A week and a day ago, I looked at ten reasons why the Yankees wouldn't make the playoffs. The theory was that this team has some inherent problems that have dogged us since at least 2008, and arguably much longer. The issues become a part of the Yankee character, and send us on a pattern that recurs throughout the season and guarantees a mediocre finish. The counterpoint is that we should be optimistic for several reasons- some of our players are slow starters, some are hurt and will return soon, and chemistry is something that develops as the year goes along. But these same talking points were trotted out last year, around this same time, and were just as meaningless. So let's check back on those ten points, and see how far we've come.
(Bold passages, abridged, are from the old post)
1) Injuries - Just like in '08, the DL has apparently become mandatory service. A-Rod, Bruney, Ransom, and Wang have fallen prey so far, and if you think Matsui and Posada won't be missing time, along with one or two others, I've got a front row seat at Yankee Stadium for cheap, cheap, cheap!
It didn't take long for that one to come true. Posada pulled a hammy and is on the 15-day DL, and now Damaso Marte, our lefty specialist, has joined him.
2) Disappointing Starting Pitching - AJ Burnett has shown great stuff, and Andy looks better than last year. Those two aside, our rotation is a mess. CC is struggling, and it will take more than last night's decent performance to convince me he's back, Joba looks like someone who should never have left the bullpen (where's the swagger, big man?), and Wang is a disaster. Was it too much to ask that we could go twenty games without having to dip into the minor leagues? Phil Hughes starts tonight, and even though he's been great in AAA Scranton, I'm not hopeful.
Things are only worse in this department. CC still looks like crap, AJ had a bad start against Boston, Hughes followed up a good start in Detroit with four poor innings against the Sox, and Andy had a rough go in the Angels game. The only bright spot is Joba's gutsy, dynamic performance from last night after conceding four runs in the first (and after news that his mother was arrested for selling crystal meth to an undercover cop).
3) Feckless Managing - Girardi looks like a lost child in the dugout, and the moments of desire seem completely manufactured. He's already cost us one game in Kansas City, beyond debate, and his bullpen moves continue to puzzle. Calling on Mariano in Friday's game in Boston with one strike on a batter in the 8th was a strange, panicky move, and a prime example of the incompetence he's demonstrated since he began. Could any Yankee fan who's watched Francona for the last five years honestly say they wouldn't switch skippers in a heartbeat? Joey G. will be gone by the end of the year.
Nothing to change my mind here. He showed at least an iota of passion in getting tossed against the Red Sox Monday, but his bullpen moves are a continuing mystery. Last night, after his bad start, Joba amassed twelve strikeouts in five innings. He came out in the sixth and struck out the first two batters. We were down one, but the crowd was electric. Up to bat was Jason Varitek, Boston's worst hitter with an average in the .220s. Joba had 108 pitches. What did Girardi do? Instead of giving his hot starter a chance at one more batter (and what? five more pitches?), our over-Manager removed him for the shaky Jose Veras. The stadium serenaded Girardi with fervid boos, and rightly so. Joba deserved a shot at that last out, pitch count be damned.
Post-script: Veras got out of the inning, but the bullpen went on to concede three more runs and cost the Yanks a chance to tie or win.
Post-post script: Today's back page caption of the New York Daily News: "We Want Torre"
4) Inconsistent Bullpen - They can look great, as in the 14-inning win over Oakland, or terrible, as in the slew of games when we've conceded 15 runs or more. Right now, though, the trend seems to be that they only look good against teams with weak line-ups. Watching them work against Cleveland and Boston was a couch-gripping affair that never ended with a sigh of relief.
This one has changed; the bullpen is now consistently bad.
5) Lack of Fire - Where are our sparkplugs? How did we become a boring, soulless team? I don't question our desire to win, but without those charismatic personalities, do we really want it as badly as the next team?
Joba's energy last night was contagious, but otherwise I'm not seeing any signs of life from the veterans. The more I think about it, the more I think Jorge Posada has to be the guy to step up and assume this role (if he ever gets off the DL, that is). Jeter never will- it's not his personality. Leading by example only goes so far when nobody follows.
6) No Opportunistic Hitting
In the last three games, our batters have left 49 men on base. Yesterday, we had multiple opportunities to tie the game, and each one went begging. It's not just that we're missing out on huge hits; Ramiro Pena came up in the sixth with men on second and third and one out. In that situation, there are only two ways to not drive in the run: pop up to the infield, or strike out. Even a weak grounder scores the guy on third. So what happened? Pena struck out on a terrible swing. Of course he did. And it's become an epidemic- it happens over and over and over again, to the point where it truly defies probability. It's time to look in the mirror and admit that, for whatever reason, we're chronically bad with runners in scoring position.
7) Weak Bottom Third - For all the money thrown into this team, our 7-9 batters are inevitably some combination of the following: Melky Cabrera, Cody Ransom, Ramiro Pena, Brett Gardner, and Jose Molina. Those five are rally-killers, and will not get the job done.
Melky and Ramiro have been hitting okay, and both have a few key hits to their resume. The rest are still a detriment, and now Molina's a permanent part of the line-up.
8) "Slow Starters" - Sabathia, Teixeira, Matsui, Joba, Wang. Those are the worst culprits, but the truth is, only Cano and Burnett came out hot. I'm getting so, so sick of people telling me it's a long season. Really, it's not. It's a season where patterns emerge and are rarely broken, and twenty games is a good sample size. Poor performance becomes a habit, and even if one or two of these guys break out, we can't expect a full recovery.
Teixeira showed signs of life Monday, but quickly reverted, Wang is languishing in the minors, and Sabathia can't throw strikes. Joba looks better and Matsui is starting to hit, but now Robbie Cano is 5 for his last 26 (.192) and starting to pull bad pitches for weak ground-outs, just like last year. AJ and Andy, too, look a little less promising based on their last starts. The pattern continues; when someone steps up, another steps down to take his place.
9) No Winning Instinct - This is intricately tied to numbers 1-8. One way or another, this team snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. And when we do manage a win, we can't build any momentum. Win a game, lose a game. Win three, lose four. And on and on and on. At this pace, talent alone will put us 5-10 games over .500 by year's end. But that won't be enough for the playoffs, and we'll have only ourselves to blame.
Win three, against Detroit and LA, lose three. Get swept by Boston again. Here we are, back at .500, an unlucky 13 in both columns.
10) The Curse of the Moose - Since acquiring Mussina in 2001, the Yankees have never won a World Series!