  1. Eric Schultz says:

    Crap, a few typos, sorry folks. I’m not at a computer now, but will fix things later.

  2. tyrone sharpton says:

    i think it’s beyond panic mode now-this is disaster control. girardi looked really pissed the other day during the press conference

  3. CP says:

    I really liked the little stat box they showed during (I think) the Friday game against the Orioles. It highlighted their stats since the Orioles closed from 10 games back to 2 games back. My key take aways from that were that the Orioles were 8-0 in 1-run games while the Yankees were 3-12 (or something like that). Also, the Yankees were scoring more runs per game and allowing fewer runs per game than the Orioles over that time.

  4. Knoxvillain says:

    It was really exciting when the Yankees were the best team in baseball earlier this year. Now I’d be surprised to see them in the playoffs with the way they’re playing and the way the O’s and Rays are playing. It doesn’t look good right now. Hopefully it changes before it’s too late.

  5. Jose M. Vazquez says:

    Although sometimes I may sound negative on these posts, I have never really doubted that we would win the division. Sometimes I let myself go with the negative flow. As you most convincingly say, Eric, when we compare teams, the Yankees are better than Tampa or Baltimore and there is no reason why we should not prevail in this battle. So I say to all Yankee fans: think positive. Stop the negativity.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      I just always think you “think out loud” a lot on your comments. It’s all good, Jose. Even when I think your talking crazy, I still very much enjoy what you have to say.

      I said this in the confidence level thread yesterday, but there’s what I hope will happen, what I think will happen, and what I’m afraid will happen. Ideally, those first two are a lot closer to one another, but they’re not as close right now as I’d like for them to be.

    • Bobby two knives says:

      All things considered, I still believe Yanks will win the division.
      And Eric, there are also still 3 home games left against the A’s.

    • TomH says:

      Ahh, a man who, in this twittering world, still knows the proper use of the colon.

    • DC says:

      Glad to see you coming back around, Jose.

  6. Robinson Tilapia says:

    While “help is on the way” should sound reassurring, my concern is that the help will not arrive soon enough to shake off rust and play at a high level right off the bat. “Help” will never push Rapada and Eppley to the margins, where they should actually be.

    The most important games here are the face-to-face games with the Rays and Orioles. Those are happening right now, and things appear to be headed in the opposite direction as we want them to. That help just isn’t going to be here quickly enough.

    I’ve written enough about what I think of the team’s chances already today. I pray this team, even at whatever percentage strength they’re currently at, finds it somewhere to pull off a winning streak and keep the lead. I can’t say I’m very optimistic about the next month (but, hey, I was a 7 on the confidence scale yesterday! Just call me Eddard Tilapia.)

    Time to panic? When the Yankees reached the playoffs in ’95, it was the first time since I was barely even old enough to remember that I actually watched playoff baseball with the Yankees in it. I’ve been through worse. Besides, if the last time they missed the playoffs means something, it just means they’ll win the WS next year. :)

    In other words, diamond stud the shit out of this fucker. When the Yanks are hoisting it up at the end of the season, they’ll have earned it.

    • “In other words, diamond stud the shit out of this fucker. When the Yanks are hoisting it up at the end of the season, they’ll have earned it.”

      +1 Nicely said.

    • TomH says:

      I’ve been in panic mode about the Yankees since about October, 1952. I’m not sure whether it has shortened my life or sharpened my senses.

      I would so much like to see Alex put a couple in the seats tonight, if only to bolster team morale. I haven’t entirely conceded him to decay yet. I well remember splendid seasons–when everyone was expected decline–from Musial and Williams,when they were in the autumn of the body.

    • Mikhel says:

      Nicely put, sir.

      I often read yankeefans here whining about us who don’t look at things as bright for the yanks right now as they do, but they often forget that some (a lot) of us actually saw the Yankees in their worst stretch of seasons. And while those teams lacked big names, good pitching and a hundred more homeruns, they made it up by hustling day in and day out, playing even when their body ached, giving their all because that’s what they loved: baseball, yes sire.

