Less than two months ago it was reasonable to wonder whether the New York Yankees could . New York was firing on all cylinders and they woke up on the morning of June 19 with a 49-16 record. That's a 122-win pace. No other team was within nine games of the Yankees at the time.
Fast forward to today and it's reasonable to wonder whether the Yankees will win even 100 games. Since peaking at 49-16, New York is 22-25, and the team is 13-19 in its last 32 games. The Yankees are 1-6 in their last seven games. Their 71-41 record is obviously still excellent (it's a 103-win pace), but going 29-21 the rest of the way to get to 100 wins suddenly looks like it could be a challenge.
"We know we're going to be fine in the long run, but it gets more and more frustrating every day that we don't come out with a win," catcher Kyle Higashioka told MLB.com after Wednesday's loss (SEA 4, NYY 3). "We're not satisfied with that. So this is the time of the season where you really need to pull together, because it's a long year and it only gets tougher as it goes on. We've just got to dig a little deeper and get ready to go tomorrow."
The Yankees are 22-25 in their last 47 games despite a plus-60 run differential because nearly all their losses are close games. Only two of those 24 losses have been by more than three runs, and 17 have been by no more than two runs. Meanwhile, 12 of those 22 wins have been by more than three runs. The Yankees keep winning blowouts and losing close games.
Yankees in games decided by 1 run this season:— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) August 10, 2022
14-4 through June 18
7-13 since June 19
On one hand, the Yankees were never all that likely to win 116 games. There's a reason it's only happened twice in the sport's history. At some point the Yankees were going to come back to Earth and that's exactly what's happened. The 2022 Yankees look more like a pretty standard 100-ish win team than the greatest team of their generation, and hey, that's still really good.
On the other hand, the Yankees have played shoddy baseball the last few weeks, with far too many defensive breakdowns and mental mistakes. That was never more evident than Tuesday night, when they managed to erase their automatic runner in three consecutive extra innings with poor baserunning against the Mariners. These are all unforced errors:
"I don't want to lose our aggression on the bases. We've been really successful," manager Aaron Boone told MLB.com following the game. "But, you know, we've got to be a little smarter. And we've had a couple here in the last couple of weeks that have kind of hurt us."
The Yankees have an off-day Thursday, then Friday night they will begin an important 12 games in 12 days stretch that includes 10 games against AL East rivals and two games against the high-powered New York Mets. If they're going to right the ship during this 12-game stretch, they'll have to do it against some of the best competition they'll face all year.
Here are four reasons the Yankees have fallen off a historic winning pace and are playing close to .500 ball the last two months.
1. They've dealt with injuries.
Every team has injuries and no one should feel sorry for the Yankees. Injuries aren't an excuse for poor play, they're just a reality. In recent weeks the Yankees lost setup men Chad Green ( ) and Michael King ( ) to season-ending injuries, possibly resurgent slugger Matt Carpenter ( ) as well, plus Luis Severino ( ) and Giancarlo Stanton ( ) have been out several weeks too. That's a lot of important players on the shelf.
I don't want to belabor this point because again, injuries are part of the game and every team deals with them. I just think we have to acknowledge the Yankees have lost a few really good and really important players to injuries in recent weeks, and their winning pace has slowed as a result. That's all. Onward.
2. The rotation has come back to Earth.
When the Yankees were running roughshod over the rest of the league, their starting rotation was the backbone of their success. At one point they had four starters with a sub-3.00 ERA and the rotation has a whole was the best in the game. That has not been the case lately. The Yankees have played 112 games this year. Splitting the season in half, we get these numbers for their starters:
|First 56 games
|Last 56 games
IP per start
5.6 (2nd in MLB)
5.3 (16th in MLB)
Strikeout rate (K%)
Walk rate (BB%)
Home run rate (HR/9)
The problem is obvious, right? New York's rotation has gone from being an elite home run prevention unit to nearly the worst in baseball. Their walk rate is up a bit but still well below the MLB average (8.2 percent of batters faced), and the strikeout rate is unchanged. Basically, the rotation is pitching like it did before, only with way more balls leaving the yard.
The league home run rate peaks in the hot summer months and, realistically, New York's rotation was never going to maintain a 0.86 HR/9 all season. They play in one of MLB's most home run-happy ballparks and in a division with several other hitters' parks. That said, I don't think the Yankees expected the regression to the mean to be this drastic. Having a great rotation and then suddenly having an ineffective rotation is a surefire way to go from the sport's best record to playing .500 ball for two months.
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3. Bullpen roles are unsettled.
Earlier this year the Yankees had their deepest and most powerful bullpen of the Boone era. Now the bullpen is a bit of a question. Green and King are hurt (so is Miguel Castro), and Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loáisiga have not been nearly as effective as in the past. Loáisiga has allowed 19 runs, 14 walks, and three homers in 24 2/3 innings this year. He allowed 19 runs, 16 walks, and three homers in 70 2/3 innings last year.
