Can New York Yankees' Awful Start Be Saved by Mediocre AL East?

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterApril 29, 2016

New York Yankees' Brian McCann watches play in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

A week ago, there were serious stories in serious newspapers asking how long the Boston Red Sox should wait before making a managerial change.

By Tuesday, the Red Sox were half a game out of first place in the American League East.

Baseball's monster division isn't what it once was, and the Red Sox had the extra advantage of four games against their designated rivals, the overmatched Atlanta Braves.

So here's the question as the Red Sox get set to host the New York Yankees for three games, starting on Friday: Can the AL East and the schedule save the Yankees the way they've saved the Sox (at least for now)?

Well, the schedule won't.

The Yankees' designated interleague rivals are the New York Mets, who are nothing like the bottom-feeding Braves. That's four much more difficult games to contend with.

The Yankees won't play the Braves at all, and they won't play most of the other hardly trying teams that make up the bottom third of the National League.

So can the AL East save the Yankees, who are about to finish April with a losing record for the first time since 2008?

Maybe, but that's because the division isn't what it was then. Then again, neither are the Yankees.

In the 14 years leading up to and including 2009, an AL East team played in the World Series 10 times. The Yankees had a lot to do with that, but the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays made it too.

Compare that to the last six years, when the only AL East team to win a pennant was the 2013 Red Sox.

The division is more balanced than it was a decade ago without any easy touches. The danger of a superteam running away with it seems to be much less.

Even a 3-for-3 night from Alex Rodriguez couldn't save the Yankees Wednesday—or get his average over .200.
Even a 3-for-3 night from Alex Rodriguez couldn't save the Yankees Wednesday—or get his average over .200.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press/Associated Press

A decent team can stay in the race, just as the Yankees did the last two years. But could they do that again?

As Joel Sherman pointed out in Wednesday's New York Post, there are already worrisome signs suggesting they won't.

The offense isn't scoring at all, which might change. The starting rotation is shaky, but that might not change.

It's hard to believe they'll keep hitting .191 with runners in scoring position. No American League team in 25 years has hit under .220 with runners in scoring position over a full season. The Yankees may not be good, but they're not that bad.

The rotation problems are a bigger concern. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have shown the type of inconsistency that has characterized both of their careers, and Masahiro Tanaka has shown the reluctance to trust his fastball that has characterized him since he suffered a partially torn ligament in his right elbow two years ago. As for CC Sabathia, who has a 5.06 ERA, he's 35 years old, and the early-season results simply continue a downward trend.

As of Thursday, Yankee starters had combined for a 5.13 ERA. Only the Houston Astros and a few of the dregs of the National League have been worse.

And as Sherman wrote, the big concern is all this has happened without any apparent injuries. The Yankees rotation was supposed to be vulnerable because of health issues. Instead, the pitchers have been healthy but inconsistent and ineffective.

The Red Sox have their own rotation issues behind David Price, and despite what the standings might tell you, that hasn't changed. But the Red Sox also have a lineup that has scored the most runs in the American League (114), and that might not change.

The Yankees have scored one more run than the weak-hitting Rays and fewer runs than everyone else in the league (72).

Young Luis Severino began the season as a possible ace but now has a 6.86 ERA that isn't even the worst in the rotation (Michael Pineda, 6.95).
Young Luis Severino began the season as a possible ace but now has a 6.86 ERA that isn't even the worst in the rotation (Michael Pineda, 6.95).Paul Sancya/Associated Press/Associated Press

It's bad enough that MLB.com columnist Barry M. Bloom suggested the Yankees trade Aroldis Chapman, who still hasn't thrown a pitch for them, for someone who could spark the offense. That's not happening, but by the time Chapman shows up for his suspension-delayed Yankees debut on May 9, the idea of having a killer end of the bullpen might not look as great as it did when the Yankees traded for Chapman last December.

The Yankees could turn seventh-inning leads into wins, and maybe they could even make sixth-inning leads look safe. Fine. Do you know how many times the Yankees have led a game after six innings so far this season?

Five. Five out of 20.

Even the awful Braves have led seven times after six innings. The Red Sox have led 11 times. The Toronto Blue Jays have led 14 times.

The Jays have actually lost five of those 14 games, which is another reminder that every AL East team has significant flaws. These aren't the Yankees and Red Sox of 2003-04 or the Yankees of the late 1990s.

It's a forgiving division, something to remember when you start thinking a team needs drastic changes because of a few losses in April.

But even in a forgiving division, some team is going to be the worst. Right now in the East, that team is the Yankees.

Check back in a few weeks (or months) to see whether it has changed.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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