      Nowadays we see Canó limping and walking, not even trotting, WALKING when he hits the ball. Granderson swinging like there is no tomorrow, fast players not taking advantage of the edge they have by bunting and stealing bases, and of course a manager who manages to bring his worst pitcher in a one run game with men in scoring position, only to blow a one run deficit to a 3 or 4 run deficit.

      I think it is better for the yankees to miss the playoffs entirely, to go down like a bunch of wimps not giving their all, maybe that’s what they need to don’t feel overconfidents next year when they have a runner on third and less than two outs and decide to give out the run because “we score a lot, one run is nothing”, but one by one those runs end up costing them the game.

      And if JoeG doesn’t want to play small ball, then cut him, I am sick and tired of him trying to emulate whan JoeT did with the team Gene Michaels and Buck Showalter created. You can’t, well, nobody should write their lineup planning what might happen in the 6th inning, slating Pearce as 4th because Ibáñez/Chávez will replace him in the 6th/7th and those players **should** in his mind, be 4th bat.

      And enough with the “he is the closer, I can’t use him unless we are winning in the 8th/9th or tied after the 9th”, if you need to CLOSE the door against the other team in the 6th or 7th, BRING THE CLOSER IN!

  7. dkidd says:

    free-falling with a month to go means there’s still time to right the ship

    a pennant race is a rare treat, so the optimist in me is looking forward to the rest of the month (the realist and the pessimist not so much)

    let’s party like it’s 1995!

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      From your mouth to god’s ears, dude. Let’s hope you’re right.

      • Well, I’d still like a better end than the one they had in ’95. As an 11 year old at the time, I thought my life was over as game 5 ended.

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          It was the only time I ever thought I knew what being stabbed repeatedly felt like.

          • Haha. Absolutely brutal. Although ’01 was bad and ’04 cannot possibly be matched.

            • Robinson Tilapia says:

              2001 was just frustrating as hell. I still haven’t forgiven Randy Johnson for that, and Curt Schilling wound up giving me about a million more reasons to hate him after that.

              I still can’t really fully talk about 2004.

              1995 was like someone giving you a small slice of the best cake you ever had, then killing the chef before you could ask for more.

              While there’s plenty of time for this season to get much better, or worse, this right now feels like scheduling a hot date three months in advance and, by the time the date would have come around, she had married someone else.

              • “1995 was like someone giving you a small slice of the best cake you ever had, then killing the chef before you could ask for more.

                While there’s plenty of time for this season to get much better, or worse, this right now feels like scheduling a hot date three months in advance and, by the time the date would have come around, she had married someone else.”

                Very good analogys. Let’s just hope we can convince that chick to stick with us before one of those zeros can wife her up.

                • dkidd says:

                  invoking 1995 reminds us that being in the playoff hunt was once a dream for a lot of Yankee fans who had the misfortune to start following the team in the mid 80′s

                  look on the bright side, we could be the

                  astros
                  royals
                  cubs
                  1990 Yankees

                  • Robinson Tilapia says:

                    Looking forward to a Chuck Cary start as the team’s best chance for a W wasn’t fun for you?

                    • Fly Rodder says:

                      My best friend and I always rooted for “spock” cary.

                      In 1990, Alvaro Espinoza finished the season with a .532 OPS. And 472 plate appearances.

                      Thank god, I didn’t have the internet then.

              • rek4gehrig says:

                “While there’s plenty of time for this season to get much better, or worse, this right now feels like scheduling a hot date three months in advance and, by the time the date would have come around, she had married someone else.”

                Awesome. Simply awesome :-)

            • Mike Axisa says:

              Really? 2001 was worse for me personally, I was convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt they were going to win as soon as Soriano homered and Mo destroyed the D’Backs in the eighth (7-8-9 were due up in the ninth). 2004 was a slow, painful death. 2001 was like having your heart ripped out in an instant.

