The New York Yankees have now played 40 games in the 2012 season heading into Sunday's series finals with the Cincinnati Reds. That means the Yankees are for all intents and purposes at the season's quarter pole. There is really only way to describe the first quarter of the season for the Yankees, a disappointing 21-19, fourth in the American League East.
The Yankees have had inconsistent starting pitching and inconsistent performance -- really under-achievement -- from many of the stars who are supposed to carry their offense. Those two issues, much more than the loss of closer Mariano Rivera for the season with a knee injury and replacement closer David Robertson short term with an oblique strain, are what have the Yankees looking up at everyone in the AL East except the scuffling Boston Red Sox.
Let's look first at the starting pitching.
Only two Yankees starting pitchers have earned-run averages under 4.00 -- CC Sabathia (3.77) and Andy Pettitte (2.51). Pettitte, of course, is only two starts into his comeback after 'retiring' before the 2011 season, so his numbers really don't count. Free-agent acquisition Hiroki Kuroda is just 3-5 (and winless away from Yankee Stadium) with a 4.50 ERA. Phil Hughes has been better of late, but still has a 5.23 ERA. Ivan Nova is a deceptive 4-2, with an unsightly 5.69 ERA. Freddy Garcia has an 8.27 ERA, having been banished from the starting rotation when his ERA was above 12.00.
There is really little the Yankees can do here without except hope the guys they have counted on since the beginning -- notably Kuroda, Hughes and Nova -- pitch better the remaining three-quarters of the season than they have during the first quarter. Michael Pineda is gone for the season, Garcia is not the answer, and young pitching prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are not ready to help.
The Yankees also have to hope that Pettitte, who will turn 40 in June, i sable to withstand the rigors of pitching every five days after not having pitched last season. There is always the possibility of a trade, but quality starting pitching is tough to come by on the trade market.
Now, what about that lineup?
Derek Jeter has had an amazing, resurgent first quarter of 2012. He has a .355 batting average and leads the league with 59 base-hits. Jeter, though, never has been and can't now be, the Yankees' lead dog on offense. New York needs the power guys in the middle of its lineup to produce, and thus far in 2012 that has not happened.
Alex Rodriguez, who will be 37 this summer, has not been able to summon the devastating power that has helped him hit 634 career home runs, fifth all time. He has just five home runs and 15 RBI, and Rodriguez' .421 slugging percentage is the worst since he became an every-day player in the big leagues in 1997.It continues a downward spiral in his power production as his power numbers have decreased every season since 2007.
First baseman Mark Teixeira is hitting just .228 with five home runs and 20 RBI. It is time to acknowledge that the Teixeira who hit .306 and .308 with the Texas Rangers in the two seasons before joining the Yankees as a free agent no longer exists. This looks like it will be the third consecutive season during which Teixeira, 32, struggles to hit .250, and unless he picks up the pace dramatically could be the first time since his rookie season of 2003 that he fails to hit at least 30 home runs and drive in more than 100 runs.
Robinson Cano is hitting .302, but has driven in only 16 runs thus far. Raul Ibanez (.264/8/25), Nick Swisher (.260/7/27) and Curtis Granderson (.256/13/23) have power, but none of them will be high-average hitters, either. Toss in the fact that starting catcher Russell Martin is hitting .170, and that Brett Gardner -- the only real threat on the bases for the Yankees -- has played only nine games due to an elbow injury, and the Yankee offense has not been up to par.
I mentioned Gardner above, but the Yankees really miss him in many ways. He is the one player they have who can create runs with his legs, and without him they are overly dependent offensively on a cadre of aging home run hitters. They also miss him in the outfield ans he is a Gold Glove caliber left fielder and without him they are forced to play soon-to-be 40-year-old Raul Ibanez and 35-year-old Andruw Jones in the outfield far too often.
The Yankee bullpen has been fine, even without Rivera. There was one Robertson ninth-inning meltdown, and they are not as intimidating the last few innings with Rivera and Robertson both out. The bullpen, though, has not been the issue.
The Yankees finally sent Eduardo Nunez back to AAA to play every day when his defense simply became too awful to put up with -- something that was probably long overdue.
Chris Stewart, the backup catcher acquired right before the start of the season, is hitting just .200 but has shown his value defensively behind the plate, justifying the trade the forced Francisco Cervelli to AAA.
-- See Pinstripe Alley for more discussion and analysis of the Yankees