Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Bullpen Underbelly, Absent Offense Hand Yankees Another Loss

Last night’s game was all about ifs and maybes.

If the Yankees offense had managed to score even one run across the first seven innings of the game, then maybe it’s Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller starting the 8th inning instead of CC Sabathia.

If the offense could have put up better ABs against Cole Hamels and worn him down instead of making him throw just 86 pitches, then maybe they could have gotten to the Rangers shaky bullpen and gotten something going.

If the Yankees had anything resembling decent middle relief pitching, then maybe Sabathia, despite his low pitch count at the time, doesn’t even start the 8th inning.

If Sabathia could have managed just one more solid inning, then maybe the mini rally in the bottom of the 8th inning actually would have meant something instead of just being too little too late.

Some of the loss was more of the same missed opportunities with the Yankees (0-for-4 with RISP), some of it was bad baseball (Gregorius doubled off at 2nd base on a liner), and some of it was bad team construction (Yankees middle relief pitchers). Here’s the good news: All three of those situations can change. The Yankees can stop the bad ABs (we’ve seen them do it) and they can stop the boneheaded play on the base paths (I love Didi’s defense and enthusiasm but where was he going on that play?) and they can get some better arms for the pen.

The bad news: While they can do all of those things, the question is the same as it has been since Week 1 of the season. Will they do it? This offense is very streaky and injury prone (See 1B.). We can’t keep thinking they’ll turn it around because they are veteran players. More and more it looks like they won’t turn it around because they are old  players.

The final score last night looked like it was a blowout, but CC Sabathia did his part for 7 strong innings, and I have to believe that if the offense had done anything at all, he would have found a way to get through that 8th inning, or Girardi would have summoned one of his elite trio to do the trick.

I have to believe it because, for most of the season, the two things that have gone right for the Yankees have been CC Sabathia and the back end of that pen throwing 99+ mph gas. So as bad as Sabathia’s past two starts have been (His season ERA has jumped almost a run, which is hard to do the later it gets in the year.), I’m cutting him some slack. His June ERA is still closer to 2 than it is to 3.

So CC’s off the hook and, to be honest, it’s the same with Joe Girardi. Aside from continuing to slot in Aaron Hicks, the Yankees manager is simply playing the hand he’s dealt. He, himself, can’t go up there and hit for his aging sluggers. He can’t suddenly make Hicks look like a good trade, make Carlos Beltran run through a leg cramp or make his middle relief stop being so utterly painful to watch.

Here the Yankees sit, yet again two games under .500 and with two more games against the Rangers on the schedule. Who knows, though. If the Yankees can surprise us all by splitting the series then maybe they can stay close enough to go on a post All Star Break run. Here’s hoping.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Yankees' Pregame Delay: The Sum Of All Bad Decisions

Before an MLB game begins, it is up to the home team to decide if it should be delayed and/or cancelled due to inclement weather. Last night, the Yankees decided to delay their game for nearly half hour, because someone or something told them rain was about to pass through the area.

Of course, it didn't rain, until much later, when the game was half over. We all know what happened after that, even if some of us were too busy sleeping to actually witness it. While the weakest link in the bullpen was the direct "cause of death" last night, the indirect cause was the Yankees' pregame decision to delay the start of the game.

A bad decision. I see it as the sum of all the bad decisions the Yankees have made over the last few years, among them agreeing to bad player contracts and making it too hard for fans to buy tickets on the secondary market. The latter was rectified yesterday when the team and Stub Hub announced a new partnership (although at least one blogger believes the fans are still screwed).

During the press conference yesterday announcing the deal, Yankees president Randy Levine essentially defended the Yankees'  years of bad decision-making when he objected to the media asking if the team would become sellers. According to the New York Daily News, Levine roared, "You (reporters) obviously have nothing more to write about than to write nonsense about that. When we decide to become sellers, if we decide to become sellers, or if we decide to become buyers, you'll know about it. I guess the difference is most of you guys have never run anything. We have a lot of history here of knowing what we're doing, and a lot of confidence in our baseball operations people, so we'll see what happens."

We have a lot of history here? Uh, no, Randy, we had a lot of history here. All we have now are the results of the bad decisions you, Lonn Trost and the rest of your incompetent cronies have made over the past several years. You all need to go.

But, of course, no one is going anywhere, and that is the crux of the problem.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Yankees Showered With Boos As Soft Part Of Schedule Ends

The boos rained hot and heavy on Sunday afternoon as the Yankees fell, yet again, back to .500 on the season, to a disheartening 37-37 record. Just 7 games away from the 81 game mark (halfway through the season) and the Yankees are continuing to do what they’ve done since the start: run in place.

Having never been one for booing at a sports event. I prefer cold indifference demonstrated by determined silence and a disappointed head shake. That may be no better than booing and, let’s be honest, athletes don’t care one way or the other. Surely they hear them but they don’t care. Hearing a stadium shake with boos directed at the home team, however, just doesn’t feel right.

Which is not to say I don’t understand the sentiment. Watching a team like the Minnesota Twins, who have the worst pitching staff in the American League (the 2nd worst in MLB), come in and shut out the Yankees for 5.2 IP and ultimately give up just 2 hits all game, is a painful thing.

The Yankees had a prime opportunity in the middle of June to get fat on weaker teams. To say they squandered it would be a gross understatement. In the 14 games since they swept the Angels, the point in time when everything seemed glorious with the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees went 7-7. They could not have been more average if they tried, and it took them winning 3 of the last 4 to get there.

