Welcome to second place, Yankee fans. That happened quickly didn't it? Thirteen days ago, the Yankees had a seven game lead in the division. Now they are a half a game behind the Blue Jays. I suppose if there is any good news, they are still two and a half games up in the wild card standings. The other good news is that this collapse did not happen at the end of the season. Gene Mauch is safe in that legacy.
What happened here? The bottom line is pretty easy to see. The Blue Jays have won ten in a row and seem incapable of losing (at the moment) while the Yankees have gone 3-7 in that stretch and have lost their last five in a row. Yes, that will do it right there.
If you dig deeper, then two trends emerge: The offense has tanked and the bullpen is built to protect leads, not ties. Let's start with the offense.
The top of the order has been brutal. When Jacoby Ellsbury came off the disabled list, he was batting over .300 with an on-base percentage over .400. Brent Gardner had a batting average over .300 and an on-base percentage over .390. Ellsbury is now batting .260 with an on-base percentage of .330. He has an OPS of .507 over his last 28 days.
Gardner has a .548 OPS in that same time span and has dropped to .282 / .365. Neither has stolen a base in those last 28 days. The dynamic duo has been inert.
But the lack of offense over the last seven games in particular cannot be handed to Gardner and Ellsbury alone. The second base duo has been pathetic. Over the last seven days, the sour duo of Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan have gone a combined 2-21 with no walks. Each has one hit in the past week. Drew's one hit was a homer so his BABIP is .000 over that time frame, which has to make you laugh (if not cry).
Ryan came back from his most recent DL stint with a hot few games but again is the Brendan Ryan we all love to hate. As Brad lamented last week, how this has been allowed to continue halfway through August is truly amazing. It has been so bad that some are clamoring for a broken down,, aged Chase Utley to come and rescue the team. Seriously!?
Oh yes, the Yankees traded for a guy who can play second. His ghost is flying around somewhere.
The fans have come to expect so much from Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann. They are all having great seasons. When teams handle them or at least keep somewhat of a lid on them, the rest of the offense has to be capable of putting some runs on the board. This current Yankees team cannot. And that is why, after scoring 90 runs in nine games, the Yankees have scored nine in their last seven.
Watching the game last night, my stomach started sinking when CC Sabathia gave up his first run to allow the Indians to tie the game. When the Indians scored their second run with a gut-wrenching, two-out base hit, the spirit of gloom settled in. The great Yankees' bullpen is very good with a lead and built for a lead. When there isn't one and the offense cannot muster anything late and close, the bullpen becomes great at protecting ties or one-run deficits.
That is a good reason why the Yankees are 2-7 in extra-inning games this season and 1-4 in the team's last five one-run games.
In a stretch like this, you always have to wonder if the team has just gone incredibly cold or if the team has just run into a bunch of hot pitchers. Or is it a combination of the two? It does seem like all the team has faced the last nine games are knuckleball pitchers and flame throwers. It has the feel of that last playoff series against the Tigers doesn't it?
There is still time this season and, like I said, at least this collapse didn't happen the last week of September. The Blue Jays will not stay this hot. The Yankees will hit again (except at second base), Girardi will someday figure out not to bat Chris Young against right-handed pitchers and the bullpen can go back to protecting leads instead of holding the fort while the cavalry never comes. And who knows, Ellsbury and Gardner may steal a base again someday.