Panic mode activated?  What’s Wrong With The New York Yankees Might Not Matter In The End

Panic mode activated? What’s Wrong With The New York Yankees Might Not Matter In The End

There are dips, there are bumps in the road, and then there’s what unfolded in the Bronx last month: a total meltdown of a World Series-ready New York Yankees team that until the second half was flirting with historic greatness.

Panic mode, activated.

OK, so this mystifying snippet of bad baseball is certainly cause for concern. And Yankees fans hungry for the club’s first title since 2009 may have thought a relatively free run of the fall derby was about to ensue after the team ran around the field in the first half.

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No, this is not happening. If that slippage by the Yankees — they’ve been 4-14 since Aug. 2, 10-20 in the second half — that brought them back into the pack has brought anything up, there are two questions that may not be answered until mid-October:

New York Yankees substitute pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) hands the ball to manager Aaron Boone (17) after being pulled out of the game against the Toronto Blue Jays during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium.

New York Yankees substitute pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) hands the ball to manager Aaron Boone (17) after being pulled out of the game against the Toronto Blue Jays during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium.

How good are they? And how mortifying is this period of cold?

As the season heats up once again with a Subway Series second round against the New York Mets starting Monday night, let’s explore.

Why are the Yankees suddenly bad?

Statistically, as the song says, it’s a little bit of everything. However, if you’ve watched this game for a minute, you know that for all the glamor of the long ball and the mind-numbing quantification of the analysis, the opening pitch remains its backbone.

And this is perhaps the most important 180 of the club’s funk.

The hitters will drop, sometimes en masse, and the Yankees are in a bad spot right now — three or fewer runs in 13 of their last 17 games. Hitter Anthony Rizzo is hitting .173 with three homers this month, while DJ LeMahieu posted an OPS of .668 and a homer. Third baseman Josh Donaldson’s 98 OPS plus for the year puts him below the realm of the league’s average hitter. DH Giancarlo Stanton and his slugging percentage of .498 are out on a rehab assignment, recovering from an Achilles tendon injury.

And the season-long holes in shortstop and left field are even more glaring when the big guys fight.

But anything is possible with run prevention, and a softening of the starting pitchers’ performance is probably the biggest long-term concern.

New York’s slide 4-14 coincided with its starters posting an ERA of 4.65, a far cry from the 2.78 mark through May. While the 1.09 WHIP for this month’s rotation is in line with the rest of the season, his 7.69 strikeouts for nine is a 17% drop from the group’s 9.24 mark through July.

The biggest regression probably comes from right-hander Jameson Taillon, whose ERA jumped more than half a race (3.86 to 4.45) from the first to the second half. His strikeout-walk rate has dropped from 7.8 through May to 2.78 this month as he threw more free passes (13) in July and August than in the previous three months combined (11). The club could really use Luis Severino, who made 16 mid-season appearances until a late injury ruled him out in mid-September. Why Severino? He’s outing nearly 10 hitters for nine innings, greatly minimizing the randomness of balls in play to better camouflage his own team’s offensive inadequacies.

However, the current rotation setup makes you wonder if the club should have left it well enough.

Was the trading deadline a waste of time?

It might be. The Yankees made one of the more unusual deals on the run, sending a midfielder (Jordan Montgomery) to a center defender (Harrison Bader) who is injured until at least September.

Of course, you could see them working. New York imported right-handed Frankie Montas from Oakland and immediately envisioned a guy standing still for the postseason. Montas has outed more than one batter per inning this season and six years in Oakland. Back in August, the Yankees weren’t planning on winning the AL East, but rather taking down the hated Astros in the ALCS.

In analyzing the Yankees’ recent playoff failures, Montgomery represented more of the same — a contact-friendly southpaw who provided quality innings from April to September but was far from indomitable in October. They failed to beat the Astros at ALCS 2019 with JA Happ and James Paxton catching the ball, and they stumbled at ALDS 2020 with Happ and Montgomery himself pecked at by the Rays.

Montas could theoretically calm the October noise of José Altuve and Alex Bregman, preventing them from getting the ball into play in the first place.

Problem is, he’s been a mess since the Yankees acquired him.

