The Yankees picked up a win yesterday afternoon, salvaging a small piece of pride from this West Coast trip and giving themselves something to build on for the next homestand. As was the case during their recent losing streak, they won in rather frustrating fashion, getting out early and coasting through 8 innings before watching their bullpen aces almost give away a 6-run lead in the 9th. Had they lost that game we'd be looking at a threat level red meltdown this morning, so it was nice to avoid that. It's also nice to know that, despite the brutal offensive performance and continued injury problems, the Yanks come home just 2 games back in the loss column in the AL East and tied for the 2nd Wild Card spot. The "just tread water until the regulars come back" plan has fallen apart rapidly with the return trips to the DL for C-Grand and Kevin Youkilis and Teix's latest setback with his wrist, and now the Yanks are looking at Francisco Cervelli as the new earliest guy back sometime after the All Star Break. They're going to have to keep trying to find a way to win with the roster as presently constructed, which will be no small task if the last few weeks are any indication. Here are a few things that need to happen to keep them competitive and in the hunt.
Robinson Cano Needs to Get Hot
Like now. I went to bat for him last week when everybody else was ready to kick the guy to the curb and he hasn't exactly made me look good with his performance. He had the big 3-6 game against Oakland on Thursday, but there are still too many 0-3 and 1-4 nights on the scorecard next to his name with too many ducks left on the pond for this lineup to stay competitive. Counting on the Overbays, Hafners, and Wellses of the world to turn things around is very wishful thinking and there's nobody else on the roster right now except Brett Gardner who's capable of creating consistent offense on their own. It's time for Robbie to truly break out of his slump and go on a 3-4 week tear to make up for that lack of offensive around him.
Better Situational Hitting
A big reason why the Yankees were so successful early was not only the overachievement of all their 1-year signings but also the smart, effective, successful way they played smallball. They worked counts, they drew walks, they moved runners into scoring position and then drove them in with productive outs or clutch hits. That smallball success has all but disappeared in the last month or so, and there was no better example than Ichiro getting himself to 3rd base with 0 outs on Saturday night and then spending the rest of the inning there while the hitters behind him all struck out. Nobody is expecting David Adams or Reid Brignac to be All Star hitters out there, but they've at least got the put the bat on the ball in those situations.
Andy Pettitte Needs to Stay Healthy
It's probably asking a lot given that he's already dealt with back problems twice, but the Yankees could use some stability in their rotation and Pettitte would be the prime source. We know we're going to get mostly good from CC and Hirok at the top, we can live with what we get from Phelps at the bottom, and Phil Hughes is pretty much a coin flip these days. With Pettitte in the middle of that rotation, the Yankees can feel good about their chances in any series. Without him, things start to get a little dicey, especially now with Vidal Nuno on the Triple-A DL and Michael Pineda still a few weeks away from returning. Bare minimum, the Yanks need Pettitte to stay healthy and in the rotation until Pineda comes back.
D-Rob and Mo Need to Be D-Rob and Mo
They haven't cost the team any games, but both David Robertson and Mariano Rivera have hit a few bumps in the road lately. D-Rob wasn't sharp in the 9th inning yesterday, forcing Joe to go to Mo for the save, and Mo has given up at least 1 hit and 1 BB in each of his last 4 appearances. These 2 are easily the most reliable guys on the roster and it needs to stay that way. The Yankees are going to continue to play a lot of close games and they can't afford to give any wins away late with their best pitchers on the mound.
It sounds like an idiotically simple formula - hit better, pitch better, stay healthy, have the best players play like the best players - and it is. It's also a formula the Yankees haven't been following very well since the early part of May. The original plan was to start phasing some of these replacement guys out by now. That plan has changed thanks to everybody getting re-injured and now Joe has to try to get another few weeks of good baseball out of this group. If the things mentioned above happen, that task might not turn out to be as monumental as these guys have made it look.