The New York Yankees offense is doing what any group of hitters does after struggling and contributing to the team’s losing for an extended period; search for an answer. They felt and hoped that the answer rested with the return of injured players like Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson (albeit he was out for a just a brief time). It hasn’t been exactly the case yet, though the time period has been short for Rodriguez who was out for over 6 weeks. They still hope to get Mark Teixeira back in order to feel whole again. Part of the answer definitely lies in the lineup Yankees manager Joe Girardi is able to write up each day. But, in the interim, the team looks for other ways to right the ship.
As these players returned and the losing continued, Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long spoke of trying to get into a small ball mindset instead of trying to slug their way out of their doldrums. He suggested maybe the answer was in manufacturing runs instead of waiting for the home runs.
At this point, when you’re not scoring runs, you’ve got to try something,” Long said. “We’ll talk about it. Maybe it goes up to a point right now where it’s, like, 80 percent we’re bunting [in those situations].
Girardi disagrees, feeling that the team is built for power and asking certain players to lay down bunts regardless of the situation is foolish.
“There are times that I do play for one run,” Girardi said. “You’ve seen us bunt before. But I’m not going to put Robbie Cano up there with a runner on second and nobody out and say, ‘Robbie, put down a bunt.’ It just doesn’t make sense.”
I’m sure Long didn’t necessarily mean Robinson Cano should look to drop one down the line with runners in scoring position, but we did see last night the opportunity arise with an appropriate hitter at the plate (and situation) in Jayson Nix. Nix leads the team in sacrifice bunts on the year with six, further indicating this is not the modus operandi of the team.
Maybe Long was trying to ease the pressure his hitters could be placing on themselves by talking small ball. Perhaps he really meant that the group should continue looking to drive the ball without trying to do more with what they are given. In other words, don’t try to pull balls that are off the plate and begin to work counts again so they get pitches they can drive. Hitting is all about rhythm and right now there aren’t many, if any, Yankee players showing it at the plate for more than a game or two at a time.
Girardi is right to the extent that he cannot, nor can Long, change the type of players he has on the team. There are ten players on the team with at least 13 home runs, seven with 15 or more and four with 20 or more. One more from Cano and there will be two players with 30 or more homers. This is what they do; they hit the ball over the fence and this mentality is what has gotten them and kept them (though barely now) in first place.
Girardi, binder and all, is smart enough to know when moving the runner for one run is worth the loss of an out. With this team it isn’t all that often, but when a good opportunity sat him square in the face (getting two runners in scoring position with no outs in a tight tie game), he took it and it worked (even though an error caused the runs to score). The point is, the Yankees are built to score in bunches via the home run, not by piecing runs together in the process of purposely making outs.
Girardi held a team meeting before last night’s game and reminded his players how they got to the position they are in. He expressed to them that they are the same group which opened up the 10-game lead in July. To their credit, the team has not once bought into the fact they should be panicking and last night they showed they can play both types of games Long and Girardi described. They’ll need more of that in Baltimore. No doubt, pitching is important, but this team is built around their offense. As it goes, so too does the team.
Camden Yards is reportedly sold out tonight and one thing the Yankees have going for them, besides being the team in first place, is they have played in this setting year in and year out since 1995. This could be the most meaningful September home series the Orioles have played since the 90′s. The Yankees cannot take their experience for granted but should use it to dispel the notion that they will cave to the hungry Orioles.
The Yankees been in this position before and they’ve won in this situation before. The answer has been right in front of them the whole time; it is experience. Beginning tonight, the Yankees need to put their familiarity in playing important September games to use and show the Orioles it takes more than a few months of great play to be a champion.