It’s now the month of September and the Yankees are clinging to their division lead. That may just be an understatement at this point. Division rivals Baltimore and Tampa Bay have been knocking on the door all summer and now they are on the verge of kicking it down. Robinson Cano (hip) and Curtis Granderson (hamstring) are hurting. It’s not a good time to be a struggling ballclub limping down the stretch, and the Yankees are literally doing just that.
The 10-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in July that seemed insurmountable at the time has now been trimmed to one game and Tampa Bay isn’t far behind 2.5 games back. The Yankees are in the midst of a 22-game stretch against their division opponents. The first leg of this stretch hasn’t been kind to the Yankees at all. They’ve lost five of the first seven games, losing 2 out of 3 respectively to Toronto and Baltimore at home. The Yankees are now in Tampa Bay and have already dropped the first game of the three-game series. It doesn’t help any that they’re playing in a building that’s been a House of Horrors to them lately. They’re now 1-6 at Tropicana Field this season and let’s not forget that they have a four-game series in Baltimore next up on the schedule.
I’m struggling to find good news in any of this. The Yankees could very well find themselves out of first place by the time they make it to Baltimore if they don’t start winning ballgames right away.
The reality is that this team has not played well since the All-Star break. They’ve battled injuries throughout the season and it seems that every month they lose a key player to their roster. The pitching has been inconsistent and the home run ball that powered the Yankees in the first half of the season has not been there to bail them out of their recent struggles.
In this playoff race, the Orioles are not going away and neither is Tampa Bay. The Yankees are going to have to start manufacturing some run support if they can’t get the big blast right now. Alex Rodriguez has returned to the ballclub and if he can catch fire it could really be the spark the offense needs to get going. However, to put that kind of pressure on A-Rod’s bat is asking a lot of someone whose power numbers are way down in 2012. Mark Teixeira‘s pending return to the lineup to go along with Rodriguez should provide the balance that has clearly been missing.
CC Sabathia is still the ace of the staff and Hiroki Kuroda has been huge to the starting rotation. However, despite the recent improvement of Phil Hughes, he is still a question mark on what to expect from him heading down the stretch. The Yankees are hoping Andy Pettitte‘s expected return will serve as the missing piece to a rotation that’s been trying to piece together some form of consistency.
Good News…I’m acknowledging that there isn’t much of that right now. What the Yankees do have right now are veterans who are not going to let panic take over the clubhouse. Team Captain Derek Jeter couldn’t have stated it any more clearly when asked what the team needs to do going forward.
“Almost, but it’s not,” Jeter said. “See, I look at the positives, you know what I’m saying? Like I said before we even got into this month, we play everyone. So we’ve got to win games. That’s it. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.”
This team has endured adversity and has two very hungry ball clubs hot on their heels. Take the analysis out of it and at the end of the day, the Yankees know that what matters most of all right now is that they must find a way to start winning ballgames before they find themselves looking up in the standings.