Yankees Thoughts: How Is Offense This Bad Again?

Yankees have been shut out three times in first 13 games of season

The Yankees had a chance to make up for their lost weekend in Baltimore by sweeping the Tigers. Instead, they were shut out for the third time in the first 13 games of the season.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The Yankees are 7-6 and on pace for 87 wins. They have a plus-2 run differential and an expected record of 7-6, so their mediocre play has played them to their expected mediocre record.

Even though they won the series in Detroit, it wasn’t enough. It can’t be enough when you lose a series to the Orioles. Had they won at least two of three against the Orioles, then yeah, winning two of three in Detroit would have left a better taste in all Yankees fans mouths.

The issue isn’t the Yankees losing games because they are going to lose games. It’s how they are losing them and who they are losing them to. They left 13 on against the Red Sox in their one loss to them. They were shut out once by the Blue Jays. They scored six runs in 29 innings in Camden Yards of all places. They were shut out by the Tigers.

Thursday’s loss was the third time the Yankees have been shut out in 13 games this season. For as miserable as 2021 was, the Yankees weren’t shut out for a third time until their 65th game last season. The 2019 Yankees were only shut out twice all year. The 2018 Yankees were shut out for a third time in their 80th game and the 2017 Yankees in their 113th game. This offense is really, really bad, and the franchise hasn’t seen an offense produce this few runs through 13 games in half a century.

(Of course it was Michael Pineda of all pitchers shutting out the Yankees for five innings on Thursday. Pineda is just the latest ex-Yankee in a long list of ex-Yankees to perform to their peak abilities when playing the Yankees.)

When asked after the Orioles series about how the 2022 Yankees look just like the 2021 Yankees (because they are except for Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa), Aaron Boone said, “It’s fair to say that about last year. Let’s check back with us. We’ll be fine.”

Since Boone said the offense would be fine, they scored four runs on Tuesday, three of which came as a result of a combination of a bases-loaded infield popup being dropped and a pitcher spiking a ball into the mound during his delivery. On Wednesday, they needed the Tigers to throw away the ball on an ill-advised Gleyber Torres bunt attempt to break a 3-3 tie. On Thursday, they were shut out.

Oh yeah, I’m sure everything will be fine. Just like it was last year when Boone kept saying the Yankees were going “to get it rolling” or that they would “turn the page” after each disappointing performance.

The offense has been the team’s biggest problem since the starting pitching has been good to great and the bullpen has been great to outstanding. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t individual underachievers who are a part of a 3-3 six games against two greatly inferior opponents.

2. Following the sticky stuff crackdown in 2021, Gerrit Cole’s performance dipped. Any poor start he had after the crackdown could be attributed to him learning to pitch with a mostly dry baseball, and eventually his poor starts in September and October were attributed to him pitching through a hamstring problem. He’s now had half of a regular season and a full offseason to get used to pitching without sticky stuff and he no longer has a hamstring issue. So what should his three 2022 starts be attributed to?

Someone with his resume and pedigree isn’t supposed to throw three consecutive clunkers. A bad start every once in a while is expected, even for him. But to make it the norm? That’s scary.

Going back to the beginning of September, here are Cole’s last nine starts:

3.2 IP, 2 ER
5 IP, 1 ER
5.2 IP, 7 ER
6 IP, 3 ER
6 IP, 5 ER
2 IP, 3 ER
4 IP, 3 ER
5.2 IP, 3 ER
1.2 IP, 2 ER

One of those starts could be considered good for Cole’s abilities (the 5 IP, 1 ER start), but even then he didn’t make it past the fifth inning.

On Tuesday against the Tigers, he walked a career-high five batters in a game, and he only needed 1 2/3 innings to achieve it. He walked the Tigers’ 7, 8 and 9 hitters consecutively and walked four of five before being pulled.

“Certainly, never had anything like that in my career before,” Cole said after the start, clearly lost on what to do. “But it’s not something we can’t get through.”

After Cole’s first inning, I thought he was going to dominate the Tigers for at least six innings and give the bullpen a much-needed break. Instead, he recorded two more outs and the Yankees needed Clarke Schmidt to step up with his best major-league outing, since the offense took another night off.

“I’m pretty disappointed right now,” Cole said.

As he should be. All Yankees fans are disappointed and I would say all are concerned even if some hide it. Everyone should be concerned. Cole has been average to awful for nine starts going back to last year. I think everyone within the Yankees is concerned too, even if they would also tell you otherwise. Everyone except Boone that is.

“I’m not (concerned),” Boone said. “I’m really not. I believe he’s poised for a big year for us.”

Well, 10 percent of his starts have already been made, and in the best of the three, he literally tipped his cap to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for beating him for a third straight time in an important divisional matchup.

I expect Cole to go out on Sunday and dominate an extremely weak Guardians lineup. If Cole is still himself and if he wants to put an end to any question about his abilities post-sticky stuff, then he has to dominate that lineup at home.

