By Neil Keefe
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The Yankees aren’t good. Right now, they suck. After 42 games and 26 percent of the season they are a .500 team, 8-12 in May and they have lost six of their last seven. They have scored two runs or less in 10 of their 20 games this month and have lost home series to the Orioles and Reds and if they lose on Tuesday or Wednesday night, you can add the Royals to that list.
But who am I to say that losing home series to the Orioles or Reds or Royals (who are 3-2 against the Yankees) is embarrassing? Right now it should be embarrassing for those teams to lose a series to the Yankees whether it’s at the Stadium or at their own home.
The Yankees are 21-21 after 42 games. They are 5 1/2 games out of first place in the division and are tied for seventh in the AL with the Red Sox and White Sox. To put into perspective how bad they are, here are Yankees’ records after 42 games in each of the four previous seasons under Joe Girardi.
Well, they’re one game better than they were in the only season they haven’t made the playoffs since 1993, so at least they have that going for them.
The problem is that even though they are one game better at this point than they were four years ago, this season feels just like 2008. There’s a new devastating injury each week, the rotation has been a disaster and the middle of the order has been so bad that looking at the numbers for Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira makes me lightheaded. On Monday night it poured all day in New York City and kept raining on and off throughout the night, but the rain was just light enough for the Yankees to play the Royals, so no, the 2012 Yankees can’t even get a rainout when they need one. Oh how I long for the rainouts of the 2011 season.
Joe Girardi told his players to report to the Stadium at 5:30 p.m. on Monday as an old trick to keep their minds off the game and give them less time to think about the game. That’s what the 2012 Yankees have come to before Memorial Day. Tricks? Mind tricks? Psychological games? Girardi needs to use tricks for guys like A-Rod and Teixeira in hopes that they produce. I thought things were bad when the team went 1-3 in Baltimore and Toronto last week, but I didn’t realize things would get this bad. And if you think, “Well, things can’t get much worse,” you’re wrong. The West Coast waits this weekend and after that the schedule consists of the Tigers, Rays, Mets, Braves, Nationals, Braves and Mets again. Schools might not even be out for the summer by the time the Yankees have a double-digit deficit between them and the top of the division.
Girardi’s tricks aren’t the only thing he’s doing to try and turn this around. He’s still protecting his pitchers and players with the media as he waits for his $275-million singles hitter to find his power stroke and for his $180-million switch-hitting first baseman to find the left side of the field. Girardi took the podium after the Yankees’ third straight loss on Monday night and didn’t seem upset at all, just disappointed. If your parents caught you drinking in high school, you would have wanted them to respond the way Girardi did on Monday night. He seemed frustrated at what’s going on with the $200 million he looks after, but he came across as a beaten and worn down man rather than an angry one. Girardi seems lost and after moving Teixeira to seventh, what’s next? He can’t move everyone to the bottom of the order, and he doesn’t seem like someone who’s about to pick the lineup out of a hat.
Girardi tried to give answers for what’s going on with the Yankees, and while they were puzzling, maybe there just isn’t an answer for why this lineup can’t produce runs. It’s not exactly an episode of “The Joe Girardi Show,” but let’s look at some of Girardi’s interesting answers and thoughts from the latest embarrassing loss in search of answers as to why the Yankees aren’t winning.
On Hiroki Kuroda’s performance: “He gave up a bloop hit and then he gave up a home run that’s two inches from being foul. It’s kind of the way it’s going right now.”
(Joe Girardi followed the word “foul” with a chuckle or somewhat of a sarcastic laugh.)
Ah, the old broadcaster mentality that is still with Girardi from his days with YES and FOX. We heard it a lot from Michael Kay and John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman when A.J. Burnett was a Yankee (and we still do in a lot of Phil Hughes’ starts). “You know, Suzyn, if A.J. Burnett doesn’t give up that two-out walk, double and three-run home run in the sixth inning, he would have had a great outing.”
Kuroda did give up a two-out home run in the first inning and whether it went into Russell Branyan or Brandon Allen territory or just found its way inside the pole, it’s the same result.
“It’s kind of the way it’s going right now” isn’t an excuse … it’s a joke. But that didn’t stop Girardi from saying it three different times in the postgame to explain why his best hitters haven’t hit for 42 games.
“I thought he really did a good job battling because he was in trouble a lot of innings it seemed like and he found ways to get out of them, so I thought he did a pretty good job.”
“He didn’t give up a ton of hits, and he got into the sixth inning. I thought he battled his rear end off tonight to keep it at what it was at.”
Here’s Hiroki Kuroda’s line from Monday night: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 HR. Nothing says “battler” like putting 10 men on base in 5 1/3 innings and putting your team in a two-run hole before they even come up to hit for the first time. But you did get into the sixth inning! And isn’t that what’s it all about at the end of the day? Just get to the sixth inning no matter what the score is. You don’t have to finish the sixth inning, just get there.
Coin Flip Kuroda leads the majors in losses with six. If he makes the 32 starts he made last season this season he will earn $312,500 per start. He has failed to pitch six innings in five of his nine starts and he has just four quality starts. On top of that, he’s given up 10 home runs in 53 1/3 innings.
On hitting with runners in scoring position: “Clubs are going to go through it. We’re not going to be the only club that goes through it this year, but right now its not a lot of fun.”
What clubs are going to go through “this?” If the Twins or A’s or Mariners or Nationals or Mets or Giants or Padres or Pirates or Cubs go through “this” then that might be acceptable because look at their payrolls and their lineups. But when you have a $29-million third baseman, a $22.5-million first baseman, a $14-million second baseman and a $10.25-million right fielder you would like to think that they would occasionally get hits with runners in scoring position.
What is Kevin Long’s job? I thought it was hitting coach, but apparently it isn’t. It’s weird how Long is all over the camera and recognized and credited when Curtis Granderson hits a home run off a lefty, but where is Long when the team scores two runs or less in half of their games for a month? “The Cage Rat” needs to be held accountable for the offense in situations like this.
On Monday, YES found Long in the late innings, but it was just so Michael Kay could say that Long was at the Stadium early to work on things. It doesn’t matter if any of the things he’s working on are working as long as he is putting in the time.
This is no longer a fluke. A fluke would be the Yankees losing a series because of some offensive troubles. Losing 12 of 20 and going 6-for-72 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-13 on Monday night isn’t a fluke, it’s a serious problem. How many times can you load the bases with no outs and not score a run?
“The thing about the game is that it can be extremely frustrating at times.”
Oh, well when you put it that way I guess I’m upset about nothing. At least Joe didn’t blame it on bad luck.
“In my heart I believe it’s going to change.”
It better because I won’t accept reliving the summer of 2008 again.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe