Before the players even reported for spring training, we all knew that 2013 would prove a challenging season for the Yankees. A rash of injuries and setbacks in April only worsened the situation. Yet the team, largely on the back of the pitching staff, persevered through those challenges. After defeating the Rays on May 25, they owned the second-best record in the AL and sat atop the AL East at 30-18.
From there it has been all downhill.
Since then the Yankees are 27-38 with a -49 run differential. In the AL that’s only better than the White Sox and the Astros. Even the Blue Jays, still in the AL East cellar, have played over .500 ball since that date.
The easy narrative is that the pitching staff, which propped up the Yanks through those first 48 games (they allowed the second fewest runs in the AL, 3 behind Texas), fell apart in June, July, and now August. To a degree that’s true. In the first 48 games they allowed 3.73 runs per game, as opposed to 4.13 in the 65 games since. That amounts to 26 runs in those 65 games, which would have led to at least a few more wins.
Yet it is the offensive drop-off that has killed the 2013 Yankees. In those first 48 games they scored 4.33 runs per game, far from the best in the league but at least adequate given the stellar pitching. In the last 65 games they have scored nearly one fewer run per game. That amounts to fewer than every other team in the AL — by 19 runs — and is topped (bottomed?) only by the Giants with 210 runs since then. In other words, the offense was below average, but adequate, to start the season. It has evolved into a unit that the 1991 team might recognize.
These are the facts of the situation. After performing well to start the season — performing well without Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Kevin Youkilis, among others — the team has completely fallen off a cliff. At this point there is little, if any, hope that they turn it around. Last month they needed at least two bats, plus the healthy return of their own players, to have a chance. What they got was another player in his late 30s who is under contract for next year. And that’s it.
(As an aside, the Soriano trade does irk me a bit. If he were one of two or three moves made before the deadline, when improvements might have made a significant difference, that’s one thing. But to acquire him and only him makes the trade feel like a complete waste. Corey Black might be no shining star, but you wouldn’t up and release him, would you? Yet they ended up giving him away for a player who won’t help the team win in 2013, and stands little chance of helping in 2014. I really wish the Yanks had waited until the 31st to move on Soriano, and would have declined to do so after seeing that there were no other moves to make. Then again, apparently this was an ownership move. Hooray!)
We’re right to hope for miracles, but we’re also right to step back and see the team for what it has become. In order to make up the seven — seven! — games that sit between Yanks and the Rangers/A’s, they’ll need literally everything to come together immediately. That includes Robinson Cano getting hot, A-Rod and Granderson hitting their strides, Derek Jeter to successfully return, David Adams to prove a competent platoon partner with Lyle Overbay (or they could acquire Mark Reynolds for the same effect), Vernon Wells to keep hitting like he has since July 1, and significant performance improvements from Ichiro and Soriano. It might even involve Travis Hafner coming back and hitting like he did in April.
At the same time, it would involve CC Sabathia righting the ship, Andy Pettitte showing that he’s not completely washed up, Ivan Nova continuing his impressive run since being recalled, and David Phelps successfully returning from his two forearm strains*. I’ll take a moment while you step back and ponder all that.
*I could say it also involves Phil Hughes pitching consistently well, but the man is in the bottom 10 percent of qualified AL starters in terms of ERA for the last three years. Even if you add in 2010, he’s still in the bottom 10 percent. I’m willing to root for miracles, but I have to remain somewhat realistic.
Some of that might end up as the best case scenario. But that’s not enough for the 2013 Yankees. They need at least 80 percent of those events to reach their best cases, and even 80 percent might not be enough. How many times in the past have we seen this many things go well, all in sync, for a team that has played so poorly? Even in 2011, the Rays had played far better baseball at this point than the Yankees have, and needed plenty of help to get back in.
I want to hope. I really do. The April-May Yankees were downright fun to watch. It wasn’t always pretty, but they came back late in games, showed some guile, and got some phenomenal starting pitching efforts (even a few from Mr. Hughes). Since then, though, they’ve done little but let us down. I don’t want to give up on the season, but considering the hefty obstacles that face this team if it wants to crawl back into the race, it’s perhaps better for my mental health if I do.