3. The Yankees’ two wins in Detroit both came in close games since that’s all the Yankees have played since the start of last season. The Yankees failed to win yet another winnable game in the series finale and failed to complete yet another series sweep. It was a problem for all of 2021, and it’s been a problem for eight percent of 2022. That’s because this season is just a continuation of last season.

The Yankees have yet to get blown out in a game that could be classified as Just one of those days over the course of a 162-game season. Their losses have been by 1, 3, 2, 1, 5 and 3 runs. In the five-run loss (last Sunday to the Orioles), the game was 0-0 in the eighth. In their most recent three-run loss (on Thursday to the Tigers), the game was 1-0 in the eighth. The Yankees are in every game because their pitching is the best in the American League. They are 7-6 because their offense has been close to the worst in the AL.

While the Yankees aren’t getting blown out, they’re not blowing anyone out. Yet another trait of the 2021 team. The Yankees’ wins have been by 1, 2, 4, 3, 3, 2 and 2 runs. The Yankees’ inability to score runs and turn games into laughers is a recipe for disaster, as it was last year. Asking their elite relievers to pitch every single day is the same strategy that helped lead to their demise in 2021, and it will eventually in 2022 as well. We already saw Jonathan Loaisiga show signs of fatigue on Sunday. Chad Green showed the same as his inning on Wednesday went on. Miguel Castro struggled to get outs on Thursday. The fatigue will eventually come for Clay Holmes as well.

4. Aaron Judge couldn’t be off to a worse start after turning down a seven-year, $230 million contract extension to cover his age 31 through 37 seasons. Judge is hitting .255/.340/.404 with four doubles, one home run and two RBIs. With runners in scoring position, he has a single hit in 11 plate appearances. In late-and-close situations, he has a .523 OPS.

Judge has been the offense’s biggest problem. Sure, Joey Gallo has sucked, Donaldson has been a disappointment, Giancarlo Stanton has looked lost since the first two games against the Red Sox, Anthony Rizzo has sprinkled in a few home runs around a lot of outs and Gleyber Torres and Kyle Higashioka are working on playing themselves out of the league, but none of those players are Judge. None of them are supposed to be the Yankees’ best and most important bat. And none of them turned down nearly a quarter of a billion dollars on Opening Day.

If Judge doesn’t start producing soon, the narrative of the pressure of a new deal is going to consume his season. Whether it’s true or not, it will be hard to ignore if a player with a .940 career OPS coming into this season suddenly doesn’t have a number close to that. It’s not necessarily going to happen, and there’s too much of the season left to think it will happen, but with each feeble at-bat of his (and there have been a lot of those), the eventual dollars Judge gets from some team are dropping.

Having a down season (again there’s 92 percent of the season left) was always a possibility for Judge. And because free-agent baseball players get paid on their most recent season (like Marcus Semien), it was always foolish for Judge to reject the Yankees’ very fair offer and try to better it. The Yankees didn’t lowball Judge, like I thought they did when the news broke there was no extension. I thought the Yankees had offered him something like six years and $150 million. But to turn down seven years, when he’ll be 31 years old at the start of the new deal, and a higher average annual salary than Bryce Harper and Mookie Betts was a really, really bad decision. Judge was going to need to have a year like his 2017 season to beat the offer he turned down, and since he’s had that type of season once, and since he has spent a good part of his career on the injured list, I will never understand why he turned down seven years and $230 million.

Judge is far from the only problem and far from the only problem with runners in scoring position and a runner on third with less than two out.

5. Aaron Hicks has been one of the Yankees’ two most consistent hitters this season, with DJ LeMahieu being the other. But Hicks’ consistency has come with no one on base. With a chance to drive in runs, Hicks has turned into Higashioka.

First and second, one out: intentional walk
Bases loaded, one out: ground into double play
Second and third, one out: popout to short
Runner on third, one out: home run
Runner on third, one out: walk
Runner on second, no outs: strikeout
First and second, one out: groundout to first
Bases loaded, one out: ground into double play
Second and third, one out: groundout to short
Runner on third, one out: sacrifice fly
Runner on second, two outs: walk
First and second, no outs: lineout
Second and third, one out: flyout
Second and third, no outs: popout to short

6. Gallo has become unplayable. I don’t care that Gallo has a .135 batting average since he has a .205 career batting average. With two more hits this season, Gallo would be near his career average. I do care that he’s not hitting home runs. That’s what Gallo is supposed to be. He’s supposed to strike out (which he has no problem doing), he’s supposed to walk (which he’s somewhat doing) and he’s supposed to hit home runs, which he has none of. Gallo has five hits in 43 plate appearances, and they’re all single. He doesn’t have an extra-base hit and he’s driven in zero runs, despite having many chances to, as he’s left 22 runners on base.

The frustrating thing is that his defense hasn’t been good either. He has misplayed several caroms, made offline throws on scoring attempts and even took a wrong angle on Thursday, playing what could have been a single into a double. Every part of Gallo’s game has been bad.

