Sunday's late rally overshadow a growing cause for concern
Don’t let Sunday’s gritty come-from-behind win fool you. This Yankees team is still highly flawed and until they can prove otherwise, should not be counted on to win more games like they did on Sunday.
Let me explain. The Yankees pitching has been stellar this season, particularly out of the bullpen. Domingo German had a rough go of it in two starts and has been optioned to the alternate site. Jordan Montgomery had a shaky outing in his second start on Sunday. Nick Nelson got tagged a bit on Friday in an earlier-than-expected relief appearance. But generally, that’s it. The rest of the New York pitching staff has been sublime through nine games, yet the Yankees sit at just 4-5. So, what gives? I’ll tell you what gives: it’s the anemic nature of a supposedly daunting offense. Particularly in the games' most important moments.
Yes, the Yankees ripped off four runs in Sunday’s tenth inning of their extra-innings win against the Rays, but don’t let that cloud your judgement of who they still are right now. As a team on Sunday, the Yankees went just 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position, and three of those hits came during the four-run tenth inning which began with a runner on second base. If not for the three straight singles the Yankees strung together from Rougned Odor, Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela, this might have gone down as one of the most incompetent RISP-showings in Yankees team history. Let’s back it up.
Top of the third inning, the Yankees come out hot. Sanchez walk, Urshela two-run HR, Gardner single, LeMahieu ground-rule double, Judge walk. So the Yankees started the inning down-two, had already tied the game on Gio’s blast and immediately re-loaded the bases with a chance to put a massive inning on the board. So what happens next? Hicks grounds into a double play, scoring one, but putting two outs on the board. ON THE FIRST PITCH. Stanton then grounds out and in an eyeblink, the inning is over and the Yankees only scored one in a bases-loaded, no out situation. Barf.
Next, we go to the top of the seventh inning, where the Yankees – down a run at this point – load the bases again for just about the best hitter you could ask for in this spot in LeMahieu. DJ takes ball one and then puts one of the worst swings on a baseball I can recall, hitting into another DP and ending the threat scoreless.
The Yankees were actually able to get a hit with RISP in the top of the eighth – their lone hit of the afternoon before extra innings – when Gleyber Torres rifled a single to left to tie the game at four. So, things were looking up. Enter the top of the ninth inning. This is where things looked the ugliest.
Gio leads off the frame with a double and Gardner walks. First and second, nobody out, ninth inning, go-ahead run in scoring position, Chapman warming. Looking good! But oh no, it gets bad fast. DJ grounds into a fielder’s choice that takes out the lead runner. A gift error by Rays rookie Kevin Padlo, however, allows Gardner to take third. Okay, not awful. Basically, a bunt. Let’s get him in. But Brett Gardner proceeds to get picked off third and Judge grounds out and before you can process anything, the threat is over and we don’t score. If not for Tampa’s own ineptitude on Sunday in these same spots (0-for-7 with RISP), this is a sweep and we’re feeling like utter trash today.
|Photo Credit: Chris O'Meara/AP Photo|
Instances like this are becoming all too common for the 2021 Yankees in the early going. Yes, it’s only nine games. Yes, there’s plenty of time to flip the script. But I’m not loving what I’m seeing from them in these games. How they’re seeing the ball. The swings they’re taking. Their approach at the plate when they’re coming up in a big spot. It’s U-G-L-Y and it has already caused me way too much heartburn.
For the three-game series in Tampa, the Yankees went a combined 5-for-20 with RISP. And it’s not even those spots. It’s the fact that before Sunday, the Yankees weren’t even getting men into scoring position (just five total instances over the first two games combined). On Saturday they were shut out. On Friday they had one big inning against Rich Hill but then were held scoreless the other eight. And then of course the debacle on Wednesday night at home against the Orioles.
All in all, the Yankees rank 16th in runs scored, 12th in batting average, and 18th in slugging percentage through the second weekend of the season. Not awful, right? But let’s look at Late and Close situations – plate appearances in the seventh inning or later in which the game is tied, a team is up by one run, or they are behind and have the tying run in the on-deck circle. In these situations, the Yankees rank tenth in batting average, however they’re 15th in runs and 22nd in slugging. Two of the five runs the Yankees have scored in Late and Close situations this season came in the tenth inning of yesterday’s ballgame (when the game was tied at four, and then when they were up 5-4).
|Photo Credit: AP Photo|
There are no shortages of offenders here, either. Aaron Hicks has looked horrendous in the number three spot in the lineup. His slash line of .129/.250/.476 is among the worst of all regular starters across baseball. Clint Frazier was looking so bad over the last week that he was benched in favor of Gardner in both Saturday’s and Sunday’s games. Before his game-tying hit on Sunday, Torres was stringing together some awful at-bats as well. Jay Bruce already looks washed and Yankees fans are counting down the days until Luke Voit’s return.
In Late and Close situations, Bruce/Judge/Hicks/Stanton are all hitting .000. Yes. Zero. The Yankees’ two-three-four hitters don’t have a single hit in a big spot late in a game this season. That’s almost impossible, yet here we are. The Yankees’ best hitter in Late and Close spots through nine games? Just about the last player you’d expect – it’s Gary Sanchez, who is slashing .750/.833/.750 in these spots. Next best is Gio Urshela who is at .600/.600/1.000. I get these are all small sample sizes, but they're not worth disregarding, either.
|Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports|
So, was the tenth inning of yesterday's game encouraging? Absolutely. Does every win count the same? Of course it does. Is it something they can built upon in the week ahead? I sure as hell hope so. But I’m not ready to forget the struggles this offense has had just yet. Another week of this and we’re looking at a serious, serious problem. Let’s just hope that’s a bridge we don’t have to cross.
Article by: Andrew Natalizio