Bronx bats baffled in beginning

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If hitting is considered contagious, then someone needs to throw the New York Yankees into the sick ward at the Lincoln Medical Center.

The struggling Yankee offence caught a break Monday night and avoided Texas Rangers’ ace Cole Hamels in the series opener. Instead, they faced Cesar Ramos, a journeyman who was recalled to make the 11th start of his career, and only managed three runs.

It’s been tough sledding for the Bronx Bombers, who have looked more like the Bronx Bummers when hitters come up with runners in scoring position.

Jacoby Ellsbury has never been an RBI machine (other than driving in 105 runs in 2011 with the Boston Red Sox. Ellsbury has only driven in more than 55 runs twice), but up 2-0 in the fourth, he had a chance to bust open the lead and failed.

With Didi Gregorius and Austin Romine stringing back-to-back hits and one out in the fourth, Ellsbury pounded a first pitch 90-mile per hour heater into the ground and rolled into a 4-6-3 double play.

Fortunately, the Yankees’ starter was flirting with a no hitter and bailed out the offence — more on that performance later.

But for the most part, three weeks into the Yankee season and it’s been a great deal of stranding runners and poor starting pitching.

Reflecting on his team’s scuffling start, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi said, “There’s too much experience in that room, and I’m somewhat surprised.”

The Yankees are like a dusty old cowboy belt. The leather is worn, rigid and has cracks, and it’s not as snug as it once was.

Each year, the Yankees get older and older at key positions on the field. Not since the mid 90s were the Yankees structured around a young core. Lately, they have approached their 25-man roster around proven talent in free agency.

And it’s worked. They have five rings and 16 playoff appearances to show for it.

But now it’s not working. All those big contracts aren’t buying runs at the moment.

Both in their late thirties, Mark Teixeira (36) is owed just over $23 million and Carlos Beltran (39) is due for $15 million in the final year of their deals this season.

Historically a slow starter, Teixeira is hitting .220 with three home runs and a .373 slugging percentage.

Beltran, who should be the designated hitter, is forced to still slug around the outfield on worn down legs. He longer a 40/40 club threat, he is leading the team with four bombs and owns a .277 average.

Fan favourite Alex Rodriguez (40) will be on the last year of his deal next year and is due for $21 million along with starting pitcher and Captain Crunch connoisseur C.C. Sabathia (35), who is on the books with $25 million.

Rodriguez is hitting .145, an on base percentage of .242 in 55 at bats. His 19 strikeouts lead the team.

Sitting 11 bombs away from 700 in his career, Rodriguez looks nothing like the player that hit 33 dingers and drove in 86 runs last season. Management is counting down the days until Rodriguez is no longer on the payroll like a kid opening up an advent calendar at Christmas and then eating the chocolate inside.

There is clearly no player-on-the-final-year-of-contract-playing-for-big-money-motivation with any of those aged All-Stars.

It’s not just the free agents to-be that aren’t driving in runs. Third basemen Chase Headley cashed in on free agency three years ago when the Yankees purchased him for four years and $52 million. They hoped he could recreate his best season in San Diego where he swatted 31 bombs and drove in 115 runs.

This is the sterilized version of MVP-candidate Headley (who is a sneaky 32) that plays in the Bronx today. He has the most plate appearances (58) without an extra-base hit to go along with his .194 average and two RBI. His WAR was once as high as 7.5 in with the Padres, but has plummeted down to -0.2 this year.

The only Yankee who has been somewhat productive with runners in scoring position has been newly acquired second basemen Starlin Castro, who leads the team with 10 RBI. The fly in the ointment is that 8 of those RBIs occurred in the first three games of the season and has cooled off with just two more in his next 15. He is there only player with double-digit RBIs.

Doesn’t matter the name or contract, the entire order is lacking production.

Thirteen times in 19 games the Yankees have been held to three runs or less, which wouldn’t be nearly as bad if their run differential weren’t -19 (tied for second worst among AL teams).

Last season, the Yanks were second in baseball with 764 runs scored (+66 run differential). Currently, the Yanks sit 22nd with 67 runs scored.

The Yankees seemingly give up with runners in scoring position; hitting .194, good enough for third worst in the MLB, barely in front of the Minnesota Twins (.192) and Houston Astros (.180).

Entering Monday’s game with the Texas Rangers, the Yankees were the worst in the AL, stranding 3.94 runners in scoring position per game, fifth worst in the bigs.

Southpaws have also given the Yankees fits this year. Their .602 OPS against lefties is the third worst in baseball and 130 points below league average. Meanwhile, the right-handed hitters also have the third worst OPS while facing left-handed pitching this year (.544).

“If we want to be the last team standing at the end of October or early November, we’ve got to hit lefties,” Yankees’ outfielder Brett Gardner said.

Despite the lackluster offence, the Yankees are 8-11 and still in the thick of things in the division. Their hitters carry long resumes to the plate and still make opposing teams feel a little queasy, like riding a roller coaster after eating a plate of Mexican tater tots.

The AL East is going to pound the crap out of each other all season and it might only take 87-91 wins to head to the postseason. A team loaded with salty vets that made it to the wildcard showdown game last season, they should be able to bust out of this funk at some point and hang in the division all summer.