              • Fly Rodder says:

                2001 definitely sucked, especially because Mo was having a bad night, but with the everything on the line he still induced Gonzalez to make weak contact. The ball just happened to fall where no one was. It could have easily been a double play ball.

                Still, at that point, I had already seen four world championships and the 1998 Yankees. I wasn’t crushed like I was in 1995.

          • TomH says:

            A youthful set of replies!

            Fellas, can you imagine what 1960′s world series felt like?

            Or to see the Yanks lose in 1957 to haughty Milwaukee? (My God, the Boston Braves of all people.)

            Or to see them lose a doubleheader to Cleveland (Sept. 11, 1954) and lose their first pennant since 1948? (Mickey struck out 6 times that long afternoon.)

            Or to see the classic 4-game sweep of the Bronx Bombers turned against them by the Dodgers in 1964 or by the Reds in 1976.

            And, yet, 2004 was worse than all the above

  8. Cris Pengiucci says:

    If they can take the next 2 against the Rays and then build a bit of a cushion as they play the O’s and Rays again (say, getting back up to a 3 or more game lead), then I’ll feel comfortable. Right now, this is just scary. I have no confidence that ARod, Tex and Pettitte will add much to the team (Nova as well to a lesser extent), but their presence alone should help somewhat. Hope I’m wrong on the returning players. The team obviously needs them to all perform well.

  9. Squints says:

    Robinson Cano didnt tweak anything. Hip injury, for those of us who watch the Yankees every game and have a good idea of what bullshit sounds like know that hip injury line is a cop out for not hustling to keep the ball in the infield. As far as the not running out of the box Cano would never run out of the box on routine groundballs if his paycheck didnt warrant it. It sucks when the most talented player on the team is also the one who gives least a shit about winning and hustle.

    • Kosmo says:

      In one game a few days ago Cano made 3 outstanding defensive plays, maybe 2 no other 2B could make. His D this season has been GG caliber but he takes heat for not diving for a ball, yes sometimes Cano looks a bit lackadasical, maybe Girardi or his teammates have spoken to him about it.
      The thing I like about Cano is he plays everyday. It would be great if he hit better in RISP situations .

      • Need Pitching & Hitting says:

        I think the biggest beef with Cano is the perception that while already very good, he could/should be even better. If only he hustled out of the box. If only he was more willing to dive to make a play. If only he had any plate discipline. It seems like he oozes ability, yet doesn’t make the most of that ability, and that can be very frustrating to watch.

    • I am the one who knocks says:

      Maybe I saw things differently, but I would not call the Cano play a failure due to lack of hustle.

      I think, in his head, he had the play without a problem and was ready for the 360 turn and throw to get him at first. He misjudged the last hop and it got by.

      It may have been more prudent to dive and knock down the ball so the run wouldn’t score, but after all the great plays he makes I won’t second guess his decision to try to field it cleanly and get the out at first.

  10. mt says:

    Biggest problem is the math of the schedule and the timing. After these next 12 games, we no longer play Os or Rays again in regular season. Therefore we need to turn it around right now, not when Tex gets back or Arod gets his swing back or, God forbid, when Nova and Pettite pitch again. After these next 12 games (also including 3 with Red Sox in Boston which Sux will treat as their World Series to hurt Yanks), we could be as many as three or four games back with 16 games left to play. Even if we then play better against Twins, Blue Jays, As and Red Sox (last series), we would have lost ability to control our destiny and would be looking for Os and Rays to then fall back.

    Both of these teams have no pressure given how far they were back in division. As far as I am concerned, O’s have already have done the hardest part (i.e, be 8-10 games over .500 up over first 100 games up until a month ago – that was when their run differential was really bad.) They have taken off since then with a record around .650 or .700 with a big positive run differential in the last month. Rays also have done the hardest part staying at around .500 during the 85 games or so that Longoria missed, with a great first 20 games of season before he got hurt and a good record after he returned from injury.

