Robinson Cano and the Yankees' bats need to find their home run swing as the AL division series heads to New York.
One home run.
Through two games—18 innings—the New York Yankees have hit just one home run in the 2012 American League Division Series against Baltimore. There's one thing that this group of Bronx Bombers made abundantly clear during the regular season: They will live and die by the long ball.
They (Yankees) also set a big-league record by homering in 131 of 162 games (81%) and were 88-43 when hitting a round-tripper, a .672 winning percentage.
The Yankees are an offense and team whose success is predicated overwhelmingly on the home run. This baseball team is just not well constructed to get the big hit with runners in scoring position (RISP). This has been proven repeatedly during the regular season, and it's reared its ugly head already in the playoffs.
The Yankees earned a gritty, hard fought victory mounting an exceptional ninth inning rally on Sunday night to throttle Orioles' closer Jim Johnson and bust the game wide open. Russell Martin led off the inning with a home run, yet the rest all came via singles and doubles and for that, the Yankees deserve their due.
The Yankees were 3-for-8 with RISP in Game 1 and 2-for-8 with RISP in Game 2, not terrible numbers, though two of the three hits in Game 1 came in the ninth inning. Prior to that, the Yankees bats couldn't mount much against Jason Hammel or the O's pen.
By comparison, the Orioles were weak in Game 1, going 2-for-9 with RISP, yet in Game 2 they got the big hits when they needed to, going 3-for-6 with RISP, with none bigger than Chris Davis' huge bases loaded two RBI single in the third inning.
Will the Yankees rediscover their home run swings at Yankee Stadium this series?
The Yankees' numbers aren't terrible, but they do show that with the exception of one glorious, five-run outburst—albeit at an opportune time—the Yankees have scored a mere four runs in 17 innings. The Bronx Bombers have battled through the first eight innings of each of the first two games scoring two-runs a piece, without sending one ball out of the yard.
Of course, in Game 2, there was no rally in the ninth inning.
One of the extraordinary subplots of this series is seemingly how the big moments, at the most crucial junctures of the game, continue to find the Yankee players that seem to wilt when the pressure and brightest lights are on.
Namely, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher have managed to find themselves up in so many big spots with men in scoring position and have failed to deliver. Yankee fans have to wonder if there's some kind of gravitational pull that manages to always place Alex Rodriguez at the plate, as the last batter, in the final inning for the Yankees.
It's truly uncanny.
Rodriguez cannot be relied upon for much these days, certainly not power, as that once vaunted, trademark skill appears to have all but diminished entirely from a man once believed to be the hitter that would eventually eclipse Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds for the all-time home run record.
The Yankees' leading home run man, Curtis Granderson, needs to find his power stroke and reproduce some of the long shots that he sent deep into the right field bleachers and second deck this season at Yankee Stadium. Amazingly, a man now batting seventh in the lineup nearly led the major leagues in home runs this season.
The Yankees face Miguel Gonzalez tonight, a pitcher who appears to have hit his stride in the later portion of this season—a hurler whose good fortunes on the mound led to the Orioles comeback in the standings during the late summer. No coincidence there.
In fact, Gonzalez is very possibly the best pitcher on the Baltimore staff now, and should be a considerable challenge for the Yankees. Gonzalez made two starts against New York—both at Yankee Stadium—during the second half of the season, pitching at least into the seventh inning each time.
Gonzalez did surrender three home runs in his July 30 start in the Bronx, but dominated the Yankees over seven innings on August 31, striking out nine and not allowing a run. Gonzalez has excelled due to pinpoint control.
He doesn't leave many pitches out over the plate, and he's lived on the outside corner against lefties.
The Yankees need to get back to what they do best by waiting out pitchers and exercising patience in the batter's box. The Bombers tried attacking Wei-Yin Chen early and often in the count on Monday night and that strategy mostly failed.
Chen outpitched Yankee great and postseason immortal, Andy Pettitte, by painting the inside and outside corners all night long. The Yankees cannot afford to allow Gonzalez to get comfortable tonight on the mound. They must be patient and wait for the fastballs that catch more of the plate.
His breaking pitches, like his slider and split-finger, can be deadly.
You can't teach an old dog new tricks, as the saying goes, and it would be delusional to expect the Yankees to suddenly excel at playing small ball. That's not to say they shouldn't try, as timely hit-and-runs and sacrifice flies are what help to win games at this time of the year.
The Yankees, however, won more games than any other team in the American League this season because they crushed home runs at a rate that very few teams have accomplished in baseball history. The Yankees led the majors by 31 home runs and 138 of their 245 home runs came at Yankee Stadium.
The team with the second-most home runs? The Baltimore Orioles. They can mash as well and are yet to put one into the stands this series.
Yes, the Yankees sure need big hits with men in scoring position. This team also needs its home run bats to awaken and start launching baseballs out of the yard at the homer-friendly Stadium starting tonight.