New York Yankees: Protect the Fun House Mirrors and Turn Up the Smoke Machines

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IMay 3, 2011

Is Jeter Looking Over His Shoulder: I'm Way to Young To Feel This Damn Old
Is Jeter Looking Over His Shoulder: I'm Way to Young To Feel This Damn OldChris Trotman/Getty Images

It is May and the New York Yankees are in first place in the AL East.

The Yankees beat Detroit last night and now have a 17-9 record. They are on pace to win 106 games.

New York sits in first place in the AL East by three full games over Tampa Bay.

So New York Yankee fans have to be happy, right?

Absolutely, Yankee fans have to be out of their minds right now. They have to be ecstatic.

But right now, the Yankees should do two things: Guard the mirrors and turn up the smoke machine.

Because an analysis of the Yankee success, to this point, has to make one think their first place position has been done with smoke and mirrors.

Let’s take a look at the team.

First, the guy who was supposed to hit first (at least against righties) was Brett Gardner. Gardner has been relegated to the bottom of the order and finished Sunday’s game hitting .200.

He got one hit in one official at bat against Detroit last night and also had two walks.

The two walks are exactly one-sixth of his total base on balls for the first 27 games.

For a player who really needs to work the count, Gardner has not done that so far and he has struck out 22 times.

On the up side, Gardner is dramatically improved from one week ago.

But Gardner is supposed to be automatic when stealing bases but has been thrown out four times in his eight attempts.

Sunday he was not only thrown out. He was embarrassed by the Jays’ rookie catcher, J.P. Arencibia, who threw Gardner out by four feet at second base.

Gardner looks a little like Fred Flintstone running the bases. He takes so long to get going that he never makes it there.

Derek Jeter has returned to his accustomed spot as the Yankee leadoff hitter, after the experiment with Gardner failed.

But Jeter is only a little better. Jeter was 0-3 in the final game against Toronto, and his average dropped to .242.

He got two hits last night in the Motor City.

But one of the hits was another weak ground ball to the shortstop. And he struck out two times last night while leaving five runners stranded.

Some will say it is still early. But it is beginning to look a great deal like it is late—late in Jeter’s career that is.

He cannot get around on a 91 mph fastball thrown by average pitchers and is swinging at stuff Jeter would have always let pass as a young player.

Last night, with Justin Verlander throwing 99 mph fastballs, Jeter looked helpless at times.

Next month, Jeter will be 37 and he looks even older at the plate.

Curtis Granderson hits in the two hole most of the time now because of Nick Swisher’s ineptitude.

But does anybody really think Granderson is going to finish the year with 52 home runs?

That is his pace right now. He has eight home runs and 18 RBI through the first 25 games.

That pace would also leave him with 117 RBI for the year.

His highest homer total, in the past, was 30 in Detroit in 2009, and he has never had more than 74 RBI in a season.

So Curtis has to come back to earth sometime.

He may have begun to descend last night when he went 0-3.

Granderson has a total of only 25 hits. So one-third of his hits have been home runs.

He has struck out 25 times—exactly as many times as he has hit safely.

Not good, Grandy.

He has walked only four times, including two last night in Detroit, and has only two stolen bases. Of course, you can’t steal bases if you hit a home run.

Yankee fans would take the dingers any day. But outside, the smoke and mirrors, this pace cannot continue for Granderson.

The aforementioned Swisher is hitting .231 after going 2-4 yesterday and raising his average 13 points. He drove in the go ahead run in the ninth inning last night.

Swisher was so good last year that fans forget that, before 2010, he was a .244 hitter who had averaged 26 home runs a year but had also averaged 130 strikeouts per year.

You can’t put Swisher in the two hole, especially with Jeter struggling at leadoff.

Somebody has to get on base in front of Teixeira, A-Rod and Cano for this team to succeed.

But Girardi has shown no confidence in using Granderson hitting second against southpaws.

Granderson’s dismal results in the past against left-handed pitching keeps him hitting near the bottom of the order when the other team uses a lefty.

Mark Teixiera was 1-3 last night and raised his average to .258. But after a great first week, Tex has been anemic lately.

In the last 10 games, Teixeira has only six hits in 36 AB. Over that same span, he has only one homer and one RBI. Not the production needed for New York to continue winning.

A-Rod has also slowed dramatically after a fiery lift off to this season.

Perhaps the oblique and low back strain he suffered trying to pick up Cameron Diaz are part of the problem.

