New York Yankees: 10 Keys to Beating Orioles and Rays for the Division
It's no secret that the New York Yankees are fading fast. A once comfortable lead has dwindled down to stress-inducing levels. They have a 4-6 record in their last 10 games. They have lost three of their last four series.
The Yankees are entering perhaps their most important stretch of games this season. The next seven games are against the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays. Those are the two teams who have a chance of taking the division from the Yankees, as well as a playoff spot.
They have four games left against the Orioles, who are in second place in the division. They have six games against the third-place Rays. The Yankees are three games ahead of the Orioles and four games ahead of the Rays in the loss column.
A lot will be decided in the next week. The Yankees hope to maintain their division lead and clinch it soon. Here are 10 keys that are pivotal if the Yankees want to beat the Orioles and the Rays.
No More Injuries
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I can't stress this one enough. Health is the most important factor in any sport and for any team. You think the Chicago Bulls would've won all those championships if Michael Jordan was always hurt? How about the Yankees with Mariano Rivera?
Injuries seem to be the theme of this year's Yankees. Curtis Granderson is the latest to join the list of injured Yankee starters. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brett Gardner are the other everyday starters in the lineup that are hurt.
Gardner is out for the season, A-Rod is starting to make his way back and Teixeira is out for about a week or so nursing his calf. Granderson is currently out day-to-day. Hopefully he won't be out for too long.
That's four hitters out of nine that are out with injuries. The Yankees have platoons at nearly every position except for second base, shortstop and catcher. If the majority of your lineup are platoons, you're gonna have a bad time.
The Yankees need to prevent injuries from happening while making sure that their players come back fully healthy. They don't want anyone rushing back only to be injured again or not be able to play at full strength.
The Return of Alex Rodriguez
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Speaking of injuries, the one player the Yankees seemed to miss the most is Alex Rodriguez. Sure, Yankee fans want Mariano Rivera closing out games, but the Yankees are doing just fine with Rafael Soriano.
They are not doing fine, however, with their platoon at third. Eric Chavez has been great for the Yankees this season, but playing everyday has taken a toll on him. He just got out of a five-game stretch where he didn't have a hit.
Despite A-Rod losing his cleanup spot and having little visible effect on the Yankees' offensive production, he's still a big part of the lineup. While Robinson Cano appears to be slowly taking on the leadership role in the lineup, A-Rod appears to have a larger impact than once thought.
The Yankees' offensive numbers as a team have fallen across the board without A-Rod. In the month of August, the Yankees are batting .268/.331/.439 while being 11th in runs and RBI. In July, when A-Rod was still healthy, the Yankees were first in homers and tied for second in RBI.
There's some concern with the way A-Rod is doing in his rehab assignments, and the fact that it's his bottom hand that was broken, that A-Rod might not be able to contribute when he returns. The bottom hand is where the power comes from, but anytime there's a hand injury, it's going to affect how the player holds the bat.
A-Rod is missed a lot more than people think or care to admit. His presence in the lineup is enough to impact the offensive production of the Yankees. While his numbers are not amazing, by just being in the lineup, A-Rod is able to help the team.
RBI in RISP
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This seems to be a problem the Yankees have faced the entire season. Surprisingly, ESPN's statistics show that with RISP the Yankees are 16th in batting average and 12th in RBI.
That's not exactly something to be proud of, but at least they're not as bad as everyone thinks. The Yankees aren't the best when it comes to RISP situations. They'll need to improve if they want to clinch the division.
The Yankees can't let RISP situations go by without driving a run in. It seems that whenever the Yankees have a runner on third and first, whoever's at the plate strikes out or grounds into a double-play.
They've done a good job of escaping the RISP nightmare they created in May. They haven't completely gotten out of that hole, however.
Stranding runners on-base is a good way to lose games. At this point in the season, the Yankees can't afford to lose many games.
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These few series may decide the fate of the Yankees, but that doesn't mean Joe Girardi needs to run his team into the ground. After all, what good is it to make the playoffs if your players are too tired to play in them?
Even without the injured starters, the majority of the Yankees' lineup is over 30 years old. That means the hitters will need some time to rest if the Yankees want to go deep into the postseason.
Luckily, rosters expanded on Saturday. Players like Eduardo Nunez, Francisco Cervelli and Chris Dickerson will allow the regulars to get much needed rest before the postseason. Resting the everyday starters is also a good way to minimize the chance of injuries.
With enough rest, the starters will hopefully be able to maintain the energy and stamina needed for the playoffs. Of course, you can't over rest your team or they might be a bit rusty by the time the postseason comes.
A Sharper CC Sabathia
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CC Sabathia is the Yankees' ace. He's the guy that has to go out there every five games and give the team the best chance of winning. Sabathia hasn't exactly done that of late.
It might be all the innings he's pitched over the years, or the injuries he's sustained this season, but Sabathia isn't his usual dominant self this season. His ERA of 3.40 is his highest as a Yankee.
Last season, Sabathia had an ERA of 3.00 with a 19-8 record and a WAR of 7.0. Sabathia's WAR this season is 2.2. Some time between this season and last season, Sabathia lost some of his edge.
