The Yankees dropped the series finale in Houston yesterday, and while there's nothing wrong with splitting a 4-game road series against a division leader, yesterday's game was another one of those frustrating "coulda, shoulda, woulda" losses that the Yanks seem to have a little too often.
They wasted a very good start by Michael Pineda (2 runs in 8 innings), didn't muster but 2 hits against what has been a very hittable Colin McHugh this season, and they even committed a defensive error that was worse than anything you could see in the Little League World Series. In the bottom of the 4th, Carlos Correa lofted a lazy fly ball to left-center field. Brett Gardner had a bead on it, called for it, and then at the last second pulled back as Garrett Jones did the exact same thing coming for the other direction. The ball dropped between them for what was scored a double, but then Gardner made things worse by kicking the ball to the wall in his attempt to pick it up. This allowed Correa, hustling all the way, to come around to score and tie the game.
It was an inexcusable mishap, and to their credit nobody tried to make excuses for it after the game. Joe said it was a ball that had to be caught, Gardner and Jones each said the same thing, and Pineda acknowledged that he was "surprised" by the play. Maybe he shouldn't be, because as embarrassing as the play was it also wasn't the first time we've seen it happen this season. Letting potential popouts drop between fielders has become a pretty common occurrence for the Yankee defense this year. A few weeks ago it was Teix and Brian McCann letting it happen, and I want to say a month or so ago Chase Headley and Jose Pirela did the same thing. Having that happen once in a Major League game is bad enough. But three times?? That's a problem.
Whatever the reasons for the misplay were yesterday - too much crowd noise, somebody didn't call, somebody didn't back off when the call was made - the fact that it keeps happening is all that matters. The Yankees were expected to be a good defensive team this season and in some respects they have been. But the brain farts and constant miscues on routine plays like this, by all members of the defense, have absolutely killed them at times and surely cost them a few wins already.
Outfielders letting fly balls drop, McCann not being able to block balls in the dirt anymore, Stephen Drew not being able to cleanly catch and complete double plays, Headley throwing easy balls away at least once a week, it all has to stop. These are not the kinds of mistakes that good teams make and they definitely aren't the kind of mistakes the Yankees can afford to continue making if they're going to stay competitive in this tight division race. Every game counts, every run counts, and the Yankees are giving too many away with boneheaded plays like this. They have enough problems with their pitching without having to worry about how badly the defense behind whoever's on the mound is going to botch things.
To be fair, there is something to be said for unfamiliarity in the outfield. With Jacoby Ellsbury out, Joe has rotated a bunch of guys through all 3 outfield spots. He's had multiple rookies in center field, Chris Young all over the place, Jones in both corners, and then there's old man Beltran dragging his refrigerator on his back in right field. There hasn't been a consistent group together out there for many games in a row, and that lack of experience together and constant shifting of positions could conceivably lead to some communication issues. But these guys are professionals and 2 professional baseball players should be able to figure out how to catch 1 fly ball.
The Yankees are right in the thick of the AL playoff race, seemingly in spite of themselves at times. As long as they can stay relatively healthy, they figure to be there for the long haul and they need to start cleaning things up defensively. They can't be giving away runs and games on brutally bad plays like yesterday's anymore.