The New York Yankees have been winning uncharacteristically few games since the All-Star Break. Why might that be?
The answer is because the "Yankees" aren't playing.
Yesterday's game against Baltimore was a case in point. On paper, it was a 4-3 victory. But the Orioles were leading 3-1 going into the bottom of the seventh. Matt Wieters and Robinson Cano had traded two solo homers. But in the first and second innings, the Birds had scored runners from third base.
The action in the Yankees' half of the seventh inning illustrates the point I made earlier. Andruw Jones popped out. Steve Pearce singled. Russell Martin flied out. Jayson Nix walked. Eduardo Nunez singled home a run, putting Pearce on third.
These are not players I would normally associate with the Yankees.
The Orioles' starter, Wei-Yin Chen, had reached his 100th pitch before facing Nunez. Leaving him in to face Nunez after he had already gotten two out seemed to be a mistake. Except for what happened when the Orioles brought in Pedro Strop, a normally reliable reliever.
Ichiro Suzuki walked to load the bases. Ichiro is a renowned Japanese outfielder, but he is only recently arrived from the Seattle Mariners—not the one, Hideki Matsui, long associated with the Yankees.
Finally, Derek Jeter stepped to the plate and walked home a run. He was the first Yankee to bat in the inning who was with the team prior to 2010.
Nick Swisher, the next batter—who originally hails from the Oakland As—is a "cross" between a transplant and a long-standing Yankee. He reached on an error, driving in the winning run. He was followed by another "career" Yankee, Robinson Cano, who ended the inning with a fly out to left off starter Brian Matusz, who relieved Strop for one out.
As hitters, Jones (who has "wandered" after leaving the Braves in 2007), Nix (whom the Blue Jays dumped) and Martin (a former Dodger) are barely above replacement level (Martin earns an additional premium for being a catcher).
Pearce, a cast-off from a (formerly) troubled Pirates team, is a replacement player. So is Nunez, who has come up through the Yankee organization, but is basically a minor-leaguer. Suzuki was a league-average player during his time with the Mariners, but has been a replacement player with the Yankees.
A Yankees' victory was recorded yesterday despite the predominance of replacement and near-replacement players (six out of nine) after former Detroit Tiger but Yankee-caliber Curtis Granderson left with a tight hamstring.
A better way to describe the game was that the Baltimore Orioles lost it with the walks and an error—which is how replacement players usually win.
A team of replacement players may win about a quarter of its games. The Yankees' rotation is clearly better than replacements. But only part of yesterday's lineup was.
Although yesterday was an extreme example, the presence of "short-term" Yankees explains why the team has been only 23-23 since the All-Star Break.
Let's face it: Jayson Nix is no Alex Rodriguez, Steve Pearce is no Mark Teixiera, Ichiro Suzuki is no Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin is nothing like Jorge Posada in his prime, and the team could use a better designated hitter than Eduardo Nunez or Raul Ibanez (can it bring back someone like Johnny Damon, at least?).
The team that was fielded yesterday might just hold up enough of the Yankees' earlier division lead to get to the postseason. But it's unlikely that they'll do much once there. Which is why New York needs to have its injured veterans return.