AL East: Are we really too hard on the New York Yankees?

Fans and analysts have been ruthless in their criticism of the Yankees in recent months. But is it possible that we need to put on the brakes?

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(Photo Credit: Hayden Schiff)

The New York Yankees have hung around 30 games above .500 for a couple months now, currently sitting at 80-47. But that record could be far better no doubt. They’ve been criticized for having “a lack of energy” by Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez on Twitter and take hits from fans and analysts on sports talk shows almost daily, usually regardless of if they won their previous game or not. Having gone from battling with the Boston Red Sox for the lead in the AL East to barely holding onto the first AL Wild Card spot hasn’t helped their cause. Instead, it’s been like giving fans gasoline to pour onto the verbal fire. They just haven’t been able to consistently play a high level of baseball and get solid efforts from their pitching and hitting at the same time.

During the winter, the Yankees let Joe Girardi, their manager of 10 seasons, walk after falling one game shy of a World Series appearance. To replace him, they made a surprise move and signed first-time manager and former Yankee postseason hero Aaron Boone. Despite being new to the everyday tasks a manager handles, Boone has done a good job and has proven himself competent when making bullpen decisions and handling the lineups. Before the season began, many wondered if he’d be able to handle the many egos prevalent in a clubhouse with as much high-end talent as the Yankees. But to this point, he has yet to have any real issues with players following orders.

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Staying Alive

Injuries have been a major contributor to the lack of recent production. Jacoby Ellsbury will fail to even appear in a game for the Yankees in 2018, with his season officially ending before it even began due to a myriad of injuries. Jordan Montgomery, who is considered an important asset in their rotation, hasn’t pitched since May 1st and will also miss the rest of the season and most of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Gary Sanchez has seen been hurt twice this season, both times due to a nagging groin. Not even the great Aaron Judge is off-limits. When all is said and done with his wrist injury, he will have missed over a month of time.

The hitters haven’t been the only group that has needed some serious resiliency to survive these injuries. The pitching staff has gone through multiple injury issues too, not to mention plain bad play (paging Sonny Gray). They’ve had positive outings from youngsters Chance Adams and Jonathan Loaisiga in temporary starting roles. But neither has secured a more permanent gig in the rotation. The bullpen has been relatively stout as expected, but even that group has seen its fair share of miscues and injury issues at various points this season.

Despite their injury woes, the Yankees have played relatively decent baseball over the course of the last month. They’ve gotten big contributions from Neil Walker, who only took roughly five months to play competent baseball. Giancarlo Stanton has had stretches reminiscent of his 2017 standout performance in the second half this season. They’ve also had good runs from other guys like Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, and Greg Bird, although none of them have lasted much longer than a couple days to a week.

Hustle up

Now that the excuses are out of the way, there are problems that need fixing in order for this team to make any sort of run in the postseason. One major issue for them is they suffer from a lack of energy from time to time. Whether it be a lack of hustle down the first base line on ground balls, jogging after hitting a fly ball that may have a chance of leaving the yard or playing a little slow on defense during the turning of double plays. The reason may be that they’re so talented that sometimes they downplay routine plays and that leads to some easy plays being botched. 

To a point, they definitely deserve their fair share of criticism. Playing with a chip on your shoulder is a great way to keep yourself grounded. The Yankees are 27-20 since the start of July, which is a far cry from their 35-17 record in May and June. They’ve played sluggishly at times, almost expecting themselves to perform at a high level without having to put in much effort, which has obviously not worked out too well for them most of the time.

They’re still pretty good

Yes, the Yankees are currently 8.5 games back of Boston, and it’s easy to call them out for all the issues they have. But the fact of the matter is that the Red Sox are playing historically good baseball and are well on pace to win over 110 games, something that hasn’t happened since the 2001 Mariners. To get a grasp on just how well the Yankees have played this season, consider this. When placed in every other division in baseball, the Yankees would own at least a three-game lead in the loss column in every division, while owning a 9-game lead in the loss column in the NL East, and a ten-game lead in the NL West. That’s pretty good.

Do the Yankees deserve to be free of criticism? Absolutely not. However, maybe we shouldn’t get in the Yankees face and grill them for their (sometimes glaring) issues. But rather, take a couple steps back, and then grill them. They at least deserve that.

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