I fell into the trap, too. The return to a 162-game season lent a feeling of the Yankees being inevitable in the AL East. After all, the Red Sox simply declined to compete again (though no one seems to have told their players yet), the Blue Jays fel about a year away, and the Orioles smell like a smelting plant without any of the production. While the Rays won the division last year, it’s hard for any prognosticator to look at the two budgets of the Yankees and Rays, as well as sheer star power, and convince themselves that, over six months, the Rays could outlast New York, especially after losing Blake Snell and Charlie Morton.
And that may still be the case, which means even more we should treasure the times when the Yankees suck eggs, as they currently do. The Rays put the finishing touches on a three-game sweep in the Bronx today, leaving the Pinstripes at just 5-10 on the season and holding the wooden spoon of the AL East. Let me tell ya folks, it can be life-affirming to type, “last place Yankees.” Go on, try it. See? Feel pandemic gloom lift ever so slightly? You must seek out whatever sliver of light you can.
So what the fuck are the Yanks doing in the basement? Well, like any modern-day employee should, they’ve diversified their portfolio. It would have seemed automatic just three weeks ago that at the very least, the Yankees would hit and score a ton. Given the lineup’s history and the gravity waivers Yankee Stadium seems to have, penciling them in for five to six runs per game was a no-brainer.
Nope. The Yanks have been a collective Gallic shrug with the bats so far, ranking 24th in runs (they’ve only scored seven more runs than the whiskey-flaccid Cubs) and 23rd in team on-base percentage.
Who’s the culprit? Well there’s a few, but given how New York observers tend to weigh these things, most accusing glares will be pointed at Giancarlo Stanton (and more to the point, his salary), whose every at-bat ends with a “splat.” Coming into today, Stanton was hitting .167 and slugging .313 for a wRC+ mark of a shiny 47 (100 is average). He’s striking out in nearly a third of his ABs, and whiffing on nearly half of the breaking balls he sees. More worryingly, Stanton has swung and missed at 30% of fastballs in the zone. He’s getting beat on exactly, and where exactly, he’s supposed to be causing mayhem. Anything above his knees he’s having problems with. Compare that one with his last full season of 2019 to see the scope of the issue. When he does make contact, Stanton seems intent on worm-murder, with a ground-ball percentage over 60 percent and a line-drive percentage of just 3 percent(!).
Stanton isn’t alone. Gleyber Torres is slugging .255. Gio Urshela has a wRC+ of 84. Someone replaced Aaron Hicks’s bat with celery (54 wRC+). Clint Frazier talks a big game, but has walked right into an open sewer. Jay Bruce was so bad he retired rather than keeping on.
The Yanks will get some help when Luke Volt returns, allowing D.J. LeMahieu to return to second, which has been a vortex of gunk all season. But Luke Volt is Luke Volt, he’s not Achilles. Is now a bad time to mention that Aaron Judge, who is hitting, hasn’t played more than 112 games in a season in five years?
If it were just the bats, Yankees fans could rest easier figuring when things warm up Stanton can at least run into a few more mistakes, and Torres might figure it out. But it’s not. The rotation is Gerrit Cole and the Pips. Cole has been magnificent as usual, but the rest have been pop rocks and soda. All of them have a FIP over 5.00, with Jameson Taillon, whatever collection of parts that’s still claiming to be Cory Kluber, and Domingo German being gasoline in particular (ERAs of 7.56, 6.10, and 9.00 respectively). And that’s before Taillon’s yearly arm explosion.
And there’s less hope of salvation here. It feels like the Yankees have been waiting on Luis Severino to save them since 1994. How much he can provide coming back from Tommy John is limited, and he’s only one pitcher. They have problems in three other rotation spots.
Another problem for the Yankees is that Cole, German, and Taillon are fly-ball pitchers, and they might have the worst defensive outfield in the league. Frazier and Judge in the corners have been cinder blocks in the field, and Aaron Hicks is an acceptable center fielder at best and will need a souped-up Razor to make up for what his compatriots out there can’t get to.
The bullpen has been excellent, as it’s been for years, and hasn’t had Zack Britton either. But it’s second in innings pitched, and can’t be expected to get 12-15 outs or more every time someone not named “Cole” starts.
The bats will probably improve. After all, they won’t play the Rays and their legion of fireballers 6 out of every 15 games as they have so far. But can they improve enough to overcome the other problems? How many pitchers can they trade for? And if Judge misses his usual chunk of time, and Torres isn’t much more than this, that’s a lot of spots that are a gurgling sound.
Feels like $206 million used to go farther than this.