Yankees must do something, anything

Kevin Long is right when he suggests bunting and small ball
09/05/2012 12:16 PM ET
By Jon Lane

Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez can only watch as the Yankees' 10-game lead has faded away.(AP)
Life was grand for the Yankees on July 18. Pulverizing opponents with the long ball and supported by a starting rotation that went 15-4 with a 2.62 ERA in June, the Bombers were sitting in the AL East penthouse with a 57-34 record and leads of 10 and 10.5 over the Orioles and Rays, respectively. The race was declared over. Fans and talk-show hosts were debating over how the Yanks would line up their rotation, and if reliable third and fourth starters would emerge. There were even those “if the season ended today” discussions regarding who the Yankees would play in the ALDS.

Oh yes, there was no stopping these Yankees and no chance the mediocre division competition would catch them in the standings. The Orioles and Rays? One’s a perennial also-ran and the other a light-hitting team whose inevitable late surge would be too little, too late. The Blue Jays? Yeah, right. The Red Sox? Whoa boy.

The Yankees were in first place, by their lonesome, for 84 days, their longest run since 2004. Pretty good, right? Not if you analyze what’s happened the last 49 days, a free-fall that’s seen their 10-game advantage completely wiped out. A 5-2 loss to the Rays on Tuesday was their third straight and fifth in the last six games, part of a 19-26 skid since their high-water mark on July 18. No Yankees team in the franchise’s storied history has ever blown a lead of 10 games. According to STATS LLC, its largest lost lead was six games in 1933.

This Yankees team is indeed flirting with making history, but not in a good way. Blame the injuries all you want, but the guys in the lineup haven’t delivered, period. New York’s five straight games of six hits or less is their longest such streak since 1990, when they had six straight games of six hits or less.

“We’ve got to hit,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “That’s the bottom line. It’s hard to win if you don’t hit. We’ve had a tough time scoring runs the last couple weeks, probably starting around the White Sox series. That’s been part of our problem. We’re just not getting it done right now. As a club, we’re just not hitting the ball very well.”

And the frustration is building at the speed of an ant’s work rate. Girardi got himself ejected in the fourth inning for apparently arguing balls and strikes – he repeatedly refused comment – and by the time he was in the clubhouse the game was already out of control. Robinson Cano homered in the first, but the Yankees managed only singles the rest of the way. Out of their six hits, two came in the last five innings. And the disturbing trend of failing with runners in scoring position continued as the Yanks went 0-for-5 and 4-for-24 in their last five games.

“We’ve got start doing some things,” said Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long. “We might start having some guys bunt that you don’t normally see bunt. That might have to be the case right now until we get it going. Maybe we take a guy like Swisher in the third inning today, when it’s first and second with nobody out, maybe he bunts. We’re going to talk about that, and we’re going to address some of those things, and we’ll see if we can’t turn it around.”

You read that right. Long suggested that his offense, which leads the AL with 202 home runs, fight out of its funk via small ball. All season the Yankees have lived and died by the homer, which Long believes has had a snowballing effect.

"We were so good for so long at banging the ball out of the park," Long said. "But that isn't going to be the case all the time. And when that starts to go the other way, you see what happens. That's when you start to maybe think a little bit differently and maybe have a different approach. You guys might see some of that come here sooner than later and we'll see if that can't get us going."

“At this point, when you’re not scoring runs, you’ve got to try something. We’ll talk about it. Maybe it goes up to a point right now where it’s like 80 percent we’re bunting. And then it goes down to maybe 50 percent because we’re starting to swing the bats better. And if we struggle again, those are the times to do those things. There are some things we can do besides sit around and wait for a big home run.”

The Yankees can’t afford to wait for or talk about getting on a run any longer. If they want to play get ‘em over and get ‘em in, fine. Long professed confidence in his homer-happy team to execute small ball and get the job done. He better be right, because it’s become obvious the Yankees have to fight their way back into the penthouse – and fast.

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