Yankees offense seeking answers
The New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers. A team known for having some of the greatest offensive players in the history of the game is struggling mightily at the plate. The team that led the Major Leagues by setting an all-time franchise mark with 245 home runs in the regular season can’t get it going in the playoffs.
The Yankees have gone through these struggles before though. For a team that scored 804 runs this season there have been stretches of barren nothingness from a lineup that features many sure fire and possible Hall of Famers. In those times during the course of the season, it seemed like the Yankees were tipping their cap to opposing pitchers quite a bit and over the course of the first seven games of the playoffs, they were doing the same thing. It's true that the level of pitching in the postseason only gets better, but the Yankees have made some mediocre starters look very strong.
“We have to make adjustments,” Joe Girardi said. “We know what they are doing to us. You have to make adjustments. They are not going to put it on a tee for us. We know that. We are more than capable of scoring runs, and have done it a number of times this year. We have to make adjustments.”
There have been times that they have had these starters on the ropes and failed to get the big hit to drive the runs home and therein lies the problem. Situational hitting continues to be this team's Achilles heel. They had a .256 batting average with runners in scoring position during the season, which was ranked 10th in the American League and are now 10-for-50 in the playoffs, which is a .200 average. Their overall team batting average isn't much better in the seven postseason games so far; they are hitting .205 overall as a unit, which ranks as the lowest batting average in franchise postseason history. The team has been shut out in 59 of the 72 innings they've hit played and in the thirteen innings in which they've scored, they've only put up 20 runs. In fact, in innings 1-through-8 throughout the playoffs, the team has only scored nine of those 20 runs.
“We have to take what they give us,” Girardi said. “Find a way to put balls in play when runners are on, and get runners in, and get them over, and do the things that you need to do to score runs.”
It's hard times for the offense right now. The pitching for the Yankees has been brilliant, especially the starters. They certainly are not to blame for the 0-2 hole the Yankees are currently in. The team's combined 2.38 ERA is the fifth-lowest mark in team history through the first seven games of any postseason in Yankees history. Each of the other Yankee teams in front of this 2012 version was either 5-2 or 6-1 through those games. This Yankees team is 3-4. That is a very telling mark.
Robinson Cano, the Yankees most talented player, is currently in the worst slide of any postseason player to ever play the game. No one in the history of baseball has had a hitless streak of 26 straight at-bats until Cano's current 0-for-26 streak. He is also just 2-for-32 in the playoffs overall, this after finishing the season on a 24-for-39 tear that raised his season batting average from .293 to .313 in just nine games. It's hard to win when the team's best offensive player is not doing anything at the plate.
“I know I've been struggling,” Cano said after Game 2. “I've been swinging good. I feel good at the plate. All I can do is just stay positive and be ready to play on Tuesday.”
“It is odd,” Girardi said of Cano's struggles. “You know this is a really, really good hitter that is struggling right now, and he's not getting a lot of pitches to hit. So it's odd to me because this guy's really a good hitter.”
Cano is not the only culprit in this story though. Nick Swisher, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Cano are a combined 12-for-107, a .112 batting average, with four extra base hits, just six RBIs and 38 strikeouts. That is a huge portion of the lineup, that put up big numbers in 2012 that is not doing what needs to be done to come up with hits.
Some of the Yankees bats have been there. Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and of course Raul Ibanez have done well. They are a combined 33-for-101, a .327 average and have driven in 13 of the Yankees 20 runs scored. With Jeter now out of the equation with his broken ankle, that leaves just three hitters that have been very reliable to pick up the slack for the players that have not carried their weight. The Ibanez magic has been otherworldly and legendary to watch, but it has also masked a lot of the Yankees woes at times. He has bailed them out several times and without his timely hits the Yankees would be watching the ALCS.
The problem may very well be that the Yankees are pressing. Pressing because of the high pressure situations or because they are trying too hard to break out of their slumps. One thing is certain, they are definitely chasing pitches out of the zone. The Yankees have 67 strikeouts as a team. Through seven postseason games, the highest mark they had before 2012 was in 2009 and 2012 when they had 57. That's 10 more strikeouts than their previous high water mark through this point. Expanding the zone is allowing these pitchers that they've had success against in the past, like Anibal Sanchez, to throw absolute gems.
“At times it'll look like that,” hitting coach Kevin Long said when asked if his team was pressing. “Anytime you're not scoring and making outs. It's going to be magnified and that's certainly the case. Like I said, we need to regroup, we need to get things going in the right direction. We need some things to go our way and we can turn this thing around.”
“It seems like we're all doing the same thing,” A-Rod said after Game 2. “If we swing at strikes, if you look at our rally in the ninth inning from game one, they were all strikes. When you see our struggles it's usually on chases. If a guy gets you out in the strike zone than you can tip your cap a little bit, but not when we help out and expand it.”
“There is no doubt in my mind,” A-Rod added when asked if he thinks this team wide offensive slump will end.
The Yankees have to hope that A-Rod is right.
Follow Joe Auriemma on Twitter: @JoeAuriemmaYES