It is rare that a preseason World Series favorite finds itself fighting to stay above .500 through two-thirds of the season. After watching a four-run lead transform into a six-run deficit in the sixth inning Monday, that is exactly where the 2020 New York Yankees find themselves.
The team is 21-20, and a potential loss Tuesday puts them at .500 for the first time since they were 1-1 on July 25th. Also, the postseason, once considered a foregone conclusion for this team, is in jeopardy. Winning the AL East is an afterthought as they sit six-and-a-half games behind the Tampa Bay Rays.
Now the battle is for second place where they sit two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the AL East’s second automatic bid to the expanded playoff format.
If the postseason started today, they would be the last team in. However, the it does not start today. The team has gone 5-14 in their last 19 games, and they are only one game ahead in the loss column of the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers and two games ahead of the Seattle Mariners for the eighth seed. They have not played well for three weeks, and they have shown no clear identity on the field during that span.
Manager Aaron Boone reiterates that the team needs to move forward.
“We need to get past it and we need to play better obviously,” Boone said after Monday’s loss.
Given the talent in the clubhouse, the team knows they have to figure something out. The team started 16-6, but that iteration of the 2020 Yankees feels like a distant memory.
“I think everybody believes in the guys we have in this room,” Chad Green said. “We just have to put a complete game together.”
2020 Yankees Lacking Identity
The team has played bad baseball during this stretch, and it is hard for them to simply turn the page because they do not have one group of players that can carry them right now. Over the years, the Yankees have built an identity of being able to out hit the competition while shutting down the opposition late in the game. They were able to lean on their bullpen or their offense during rough stretches in the past, but that does not look feasible right now.
The brunt of the criticism is placed on catcher Gary Sanchez‘s shoulders, and that is justifiable. In 114 plate appearances, he is slashing .130/.237/.350 with a 60 OPS+. However, he is far from the only player in the Yankees lineup struggling.
In 112 plate appearances, outfielder Brett Gardner is slashing .170/.295/.309 with a 68 OPS+.
Shortstop Gleyber Torres has missed time due to an injury, but he, too, has underperformed at the plate. His slash line is .233/.347/.314 with a 86 OPS+.
Third baseman/outfielder Miguel Andujar has been shuffled back and forth between the Bronx and the Alternate Site, and he is hitting .217/.265/.326 with a 63 OPS+. The silver lining is that he has totaled 11 bases in his past five games now that he is getting consistent at bats.
“This is a game of adjustments,” Sanchez said. “Pitchers will adjust to you, and you as a hitter have to find the adjustment.”
Opposing pitchers have adjusted to the Yankees, but they have not been able to make those adjustments back.
Next Man Up
In 2019, the team thrived with its ‘next man up’ mentality. The players who stepped up for the 2019 Yankees aren’t finding the same success on the 2020 Yankees. Mike Ford, Thairo Estrada, Tyler Wade, and Mike Tauchman all have an OPS+ under 90, with Ford and Wade under 40. They have been getting consistent at bats with the injuries the Yankees have faced.
The Yankees field a starting lineup for Tuesday’s game with five of the nine hitters posting an OPS+ below the league-average mark of 100. Luke Voit and Clint Frazier have been pleasant surprises while DJ LeMahieu has played to his ability. However, it is hard to rely on an offense consistently getting below-average output at best from over half of its batters.
The Yankees have always had a reputation for a shutdown bullpen. Even in the last ten years, they have built successful bullpens around names such as Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman. The 2020 Yankees have a bullpen filled with big names, but they are not playing to their caliber.
Chapman is still around, but after a bout with Covid-19, he has not been himself. His ERA is 7.20, his walk rate is up, and his home run rate is nearly four times the worst rate of his career.
Tommy Kahnle pitched one inning before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The exclamation point to the bullpen’s struggles came Monday night when Adam Ottavino allowed six earned runs without recording an out. He and Green combined to get one out and allow nine earned runs.
“It’s been the nature of what these last couple weeks have been for us,” Boone said ahead of Tuesday’s game.
Although no identity is apparent, the team has the talent to end this stretch of futility. Boone emphasizes the idea of worrying about the process rather than the results. That being said, the results need to come and he understands that.
“Obviously we want it to start showing up in results,” Boone said.”…We had some good performances out there and we gotta put a game together.”
Brian Cashman traveled with the team to Buffalo. After Monday’s loss, he met with the team, leaving a positive message.
The Yankees have hit the lowest point of their season, and they need to have the offense and the bullpen, their identity, play better. Cashman’s message may be just what they need as they prepare to face the Blue Jays for the second of ten times in the next three weeks.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images