When a ball club is struggling to drive in runs, not receiving adequate starting pitching only makes things worse like throwing a chainsaw into a hot tub.

Outside of the pricey Masahiro Tanaka, the rotation is filled with question marks.

Tanaka is 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 23 strikeouts in four starts. So long as his elbow doesn’t go Mt. St. Helens on him, he will be fine.

Behind Tanaka are three arms oozing with talent, but have yet to make it work in pinstripes.

Nathan Eovaldi is averaging the second hardest heater (97.0 mph) for any starter in the bigs and Monday night, he was spectacular.

Eighteen games into the season, he was the first starter to throw a pitch in the eighth inning as he held the Texas Rangers hitless through the first six innings.

“He was very economical the first three innings, he stayed away from long counts,” Girardi said. “I thought his split outstanding and he had really good command. I hope he gets it going because I think he’s pitched a lot better than his numbers have shown.”

Eovaldi was also the first Yankee right-handed pitcher since Roger Clemens in 2001 with at least six strikeouts in eight straight games.

“At the beginning of the game I felt really good and my fastball command felt good. I was able to get quick outs that way,” the 26-year old Eovaldi said. “When I did fall behind hitters I was able to get back into the count with sliders, it’s one of my go-to’s for sure. I feel like I’ve gotten better each outing and for it to all come together at once tonight was nice.”

Even with the near no-no, Eovaldi is right on par with his career averages of 4.16 ERA and 1.40 WHIP (4.38 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in four starts this year).

Throwing 100 mph helps, but his fastball appears to be flatter than other fire ballers such as Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Sanchez. In hitting counts, hitters are loading up on their back leg, sitting dead read and ripping it. Batting averages in hitters’ counts are all above .333.

Michael Pineda is another young and loaded arm in the Yankees’ rotation, but he is coming off an injury and a season where he was two different pitchers.

Pre-All-Star break last season, Pineda went 9-5 with a respectable 3.64 ERA with 111 strikeouts. Post-All-Star break he went 3-5 with a 5.80 ERA while giving up 11 round-trippers in 54.1 innings pitched.

Pineda staggered through another four frames Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays and finished with a very bizarre pitching line: five innings, 10 hits, seven runs, nine strikeouts, four home runs and one walk.

“It just goes to show you if you don’t make your pitches and leave balls in middle of the plate you still get hit,” Girardi said. “I don’t care how good your stuff is you are susceptible to giving up runs and they took advantage of his mistakes.”

He can be dominant and devastating, but health appears to be a perennial concern for Pineda as he is looking to start 30 games for the first time in his four-year career.

The Yankees had high hopes for 22-year old Luis Severino this year following his MLB debut last summer.

Ranked their top prospect following the 2014 campaign, Severino started 11 games, going 5-3 with a sparkling 2.89 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 56 punch-outs in 62.1 innings.

During spring training, Girardi mentioned that he would like to see 200 innings out of Severino.

Off to a rough 0-3 start this season with an ERA in the high 6s, 200 innings might be nothing more than a dream at this point. The Yankees could be asking for a lot form the young Dominican.

“He had a hard time throwing his offspeed [pitches] for strikes, so it kind of put him in a tough situation, and they definitely took advantage of that,” Girardi said. “He’s throwing [offspeed pitches], he’s just not throwing strikes with them, and he’s not getting a whole lot of swings and misses with them. He’s mixing his pitches — he’s just not executing.”

All hope is not lost Yankee fans; there is a cheat code sitting in the right field bullpen. All they need to do is get into the sixth inning up by one run. Doesn’t matter if it’s a 3-2 or 28-26 ball game, get that bullpen the lead and you might as well flip on the latest episode of Broad City, because the game is a wrap.

As if Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller didn’t have dominating enough seasons last year in pinstripes, Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman went out and traded for the hardest throwing pitcher of all time, Aroldis Champan and constructed arguably one of the greatest bullpens of all time.

Not getting the ball to the frightening trio with the lead is like Tom Brady not being able to find Rob Gronkowski open in the end zone; it’s a waste of resources.

They are tough to hit now, and it’s about to look like the Yankees are playing Xbox on easy mode once Chapman returns from suspension in two weeks.

Betances finally gave up his first earned run of the season to the Rangers on Monday. He has pitched nine innings and fanned 22 hitters. Miller still owns a 0.00 ERA with 15 Ks in eight innings. The two combined to end a game a week ago by both striking out the side, something that was accomplished twice last year.

Add Chapman to the equation and the possibilities of ending a game with 9-straight Ks becomes migraine-inducing for opposing managers.

“I started thinking about it from the moment we made the trade [for Chapman],” Betances said. “That would be electrifying and a lot of fun.” Betances then asked: “Has it been done before?”

Just once, but it was by a starter finishing his complete game (Tom Seaver in 1970).

In a battle for world bullpen supremacy, the Yankees have loaded up and have pointed their bazookas right at the Kansas City Royals. Chapman, Betances and Miller alone might just be enough to drag them into another pennant race.

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