Due to a lack of time and also the shortened two-game set, this will be a bit of an abbreviated Series Preview.
As you know, the second-place Yankees, losers of five straight, are in Tampa tonight to face the lightning-hot first-place Rays, who have the best record in the Majors since stumbling to an 0-6 start. Any Yankee fans concerned about their team’s current plight would do well to talk to a Tampa or Boston fan and see how they felt losing the first six games of their seasons. As much as a losing streak of any kind sucks, these types of things happen in a 162-game baseball season.
Of course, the Yankees haven’t been playing a particularly inspiring brand of baseball for over two weeks now, and it’s hard to feel all that confident that this team — despite still leading the AL in wOBA — is going to snap out of its funk against David Price. The offense has gone dormant during their 5-9 May performance, averaging a measly four runs per game (h/t Joe P. at RAB), and old friend RISPFail has been in full effect during this stretch of futility, with the Yankees putting man after man on base and having a nightmarish time of getting them home. The Yankees have actually performed worse than normal with RISP (92 tOPS+) but believe it or not are still performing at better than league average with RISP (107 sOPS+). Yeah, I know, I don’t know how that’s possible, either.
As much as we joke about the Yankees’ inability to plate all of these hitters, it’s exceptionally frustrating, and also not an isolated incident. In fact, a lack of timely hitting with runners in scoring position, has, believe it or not, been something of a hallmark of the Kevin Long era, who has been the team’s hitting coach since 2007. To wit:
|Yankees with RISP||tOPS+||sOPS+|
|2011 (to date)||92||107|
By no means am I trying to insinuate that Kevin Long has been anything but a huge asset to the team as hitting coach — you can’t accidentally boast the best offense in the American League for three out of the last four full seasons — but I do wonder if there’s something in his tutelage that makes his students less effective when situational hitting comes into play. As you can see, thus far in 2011, as well as in 2009 and 2008 (they were exactly league average last season) the Yankees have performed slightly worse with RISP than usual. Although considering they’ve been above league average every season except 2008, this is probably a non-starter.
Anyway, on offense, the Rays are being propelled by superhuman campaigns from Ben Zobrist (.409 wOBA) and certified Yankee-killer Matt Joyce (.450). Evan Longoria is back and raking, and Casey Kotchman is hitting surprisingly well too (.380 wOBA over the last two weeks). The rest of the offense hasn’t really been there save B.J. Upton, but if those five keep their production up it may not even matter if they have four black-hole lineup slots if the Rays keep pitching the way they’ve been (3.13 team ERA over the last 30 days, 2nd in the AL; 3.28 season FIP at home).
For their troubles, the Yankees get David Price (3.12 ERA/2.89 FIP/3.24 xFIP) who continues his assault on American league hitters, and will send A.J. Burnett (3.38 ERA/4.18 FIP/3.98 xFIP) to the hill to oppose the southpaw. Price has historically been hell on the Yankees, and he is probably the last pitcher the team would like to see as it tries to snap its five-game losing streak. Still, as great as Price is, the Yankees are going to have to show that they can occasionally beat pitchers of his caliber.
In Tuesday’s mismatch the Yanks send Ivan Nova (4.70 ERA/4.48 FIP/4.74 xFIP) to the mound against the rejuvenated James Shields (2.08 ERA/3.07 FIP/3.10 xFIP). As you can see, Shields has been utterly dominant, and if the Yankees can’t get to Price the team may be staring at a seven-game losing streak when it wakes up on Wednesday morning.
On the flip side, all the Yankees need to do is win both of these games to get back into a tie for first place. Call me crazy, but I think they can do it. There’s no way this team is as bad as its played during the past week, and if they were ever due to break out, it may as well be now.
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