Are the Yankees Having a Meltdown or Just Breaking Down?
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The Yankees clubhouse is beginning to look like a M*A*S*H unit.
But is this a good enough reason to explain how their once seemingly insurmountable lead in the American League East now looks very surmountable by the surprising Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays?
Almost every team has to battle injuries as the season wears on. And wasn't depth one of the Yankees' strengths that was supposed to prevent any one injury from crippling the lineup?
Look at how the Rays struggled when Evan Longoria was sidelined? At times their chances of making the playoffs even as a second wild-card team seemed remote.
So what's up with the Yankees? Well, for one thing we have bemoaned their home-run-or-bust mentality that has made them look invincible on some days but rather ordinary when up against a top-of-the-rotation starter.
The Yankees have a team batting average of .262, which puts them seventh among the 14 teams in the A.L. Their 202 homers lead the league by a wide margin.
Statistics, as baseball traditionalists and Moneyball disciples know, can be misleading. It's not necessarily about what you do but when you do it. And Yankee critics have been saying all season that the team doesn't hit enough with runners in scoring position. They claim that the starting rotation is basically unproven in the postseason.
They said that A-Rod and Mark Teixeira had diminished skills.
They pointed to a starting catcher who can't hit his weight.
The Yankees are old, they claimed.
And they said that while Rafael Soriano has filled admirably as the closer, Mariano Rivera will be missed the most in the postseason.
Those claims fell on deaf ears or were dismissed outright when the Yankees were sailing along with a comfortable 10-game cushion. Now, as unfathomable as it may seem, they are battling not only to hold on to first place but perhaps even a wild-card berth.
Look, no one is going to believe the Baltimore Orioles are for real until they clinch a playoff spot.
We all did know the Rays were dangerous because their of pitching and ability to manufacture just enough runs to win.
But the truth is that most Yankee fans were probably still wary of the Boston Red Sox until they unloaded three key players and high salaries in that so-called waiver trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was just taken for granted that the Yankees and Texas Rangers would duke it out for the A.L. pennant and a chance to return to the World Series.
Now, there are some legitimate concerns in the Bronx. Will the Yankees regain midseason form when Teixeira returns and the lineup is intact again?
Why are the Yankees struggling in September?
Will CC Sabathia be the stopper he hasn't been in his last two starts?
Will we ever see Andy Pettitte in time to make a difference?
The Yankees still have experience and a track record to fall back on in tough times. They have a stable clubhouse environment and don't point fingers during times of adversity. Everyone in the lineup can turn a game around with one swing.
No, the big question is not whether the Yankees are in the midst of a meltdown rivaling the collapse of the Red Sox and Atlanta Braves last season.
These past couple of weeks, however, point to a larger concern: Are the Yankees really good enough to win the World Series?
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