The Yankees need the Sabathia they had last season if they want to clinch the division anytime soon. As evident by yesterday's game, the Yankees' back end of the rotation isn't exactly reliable.
Sabathia is the one guy the Yankees have been able to rely on. He's still dependable, but not as much as he was in recent years.
Ride Whoever's Hot
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With injuries keeping a lot of the Yankees' top players out, the Yankees need to cover those holes with hot players. Hot bats will keep the Yankees offense afloat until the big name hitters come back. With the rotation and bullpen, the hot hand will help keep the runs to a minimum.
Joe Girardi needs to figure out who's at the top of his game at the moment and trust that the player will be able to help the team win games. Right now Girardi is running a lot of platoons and doing some mixing and matching with the bullpen.
When a player has a big game, reward him with another start. Hopefully that player will be able to string together several good games which can give the Yankees the edge in the playoff race.
Then by the time the player cools, the regular players will be back from their injuries and well-rested for the playoffs.
Figure out Joba Chamberlain
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Joba Chamberlain currently has a 10.57 ERA and a 2.87 WHIP. No one expected him to be this bad when he came back.
Control is the last thing to come back when someone undergoes Tommy John surgery. Chamberlain is having trouble hitting his spots and isn't as deceptive as he was back earlier in his career.
His velocity is there and the slider seems to have good bite. He's just having trouble with his control and is giving up too many hits. Once the control returns, Joba should be back to his old self.
Until then, the Yankees need to figure out what to do with him. He's not the pitcher he was back in 2007. Chamberlain is starting to pitch in situations where there's less at stake, but he seems to turn games where the Yankees have a chance to win into blowouts.
Chamberlain needs to find his control sooner than later. The Yankees can't afford to have Chamberlain look for his control in close games. They need to figure out the best way for Chamberlain to get back to form without compromising games.
If it were up to me, I'd have Chamberlain only pitch in games that were blowouts. That way, he can work on his control without there being too much at stake.
Blow Out the Orioles
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The Baltimore Orioles have won their last two series against teams in the playoff race. They won two games against the Yankees and three against the Chicago White Sox.
For whatever reason, the Orioles seem to be winning the games that matter. Buck Showalter is working miracles for the team. Despite the Orioles' record, they have a run differential of -40.
That means when they lose, they lose. In their 59 losses, the Orioles have lost by five or more runs 22 times. The majority of the Orioles' wins are by one or two runs. They're playing great when it matters the most.
The Yankees need to hit the Orioles hard. A negative run differential and a winning record translates to winning by flukes. The Orioles aren't winning the playoffs if they give up more runs than they score.
The Orioles aren't leading in any offensive categories or pitching stats. Their team is pulling through in close games. That just means the Yankees need to blow them out in the next series.
Out Pitch the Rays
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Getting an RBI in a RISP situation might be easier for the Yankees to do at the moment, but they need to out pitch the Tampa Bay Rays in their remaining games.
The Rays are first in ERA, WHIP and BAA while being eighth in quality starts. The Yankees are nowhere near that. David Price alone can out pitch the entire Yankees' staff.
Then there's their bullpen, which is lead by Fernando Rodney. He has 40 saves, an ERA of 0.73 and a WHIP of 0.83. The Rays somehow manage to piece together an elite bullpen every year. I'm not sure how they do it, but I start the season doubting their bullpen and end the season fearing it.
The Yankees' rotation and bullpen are no where near the level of the Rays. Despite that, the Yankees need to out pitch the Rays in their next two series.
Luckily for the Yankees, their offense will be able to help them out. Unfortunately for the Yankees, their offense currently consists of platoons filling in for injured players Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano.
The pitching staff of the Yankees needs to minimize the amount of runs they allow. If the Yankees give up even just one run, they're going to have a hard time scoring two runs to win.
Above All, Don't Panic
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This seems to be missing in a lot of articles of this type. When writers describe the keys for their team to win, they focus on the technical and tangible side of the sport. They seem to forget not panicking is just as key as CC Sabathia repeating his run with the Milwaukee Brewers.
When players panic, they tend to go out of their comfort zone and try to be the hero. In baseball, that means chasing bad pitches or striking out on three pitches. When hitters are over aggressive, they tend to be less successful.
The Yankees are missing a good amount of players because of injuries. The majority of the players that are healthy aren't exactly having their best year. Those players can't go about trying to cover all of the Yankees' holes.
Each player needs to do their part. When the Yankees were struggling in May, the hitters were chasing bad pitches and not working the count when the usually do. They weren't fighting off pitches and making the pitcher throw over 15 pitches per inning.
The Yankees haven't gone into panic mode, but if they lose the next series against the Tampa Bay Rays, they just might hit the panic button. The Bronx will go into panic mode and over analyze each game acting like it's the end of the world.
But that's the thing, it's not the end of the world. One game is just one game. The Yankees need to take it one game at a time and not worry too much about the standings. By doing that, hopefully the Yankees will be able to win the division.