Be afraid, Yankees fans — be very afraid. Though some are dismissing the Yankees’ late-season slide saying, “After all, they’re still going to make the playoffs,” there’s nothing good to be said about their performance over the last 10 games.
On September 4, the Yankees were on an eight-game winning streak and were the favorites not only to win the American League pennant but to go all the way. The only relevant question seemed to be how good they were in comparison to last year’s World Series champion. Now, the relevant question is: Can they get through the first round of the playoffs?
After Wednesday night’s 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay, Derek Jeter told reporters, “I don’t think we’ve played poorly.” Not, perhaps, compared to the Jets’ performance on Monday night, but by Yankee standards, it’s been pretty lousy. Let’s review:
The Yankees seem to have lost the ability to win tough, close games. Over the past 30 days, they’ve played six one-run games, losing five of them.
Jeter has hit just .228 since September 4.
The Yankees have lost three games on walk-off home runs.
They’ve now lost eight of their last 10 games, and the two they have won haven’t been pretty: The first, a 3-2 victory over Baltimore, was won by a two-out, ninth-inning home run by Nick Swisher, which prevented a hugely embarrassing three-game sweep, at home, by the Orioles.
The only other win in this span was the Yankees going 8-7 over the Rays in which they blew a six-run lead and won in the 10th inning on Jorge Posada home run.
The Yankees have endured losses in C.C. Sabathia’s last two starts. This past Monday, he pitched a one-hitter, but wasn’t around at the end for a 1-0 loss.
In seven of the Yankee’s last 10 games, they have scored no more than three runs. So far, they’ve lost five out of six on the road trip. They left Yankee Stadium with a .268 team batting average and have hit .240 since then.
With runners on second and third base this season, the Yankee have hit .260; over the last six games, they’ve hit just .190.
How important are the next three games with the Buck Showalter-revived Orioles? Consider this: Phil Hughes, who was one of the American League’s dominant pitchers in the first half of the season, has had an ERA of over five runs since the All-Star break. A.J. Burnett is only 10-13 going into tonight’s game with an ERA of 5.13; if he gets shelled tonight by last-place Baltimore, will the Yankees have any confidence in him at all going into the postseason? And how bad are they going to look if they fail to beat Kevin Millwood, who has lost 15 of 18 decisions this season?
If Sabathia fails to win on Saturday, he will probably no longer be the favorite to win the Cy Young — a demoralizing thought at the least. And if Andy Pettitte isn’t effective in his return on Sunday, the Yankees are looking at a late-season stretch and postseason without a single reliable starter except Sabathia.
The truth is that nothing short of a three-game sweep over the Orioles will restore their prestige and confidence before the key four-game series with the Rays starting on Monday.