Never has a nine-game division lead seemed more precarious. The New York Yankees continued their second-half slump Tuesday night with a 3–1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. On the bright side, they finally scored a run after failing to get on the board the previous two games, and they won 8–7 on Thursday. Unfortunately, they struggled all night on Tuesday at the plate, and wasted yet another quality start, this one by Nestor Cortes. New York has lost 11 of its last 14 games, and now five consecutive series for the first time since 2005. The team announced after Tuesday’s game that several players will be called up from Triple-A. This may give them a much-needed jolt. But this recent slide is multi-faceted, so let’s explore exactly how the Yankees got to this position.
Yankees Slump Starts with the Offense
The main overall reason for the Yankees’ 9–17 record since the All-Star break is simple: they’re not hitting like they were in the first half. In 26 second-half games, New York has scored ten or more runs only once, on July 29. In all but seven of the other games, they’ve scored five runs or fewer. The team is hitting 20 points lower in the second half (.246 pre-All Star break to .226 post) and their OPS is down from .776 to .704.
This is partly attributable to injuries. Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t played since July 23, with an Achilles injury keeping him on the IL since then. Anthony Rizzo also missed some time. DJ LeMahieu’s recent struggles were revealed to be partly due to a toe injury. On top of the injuries, though, several hitters have not pulled their weight since mid-July. In particular, Aaron Hicks, Josh Donaldson, and Gleyber Torres have all struggled at the plate. In the second half, Hicks is hitting .160 with a .427 OPS and no homers. For the season, he has a -3.0 WPA, which is the lowest of any position player in the majors this year. Donaldson is hitting .218 in the second half with 29 strikeouts and a .660 OPS. Torres is hitting a paltry .184 since the break with 28 strikeouts.
Early in the second half, the main issue was failing to cash in with runners on base. The Yankees lost several close games due to lack of clutch hitting, and bullpen hiccups. Lately, though, they’ve had trouble manufacturing any offense at all. In the eight games leading up to Wednesday, they have failed to score more than four runs. They scored eight runs on Wednesday against Tampa Bay. This offensive funk comes in the midst of solid pitching. This stat basically sums things up:
The Yankees have lost their last 6 games in which they got a Quality Start (Cole, Cortes, German, Taillon, Cole, Cortes)
Their longest streak since another 6-game streak from April 25 to May 2, 1979 (Figueroa, Guidry, Hunter, John, Figueroa, Guidry) (h/t @StatsBySTATS)
— James Smyth (@JamesSmyth621) August 17, 2022
Bullpen Issues Also Hurt
The underperformance of the bullpen has also hurt the Yankees in the second half. Injuries, personnel mismanagement and subpar performances are all contributing factors. The bullpen had a 2.89 ERA prior to the break. In the 25 games since, it is 3.29. The optioning of Clarke Schmidt and Ron Marinaccio hurt the bullpen depth, as the struggling Jonathan Loaisiga and Albert Abreu were forced to fill their roles.
In another worrisome development, Clay Holmes went from a 1.31 ERA in the first half to 8.22 in the second. In eight second-half appearances, he has lost the strike zone, issuing seven walks after only walking nine the entire first half. This may be partially due to a back issue, which became aggravated on Friday and landed him on the IL. Holmes’ regression is an awful sign for a bullpen that needs to be rock solid for the playoffs. If it’s only because of the injury, and he’s somewhat back to normal after his IL stint, it will be a very encouraging sign.
The Slide Must End
The biggest reason for the Yankees’ slump is their nonexistent offense. At first, the bullpen issues overshadowed the offensive regression. But lately, the pen has had few chances to close out games. Losing Stanton has left the rest of the lineup struggling to get on base, let alone drive in runners. Having a few players who are automatic outs lately sets the tone, and the funk is now bleeding through to the rest of the lineup. Injuries were a big problem for the Yankees last year, and in the first half of 2022, they were largely spared of any bad ones. That’s a huge reason why their record was as good as it was. But now the bug is catching up with them on both sides of the ball. It’s not the sole reason for this slump, but it appears to be the catalyst.
The only area mostly immune to the current slide, whether injuries or bad performance, is the starting rotation. For the most part, the rotation has been outstanding. This is a trend that must continue once the team starts hitting again. One would think the Yankees’ slump has to end eventually. The only question is when. If the Yankees salvage the division and go into October playing decent baseball, they’ll be in good shape. But if they continue to run on fumes the rest of the way, they likely won’t last long in the postseason.
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