Now, with the Texas Rangers in town for a four game set to close out the month, things are going to get a lot harder. Yes, the Rangers have suffered injuries but their offense has stayed hot in June. They have the third most hits and are tied for the 3rd most HRs this month, have gone 18-6 and hold a commanding 10.0 game lead in the A.L. West.

These are the types of opponents the Yankees should have been resting up for, should have been getting healthy for, and figuring out the best rotation and lineup for as they tried to build themselves up over .500. Now they stand a real chance of digging themselves into yet another hole. This time there will be no theoretical soft landing spot available for them. Yes, they play the Padres before the All-Star Break, but they also play the class of the A.L. Central.

So, yes, there’s quite a bit of frustration beyond the boos of Yankees fans. The players will say they feel the same way but it’s not the same for a fan. A fan's pain is particular. And, Yankees fans, it might just get more acute before the month is over.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The 2016 Yankees: What's To Like, What's Not To Like?

Hal Steinbrenner recently proclaimed that he expected the Yankees to be "in the thick of it" come the trade deadline on August 1st. The Yankees,  despite a 35-36 record are not exactly buried in either the AL East or Wild Card race at this time. As the season approaches the half way point, players who have slumped so far in the first half, could have breakout second half performances. It has been known to happen that way.  

Or it could all come crashing down like the proverbial house of cards.

But let's try to stay on a positive note, at least for a while. When you think of the 2016 Yankees, what is there to like? The obvious, the  big three of the bullpen come to mind first. Then there is the season Carlos Beltran is having. Didi Gregorius is becoming a mainstay at shortstop and, though he doesn't draw a lot of walks, may soon  be a  .300 hitter in the majors. CC Sabathia is enjoying a resurgence and Masahiro Tanaka is flirting with ace performances every time out. Brett Gardner, despite not hitting for a high average is getting on base and is on pace to score  95 runs  for the season. Austin Romine has distinguished himself as a solid backup catcher this season.

So far so good. Now, what's not to like? Let us count the ways.

1. The bullpen is a disaster behind the big three. Part of the problem has been that several of the high profile prospects for the pen, Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder and Bryan Mitchell, have suffered injuries that have kept them out for lengthy periods.  The Yankees have had to rely on retreads like Kirby Yates, Andrew Swarzak and ineffective prospect, Nick Goody to  round out the pen.

2. The Yankees have used four starters behind Sabathia and Tanaka (five if you count the one start by Chad Green), Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino and Ivan Nova, who have combined to go 13-20, 5.63 ERA. Nova's six appearances out of the bullpen are included in the totals, but you get the idea.

3. Trades that brought Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro have not given the Yankees lineup much added punch. Sure, Castro delivered in that first series against Houston and he hit the walk off home run against Colorado on Wednesday, but the stuff in between makes Castro only so-so.

4. Chase Headley is playing better defense but is having a mostly unimpressive season with the bat.

5. The middle of the order guys, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann  are having the worst years of their respective careers, and many are counting the days until they will no longer be Yankees. For the record,  Teixeira is done after this season, A-Rod after 2017, and McCann, with his full no trade clause, is a Yankee through 2018 with a club option for 2019. Add Jacoby Ellsbury in the lead-off spot, who is having an okay year but is locked in until 2020, also with full no trade protection.

6. Among the top tier prospects, Greg Bird is lost for the season, Aaron Judge, despite a recent surge, is still only hitting .259 at AAA, and Severino is back in the minors trying to regain the stuff that brought him to the majors last August.

7. The Yankees are in the midst of a fourteen game stretch which was to be the soft part of the schedule. Eleven games into that stretch, the Yanks record is 5-6 with three games to go, against the Twins this weekend.

It seems as if there is plenty more to dislike about this team this season than to like. Certainly Hal Steinbrenner must be thinking the same thing. Of course, Steinbrenner is not going to say something like "we're done" but he might just sense it. There is still time before the deadline to decide whether to buy, sell or a little of both, but regardless of the record or proximity to the playoffs, he cannot be liking what he sees. I cannot imagine he believes there will be enough players improving their performances early in the second half  to stave off some serious roster shuffling.

Seems as if changes are imminent. Hang on, this could be a wild ride come August 1st, the likes of which we haven't seen in the Bronx in a long time.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rare Walk-Off Win For Yankees: Part Of The Problem, Not The Solution

It's easy to feel great about a baseball team after they win a game in walk-off fashion. Yesterday was no different, as the Yankees did so for the second time this season. Starlin Castro hit one "with all his might," as John Sterling is fond of saying, before welcoming the traditional Gatorade bath a few feet from home plate.

However, if you're still celebrating that win right now, I feel compelled to ask you to tone it down a bit. Ideally, you should stop, but I'll understand if you say you can't. After all, these types of wins are all too rare for this 2016 Yankees team.

This rarity is part of the problem. We're still in this soft part of the schedule, yet the Yankees are still under .500 and look every bit the mediocre team they have been all year. Exactly one week ago today I gave them two weeks to straighten themselves out. They have one week to go, in my opinion, before the big decision must be made.

When asked about it recently, Hal Steinbrenner said that his team is not thinking about selling right now and, in fact, they might end up being buyers. When I heard that I was outraged. Talk about irresponsibility! However, when I thought about it, it made perfect sense for Hal to answer the question in that manner. Why put all your cards on the table? Why give it up like that? He's playing hard to get, and I like it.

That being said, Hal (and, of course Brian Cashman) must be very careful about who they give it up to and for whom.  As far as I'm concerned, nothing less than Major-League-ready prospects should come back for anyone the Yankees trade. I don't want to see a bunch of low-level kids coming back this way.

Then again, if they can rattle off, let's say seven wins in a row, the whole thing might be a moot point. (Don't be disappointed if that doesn't happen, though.)