7. The Yankees traded for Donaldson because like Cashman said, “Gio Urshela is not Josh Donaldson.” No, he’s not. At least not from a career standpoint. But Donaldson has played more like Urshela, and I mean the version of Urshela the then-Indians gave up on and the Blue Jays gave away for nothing.

Donaldson has started 11 of the Yankees’ 13 games and has appeared in all 13. He has only started at third base in seven of them. I guess the Yankees’ plan to keep Donaldson healthy is to simply not play him. That still wouldn’t be good, but would at least make a little more sense if the Yankees didn’t also have an outfielder in Stanton who they don’t let play the field.

The Yankees owe Donaldson $48 million between this season and next and they are already shying away from using him as an everyday player. And when he does play, he’s been atrocious with seven multi-strikeout games and more strikeouts than Gallo.

Donaldson is 36. This could just be a slump and a poor start to a long season. There’s also a chance he’s done as a major leaguer at what is an extremely advanced age in baseball now without the help of certain things that could enhance performance in the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. Sometimes it goes overnight on players, even those who were as productive as Donaldson was last year. Sometimes it goes during an offseason like it may have for Donaldson.

8. Earlier this week, I wrote the When Will Yankees Say Goodbye to Gleyber Torres? Since then, Torres rightfully wasn’t in the starting lineup for two of the three games in Detroit and went 1-for-5 when he did play (he started one game and pinch hit in another). The longer Torres is on the Yankees, the bigger a problem he becomes and he’s already an enormous problem. It becomes bigger because as long as he’s a Yankee, he’s going to get playing time, and when he plays, someone who should play doesn’t. He doesn’t do anything well, has a horrible baseball IQ and makes poor decisions at the plate and in the field.

Somehow, Torres has already found his way back to shortstop twice this season. No, that’s not his doing, that’s his idiotic manager’s doing, but here’s a timeline of the Yankees’ handling of Torres:

July 31, 2021: The Yankees are unable to trade for a shortstop at the deadline.

Sept. 14, 2021: With no alternative options, the Yankees finally move Torres to second and Gio Urshela to short after Torres’ defense single-handedly loses them a game against the Mets on Sunday Night Baseball.

Oct. 19, 2021: At the Yankees’ end-of-the-season press conference, Brian Cashman admits “failed endeavor” to trade for a shortstop at the deadline. He says Torres is “best served as a second baseman.”

April 11, 2022: Torres plays shortstop.

April 17, 2022: Torres plays shortstop.

The Yankees are always overly cautious with giving up on one of their players. They waited and waited for Eduardo Nunez to come around after being unwilling to include him in a trade for Cliff Lee that would have gotten to them to the World Series and making him the heir to Derek Jeter. They eventually released him for nothing. When Clint Frazier wasn’t injured, he was jerked around by the organization and kept in Triple-A so Mike Tauchman could play and then named the 2021 starting left fielder only to give that job to Brett Gardner a week into the season. They eventually released him for nothing.

Torres is going on three years removed from the last time he was a young star and on his way to becoming the Yankees’ most important player. The Yankees aren’t going to release him for nothing like the other two given his resume is much better than theirs even if it’s been a long time since he was even an average player, let alone a superstar in the making. But he has no place on this team, and unfortunately, because the Yankees chose to pass on trading him this past offseason, I think he’s here for at least all of 2022. Be prepared for a lot of poor quality at-bats, unacceptable defensive plays and important pieces of the lineup sitting all so Torres can play.

9. No one waits to make a pitching change until the bases are loaded like Boone. Boone likes to commonly use the phrase “We were up against it” when discussing a situation in which he brought a new pitcher into a bases-loaded jam, and the reason the Yankees are ever “up against it” is because of their manager. Because he let it get to that point.

He did it last weekend with Loaisiga. He did it again on Thursday with Castro. There’s nothing Boone loves more than bringing in a new pitcher with zero margin for error. It has happened countless times in his managerial career, and apparently it’s going to keep happening as he hasn’t evolved in any aspect of his position. (Just another gripe with a manager who is undeserving of the position he has.)

10. The Yankees pissed away an opportunity to sweep the Red Sox in the season-opening series. They were embarrassing in their series loss to the Orioles, who are 2-8 against the rest of the league. They were gifted enough runs to beat the Tigers twice before getting shut out yet again. These last six games were supposed to be part of an easy portion of their schedule in which they play the Orioles (3), Tigers (3), Guardians (3), Orioles (3) and Royals (3), and they are 3-3 in this 15-game stretch.

The Yankees better play like the Yankees for the remaining nine games of this schedule. Because after that 13 of their next 20 will come against the Blue Jays, White Sox and Rays. (The other seven will come against the Orioles, who they can’t seem to consistently beat.)

I need to see the offense come alive at home against the Guardians and Orioles for the next six games. I need to see Gerrit Cole pitch like the ace he’s supposed to be. I need the bullpen to get a rest before the blown leads and crushing losses arrive like they did for a fatigued bullpen last season. I need the Yankees to play to their abilities, not down to their opponents’.

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