The bottom line for the New York Yankees 2019 has a nice flush to it at the mid-point of August. The team has a healthy ten-game lead on the second place Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox are out of it (if not mathematically). And the Yankees are fighting among three teams for the best record in baseball. Those are all good things, right? Then why do I worry so much? Is it just my nature to worry? Or are my concerns legitimate? Let me list them out.
Aaron Judge does not look fearsome at the plate. If anything, he looks tepid and easy to pitch to. His fly ball rate has shriveled up. He seems to have lost his sense of the strike zone. Pitchers are exploiting his weaknesses at will (good pitchers and not-so-good pitchers alike). What is wrong with the big guy? Has he lost his way? Is it just a slump? Is it lingering effects of his torn abdominal muscle? When he is right, he adds a dimension of fear into the Yankees' lineup. It gives fans a sense of anticipation and hope. None of those things are there right now. Gosh, I hope it is just a slump.
Nobody seems concerned that all the big guns in the bullpen cannot manage to pitch an inning without a walk or two. It concerns me greatly. Adam Ottavino has more walks allowed than Domingo German and CC Sabathia. He is only two behind Masahiro Tanaka and three behind JA Happ. Zack Britton is only three walks behind Ottavino. Even closer, Aroldis Chapman is walking four batters per nine innings. The addition of Jonathan Loaisiga does not help that proposition with his five walks per nine.
Sooner or later, these walks will catch up to the bullpen. In many ways, it already has. Ottavino coughed up a lead this week. I long for two things. One is 1-2-3 innings from these "big" relievers. And two, I long for each and every one of them to stop fooling around with two strikes and go after the hitters. Tommy Kahnle is the only one who consistently throws strikes when he comes in to pitch.
Yes, there have been some better starts lately. But they have come against bad teams. I have absolutely no confidence in any starter as a "shut down" pitcher and none of them can consistently get to the fifth inning with less than 100 pitches. Paxton has been showing signs of figuring things out. But put five good starts together before any kind of comfort level returns. Tanaka is a different pitcher in each and every outing. Which he will be on any particular night is impossible to predict. And Happ is just not there. He cannot get his fastball command no matter how often he pitches.
Yes, the big story has been the "next man up" mentality shown by fill in players playing for the Yankees' stars. But how soon does Cameron Maybin return to what he has always been before? Will the magic last for Mike Tauchman and Gio Urshela? Do you really want Mike Ford getting post season at bats? Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks have been total injury busts. Luke Voit might get back at the end of August. Edwin Encarnacion was just starting to deliver and he is gone. It just never seems to end. Does it worry anyone else that this "magic" can turn to sawdust at any time? Will these surprising players hold up against post season pitching? Its worrisome.
The other thing about injuries is the lack of continuity it causes. Somebody comes back, has to get his timing back and then hope that he does not get injured again. The great Katy Sharp told me that the Yankees have had the same lineup less than five times all season. Holy smokes!
Aaron Boone And The Bullpen
The Yankees' manager has been exemplary in most ways this season. The success has to be given to him at least partly for his indefatigable nature. But one area of weakness is the opposite of Joe Girardi's. Girardi always had too quick of a hook. Boone always seems to be two to three outs too late. He completely ruined the feel good story of Brady Lail the other night by pitching him an inning too long. Now the poor guy has been DFA'd. I hope you had a nice moment, Brady. Luis Cessa always pitches an inning too long as does Nester Cortez Jr. It has been a consistent problem. Add in the pressure of the post season and what happens?
So, yes, I should be rolling along with this train as it rides toward what seems to be a division win. I should be enjoying this ride. But I do not. I worry. I fret. And I hope like everything that my fears are all unfounded.