Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bumbling and Stumbling Yankees Now Hold a 1-Game Lead in East

The Yankees are officially in free-fall. A ten game lead on the Baltimore Orioles back on July 18 has totally evaporated, as the aging and injured Yankees are in the midst of a Met-like collapse down the stretch in this 2012 season.

The Yankees lost two of three to the Orioles over the weekend, then dropped a series opener in Tampa Bay to watch their lead over the O's shrink to a single game, and their lead over the Rays shrink to two and a-half games.

There is enough blame to go around with this Yankees club. Whether it be their obvious lack of starting pitching, or their lack of clutch hitting in crucial situations; the Yankees have watched their season go from a season of incredible possibilities to a season of gloom and doom.

First the obvious, the Yankees lineup is depleted without the services of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeria. While Rodriguez returned to the Yankees line-up last night, it will take him a while before he reclaim the prowress that makes him one of the top paid players in the game. That being said, before the injury Rodriguez was having a terrible season. Rodirguez has 15 homers and 44 RBI, and at 37, it will be harder for A-Rod to be that guy who can make the big difference in a game.

As for Teixeria, the Yankees desperately miss his glove and bat. He has missed the past two weeks with a calf injury, and while he is making his way back, his absence has put a lot of pressure on Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano to get it done in the middle of the order.

As a result the Yankees have seen their other hitters suffer. Nick Swisher is hitting .136 over the last seven games, while Cano is hitting .160, Raul Ibanez is hitting .154, and Granderson is hitting .167 during the recent slump.

 Even Granderson and Cano have been dealing with injuries. Granderson had missed time with a hamstring injury, and on Monday night, Cano injured his hip and is listed as day-to-day. With the mounting injuries and the reliance on secondary players, the Yankees offense has gone stagnant.

This team cannot rely on the likes of Ibanez, Chris Stewart, Ichiro Suzuki, and Eric Chavez if they have any vision of winning this division and getting back to October in one piece.

And then there is the most glaring problem: pitching. The Yankees do not have enough starting pitching. Outside of CC Sabathia and the remarkable Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees rotation has been abysmal.

Phil Hughes has been vastly inconsistent; his record shows this at 13-12 with a 4.18 ERA. Hughes has become so unreliable that even if the Yankees make the playoffs, starting this guy in a big postseason game could be a huge mistake. Just take a look at his effort against the Orioles over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Ivan Nova has struggled all year trying to find his secondary pitches, and has pitched to a sub five ERA as a result. Freddy Garcia has been woeful, and David Phelps has been struggling of late.

The Yankees have missed Andy Pettitte, who hasn't pitched since injuring his leg in late June. Pettitte gave this rotation a jult early in the year, and without him have been struggling to find people to pitch and pitch well.

Here is where the blame really falls on the shoulders of Brian Cashman. He could have, and should have tried harder to trade for starting pitching, but because of the Yankees commitment to lowering their budget by 2014 to $180 million, Cashman decided not to go after the high priced pitchers like Matt Garza, and Ryan Dempster when they were available.

Instead he threw his eggs into the basket of Ichiro and Casey McGehee, two guys who really don't change this Yankees team dramatically. While Ichiro was a great player during his prime years with the Seattle Mariners, he is not the same guy. Sure, Ichiro is good for a stolen base here and there, and he can snare a fly ball in the gap every once in a while, he is not the same player. Since joining the Yankees he has hit only .275 and scored nine runs; Ichiro is also struggling during this team-wide slump batting .174.

Then there is McGehee, who was a total waste of a trade. The Yankees traded Chad Qualls, a reliever they could have used down the stretch for a guy who does many of the same things Ibanez, Chavez, Jayson Nix and Chris Stewart do. Bringing him here has been a total waste of a roster space. When the Yankees could have gone after a starter or a reliever, they saddled themselves up with McGehee. Big mistake.

That being said, can the Yankees get out of this funk? Sure, they are the Yankees for a reason. But if it does happen, the Yankees will have to do something they have not done all season, hit in the clutch. The Yankees are hitting only .230 as a team with runners in scoring position and two out. They have also failed at the comeback victory in the 8th and 9th innings of games, a Yankees staple over the years. The Yankees were also winless for a long stretch this season, when they didn't hit a home run.

These are all red flags and signs of a team that will have a very abrupt stay in the playoffs if they get there. Maybe it is fair to say that after years of dominating the AL in regular season play, younger teams like Baltimore and Tampa Bay are starting to catch up. They are talented, fiesty, and hungry to win, whereas the Yankees are aging, relying on the past to get them through.

Clearly nobody fears the Yankees anymore.

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