The New York Yankees had dropped five in a row, including a three-game home sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays. This allowed them to be the sole owners of the worst record in the American League. They responded by splitting a two-game set with the Atlanta Braves and taking three of the first four games in Cleveland. This would make it seem like they’re at least back to normal. That may very well be the case. But what was wrong with them, to begin with?
Lots of teams start slow. It’s important to note that 5-5 isn’t a bad start because some teams and players take a while to get in sync. The five-game losing streak that followed was unfortunate, but not uncommon. Teams will often have spells where they look bad, no matter what.
It’s baseball. Your best hitter will fail at least seven times out of ten. The best teams will lose 1/3 of their games no matter what. Playing good baseball the entirety of the season isn’t realistic.
Now, when you add that to the pedigree, roster, and expectation the Yankees have, and you can see why mass panic ensued after their fifth straight loss. After all, not even Gerrit Cole could end the losing streak. The Yankees, given the boom or bust nature of some of their players, fall prone to hot and cold streaks. Every year they have a stretch where it’s not clear why any experts picked them to even make the playoffs.
Last year, the Yankees had losing streaks of five and seven separately. Now, the problem during these streaks is that no one can hit. That had been the case during their slump to start 2021, as well. The Yankees offense, which is always touted as one of the league’s best, wasn’t performing.
In fact, you would have been hard-pressed to find any hitter that was playing that well at all. Plus, this season especially, the offense is going to have to carry the team.
The starting rotation is Cole or bust. Behind Gerrit Cole, it’s not exactly a who’s who of pitchers. Domingo German has been really shaky and even got sent down to the alternate site. Jordan Montgomery had two decent outings and one really bad one. Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber look like what you’d expect two pitchers who haven’t pitched in two years to look.
So, the question is: is that what the Yankees are? Or are they the team that’s won four out of five? The answer is probably the latter.
Sure, baseball is hard and it’s totally reasonable to think that each hitter can have a down year despite being really good. And yes, if the back end (and by the back end I mean the other four starters) of your rotation looks like what they currently have, it doesn’t exactly bode well. But I’ll take my chances that the team that started quite slow in 2018 and 2019 and still won over 100 games is actually good.
For example, despite not getting off to what most would consider a “hot start”, Aaron Judge has actually been quite good. He sports an almost .380 OBP and a 143 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus). His BB/K ratio is .63, which is a hair better than his 2017 should’ve-been-MVP year. He’s 5th in the league in hard-hit percentage with 59.1%. He’s averaging 98 miles per hour on contact, the best in the league.
Judge is also barreling the ball 10.4% of the time, 9th in the league. His .250 batting average and 4 home runs don’t scream that he’s doing that well. But when you look at the numbers, he is. It’s just a matter of time before the basic stats catch up to the advanced ones. And when that happens, we’ll all laugh that we thought the Yankees were a bad team.
The same can be said for Giancarlo Stanton. He’s batting .188, which isn’t pretty. But he’s got a 96 mph average, second only to Judge in all of baseball. His hard-hit percentage is 61.9% good for THIRD in the MLB. And with two home runs on Friday, it looks like he might be heating up as well.
And for all that can be said about the pitchers, the bullpen has been really good. The team ERA (which is hurt drastically by starters 2-5) is good for 6th in the league. Aroldis Chapman has four saves and zero earned runs. He’s struck out 17 of 21 batters faced.
Michael King has nine shutout innings out of the bullpen. Chad Green has given up one run in over 12 innings. Luis Cessa has a sub-one ERA in 9+ innings. Justin Wilson, Darren O’Day, and Johnathan Loaisiga have sub-two ERAs. The bullpen and Gerrit Cole have been absolutely lights out thus far. It’s only a matter of time until that starts translating to a lot of wins.
Yes, the other starters are going to have to pick it up. And yes, pretty much everyone not named Aaron Judge is going to have to turn it around offensively. I’m willing to bet that players like Gary Sanchez, D.J. LeMahieu, Aaron Hicks, and Gleyber Torres are going to do just that.
The Yankees still don’t have Luke Voit. Zack Britton hasn’t pitched yet. Luis Severino will return this year. Those guys will help, and when they get here, the Yankees will have it turned around. And by the end of the season, this little 10 game slump will be a distant memory.