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The Yankees can’t hide behind their home runs. They have a clear problem
AP

The Yankees can’t hide behind their home runs. They have a clear problem

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5-10 start has Yankees restless; Cashman vows to stay course

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge strikes out on a pitch from Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Ryan Yarbrough during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, April 18, 2021, at Yankee Stadium in New York.

NEW YORK — Early in Sunday’s loss, the Yankees problem subtly slipped by. Aaron Judge was facing Andrew Kittredge in the bottom of the first inning. The Rays right-hander gave Judge two, possibly three middle-middle pitches that the Yankee slugger would usually crush.

The first, a waist-high ball fat over the plate, was a called strike. The second was a little inside and Judge again let it go by for a ball and the third, lower and to the outside of the zone, Judge jumped on and missed.

He was not the only culprit.

Yankees hitters have struggled and it has showed in their record and results. They woke up Monday to a scheduled off day with the worst record (5-10) in the American League and the second worst in baseball — behind the Rockies.

The hitters were not the Yankees’ only problem — and probably not the biggest concern in the long run considering their collective histories — to have been exposed in the first 15 games. The starters behind Cole have been disappointing, combining for a 7.16 ERA and 1-6 record over 11 starts. They have combined with 49 strikeouts in 44.1 innings pitched, while Cole has thrown 24.2 and 39 strikeouts on his own.

Their defense and baserunning have also made some glaringly costly mistakes in the first 15 games. But perhaps the most shocking thing about this team has been their lack of offense.

After Sunday, the Yankees had a collective .642 OPS, the worst in the majors; They scored 55 runs, tied for the least in the American league with the Tigers, who have played one more game than the Yankees. Their slugging percentage (.346) was second to last in the big leagues and their 16 home runs were tied for 19th.

“They strike out too much, they are hitting too many ground balls and I think the main culprit (of their offensive problems) is they are horrible in situational hitting,” one scout said.

The Yankees have tied for the second-most grounded-into-double plays this season and have hit .243 with runners in scoring position, driving in 33 runs in 113 plate appearances with that opportunity to score.

Sunday, DJ LeMahieu actually punched through an RBI-single in that situation. He is 4-for-12 with RISP this season and without him, the Yankees would be hitting .207 in that spot.

So what has happened to the Bombers?

“If I knew I would tell the whole team,” LeMahieu said after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Rays. “It just seems like we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. Probably (putting) too much pressure on ourselves. We go through tough stretches. But early on, when you go through a tough stretch it’s definitely magnified and you feel like you’re never gonna get out of it.

“But, we’re too talented to play the way we’re playing.”

Home runs cover up a lot of warts in an offense, but 16 through 15 games is not enough of a salve.

So far, the Yankees individually have under-performed

Judge was hitting .255 and in a 5-for-29 in the last eight games. Giancarlo Stanton was hitting .176 and in a 3-for his last 26 slump. Aaron Hicks not only was hitting .160 with a 1-for his last 15, but Sunday he made two costly defensive mistakes. Clint Frazier neither had a home run nor an RBI and was hitting .167 in the 11 games played. Gleyber Torres was 3-for-23 over the last seven games.

Even LeMahieu has had a slow start — for him — to the season. The Yankees most consistent hitter had three hits over the three-game series sweep by the Rays. The rest of the team had eight total. He was slashing .286/.375/.786 with a home run and five RBI.

So how can he and the Yankees change things?

“Nothing relaxes you more than results,” LeMahieu said. “You can say, ‘don’t worry about the results, worry about how you go about it.’ That’s all good until you face a bunch of adversity and then you try even harder to get results. I think everyone just has to look at themselves and continue to get better and make adjustments and not be afraid to make adjustments.

“I have a lot of confidence in this in this lineup. The confidence has not shaken, but we definitely haven’t played the way we’re more capable of.”

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A decade ago, Albert Pujols won his second World Series title with the St. Louis Cardinals. That same year, Justin Verlander was the American League MVP, and Miguel Cabrera won his first of three straight batting titles — the latter two would be accompanied by MVP honors of his own.

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