    Add in fact that hyper-touchy Girardi (and to some extent, the players) will lose their cliches – “all we need to do is play well and not look at standings” – if they fall behind by 3 or 4 games. What will they say then?

    • mt says:

      If we continue to go 4-8 (recently have been 4-9 in our last 13 so 4-8 is about how we have been playing recently) and O’s go 8-4 and Rays go 7-4 (not that dificult since they play struggling Yanks a lot here) then we would sit 3 games behind Os and slightly behind Rays after 12 games.

      A’s soaring again does not help us, not to mention if we go 4-8 we then fall back to Tiger/White Sox or maybe even Angel level.

      Yanks need to beat Os and Rays now when we play them starting today.

  11. Lou says:

    It was time to panic last year

  12. Cuso says:

    Panic?

    I don’t panic. I get pissed though.

    More than anything, I’m bothered by the fact that when I watch Yankee games this year….it’s not fun – at all.

    There’s this sense of we’re “waiting to get whole” or “waiting to click on all cylinders” or “waiting for the stud minor-leaguer to burst through.”

    Is anyone really enjoying the games that much this year? I mean, at least last year Granderson and Cano were chasing MVP honors and D-Rob was having a crazy exciting year. And Nova was giving us hope that we have a future #2 in the making…

    This year, it feels like there’s not a damn thing to be excited about as a side distraction to the actual standings….Jeter is batting .315 woo-hoo! :/

    • IPK for Tim Reddings (formerly Brian S.) says:

      Yeah I straight up don’t like half a dozen players on this team. I wish we were younger and stole more bases and played better defense.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      Did you feel the same way during the big winning streak? Honest question.

      I think the straight up mediocrity of the play since the ASB has made the warts look uglier.

      • Cuso says:

        During the big winning streak, I honestly felt ….optimistic.

        But it was definitely not lost on me that we were playing the National League.

        It felt eerily similar to that 19-game errorless streak back in 2008. It felt good to build a lead, but a lot like smoke-and-mirrors. And at that point, it was early enough in the year not to know who was going to get hot and be the underlying great story.

        We never got one. Kuroda and Jeter….those aren’t subplots that are super-motivating.

  13. rek4gehrig says:

    I chose to relax

  14. JohnC says:

    If they don’t start doing a better job of hitting in the clutch (RISP) it won’t matter what help is on the way. Been a season long problem for this team and don’t see any signs of it getting better

    • IPK for Tim Reddings (formerly Brian S.) says:

      They have been doing a much better job at hitting with RISP. In fact, the Yankees are about league average in BA with RISP. The problem is that they have stopped hitting as many home runs.

      • Need Pitching & Hitting says:

        They had been doing a better job with RISP, but lately have reverted to their May/June ineptitude (though in large part because the quality of the offense as a whole has nosedived, it hasn’t been limited to RISP). Over the past 15 games they are 20/108 wRISP (.185) Over the prior 49 games they had hit .318 wRISP.
        But, yeah, getting back to #toomanyhomeruns would help as well.

  15. Bartolo's Colon says:

    im just hoping to god the o’s lose tonight. i don’t like the garcia/cobb matchup combined with cowbells

  16. Frank Messer says:

    All we need is for Phil Rizzuto to start reading more birthday greetings on TV…oh wait….

  17. jim says:

    I panic when; 1. It looks like ANDRUW JONES will have something to do with the game(He now runs to first with Cano like speed). 2. When Stewart is catching. I keep thinking….Surely, there must be a softball game somewhere. 3. A yankee gets to first. No hit and run, bunt, or steal. 4. When a Yankee gets in scoring position. With one on third I pray for a passed ball. 5. Eppley and Rapada warming up three times to face their one batter. 6. Ichiron….having not watched the Mariners, I can’t believe his talent has faded that much….I mean he can’t even bunt? 7. Garcia on the mound. 8. Ibanez in left or right…*see ANDRUW JONES. 9. Wizard Girardi making a move, setting down the blue book, wondering if he should send our useless pitching coach to the mound to buy some time? 10. Cashman keeping a prospect, trading a prospect, finding a pitcher(C’mon…who’s better Lowe or Irigashi….the Mets and Indians know…Let’s get Beddard!). My feeling is that by the end of the Oriole series, they will be out of playoff contention…we just have to play better baseball.