Furthermore, All-Star closer Clay Holmes has struggled the last few weeks, giving up 10 runs in his last 9 1/3 innings. It's really just two disaster outings ruining his numbers (four runs and no outs on July 12, then three runs and two outs on July 31), but Holmes allowed seven runs in his first 67 1/3 innings with the Yankees. He went from being automatic in the late innings and a deserving All-Star to being shaky, which has only compounded the bullpen problems.
New York's bullpen roles are so unsettled right now that Albert Abreu, a waiver claim in June, was brought in to face the middle of Seattle's order with a one-run lead and the go-ahead run at the plate in the seventh inning Wednesday afternoon. He served up the game-losing two-run homer to Carlos Santana eight pitches later.
The Yankees imported Scott Effross and Lou Trivino at the deadline to beef up the bullpen and, to make room on the roster, they sent righties Ron Marinaccio and Clarke Schmidt to Triple-A. It's fair to question those decisions. Marinaccio and Schmidt have pitched extremely well this season, combining for a 2.22 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings. At one point Marinaccio went 56 batters without allowing a hit, the second longest streak in history (Dennis Eckersley went 71 batters between hits in 1977).
"They also understand we're not in a position right now to be getting rid of pitchers to make room," Boone told the New York Post about sending down Marinaccio and Schmidt. "Unfortunately for them, it's the point in their careers they have options (and can be sent to the minors without passing through waivers)."
Marinaccio and Schmidt are rookies and thus the low men on the bullpen totem pole, and those are usually the relievers who find themselves optioned out when space is needed. This is normal roster management league-wide, really. There's also something to said for putting your 26 best players on the roster. Abreu's had some promising stretches with the Yankees, but is he really part of the solution, or are the Yankees just trying to maximize depth and team control? Winning shouldn't take a backseat.
With or without Marinaccio and Schmidt, Boone's bullpen is unsettled at the moment because Green and King (and Castro) are hurt, Holmes is grinding through it for the first time as a Yankee, and Chapman and Loáisiga are not their usual dominant selves. This 22-24 stretch has featured several blown leads in the late innings, leads that were converted into wins at a near automatic rate earlier in the year thanks to Marinaccio, King, and the dominant version of Holmes.
4. Judge doesn't have much help.
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this 22-25 stretch, and particularly the 7-13 record since the All-Star break, is it's happened while Aaron Judge has been an all-world hot streak. The AL MVP favorite is hitting .400/.533/.986 with 12 home runs in the second half. Judge has more home runs (12) than the Marlins (11) since the All-Star break. He's also hitting .366/.486/.756 with runners in scoring position, so it's not like Judge has been fattening up his stat line in low-leverage spots. He's been outrageously good.
The rest of the lineup has been anything but. Well, no, that's not fair to DJ LeMahieu, who is hitting .303/.415/.513 with four homers since the All-Star break, and .323/.428/.474 with more walks (26) than strikeouts (19) since July 1. LeMahieu has been awesome lately. Judge has been incredible. The rest of the Yankees? Not so much. Here are the numbers during the 22-25 stretch:
Rest of the Yankees
Judge and LeMahieu have been a two-man army these last few weeks. The rest of the Yankees have been mediocre at best. Aaron Hicks walks but does nothing else (.222/.346/.313). Isiah Kiner-Falefa hits singles but does nothing else (.265/.311/.312). Josh Donaldson is hitting .217/.277/.384 since coming off the injured list in June. Others like Gleyber Torres and Anthony Rizzo have had ill-timed slumps in recent weeks. Shut Judge and LeMahieu down, and you'll shut the Yankees down.
Stanton is expected back later this month and trade deadline pickup Harrison Bader is expected back in September, so help is on the way, plus Andrew Benintendi has only been with the team two weeks. He is starting to settle in after beginning his Yankees career with a 1-for-20 skid. That said, how much more can you realistically expect from Hicks and Kiner-Falefa? Donaldson is 36 and he played through an achy shoulder earlier this year. Those guys typically don't perform better as they move forward. Even Benintendi only has three homers this season. He rarely makes the other team pay with that one big swing.
The Yankees have a few too many unproductive players in the everyday lineup. That was the true earlier this season, though the Yankees were able to win anyway because the rotation was so good and Judge was doing MVP things. Now teams are starting to pitch around Judge -- he's walked 13 times in his last 10 games after walking 13 times in his previous 24 games -- and that puts the onus on the rest of the offense. And other than LeMahieu, no one has been up to the task.
As poorly as the Yankees have played the last few weeks, it's important to note they still have a 10-game lead in the AL East and also a 10-game lead for a Wild Card Series bye. At the start of this 22-25 stretch, they had a 12-game lead. They've lost only two games in the standings while playing .500-ish ball for close to two months. The Yankees opened the door for the rest of the AL East, said come and make a run at us, and none of the other teams did.
That doesn't mean there aren't legitimate issues in the Bronx, of course. The rotation has to sort out the home run problem, the Yankees need Holmes and a few other relievers (Chapman and Loáisiga, specifically) to get on track, and Judge and LeMahieu need more help on offense. It's incorrect to say the Yankees are fortunate to have a 10-game lead. They banked wins earlier this season and built that lead. They earned it and they've afforded themselves the opportunity to straighten a few things out, and clearly, there are things that need to be straightened out.