First of all, I want to wish all of you baseball loving moms out there a Happy Mother’s Day.
UGLY! There is no other way to describe the New York Yankees. This team is ugly. It wins ugly and it loses ugly. Today’s finale in Baltimore was no different. It was ugly. Yeah, they won 5-3 on Johnny Damon’s 3-run home run in the top of the 7th inning, but getting there is an E-ticket ride Yankee fans are getting tired of watching.
Coming out of spring training, the Yankees were pegged by most baseball experts as one of the three best teams in all of baseball this season. Unfortunately for the Yankees the other two teams mentioned play in their division. Along with the Bombers, the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays have also been talked about as being at the top of the class. It was predicted that between the three teams one would be AL East champion, one would be the wild card representative and the last could possibly win 90+ games and still go home.
So far New York looks like the odd team out. In fact, they don’t nearly resemble any team projected to win over 90 games this season. Besides the Red Sox and Rays you can add the Toronto Blue Jays who are playing tremendous baseball so far.
After 31 games (including today’s win in Baltimore) the Yankees record stands at 15-16. Projected out over an entire 162 game campaign the Yankees would finish 78-84. That is hardly the kind of record that would catapult a team into the playoffs.
The fall guy in all of this drama is Yankee manager Joe Girardi who, last year, took over the reins of the team from the departed Joe Torre. The baseball gods smiled cruelly on Girardi and the Yankees. After Torre headed for the sunny weather in Los Angeles as manager of the Dodgers the Yankees under Girardi’s guidance failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Torre’s teams made the post season 12 straight years, making 6 World Series appearances and winning four of them. That’s the kind of record which leads to a direct membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
To make matters worse Torre took the 2008 Angelinos to the playoffs, beating the heavily favored Chicago Cubs in the first round before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS 4-1. No Dodger team had gone that far since Tommy Lasorda’s crew surprised the baseball world by upsetting the Oakland Athletics in the 1988 Fall Classic in five games.
While the Yankees flounder around on the east coast the Dodgers and Torre are currently enjoying life and the best record (22-10) in baseball on the west coast. Those facts must have the Yankees brain trust standing on its ear.
You can just hear all the arguments right now. Yeah, the Dodgers were nothing until they got Manny Ramirez from the Red Sox. Or, the Dodgers play in the weakest division in baseball. While some of or all of that may be true it doesn’t change the actuality of the situation. Torre and the Dodgers are winning (now without Ramirez who was suspended 50 games for a positive drug test) while Girardi and the Yankees are barely treading water.
In five head-to-head meetings this year the Red Sox are perfect against New York. As their greatest rival, that record grates on the nerve endings of anyone even remotely associated with the Yankees. Against all East Division rivals the Yankees are 5-11. With a new $1.5 billion stadium to show off and after spending $425 million in the off season upgrading the roster this start is hardly what the Steinbrenners and general manager Brian Cashman had envisioned.
Girardi’s trip to the hot seat is hardly all his fault. The offense has been sketchy at best. Owning a team average of .273 the Yankees rank sixth in the American League, trailing Toronto, Boston and Tampa Bay. The Yankees trail the same three teams in RBI, but trail only the Texas Rangers (50) in home runs (45).
While the hitting has been mixed the pitching has been absolutely horrendous. New York presently ranks at the bottom of the American League with a team ERA of 5.88. That average is nearly two and a half runs under front runner Kansas City who owns a team ERA of 2.39. In the AL East the Yankees trail the Baltimore Orioles, the next lowest team by a little under half a run (5.39) per game.
The starting rotation, including three disastrous starts by Chien-Ming Wang, has a combined ERA of 5.73. Without Wang it’s 5.22. The relief corps has been very unreliable. In 96 innings pitched the bullpen has surrendered 68 runs for an ERA of 6.38.
Even Mariano Rivera, arguably the greatest closer in history, has had his problems. Rivera has already surrendered four home runs this season, nearly equaling his career high (5) set in 1997. On May 7 against the Rays Rivera gave up consecutive home runs, which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, hadn’t been done in 862 appearances by Rivera. His 3.97 ERA is 1.67 points higher than his career average.
In fairness to Rivera he is coming off shoulder surgery and he has said his velocity isn’t where it should be. Admittedly, Rivera said he has enough tools to get guys out. But, keep in mind Rivera is approaching 40 and as a closer he has been at the top of the ladder much longer than most of his contemporaries. It could just be Rivera has begun the inevitable downward spiral that ultimately catches up with every player.
Another thing which is out of Girardi’s control is injuries. The Yankees have had an inordinate amount of them since Opening Day. So far this season Girardi has had to juggle his starting rotation, bullpen and lineup card a number of times. The Yankees have lost RHRP Brian Bruney (15-day, right flex muscle mass), LHRP Damaso Marte (15-day, left shoulder tendinitis), C Jose Molina (15-day, strained right quad), RF Xavier Nady (15-day, right strained elbow), C Jorge Posada (15-day, strained hamstring), 3B Cody Ransom (60-day, right quad tear) and RHP Chien-Ming Wang (15-day, weak hip adductor muscle) to the Disabled List.
Up until this past Friday you could have included 3B Alex Rodriguez who has been out since the beginning of the season due to having surgery performed on his right hip. A-Rod came back with a flurry as he hit a 3-run bomb off the first pitch he saw from Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie. Still, as A-Rod returned both Posada and Molina went on the DL.
Girardi hasn’t had a full complement of players since he took over the team last year. Regrettably, he knows that the blame for failure has to fall somewhere, and it usually falls squarely on the shoulders of the manager. Cashman’s should be on the chopping block as well. As the general manager he is the guy, along with the manager, who recommends where the money spent on high priced players goes. Looking at the Yankees successes so far this year the team has overspent for its newly acquired talent.
This team still has time to right the ship. Going on the road and facing opponents in other divisions may be the tonic the Yankees need to turn their season around. However, their success or failure begins with each individual player. Unless each player is willing to come out every game and leave it on the field the 2009 drive will result in another year of failure. Some guys have stepped up, while others have stepped back. The Yankees still have to come back and face the other teams in their division and if they can’t get by them, then it doesn’t matter what they do against the other foes in the Central and West.
Where is the Gipper when you need him?