Heading into the 2021 MLB season, the New York Yankees are among the favorites to win the World Series. However, through the first 15 games, they are off to their worst start since 1997. They just got swept by the Tampa Bay Rays at home this weekend and are 5-10. They have looked far from a team that can compete for a championship. Although it’s still very early in the season, these types of performances aren’t going to cut it. It’s almost time to panic in New York.
The Yankees have 27 World Series titles. That is by far the most of any team in professional sports in the United States. The Yankees logo is known worldwide. Anywhere you are in the world, you’ll eventually see someone with a Yankees hat. The Yankees’ success has spoiled New Yorkers for decades. They are the most attractive team to play for in baseball. Although all these things are true, they haven’t won a championship since 2009. The pressure is starting to mount.
The defending champions, Los Angeles Dodgers, are off to a 13-3 start. Many people predicted a Yankees-Dodgers World Series. The Yanks will have to measure themselves against teams like the Dodgers. What are the reasons for their struggles early on?
After Sunday’s game, Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole told reporters the team isn’t happy with their performances. Through his first four starts, Cole has been electric, with a 1.82 ERA and 39 strikeouts. He’s been doing his part in keeping the Yanks in games and being the leader of the pitching staff.
New Yankees Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon have struggled. Kluber and Taillon were signed in the offseason. Kluber is 0-1 with a 6.10 ERA, while Taillon is 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA. Although it is a small sample size, the new guys will have to turn things around quickly.
Domingo Germán has also struggled, going 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA. He was sent down to the minors after his last start. Jordan Montgomery has been decent, going 1-1 with a 4.24 ERA through his first three starts. The Yankees have gone with an opener to fill their last rotation spot for the time being.
Pitchers go through many ups and downs during a long season. When most of your starting pitching struggles simultaneously, it is tough to win games. On the bright side, Luis Severino is recovering from Tommy John’s surgery. He should be available mid-way through the season.
The bullpen has been excellent, making up for some of the lack of starting pitching.
The Yankees have many great hitters on their team. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, D.J. LeMahieu… the list goes on. They have a potent lineup and hit a lot of home runs. Unquestionably, it’s good to hit a lot of home runs. But, if that is the primary way they score runs, it will be a problem.
The Yankees’ contact-hitting has been a problem this season. They are hitting .210 as a team, which is way down from previous years. Stanton is hitting .176, Torres is hitting .196, Hicks is hitting .160, and Clint Frazier is hitting .167. Those are four starters who are hitting under .200. Not to mention Judge and Gary Sanchez are hitting in the mid-to-low .200s. Again, I know it is a small sample size.
The Yanks’ situational hitting has struggled because of this. The team on-base percentage is down, at .296. This means fewer runners are getting on base. When the Yanks do have runners on base, they need to take advantage.
Too often this season, the Yanks wasted opportunities with runners on base. The hitters are swinging for the fences. They try and drive in 3 runs at a time instead of having a simpler approach at the plate. As a result of always trying to hit home runs, they strike out a lot with runners on base.
The hitters need to hit more for contact, especially when runners are on base. Sure, they might not score three runs in an inning. But it is better to score one run than to score zero if they all strike out. As they struggle more, they want to be the hero more to get the team out of the slump. The Yanks have a talented lineup from top to bottom. They need to do their job, get on base, and pass it on to the next guy—play small-ball. Don’t try to do too much.
Hitting mainly home runs won’t be a recipe for success in the playoffs.
Where the Yankees Stand Now
The Yankees have a very talented team that can win a World Series. This is why their struggles are so puzzling. The team hasn’t been able to come through the last three seasons in the playoffs. They should be extra motivated this year after flaming out in the ALDS last season.
The pressure is starting to mount in New York. No World Series titles in 12 years are an eternity for Yankees fans. Meanwhile, their biggest rival, Boston Red Sox, has won two championships since then.
There are no more excuses. If they do not turn things around soon, manager Aaron Boone could be on the hot seat. There are still 147 games left in the season for the Yankees to figure it out. Hopefully, the early-season struggles are the wake-up call they need.