Coming down the stretch, the Yankees have proven to be much more adept at clichés than clinching. After last night’s latest AJ Burnett debacle, we were treated to the classic “one step forward and two steps back” explanation that has defined the enigmatic righty’s season. As a result, the Yankees are still “taking it one day at time” until they secure their playoff spot, something they haven’t yet done because “sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war”. Now, instead of setting up his playoff rotation, Joe Girardi has been forced to send C.C. Sabathia to the mound in a classic case of “why put off for tomorrow what you can do today”. Of course, if the Yankees don’t starting playing better, there may be “no tomorrow”, or at least not many in October.
Thanks to Sunday’s dramatic victory against the Red Sox, a complete collapse now seems unfathomable. Nonetheless, the Yankees blasé approach to the final three weeks has not only forced them into a semi-panic mode during the final week, but surrounded the team with an air of negativity. Losing has a way of doing that, even if the defeats are explained away as a means to a greater victory. The latest debacle revolves around another putrid performance from AJ Burnett. Exactly half of Burnett’s 32 starts have recorded a game score under 50 (including a shocking 11 starts below 35), so the Yankees should no longer be surprised by his struggles. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that Burnett still seems to have a lock on a spot in the playoff rotation.
AJ Burnett’s 2010 Game Scores
After Burnett’s implosion, the Yankees bullpen rebounded from some minor recent struggles to shut down the powerful Jays lineup over the remainder of the game, allowing the team to chip away at the lead with a two run blast by Curtis Granderson and a three-run bomb by Mark Teixeira. The Yankees eventually brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh, but never threatened again after Marcus Thames’ hard line drive landed in the glove of Travis Snider. Curiously, three of the final four batters in the game made outs on at least a 2-0 count, despite being down two runs and needing a base runner to once again bring the tying run to the plate.
Although the struggles of the pitching staff have attracted the most attention, the Yankees’ offense has been an equal culprit. Not only has the lineup produced a season low 4.6 runs per game, but its steadily climbing strikeout rate has approached a whopping eight punch outs per contest. In yesterday’s game, that growing problem was on display as Blue Jay pitchers set down 14 Yankee batters on strikes, including nine by starter Marc Rzcepczynski.
Yankees Monthly Offensive Output, 2010
In tonight’s game, the Yankees will look to their one reliable starter to finally lock down a playoff spot. However, by starting Sabathia, the Yankees’ ace lefty will now be facing the prospect of having eight days off heading into the ALDS. Before being forced to push the panic button, Sabathia had been slated to pitch on Friday in Boston, which would have set him up to open the ALDS on regular rest. Similarly, by having to press Hughes into emergency action, the Yankees could be dealing with another starter making a post season start with an inordinate amount of rest. The overall performance of the Yankees rotation is concern enough, so introducing another element of doubt only further exacerbates the problem.
In just over three weeks, the culture of the Yankees has been completely transformed. Instead of espousing a win at all costs philosophy, the organization-wide mantra has seemed to be about doing just enough. Girardi can talk about “trying like crazy to win the division” all he wants, but his actions speak louder than words. GM Brian Cashman is also guilty of advancing a tempered approach to finishing in first. So, it should not be surprising that the same attitude has filtered among the players. After losing the finale to the Rays, the normally intense Mark Teixeira talked about how “Itwould have been nice” to win the series, and following yesterday’s game, Burnett stated, “Everyone always says that the season doesn’t matter here and the postseason does.”
If everyone in the Yankee organization is saying that, or implying as much with their actions, then systemic changes need to be considered after the season, regardless of the ultimate outcome. In 1996, the new Yankees dynasty was symbolized by a t-shirt the entire team used to wear. It read simply, “We play today; we win today…das it”. In 2010, that singular approach has been replaced with qualifications. It remains to be seen whether the team can simply flick the switch come October, but it does seem a shame that the lights were turned off in the first place.