The Yankees have won 20 of 26. They’re one of three big league clubs with a better-than-.600 winning percentage, and they have a two-and-a-half-game lead in the American League East. Even after back-to-back losses, there’s more good than bad to this team.
So why have they been so bad — so consistently awful — with runners in scoring position?
“We’d have a better record, probably, if it wasn’t going on,” Joe Girardi said. “I’ve said all along, we’re going to score most of our runs by hitting home runs. That’s what we do. I believe eventually it’s going to turn around some.”
Thing is, Girardi’s been saying that same thing for more than a month now, but the Yankees haven’t gotten any better. Only the Marlins and Padres have a worse batting average with runners in scoring position, and although the Yankees have the second most RISP home runs in the big leagues, their RISP slugging percentage is only slightly better than the lowly Mariners.
“We’ve talked about this for a long time,” Mark Teixeira said. “We need to be better, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what our strikeout average is. Maybe we’re striking out too much. I don’t know. Maybe we are putting too many balls in play. I talked to you guys earlier, about when you’re not aggressive, you end up putting balls in play that you should swing and miss, or maybe foul off. Maybe we’re not being aggressive enough. I don’t know. … I hope it’s bad luck. At this point, maybe it’s not.”
Winning a bunch of games changed the focus for a while. It was hard to get too nit-picky about a team that was working on a 10-game winning streak, but when the Yankees beat the Nationals on Sunday to finish off a third straight series sweep, they went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
“Winning covers up a lot of things,” Teixeira said. “I always talk about defense. Now, we play great defense, but you don’t ever think about defense, or talk about defense, until it loses you a game. I think hitting with runners in scoring position is the same way. As long as we’re winning, it’s OK, don’t worry about it, we’re winning. But when you’re not winning games, you have to look at it, how could we be better? Hitting with runners in scoring position is one of those things.”
It’s the biggest thing, actually.
Yankees rotation has been oustanding lately. The bullpen was terrific even before Dave Robertson came off the disabled list. The defense isn’t dynamic, but it’s as reliable as it gets. The Yankees don’t kick the ball all over the field, they can pitch, and they have the most home runs in the big leagues.
So how do they fix the runners-in-scoring-position problem? No one seems to know — “It hasn’t been talked about (among the players),” Curtis Granderson said — and the Yankees are still one of the best-hitting teams in baseball. How does a team practice for a high-pressure, in-game situation? And would that sort of practice even help a veteran team like this one?
“I don’t imagine that there’s been a team that’s went through it as long as we have and was 14 games or 15 games over .500,” Girardi said. “Now I imagine there are some teams that have went through it and their records haven’t been as good. I’m not a betting man, but if I was I would bet, that it’s going to change.”
Associated Press photos