The New York Yankees are 63-46 and four-and-a-half games up on the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. One-third of the season remains (53 games), and it would take a monumental collapse for the Yankees to squander their lead in the division, much less miss the postseason altogether.
Then why is there such a sense of urgency that this team needs to right the ship, and quickly?
The Yankees are 6-12 since July 19th and are looking a bit wobbly entering the dog days of summer. The Yankees have shown that they can have big scoring nights, producing a 12-run performance against Baltimore last week and a couple of six-run outputs in wins over Seattle last weekend.
However, since the loss in Oakland on July 19, the Yankees have six games of scoring two runs or less. Earlier this summer, the Bombers hit their stride midseason, reeling off 43 consecutive games scoring three runs or more. The cries of the lack of consistency are in some ways justified but should be much more reserved for the team’s play over the last three weeks.
The Bronx Bombers should rebound, though there’s no denying that nagging injuries to Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira have had an effect. Many fans lustily booed Alex Rodriguez throughout the season for failure to come up with clutch hits, but his hand injury has left a big void in the lineup.
His replacement, Eric Chavez, sure thinks so:
“I think the injury bug is starting to catch up to us where I think we got away with it early,” Chavez said. “This all seems to be when we lost Alex. He’s just a huge part of our lineup, and I think we’re really showing how important he is to this team.”
More importantly for now, Ivan Nova must get it together and straighten things out. Chad Jennings of The Journal News explains just how terrible Nova has been of late:
"Nova’s ERA is above 8.00 since the All-Star break, and he’s won once since June 17. He has allowed at least six earned runs four times this year, three of those coming in his past five starts."
The schedule only gets tougher with two games left in Detroit and another Midwestern trip later this month to Chicago and Cleveland. The Yankees will also have plenty of games to play against Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay.
New York is facing some minor pitching rotation troubles—on the whole— and some inconsistent hitting from the big bats of late. Curtis Granderson is in a vicious slump, and Mark Teixeira has taken a small step backwards.
The Yankees may need one of those games to help light the spark that gets them moving toward yet another American League East crown.
Here is an assessment of the current state of the New York Yankees through two-thirds of the 2012 season.
They don't call them the Bronx Bombers for nothing. The Yanks can flat-out mash. Even with some poor hitting of late, on the whole, the Yankees are once again one of the top hitting teams in the majors.
While the inconsistent hitting of late has invariably led to speculation that the Yankees may pursue a player like Justin Morneau during the waiver period, there are still no significant signs a deal is imminent.
Through 109 games, New York is leading MLB in home runs and team OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) and are fourth in runs scored. Eric Chavez has really heated up of late and has turned into a different hitter while several of the Yankees' bats slumber.
Chavez has 186 at-bats on the season but has been pressed into regular duty since A-Rod’s injury. He’s raised his OPS from .772 on July 29th to .849 after another home run last night. Robinson Cano is enjoying one of the finest seasons of his career and should top 30 homers for the first time.
Raul Ibanez has been a regular for the Yankees in 2012—something no one envisioned at the start— and he’s made the most of his at-bats in Brett Gardner’s absence. The 40-year-old, who was born in New York, is fifth on the team in RBI.
The Yankees need to get more production from Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher for everything to really be clicking. When these pair are getting on base and hitting for power, the Yankees are usually rolling.
Derek Jeter is having another age-defying season as he continues to show why he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Ivan Nova’s struggles have been well documented of late, but otherwise Yankees starters have been very good. The pinstriped twirlers are sporting the fifth-best ERA in the American League and are fourth in the AL in innings pitched. This positive impact of the starters eating up innings has meant that Yankees relievers have thrown the least amount of innings of any staff in the AL.
CC Sabathia is not having a Cy Young season, but he is having another strong season in the Bronx. The big lefty hasn’t quite enjoyed one of his typically dominant summers, but there’s still plenty of time left in August and September for him to get on one of his customary rolls.
The worries lie with less certain commodities—Phil Hughes and the aging Freddy Garcia. Hughes unquestionably turned a corner after late April, and the numbers bear that out. Nine of Hughes’ last 12 outings have been quality starts, and prior to last night’s loss in Detroit, he has a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time all year.
But can Hughes be relied upon for a start in the postseason, assuming the Yankees need a fourth starter? Those are waters the Yankees certainly don’t want to tread into if they don’t have to. Even after Hughes’ success twirling a gem in the 2010 division series against Minnesota. To be fair, he followed that up with two lackluster starts in the ALCS against Texas.
Garcia looked nothing like the savvy veteran from 2011 earlier in the season, getting rocked in his first three starts of 2012. Garcia has since made dramatic improvements, giving the Yankees very credible starts if not for a lack of longevity. Since re-entering the rotation in early July, Garcia has exceeded seven innings just once, but he’s given the Yankees plenty of chances to win.
And then there's Hiroki Kuroda. What a revelation the 37-year-old from Japan has been. Kuroda is ninth in the American League in ERA, fifth in pitching wins above replacement (WAR) and eighth in innings pitched. Kuroda walks very few batters and has been incredibly durable and reliable.
It’s incredible to think where the Yankees would be without Kuroda, but it most certainly would not be first place with a five-game lead in the division. He’s been the Yankees' best starting pitcher in 2012. With Andy Pettitte due back in one month, the competition among Yankee starters is still on.
New York's stingy bullpen is one of the major reasons why the Yanks remain one of the best teams in baseball. Bombers relievers are fourth in the American League in ERA and sixth in batting average against (BAA).
While the injury to Mariano Rivera was a big blow at the time, Rafael Soriano has been mostly great. The Bombers' relievers have been as advertised.
The Yankees' own version of Houdini, Dave Robertson has returned to form after some summer stumbles and is dazzling again with his searing fastball and nasty off-speed pitches. Boone Logan, Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada have also contributed very effectively, helping to hold opponents at bay.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, as well as a harbinger for future Yankees success to come, has been David Phelps. The rookie right-hander has certainly caught the attention of Yankees fans with his long relief stints, mixing a low 90s fastball with filthy, biting breaking pitches to keep hitters off-balance. Phelps may be making his pitch to be in the starting rotation in 2013.