The Yankees lost two of their three games, and the only time he saw the sixth inning, he gave up six won runs to the Blue Jays. While Montas has always posted encouraging peripheral stats, he’s been consistently inconsistent with Oakland, and now opens up to the “Can he pitch in New York?” narrative that falls somewhere between trope and truth.

Funny, that’s at least partially the reasoning behind sending hitter Joey Gallo after a 12-month stint in the Bronx that proved to be the most fruitless stretch of his career. Gallo got at least partially right with the Dodgers, where he acknowledged that it’s nice to see people “walking around in flip-flops,” while his replacement on time, Andrew Benintendi, has been so-so.

Benintendi didn’t score until Sunday, his 23rd game as a Yankee, and is averaging 0.211 and 0.691 OPS. He might be fine. Montas can solve this too, and in a few months, calm a Minute Maid Park mob in search of Yankee blood.

But for the moment, both are leaving open the question of how they can perform as Yankees — which, we are repeatedly told, is a different kind of pressure than in other major league markets.

Is this the manager’s fault?

Managing the Yankees remains a no-win situation even in the best of times, and punishing Aaron Boone has gotten fancier as the Yankees have floundered. Though publicly affable and unflinching, Boone hasn’t shied away from criticism, rising to the top step of the bench when Yankee Stadium fans screamed that he should be fired last week.

At this point, he cannot win by losing. A couple of press conferences over the weekend, which included a knock on the table in front of him, may have calmed some of the boobirds, but it also drew criticism from haters who assumed the gesture was just a certainty.

In reality, there is so much blame to be placed on the manager.

Lest we forget, Boone was hired to better reflect the desires and strategies of a front office that felt that Joe Girardi didn’t follow these principles often enough (that is, pretty much all the time). There is little to suggest that Boone has “lost his clubhouse,” and it’s instructive to heed the words of the Angels’ sacked manager Joe Maddon, who debunked the modern manager’s plight in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

“It’s at the point where any GM must actually put on a suit and go down to the shelter, or his main analytical membrane, he must go down to the shelter,” Maddon said. “Because they try to work this kind of middleman thing. And what happens is when performance isn’t what they think it should be, it’s never about the acquisition process. It’s always about the inability of coaches and managers to get the best out of a player. And that’s where this tremendous disconnect is formed.”

But you can’t boo the quants, right?

Can anyone come to the rescue?

Wow, wait there.

This is not a club that needs intervention, even as the AL East lead has slipped from 15 ½ games on July 8 to their current eight-game lead over the Blue Jays and Rays.

However, with the deadline overdue, the club will certainly benefit from Oswaldo Cabrera’s fresh blood.

One of two award-winning shortstop prospects (the more lauded Anthony Volpe is still a ways off), Cabrera debuted on August 17 and has already appeared at shortstop, third base and right field — and that’s hardly a coincidence.

It is past time for several Yankee sticks to be warned. Donaldson is fading, shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa is still catching the ball but not hitting (one homer, 82 adjusted OPS) to match his tight but unspectacular defense, and Aaron Hicks (0.215, 0.636 OPS) remaining lost at base . Cabrera may not cure all or some of these problems, but his athleticism and optionality, as the smart kids like to say, will help rouse a team that is at least momentarily stagnant.

Does it matter?

Possibly not! The Yankees remain favorites to win the East, and an upcoming seven-game trip to Oakland and Anaheim could be the perfect time to get away from the city lights.

And they can look to history for many similar situations.

In 2017, the Dodgers were nearly unbeatable, 91-36 on August 25 and outperforming opponents by more than three runs per game.

So, they lost 16 of their next 17 games.

Part of that was training – the Dodgers were hoping to convert rookie Walker Buehler into a postseason energy reliever, a move that failed. But a dominant team suddenly couldn’t win, casting doubt as October approached.

And then, the Dodgers rocked the NL playoff field and took Houston to seven games in the (now contested) 2017 World Series.

Heck, the Yankees can look back on their own history – 2000, when the two-time champions went 3-15 down the stretch, winning 87 games, looking old and exhausted.

And then they won the World Series.

There’s no telling how this group might end. If nothing else, they certainly know how quickly luck can change – for better or for worse.

This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: MLB Leaderboards: What’s Wrong with the Yankees? Panic mode, activated.

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