Yankees good, but could be betterSituational hitting has been Achilles' heel
The Yankees are a good team – a real good team – but with a lot of gray area. And that’s preventing the Bombers from being great.
There is a lot to be happy about if you’re a Yankees fan. Your team is a winner of 20 out of 26 and coming off a 10-0 run. The Yanks are one of three teams with at least a .600 winning percentage (Rangers, Dodgers) and trail only Texas for the American League’s best record. You also must be glad that New York leads the AL East – the toughest division in the game – by 2 ½ games over the Orioles, three ahead of the Rays, and six and 6 ½, respectively, over the Red Sox and Blue Jays.
After a slow start, Yankees pitching has been awesome (12-3, 2.51 ERA this month). Despite missing Mariano Rivera (season) and David Robertson (one month), the bullpen has been outstanding. Rafael Soriano has excelled in his familiar closer’s role. Cory Wade, Boone Logan and Clay Rapada have stepped up. And this group will become stronger with the pending arrivals of rehabbing right-handers David Aardsma and Joba Chamberlain later this summer.
About the offense, you can lay off hitting coach Kevin Long. The Yankees lead the Majors in home runs (105), rank second in on-base percentage (.336) and slugging percentage (.453). During its 10-game win streak, New York outscored opponents 52-21.
About the offense … Helms Deep had a weakness in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The Yankees’ attack has been a lemon with runners in scoring position. Here’s the breakdown of the team’s situational hitting:
• RSIP: .218
• RISP with two out: .205
• Bases loaded: .181
“We’d have a better record, probably, if it wasn’t going on,” said Joe Girardi after the Yankees’ 10-5 loss to the Braves on Wednesday, their second straight after that 10-game run. “I’ve said all along, we’re going to score most of our runs by hitting home runs. That’s what we do. I believe eventually it’s going to turn around some.”
Until recently, Girardi has been hesitant to discuss the issue, and you can’t blame him given the Yankees’ 14-4 June record and first-place standing. But last October, New York went 11-for-47 (6-for-14 in Game 4) in those situations in its Division Series loss to the Tigers – 2-for-9 with 11 runners stranded in the deciding Game 5. A microcosm of the Yankees’ current struggles, one that if not soon fixed may haunt them again down the stretch and perhaps into this fall, came in the seventh inning on Wednesday, when the Yankees sliced a 6-1 deficit to 6-5.
Alex Rodriguez, who in the previous inning belted his 640th career homer, stepped up with runners at the corners and one out. He grounded into an inning-ending double play. While the Yankees lived by the longball and were only 1-for-4 with runners in scoring position, A-Rod’s failure to plate at least a run loomed large as the Braves eventually pulled away.
“Sinker, pitch selection, a pitcher’s pitch,” Rodriguez said. “You have to get a better pitch to hit there. You don't have to have a home run or a big two-run double; we always talk about little things. A sacrifice fly there at the minimum is what you need. That at-bat today was unacceptable."
So how do A-Rod and Yankees bump the situational hitting to acceptable – and eventually winning – levels? That remains the great unknown, and they have Thursday’s off day to contemplate the predicament before playing the Mets, off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, at Citi Field.
“We’ve talked about this for a long time,” said Mark Teixeira. “We need to be better, but I don’t know what it is.”
Even when the Yankees compiled their longest winning streak in seven years, it masked their troubles with RISP. In Sunday’s victory over the Nationals that boosted the run to nine, the Yanks went 0-for-12. Now with the team dropping two straight and a series for the first time since May 28-30, its biggest weakness has been brought back to light. This weekend the Yankees face a Mets team that’s a polar opposite in situational hitting (.266-8th; .278-2nd) Before you panic, the Yanks are far from a lost cause. During the championship season of 2009 they set a franchise record with 244 home runs, so the long ball isn’t a bad thing. It’s the more recent trend that if not solved might eventually cause them to sink and not swim.
If the wins accumulate, the Yankees won’t accept it, but will live with what’s an Achilles heel. It’s during the hunt for October, when the game is slowed down and broken into smallest of pieces, when the Yankees’ small-ball skills will prove boom or bust.
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