5) The Pitching's All Wrong
The Yankees made one big move this offseason: signing Johnny Damon to improve the outfield defense. Unfortunately, they had the worst defensive middle infield in all of baseball last year, and those guys are right back at it. The problem, then, is that Chien-Ming Wang is the most prolific ground ball pitcher in the American League. Eventually, he's going to have a stretch games where he allows a bunch of grounders that most infields could handle, but that Jeter, Cano, and Giambi can't get to with their awful, awful range.
Johnson and Mussina are dependable, but at their respective ages, you can't really expect them to perform better as the season wears on. And the #4 and #5 starters are just plain trouble. Lots to do there.
4) Too Many Holes in the Lineup
Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada are five terrific players to build an offense around. But while five good hitters might be enough to get by if you're a National League team or have a great defense, neither condition applies to the Yankees. Bernie Williams, Melky Cabrera, Andy Phillips, Miguel Cairo, and Robinson Cano are dead spots in the lineup that can be exploited by good pitching.
"But Cano has a .325 batting average," you protest. Maybe so, but he also has a .353 OBP, which is worse than Melky Cabrera's. The thing about hitters who don't walk is that they tend to fade down the stretch as hitters learn to pitch around them without consequence. Corey Patterson is a .271 hitter before the All Star Break, .225 thereafter. Shea Hillenbrand: .299/.277. Alfonso Soriano: .283/.274 (although he's gotten more disciplined this year). It rarely fails. You don't walk, you don't continue to hit well.
3) The Remaining Schedule
The Yankees have played two more home games than road games, while the Red Sox have played ten fewer at Fenway than away from it. The Yankees have only played five games against Toronto, while Boston has faced them eleven times (and losing seven to that tough divisional foe). Boston has yet to face the pushover Royals or Angels. The Yankees are beginning their first series against the White Sox this weekend, whereas the Red Sox have already faced Chicago.
In terms of the Wild Card, Detroit has also played more road games than home games, and has played just twice against the lowly Baltimore Orioles. Minnesota has yet to know the sweet satisfaction of playing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The only relevant teams that the Yankees might have a favorable schedule over are the Blue Jays and White Sox.
2) They're in a Tough League
Trouble is, the Blue Jays and White Sox are both better than the Yankees. The Yankees have just two hitters with over eleven homers; Toronto has five. Meanwhile, the White Sox have four players with more than sixteen home runs. The Jays and Sox are also first and second in the AL in batting average. If you take the departed Josh Towers out of the equation, Toronto's team ERA is level with New York's. Chicago has a slightly higher ERA than New York, but have exactly the same WHIP.
The Twins have played better than any team in baseball since the end of May, but it remains to be seen as to whether they are in fact better than the Yankees. It should be pretty evident that Boston and Detroit are better ballclubs right now, however. The Tigers have a better ERA than the Yankees by nearly a full run, and Boston edges out New York in every single offensive statistic.
1) Steinbrenner Got Stingy
Remember back when a mediocre Yankees team could just pick up whomever they wanted at the trading deadline and still finish atop the division? Well, those days are long gone. Possibly due in part to the luxury tax on high-payroll teams, George Steinbrenner now apparently draws the line at $200 million. Last year, Shawn Chacon was their big name acquisition at the deadline. So far this season, the club has sifted through the Royals' dumpster to find Kris Wilson and Aaron Guiel. These are players who aren't good enough for the Royals, but the Yankees? Sure, they'll take 'em. The Yankees have lower standards than the Royals right now!
What's the next move? Signing Sidney Ponson, of course. Sidney Ponson, whose 5.58 ERA since 2004 is most among pitchers with over 400 IP in that period, and second highest only to Jose Lima among pitchers with over 300 IP. If a veteran pitcher can't succeed for St. Louis, a team that boasts the best pitching coach for turning around struggling veterans and a stellar defense, how in the heck is he going to do well in the Bronx? He'll have a lackluster defense behind him on a team with a proven track record of ruining perfectly good pitchers (Jeff Weaver, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown), and has fans that will boo him after one bad start.
Problematically, the Yankees have no good prospects to trade for a veteran who wouldn't come with a hefty salary, so if Steinbrenner really is squeamish to shell out the dough, then GM Brian Cashman is pretty much handcuffed to a 90-win team that misses the playoffs comfortably.Read more from Keith Glab at www.baseballevolution.com