In the past 10 games, A-Rod has only six hits and one homer in 39 at bats. He has driven in nine runs during that span, and he has 11 strikeouts in the last 10 contests, whereas he had whiffed only four times before that time frame.

For long time Yankee fans, it is sad to look upon Jorge Posada right now. When you see him languishing in the dugout and see how gray his hair is, we realize how harsh the winds of time have been.

And then when he strides gloveless to the plate, we realize the gray hair is not the only symptom of this soon to be 40-year-old hero.

Posada had two hits in five at bats against the Tigers, and he raised his average to .150.

I’m sorry, it is hard to read that. He raised his average to one-fifty.

In the last 10 games, Posada has come to bat 37 times and struck out 12. One strikeout every three times at bat.

He has only five hits in the last 10 outings.

No team without fun house mirrors and a smoke machine borrowed from an old rock band can survive long with a DH hitting .150.

In the Yankee offense, there are really only two bright spots. They are a future Hall of Famer and a salvage job from the refuse heap.

Robinson Cano is the future Hall of Famer and the only Yankee player that has been consistent all year long.

Russell Martin is the piece of salvage rescued from the trash pile after the Dodgers gave him his outright release.

The Yankees took a remarkable risk making Martin their catcher after his recent history with injuries.

But can you image where the team would be right now without Russell Martin? Certainly not in first place. Certainly not on pace to win 106 games.

One can only hope that other teams are unable to see through the smoke screen that has Martin hitting .291 with six dingers and 19 RBI.

That puts him on pace to finish the season with 36 home runs and 114 runs batted in.

In his best years with LA, he averaged just 14 homers and 74 RBI.

Sooner or later, Martin has to walk out from the mirrors and everyone will see that he looks like a really good catcher, but he does not look like Johnny Bench.

Cano is a 28-year-old superstar who is among the best players in the game. Over the weekend, Blue Jays staff were quoted as saying he was the best player in the American League right now.

He sat out last night’s series opener with the Tigers because of a bruised left hand, suffered when he took a throw covering first in Sunday’s game against Toronto.

But he is hitting .320 with eight home runs and 21 RBI. His OPS+ right now is 159.

Hopefully, Robbie will bounce back soon and have no ill effects from the hand bruise. The Yankees cannot survive without Cano playing spectacularly.

The Yankee pitching staff is also composed, right now, of one ace, one great pitcher who is always just one nervous breakdown away from the psych ward and a large roll of baler twine and three crates of duct tape.

CC Sabathia is among the top pitchers in all baseball. Even when he had not won a game in his first four outings, everyone knew he was the victim of cruel circumstance.

Sabathia now carries a record of just 2-1. But his ERA is 2.25 and his WHIP is 1.225.

Burnett is the breakdown waiting to happen.

Over the weekend, Yankee announcer Michael Kay said: “Now working in the bullpen–Frazier.”

(Actually it was Frasor, a relief pitcher for the Jays.)

But the way Michael Kay said it, one could truly imagine the Kelsey Grammar character on the Yankee sidelines waiting to consult with Burnett.

Burnett is 4-1 (imagine) and has a 3.93 ERA. He has been really, really good so far.

Burnett has stuff as nasty as any major league pitcher. But Yankee fans have grown accustomed, over the last years, to Burnett being just too much of a good thing until he is way too much of a bad thing.

If AJ Burnett has tallied almost exactly one-fourth of the Yankee wins, we have to be really, really afraid.

The rest of the starting staff right now is Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

Nova apparently has finally learned how to work past the fourth inning and has put in two good starts in a row after being used in relief in Toronto.

Freddy Garcia throws the way Tony Pena throws batting practice, but in two of this three starts, he has been unbelievably good.

Bartolo Colon threw another quality start last night. But all must remember he did not even throw in the majors last year.

The Yankee bullpen has been a mixed bag, mostly because of the erratic Rafael Soriano.

One has to begin to wonder if Frazier can hang around between Burnett starts to treat Soriano too.

But Joba Chamberlain has been fantastic in his seventh inning role. Over the past four seasons, we have seen Joba collapse before with everything from shoulder injuries to midges.

And despite two hiccups, Mariano Rivera has been absolutely more than anyone has a right to expect from a  41-year-old closer who only has one pitch and has used it continuously for 17 seasons.

Yankee fans are ecstatic right now.

But for heaven’s sake, please put pads around the mirrors and turn up the smoke machine.


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