    • Bartolo's Colon says:

      this is funny, but i do agree on many of them. the fact that every player has hit the dl, but ibanez floors me. just when you think he won’t be in the outfield, some injury happens and he’s penciled in. it makes me want to puke. there is no reason this guy should set foot on the outfield grass, bring up anyone, really anyone. do not let him play the outfield. thanks for the first half, now go home.

    • LarryM.,Fl. says:

      Jim: some of what you said was funny but true especially points 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,10.

  18. Jamey says:

    Steve Pearce was picked off the scrap heap last week & batted cleanup hours later, this will not be a monumental collapse should it happen. It would be a really frustrating year.

  19. Rev Max says:

    Wow 4 September and 3 posts foreboding collapse along with a free falling Tom petty reference, I mean come on, True fans have confidence. Big guns down, last big rut of the year winding down, a perfect storm of good play healthy stars and experience about ready to kick in for the playoffs.

    • River Ave Bipolar Disorder says:

      The same ones bemoaning a 10-game lead around the All-Star break, like that’s the time to watch the standings. Truly Red-Sox-fan-worthy.

      The thing is, if you’re a professional and/or grownup, it’s *never* time to panic. Just breathe, and execute your plan.

  20. TrollHunter says:

    I’m concerned that “help is on the way” includes Ivan Nova who has been worthless all year. Have we forgotten before he got hurt he probably was going to be sent down. Also AROD comeing back is great but he wasnt exactly living up to the numbers on the back of his baseball card when he got hurt. RISP AROD always was popping up.

  21. steve s says:

    I think panic, in a baseball sense, is best evidenced by Gene Mauch going to a 3 man rotation for the Phillies in 1964. Not to be confused with being forced to play with 2nd and 3rd stringers over a critical period of time (that results simply in just bad baseball). If the Yanks can get the A team in at least 80 % of the remaining games they will prevail, otherwise it will be a long off-season (but probably a great hot-stove season!).

  22. David says:

    The Curse of Dewayne Wise? His bunt got the team started on its winning streak, and his DFA got them started on this.

  23. dalelama says:

    Heartless, gutless, and spineless…..R.I.P.

  24. RetroRob says:

    It’s never time to panic.

    One game lead with a month of the season left. The Yankees have been mediocre since the All-Star break, and now they’re compounding that very poor play of late.

    It’ll change. And if it doesn’t? Then they’re not going to win.

  25. Kosmo says:

    17-11 the rest of the way nets NY 93 wins, quite possibly enough to win the AL east. I´ll take 16-12 and keep my fingers crossed.

  26. Nathan says:

    Call me a pessimist but I’m worried and somewhat panicking.

    “Look at the schedule”? You know, because the Yankees have been so good at beating teams that they are supposed to beat.

  27. tbord says:

    Losing is as contagious as Syphilis – Just ask Bobby V.

  28. gehrig27 says:

    The main problem? The present group doesn´t even qualify as a team. They are mostly a bunch of aging millionaires who forgot how to play as a team, believing that the game is based on homers here and there…

    Thanks, Brian Cashman….

  29. Chief Wahoo says:

    Ssshhhhhhh…

    Derek Lowe was terrible before you acquired him.

    Sincerely,
    Chief Wahoo

  30. CT says:

    If anyone’s not panicking yet, they don’t have a pulse

  31. CT says:

    If anyone’s not panicking yet, they don’t have a pulse..

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