As the calendar officially flipped over to May this morning, it became impossible not to reflect on what the past 30 days has entailed for baseball’s reigning “World” Champions.
April had its questions, its uncertainties, and its collective breath-holding, but as the smoke cleared from Major League Baseball’s most volatile month, New York still finds itself where it feels it belongs.
It is nothing short of a miracle for the Yankees to have won 68 percent of its games with Nick Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson providing no more than frequent flyer miles from a bevy of intercontinental flights.
Just how horrific has this group been in the season’s opening weeks? They have combined to hit just .190 with 9 HR and 35 RBI in 300 at bats. Fortunately the team has been playing so well, or there may have been a stinging “April Showers” of boos raining down on the heart of the batting order.
Granderson’s extensive offseason work and film study with hitting coach Kevin Long has resulted in a .172 AVG against lefthanders—the very crippling liability that he vowed to improve.
Add to this a 1-3 record and 9.00 ERA in Javier Vazquez’s “triumphant” return to pinstripes and questionable bullpen performance—outside of the 9th inning—and it is scary to think how much room this juggernaut has to grow.
To make matters slightly frustrating, four potentially vital contributors were shipped off following the 2009 season, and all are performing at or above betting odds for 2010.
The Detroit Tigers currently sit at 14-10 in the AL Central—even after trading away a handful of young veterans for “almost ready” talent. It was expected that the Tigers were a year or two away, but three Yankees are ensuring that the incubation period is vastly accelerated.
Outfielders Johnny Damon (.329) and Austin Jackson (.364) have combined for 38 runs scored, and Jackson fell just four hits shy of setting an MLB record for most hits in April by a rookie.
In addition, former lefty reliever Phil Coke has added increased command to his apparent diet of solely butter fat and Cinnabons, as his ERA has shrunk to an anemic 1.93 this season.
Across the country, meanwhile, Hideki Matsui is on pace for a .273 AVG, 27 HR, and 88 RBI. This stat line should look rather familiar to Yankees fans, as he produced a .274 AVG, 28 HR, and 90 RBI on his way to a World Series MVP in 2009.
Winning can quickly turn heartfelt boos into golf claps and encouraging applause for struggling stars, but they know playing in the Bronx means they are one extended losing streak away from the most potent venom of the MLB fan landscape.
While Teixeira has earned an extended reprieve in his second season, it is alarming that brutal October performances have carried over into the worst April of any player in MLB.
For the others, the only memories Johnson, Vazquez, and Granderson have created in New York involve postseason collapses, stints on the disabled list, bloating earned run averages, low on-base percentages, and even lower batting averages.
The team is in fantastic shape for a successful 2010 campaign, possibly ending in 100+ wins and an ALCS matchup with their nemesis in Tampa Bay. They are 15-7 without most of their stars hitting their strides, and they historically floor the gas pedal as spring turns to summer.
There are plenty of cheers, sweeps, All-Star appearances, and individual awards on the horizon for Steinbrenner’s crew, but I will issue a public warning to New York’s currently imploding stars:
At the first sign of a losing streak littered with frustrations and heartbreak, you may want to invest in a handful of earplugs.