One day after scoring seven runs in a shutout victory against the Baltimore Orioles, the New York Yankees offense returned to their lowly form in a 1-0, tenth inning loss to their division rivals. The Yankees managed only four hits against Orioles starter Kevin Gausman and two relievers, and failed to get a hit with runners in scoring position (0-for-4) in the scarce chances they had. The loss wastes a wonderfully pitched eight innings of shutout baseball that Masahiro Tanaka threw.
This is nothing new for the team that finds themselves at the foot of the American League East division, and third from the bottom in the entire MLB. The Yankees have scored the second fewest runs in the league, own the fourth lowest team batting average and the second lowest slugging percentage. Their offensive woes are exacerbated by a starting rotation that, outside of Tanaka (and occasionally CC Sabathia) have struggled. Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino, have combined for an ERA of 6.14.
The only positive attribute that the Yankees currently possess is the back end of their bullpen, where Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have been strong. That bullpen will only grow stronger when Aroldis Chapman’s 30 game suspension comes to an end early next week. But Chapman is not the answer, nor is there currently an answer for the Yankees offensive woes. This is a matter that is going to have to resolve itself internally.
It might. Mark Teixeira is a notorious slow starter. The Yankees first baseman is batting .247 this season, which is slightly above his career average for March/April, .235. Continuing a trend as a slow starter would not be very worrisome were Teixeira in the prime of his career. However, at 36 years old and coming off a season-ending injury (and Teixeira has been injury prone for the past five seasons), the slow start raises more eyebrows than usual.
Aaron Hicks, who the Yankees brought in to hit left-handed pitchers, has had his own bout with injuries, and has only one hit in 19 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. By contrast, Hicks’ slash numbers against southpaws last year were .307/.375/.495. Alex Rodriguez, who despite hitting .195 had hit a team-high 5 home runs, was placed on the 15-day DL earlier this week. Carlos Beltran’s .250 average may look not bad on the surface, but he is 1-for-23 with runners in scoring position. As a team, with a runner on third and less than two outs, the Yankees have scored only 19 runs, second fewest in baseball.
Starlin Castro, Brian McCann have been the two most consistent hitters in the lineup, and even Jacoby Ellsbury has managed decent numbers (though probably not what his contract warrants). The problem is the lack of consistency throughout the lineup, the ability to create rallies and runs. Chase Headley, in the words of his own general manager (Brian Cashman), is “not impacting the baseball whatsoever.”
And there is no simple way to fix that, especially in today’s game where hitting is hard to come by across the entire league.
Changes are starting to come. Before Thursdays game, the Yankees called up outfielder Ben Gamel, who hit .300 in a 500 at bats in AAA last season and continued that performance with a .286 start in 2016. If he can’t resolve the issue, then Nick Swisher, whom the Yankees signed to a minor league deal shortly after the season opened, is hitting .299 with 3 home runs for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Prized prospect Aaron Judge has also gotten off to a solid start to the season, but perhaps has still not developed enough to hit major league pitching.
While there might be options in the outfield, the only option over Chase Headley at third base is Ronald Torreyes, who is 9-for-26 (.346) in a spot-start role. Even the most ardent of optimists can’t expect Torreyes to come close to replicating those offensive numbers as an everyday starter, and his scouting report suggest that his defense on the left side of the infield should be saved for “an emergency “. Rob Refsnyder, a utility infielder who saw some success in the majors last season, has hit only .265 in AAA this season, and he too carries defensive question marks. If the Yankees are really desperate, they could turn to 28 year-old Donovan Solano, who is hitting .298 for SWB (but again, 2 errors in only 28 chances at third base).
There may be no way for the Yankees to save themselves from a dismal season unless they turn it around themselves. If Brian Cashman refusing to sacrifice young talent to improve his team in the middle of a pennant race at the 2015 trading deadline is any indication of where he wants to take the team, then perhaps 2016 is the year that the Yankees burn it all down in hopes of the Phoenix rising from its ashes. With so many large contracts for old players set to come off the books in the next few season and with big name free agents like Bryce Harper looming in the near future, this might be the time for the Yankees, as an organization, to just let their players play the games and let whatever happens, happen. It might not be the option that the fans or even ownership wants, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the wrong one.