The Yankees are in the midst of a collapse. Many fans have been sensitive about using that word, but it’s an appropriate description for what has happened to the team since establishing a 10-game lead in the middle of July.
The Yankees’ lead has not been leveled completely, but the 2012 Bronx Bombers have already become only the second team in franchise history to see a double digit advantage whittled all the way down to a single game. Does that qualify as a collapse? It probably depends on whether you focus upon the one game lead remaining or the nine games that have been shaved off, but ultimately, defining the Yankees’ recent slide is really nothing more than a game of semantics. The important question isn’t whether the team has collapsed, but if it can recover and rebuild.
Although the Yankees have gradually frittered away their lead since July 17, the process has been accelerated in the last two weeks. Over that span, in which the team has lost 10 games and forfeited five from its first place cushion, each part of the team has struggled, but the main culprit has been the offense.
Since August 21, Yankee starters and relievers rank eighth and 14th in the American League, albeit with respectable ERAs of 4.14 and 3.90. Normally, that level of run prevention would be more than enough for the Bronx Bombers, but the team’s bats have gone into a deep slumber. During the same period, the Yankees have scored only 3.1 runs per game, which ranks ahead of only the Cleveland Indians. From a historical perspective, the 48 runs the Yankees have scored over the last 15 games is the franchise’s lowest total over any similar period since 1992. So, if the Yankees are guilty of a collapse, it’s mostly because the Bronx Bombers’ bats have crashed and burned.
What’s behind the Yankees’ historic offensive malaise? Has the lineup gone into a collective panic? Are the team’s hitters gripping their bats more tightly? Several analysts (a search of “Yankees” and “panic” returns over 1,300 stories on Google News during the last week) have begun to examine the psychological element of the Yankees’ recent skid, but the real answer is much simpler. The lineup the Yankees have been trotting out each game just isn’t very good.
Since August 21, 180 plate appearances, or over 40% of the total, have been taken by Jayson Nix, Russell Martin, Chris Dickerson, Eduardo Nunez, Chris Stewart, Steve Pearce, Casey McGehee, Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, and Ichiro Suzuki. Although not everyone in the group has struggled, particularly Nix, the entire cast has collectively posted a line of .175/.254/.256. With so many at bats going to so many subpar offensive players, is it any wonder the Yankees have lost so many games?
There’s really no way to sugarcoat the Yankees’ dwindling lead, other than to look upon the next 28 games as an opportunity for recovery. Because the calendar has only recently turned to September, the Bronx Bombers still have time to take off once again. With the imminent return of Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, who would join Alex Rodriguez in the lineup for the first time in nearly 50 games, the Yankees will finally be able to put their fate in the hands of the players who helped build the team’s double-digit lead in the first place. That can’t erase the recent slide, but it gives reasonable hope for a rebound.
During the offseason and before the trade deadline, the Yankees operated under the assumption that they had more than enough offense to contend for a championship. Over the final month of the season, that decision will be put to the test. If the reassembled lineup performs up to expectations, the Bronx Bombers should add another division title to is mantle. However, if the team fails to “rebuild” its position in September, there’s a good chance Brian Cashman will be forced to do so during the offseason. Epic collapses have the potential to linger (as the Mets and Red Sox learned most recently), so the Yankees may not only be trying to stave off an infamous end to the 2012 season, but, perhaps, avoid a nuclear winter as well.