Empty seats are a strange yet familiar sight in the new Yankee Stadium.
First, the good news. They still have 26 World Championships and 39 American League pennants in the bank.
Now, the bad news. The wheels are coming off the Yankees World Series express.
Where to begin? Start with the bullpen
No Relief…When Mariano Rivera starts to struggle, the Yankees are in big trouble. The best relief pitcher in baseball history has lost some velocity on his cutter, courtesy of a tired shoulder. You have to wonder if, at 39, this is the beginning of the end for the great Rivera. The other night against Tampa Bay he gave up back-to-back home runs for the first time in his career in an 8-6 loss. He’s already given up as many home runs (4) as he did all of last season…and more than he’s given up in eight other seasons. And he’s sporting a very un-Rivera like 3.97 ERA, the highest of his career.
The rest of the Yankee bullpen is, in a word, pathetic. Every game is a crap shoot with this group. They can’t get the ball over the plate, and when they do, it gets hit someplace hard. At some point this year the Yankees will need to move Joba Chamberlain back to the bullpen to ensure at least a semblance of consistency.
Choking in The Clutch….One thing you can count on—Yankee hitters do not deliver in the clutch. This was a problem last year, but this year it has grown to epidemic proportions.
During their five-game losing streak, the Yankees did not hold a lead in any game and were 6-for-43 with runners in scoring position. We’ve seen this act before. And it’s been a problem up and down the entire lineup, with virtually every hitter sharing the blame.
Free Agent Struggles….During the off-season, the Yankees spent more than $423 million dollars—that’s right, nearly half a billion in the middle of an economic turndown—to sign pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeria (pictured right in happier times) to long-term contracts. Like virtually all high-profile free agent signees with the Yankees, the early returns have not been good.
Neither Sabathia (two wins, 3.94 ERA) nor Burnett (two wins, 5.26 ERA) have been the stoppers the Yankees expected. And Teixeira has been awful, so bad he was booed repeatedly by the home fans in an 0-for-5 effort the other night. That is what happens to a .192 hitter making $22.5 million a year.
Old And Injured…The Yankees are an older team, one of the oldest teams in baseball. Old teams run the risk of injuries, and that’s what’s happening in New York. Alex Rodriguez and Chien Ming Wong have hip problems, Hideki Matsui’s knees ache, and Johnny Damon has a bum shoulder.
Now the Yanks are decimated at catcher, with both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina on the disabled list and no young catching prospects in sight. Injuries are part of the game, and older teams are more injury-prone. That’s a fact. The Yankees knew that coming in, and chose to roll the dice with older players.
The New House...What’s with all those empty seats? The Yankees have a beautiful new ballpark, but they can’t fill it. They miscalculated their fan base, seriously over-priced the seats behind home plate, and as a result have lost some of the home-field advantage they enjoyed for so many years right across the street. This is a problem, and it’s not going away…but some fans are.
The Front Office...If you were given a bigger budget than your competition, and your business failed year after year, would you keep your job? So how does general manager Brian Cashman keep his?
Cashman has put together a team that can’t pitch, can’t hit with runners on base, is old, and is lacking in speed and defensive abilities. He has to absorb some of the blame.
And Joe Girardi needs to be held accountable too, although to be fair, it’s tough to be successful when your players don’t execute. Still, Girardi’s propensity to over-manage can be disturbing.
The Lightning Rod...The Yankees are getting Alex Rodriguez back. Is that good news or bad news? We all know how A-Rod , left, has reacted to pressure over the years. Not very well.
His failures in key situations, especially in the post-season, have been well chronicled. But he certainly came though in fine style in his first at-bat with a three-run homer.
Strange as it may sound, the Yankee turmoil may be the perfect foil for A-Rod. It sets him up to be a hero. If A-Rod can come back and generate some offense, carry the team and produce some victories, the New York fans will love him. So like Bonds in San Francisco, he may be a jerk, but he’s our jerk.
Fans and the media alike have been piling on A-Rod ever since it came to light that he was using steroid. His reputation has taken a serious beating. Rodriguez seemingly has nowhere to go but up. The fact that Manny Ramirez is stealing the headlines with his steroid use and 50-game suspension may actually take some of the onus off A-Rod.
Of course, it’s up to Rodriguez and the rest of his Yankee teammates to produce if they want to get back in the race.