By Chad Jennings
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, back, looks on as Colorado Rockies’ Mark Reynolds steps back up to the plate to bat after dropping out of the way of an inside pitch thrown by New York Yankees relief pitcher Dellin Betances in the seventh inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Denver. Colorado won 6-3.
It’s to his credit, I suppose, that Joe Girardi has been consistent in his message about this chunk of the schedule. Reporters and outsiders see a bunch of games against sub-.500 teams and recognize an opportunity to make up ground against relatively weak opponents.
Girardi sees his own team with a losing record, its season already slipping away, and recognizes a need to win regardless of the opponent.
“I don’t care who you’re playing,” Girardi said tonight as YES cameras rolled after the Yankees fourth straight loss. “If you don’t play well, you’re going to get your butts beat. … This is an important month because we can’t keep having months where we’re not making up ground. If you’re losing ground, it’s going to be tough to catch up. These are months that we have to play better than the teams that are in front of us.”
Girardi’s been saying more or less the same thing since last week.
From last Tuesday: “I don’t look so much at the schedule, but every month that goes by that you’re not playing well, it puts you in a bigger hole. That’s the way I look at it, so I think this is an important month. We have to have a good month.”
Right now, the Yankees are having a .500 month. They were having a pretty good month just a few days ago when they’d won five in a row and pulled back above .500, but since then they have — what’s the term Girardi used? — gotten their butts beat by the Tigers and Rockies.
“(The Rockies) have the potential to score a lot of runs,” Girardi said. “They did it both days. We made mistakes as pitchers; they capitalized.”
A few things that have been difficult to overlook recently (or, for a while, really).
1. This lineup is really bad without Carlos Beltran
He’s really the only dependable run producer in the middle of the order. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been getting on base, but without Beltran — and without Alex Rodriguez in a National League park — there’s just no reliable source of power. Starlin Castro has some pop for a middle infielder, but he’s not a real No. 3 hitter. Chase Headley’s bounced back nicely from that brutal month of April, but he’s not a cleanup hitter. Brian McCann is stuck in an extended slump, Mark Teixeira is nowhere to be found, and this just isn’t a lineup capable of keeping pace with the Rockies (especially not without Beltran). The offense had one good inning these past two days. One inning during a two-game set at Coors Field.
2. This rotation is basically two-deep at this point
Through much of spring training, there was extreme optimism about Michael Pineda and Luis Severino, but we all know how that’s played out. Severino is in the minors, and every Pineda start is a hold-your-breath moment. A month ago, it seemed the Yankees might have found something in Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova, each of whom had strung together some good starts and seemed to have found of elusive consistency. But that was fool’s gold, and these past two games showed it. Neither one has been dependable lately. The Yankees have Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and not much else at the moment. It seemed health would be the problem for this rotation. Instead, everyone is healthy, but most of the starters aren’t pitching well.
3. This really was a wasted opportunity
Not necessarily because the Rockies have a losing record — as Girardi said, Colorado’s lineup is awfully dangerous — but because the Yankees were facing two very beatable starting pitchers. The two guys who started for the Rockies each came into their starts with ERA well above 5.00, and the Yankees didn’t do much against either one. Sure, they scored some runs against the bullpen on Tuesday, but the got nothing against the starter that night, and this afternoon Chad Bettis had very little to worry about. Maybe Girardi can’t, in his position, look at game-by-game opportunities. Maybe he does have to tell his team to simply try to win every series regardless of the opponent. That seems to be a level-headed way to approach it. But, man, facing back-to-back starters like that sure looked like an opportunity that the Yankees wasted.
4. This team needs reinforcements that don’t exist
At some point, the Yankees might very well have to go into sell mode and stop trying to win. But until then, they have to keep looking for ways to turn this thing around and make the team better. Problem is, the piece of the roster in need of an upgrade don’t necessarily have obvious solutions. Most of the Triple-A roster’s star power comes in its outfield, but the Yankees are actually doing just fine there with Gardner, Ellsbury and Beltran. Guys like Jake Cave and Ben Gamel aren’t big boppers anyway, and Aaron Judge hasn’t been good enough to think he’s ready to be a difference maker. Who’s going to upgrade the rotation? Severino? The middle innings are a problem out of the bullpen, but at this point, Nick Goody seems as good as anyone who’s tried to fill that role. Maybe Chasen Shreve can get back on a roll? James Pazos? Connor Mullee? How much of a difference would that make? Maybe there’s a way to incorporate Gary Sanchez? Maybe Teixeira can come back much more like the guy we saw last season? There’s just not a quick fix here.
So now the Yankees head to Minnesota, continuing this road trip that’s not necessarily an opportunity, but simply a reality. The Yankees need to win, not because they’re playing bad teams, but because they themselves have been a bad team and they’re running out of time to change that.
“Win every series; that’s the message,” Girardi said. “The message never changes. Win every series. I don’t care who you’re playing.”