The All-Star break is a time to pause, reflect, and look ahead. Time moves fast around the game of baseball. Just look at the Yankees, who seemed like World Series contenders through the first two months of the season before crashing down to the crop of playoff hopefuls.
If the Yankees don’t address their glaring issues in a hurry, they will soon find themselves on the outside looking in. Thanks to their hot start, a playoff miss will likely be filed away as a monumental disappointment instead of a typical rebuilding year. So what needs to change?
The most obvious, and the most uncontrollable, area for improvement is health. Stop getting hurt! Well, in Matt Holliday’s case, stop getting sick please. Holliday has been shelved for weeks with what was recently diagnose as Epstein-Barr virus. He joins the likes of All-Star Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, Tyler Austin, Dustin Fowler and Gleyber Torres who have been out, or will be out, for extended periods of time.
The team just got CC Sabathia back from a hamstring injury, and Greg Bird’s return is nowhere in sight, leaving a gaping hole at first base while he is on the mend. The injury list is longer than an Aaron Judge home run, so staying healthy in the second half of the season will be crucial.
With Sabathia back and Castro and Holliday hopefully returning soon, maybe some holes on the ship can be plugged. Despite this nonsense about Bird’s desire to play — which he apparently didn’t show in 2015 or this spring — he cannot get on the road back to the majors until whatever is nagging his ankle is discovered. Hopefully Ji-Man Choi can hit a bunch of home runs in the meantime.
Pitching has been a problem as well, and in terms of starters, the most destructive culprit is Michael Pineda. Masahiro Tanaka has looked solid lately, and youngsters Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino have been great. It’s been Pineda who has watched countless balls disappear over the wall in recent starts. Despite a strong start to the season, his inconsistencies have surfaced again in the form of juicy two-strike pitches that are absolutely crushed.
Pineda entered June with an ERA of 3.32. It currently stands at 4.39 after giving up three home runs in a loss to the Blue Jays on Wednesday. He allowed another three dingers two starts prior. If Pineda can’t keep the ball in the park, it will be awfully tough to have a chance to win when he’s on the mound.
Somehow, the Yankees were in a position to win that game despite Pineda’s awful performance. The team showed their usual resilience and made a comeback behind Judge, entering the eighth inning with a lead. Then Dellin Betances came in and dished out free passes to anyone with a Blue Jays uniform, and the Yankees didn’t have another comeback in them.
That brings us to perhaps the most critical problem for the Yankees: the bullpen. Despite all of the injuries and Pineda’s return to inconsistency, the Bombers have had solid chances to win most games, even against top tier teams like the Astros. Unfortunately the bullpen hasn’t been able to shut the door.
Betances has lost the strike zone and nobody seems fooled by Aroldis Chapman’s heat anymore, at least not since he returned from the disabled list. Tyler Clippard has also been a nightmare, which all leads to a team bullpen ERA of 6.36 since June 19th. That’s the worst mark in all of baseball. Through the first two months of the season, the Yankees were in the top 10 in that category.
The bullpen cost the Yankees a number of potential wins in recent weeks. They might have much less ground to gain in the AL East if they could keep it together in the late innings. Betances is an All-Star who just needs to find his command again, so the break may be just what he needs.
Hopefully the Yankees can address at least two of these issues in the second half of the season, or they could miss the playoffs again, which could be seen as a disappointment considering how the season began. What do you think are the most important areas for the Yankees to address? Let us know in the comment section below.