Did you hear that sound, fellow New York Yankees fans? I think it may have been the other shoe dropping. After an improbable run at the top of the AL East, the replacement Yankees are losing steam. The Bombers, who have suffered an inordinate amount of injuries to their starters, as well as to the replacements of those starters, have looked incredibly mortal over the past few weeks.
Earlier in May, they lost two games at home to the hapless Seattle Mariners, including one where Phil Hughes didn’t even make it out of the first inning, having gotten shellacked to the tune of seven earned runs. The Yankees righted themselves against the Toronto Blue Jays, a team whose number they seem to have (New York is 7-2 against Toronto), but when they headed to Camden Yards, they lost the series to their division-rival Orioles.
They did take the first two games against Tampa. However, the series ended on a low note with the Yanks losing the final game 8-3 thanks to CC Sabathia’s continuing struggles on the mound. The big lefty gave up seven earned runs, although, unlike Hughes, it took him seven innings to complete the damage. Still, questions are swirling around the ace. Is he done? Doubtful. Is he hiding an injury? More probable. We all know the last thing the Yankees need is yet another injury to one of their star players.
The pain continued this past week as the Subway Series began against the subpar Mets. The replacement Yankees lost the first two at Citi Field in heartbreaking fashion, giving up the lead in the late innings of both games. The most deflating of the two defeats culminated in Mariano Rivera’s first blown save of the season. (Rivera is required to show he’s mortal every now and then.)
It didn’t get any better at the Stadium. David Phelps picked an inopportune time to be ineffective, getting the hook in the first inning after giving up five earned runs. The final game in the Bronx saw the Yankees make Dillon Gee look like King Felix. They struck out 12 times against Gee and scored only one run on a Robinson Cano home run.
The Yankees have gotten as far as they have this season with good pitching and, most especially, a lock-down bullpen. They do not, at the moment, have the type of offense that can slug its way back into games when the starting pitcher tanks or a reliever fails. They scored a grand total of seven runs in four games against the Mets … and four of those were in a blowout. This is not the same team as last year that put up back-to-back, seven-run innings against the Red Sox after being down 9-0. This is a Yankees team that ranks 17th in the league in hitting. To put it into perspective, the lowest the Yankees have ranked in hitting over the past decade was 10th in 2001. In fact, you have to go back to 1991 to find a Bombers squad that ranked out of the top 10 in hitting. (That year they were 11th.)
Reinforcements are coming. Both Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis are due back from the DL for the Red Sox series this weekend in the Bronx. Andy Pettitte should return to the rotation for the following set against Cleveland.
While the timing is nice, I wouldn’t expect too much from Youkilis and, especially, Teixeira, who hasn’t played at all this season. Tex has been a notoriously slow starter, usually struggling to find his hitting form out of the gate. There may be a lot of rust to shake off.
Sabathia will start the first game of the big Boston series, matching up against Sox ace Jon Lester. This is a chance for the southpaw to redeem himself and put an end to the questions surrounding his pitching. If Sabathia has another rocky performance and the team’s losing ways continue, the pain could get even greater for the Yankees. It’s one thing to drop a series against their cross-town rivals; it’s another thing entirely to lose ground against their most hated division rival.
Perhaps the replacement Yankees will recover from a rough few weeks as the calendar turns to June. Maybe, as they get a wee bit healthier, they will continue to contend and quiet the naysayers. However, if the series against the Red Sox gets as ugly as the series against the lowly Mets, the next sound you hear in the Bronx may be the wind slowly deflating from the sails of the Yankees’ season.