At Season’s Midpoint, Yankees Struggle to Score
C. C. Sabathia after giving up a home run Friday. The Yankees’ pitching staff is feeling the effect of a slumping offense.
By SCOTT CACCIOLA
Published: June 30, 2013
BALTIMORE — The tarp was smothering the infield when the Yankees arrived Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards. It appeared to be a gloomy night for baseball, with dark clouds overhead, and the weather made for an easy metaphor. The Yankees have struggled in recent weeks, their prospects dimming by the day.
Their meeting with the Orioles was to be their 81st game of the season, marking the midpoint of a trying year. The Yankees entered the game in third place in the American League East, and a glance at a handful of statistics — a collective .240 batting average and 80 home runs, to name two — made it easy to see why they had won just 42 games.
Even before the game, the Yankees were assured of having assembled one of their worst first halves in recent history. They were scoring 3.9 runs on eight hits per game. Their O.P.S., a metric that combines on-base percentage and slugging percentage, was .682, which was on pace to be their lowest at a midpoint of a season since 1990, when it was .658. By comparison, the Boston Red Sox are leading the league with an O.P.S. of .795. Not coincidentally, they are in first place.
Even when the Yankees were hobbling their way to a 40-41 record through the first half of 2007, they were producing a respectable 5.3 runs per game along with an O.P.S. of .787. Bolstered by improved pitching, that team caught fire over the second half of the season and won 94 games to make the playoffs. And in 2005, the Yankees were 42-39 through 81 games, with a .275 batting average and a lineup that was scoring 5.4 runs per game. They went on to win their division.
Manager Joe Girardi continues to be a lonely voice of optimism. He has seen enough solid at-bats, he said before Sunday’s game, to feel confident that the team will improve. Plus, his pitching staff and its 3.86 earned run average had done what it could to keep the team from free-falling through the standings.
“We’d like to be in better position, but that’s not the case,” Girardi said, adding, “It should be a very interesting second half.”
The Yankees have been hindered by age and injury. Sunday’s lineup was again missing the big-name stars: Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez, all sidelined with various ailments. Their replacements went by the names David Adams, Lyle Overbay, Zoilo Almonte and Jayson Nix.
Even Travis Hafner, a designated hitter and one of the team’s top off-season acquisitions, was having serious problems at the plate ahead of Sunday’s game, hitting .156 with four home runs since May 22. His woes underscored the team’s inability to hit the baseball very far.
“I think you have to have the ability to hit home runs in our division,” Girardi said. “It’s hard when you’re not doing that to score five or six runs a night.”
The Yankees last finished out of the playoffs in 2008, when they went 44-37 through their first 81 games. It was Girardi’s first season as manager, and that team also struggled to produce much pop, averaging exactly one home run per game through the first half of the season.
For now, Girardi can only hope that his many fill-ins — the Overbays, the Nixes, the Almontes — can do an adequate job until the Jeters and the Grandersons return.
“I think it’s probably fair to say it’s not real clear,” Girardi said of the team’s second-half prospects, “because you don’t know exactly when the guys are coming back or how they’re going to feel. You make the assumption that they’re going to come back and be good players. I mean, I make that assumption. There’s nothing that tells me they won’t be.”
PHELPS KEEPS ROTATION SPOT Despite getting pummeled by the Orioles in Saturday’s 11-3 loss, David Phelps is keeping his spot in the rotation — for the time being, at least. Girardi said Phelps would start Thursday against the Minnesota Twins, even after he gave up nine runs in two and a third innings. Ivan Nova, who came on in relief and limited the Orioles to two runs in five and two-thirds innings, will continue to throw out of the bullpen, though Girardi said there was a chance he could find Nova a spot “somewhere else.”
Nova said: “My mind is just on doing my job. I’ll take advantage of any opportunity that I get.”
Entering Sunday’s game, Mariano Rivera had pitched only once since June 22, thanks largely to the team’s losing ways. Joe Girardi said he was not concerned about Rivera’s inactivity. “Mo really knows how to prepare himself,” Girardi said. “When you’ve done it as long as he has, he knows what he needs to do to be sharp. Our biggest concern is always keeping him fresh. We’ve been able to do that for a number of different reasons. The way we’re doing it right now is not my favorite.” … Girardi said Alex Rodriguez had three hits in six simulated at-bats Sunday at the team’s training complex in Tampa, Fla.