The Yankees completed their first tour through the American League East in Boston on Thursday. The results weren’t exactly what we wanted to see from the World Series hopefuls. They finished the round 6-7, with the only series win coming against a tanking Tampa Bay squad at home.
Things could have played out much differently, though. Five of those losses should have been victories. The only game the Yankees never really competed in was the 14 — 1 drubbing in Boston that Chris Sale started. Even in Thursday’s game, which began with Boston taking a 6 — 0 lead in the third inning and Rick Porcello carrying a no-hitter into the seventh, the Bombers managed to get the potential tying run into the on-deck circle. The other five losses were eminently winnable games that New York kicked away late via bad bullpen performances and poor offense.
Lack of clutch hitting late
The Yankees are hitting only .155 late in close games. Cleveland (.130) is the only AL team which has fared worse from the seventh inning on in tie games, leading by one, or with the tying run at least on deck. Even the 3-12 Rays (.167) are hitting better than the Yankees in those situations.
Why is this important? Four of the five teams with the best clutch stats late currently lead their respective divisions. The Pirates (.328/.420/.483), Angels (.310/.344/.437), Red Sox (.284/.356/.407), and Mets (.281/.349/.456) are all mashing late in close games.
Gary Sanchez is 0-for-4 late in close games, while Giancarlo Stanton and Brett Gardner are both 0-for-9. Last year, Gardy hit .275, Stanton .187 (with five home runs), and Sanchez hit .262. We have every reason to expect these important run producers to return to form.
The bullpen has already allowed eight home runs in only 57 and one-third innings, including three grand slams. The group is 1-4 on the year, with every single reliever turning in at least one poor outing. However, they’ve also flashed the expected dominance on a number of occasions.
I’m not one to make predictions, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb if I predict the pen will not continue to cough up three grand slams a week for the remainder of the year. More likely, this talented group will gain consistency and go on a tear.
Honestly, Dellin Betances is the only one that is truly cause for concern. He hasn’t been right since before the All-Star break last year. Even if Betances doesn’t regain his mojo, the Yankees still have the best bullpen from top to bottom in baseball.
Injury bug bites
The injury bug has already bitten the Yankees hard during this young season. As a result, the lineup has sometimes resembled one we’d see in Grapefruit League action. The team has depth, though, and we’ve already seen a number of replacements help the club (Tyler Austin and Ronald Torreyes come to mind).
Plus, we’ve already witnessed the impact that Aaron Hicks made in his return. Hicks hit two home runs in only his second game back. In doing so, the Yankees became the first team in baseball history to have five different players produce multi-homer games in the first 14 contests to start a season.
I don’t think Hicks’ importance to the club can be overstated. He produced a .913 OPS in the first half last year before suffering the oblique injury.
We would also do well to remember that Neil Walker missed most of spring training, which may be the reason he’s hitting only .188/.264/.208. Still, he’s hit safely in 10 of 11 games and will get better once he shakes the rust off. Walker slashed .265/.362/.439 with 14 home runs last year.
The 14 errors committed by the Yankees are the most in the AL. Three of those, though, were Brandon Drury’s. Sadly, we now know why the third-baseman struggled.
Meanwhile, four errors were committed by four different pitchers. This is hardly an epidemic to be concerned with, though. I believe the Yankees are solid defensively. Like the grand slams allowed by the bullpen, I believe the high error tally is a situational anomaly.
In fact, with a healthy Hicks, they may have the best defensive outfield in baseball. We’ve already seen the positives that Walker brings to the infield. We were assured that Miguel Andujar made improvements at third base, and his limited play there so far appears encouraging.
This is an exciting team that could easily hold a 12-2 record right now. We have already witnessed history by Didi Gregorius and the rest of the quintet that combined to set the MLB homer record. Stanton sits atop the Statcast leaderboard, Sanchez had a big game to break out of his early-season malaise, and it’s just a matter of time before the club starts firing on all cylinders. I have a feeling we won’t have to wait much longer to witness that explosion. It’s early in the year, and this is a very good team.