Analyzing the Yankees’ chances for a second-half turnaround

The Yankees logo is highlighted during an All-Star meet and reports Justin Shackil looks at it.
Justin Shackil

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With 71 games remaining in the season, the Yankees find themselves eight games behind the leader in the AL East and just one game away from securing a playoff spot. Given this situation, the team cannot afford to waste any time and must make the most of every opportunity, if they are ready to do a repeat of 1978 and make a comeback.

The Yankees are still uncertain about Aaron Judge’s return from the injured list and how well he will perform upon his comeback. Additionally, they are adjusting to a new hitting coach, Sean Casey, on the go. Despite these challenges, the team remains confident that they can make a strong push to reach the postseason in October.

This week, general manager Brian Cashman discussed the current situation after the firing of hitting coach Dillon Lawson after the first half of the season. He mentioned the possibility of a sprint and emphasized the opportunity that lies ahead. Cashman expressed his belief that the team has players with significant abilities who can elevate their performance and achieve better results in the second half of the season.

The upcoming schedule for the Yankees includes a three-game series against the Rockies, a team with the third-worst record in Major League Baseball. They will then travel to play against the struggling Angels before returning home to face the Royals, who currently possess the second-worst record in the league.

As the season progresses, the Yankees will also have the August 1 trade deadline approaching. This deadline presents an opportunity for the team to make necessary moves and potentially strengthen their roster, particularly by addressing their significant gap in left field. Such additions could provide a valuable boost to their performance.

However, for the Yankees to have a strong surge and challenge the teams ahead of them, such as the Rays, Orioles, and Blue Jays in the East, and the Astros in the wild-card standings, they heavily rely on the veterans who have not performed up to their potential thus far. It is crucial for these underperforming players already on the team’s roster to step up and contribute significantly.

The Yankees’ offense is the primary problem

One of the main factors contributing to the Yankees’ failure to secure a playoff spot in the first half of the season was their struggling offense. The team’s offensive performance ranked among the 12th-worst in terms of runs scored per game (4.40), the 10th-worst in OPS (.710), the fifth-worst in on-base percentage (.300), and the third-worst in batting average (.231). These statistics played a significant role in the decision to dismiss Lawson from his position as the hitting coach.

The Yankees faced challenges in the absence of Judge for the last 31 games, which harmed their performance. Additionally, the lackluster offensive contributions from DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, and Anthony Rizzo, who experienced a significant decline in their hitting, further hindered the team. Furthermore, the inconsistent performance of Josh Donaldson, who either hit home runs or struggled to make an impact with only 15 hits in 112 plate appearances, added to their offensive woes.

Aaron Judge of the Yankees at Dodger Stadium on June 3, 2023.

The Yankees’ current offensive approach revolves around the principles of power hitting and on-base percentage. The team believes that by having more players on base, they can maximize their scoring potential with their strong hitters. However, this strategy has resulted in a high number of strikeouts and a lack of consistent hitting when there are runners in scoring positions or men on base.

As of the All-Star break, the Yankees’ performance in terms of runs scored places them in the middle of the league. However, their team batting average of .231 is tied with Detroit, making it the second lowest in the American League. Similarly, they share the second-worst on-base percentage of .300 with Detroit. The Yankees also rank second lowest in hits with 690 and fourth from the bottom in walks with 279. The only team with worse statistics is the Oakland A’s, who currently hold a record of 25-67.

Except for Volpe playing shortstop, the Yankee offense remains largely unchanged from the previous season. Last year, they finished with a record of 38-40 after an impressive start of 61-23. However, their postseason performance was disappointing, as they were swept by the Astros in the ALCS following a challenging five-game series against a lesser Cleveland team in the ALDS.

Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman made a surprising decision by firing hitting coach Dillon Lawson during the ongoing season, which mirrored a move often associated with the team’s owner, George Steinbrenner. It is worth noting that Cashman had not previously made such a change mid-season. However, due to the significant struggles of the Yankee offense, Lawson became the scapegoat for the team’s lackluster performance.

Former MLB player Sean Casey has been brought in as the new hitting coach for the Yankees, even though he has not previously served as a coach in the major leagues. The team hopes that Casey can bring a fresh perspective and use his expertise to revitalize their struggling offense. However, there are doubts about whether this offense can make a successful comeback and regain its former strength.

There are questions surrounding the potential improvement of this offense. Many people wonder if the veteran players will perform at the level anticipated given their prior track records and the statistics on the back of their baseball cards.

Undoubtedly, having Aaron Judge back in the lineup would provide a boost to the Yankees. However, even when the team had a relatively healthy roster earlier in the season, they experienced periods where their run-scoring ability was inconsistent. Therefore, if the supporting players fail to contribute effectively, Judge’s return may not have a significant impact on the team’s overall performance this season.

Secondary issues add to it

One particularly disheartening aspect of this season is the Yankees’ inability to capitalize on their strong pitching performances. 

Thanks to the excellent performances of Gerrit Cole, who holds a record of 9-2 with a 2.85 ERA, the Yankees currently rank fifth in the league for their team ERA of 3.80. Additionally, they are second in the league for the fewest hits allowed and fifth for the fewest runs allowed.

The team’s struggles extend beyond just the offense. The Yankees have also made several errors and misjudgments on the bases, which have resulted in the loss of a few games this season.

The Yankees have encountered difficulties with their defense, especially in the outfield, where players have been playing out of position. This has led to challenges in making plays on balls hit to the outfield, as some players lack the necessary experience to handle such situations effectively.

Gerrit Cole pitches as other Yankees starters look at him.
Helvin Rojas

Manager Aaron Boone has received significant criticism for the team’s underwhelming performance this season. While he has made questionable decisions, it’s important to acknowledge that he has managed to keep the team competitive amidst the challenges. On the other hand, General Manager Brian Cashman’s efforts to build a championship-caliber roster have been met with some skepticism. Both Boone and Cashman are well aware of the expectations and demands that come with their roles within the organization.

Left field has proven to be a persistent issue for the Yankees this season, as they have struggled to find consistent offensive production from that position. They have employed nine different players in the left field thus far. Similar to this, Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka’s management of the catching position has been strong in handling the pitching staff but lacks offensive prowess. While their primary contributions lie in their ability to manage the game, any offensive output from Trevino and Higashioka is seen as a bonus for the team.

If we examine the Yankees’ history of 27 championships, we will likely find that their lineup consistently featured impactful left-handed batters, often more than one. However, since Robinson Cano departed after the 2013 season, the Yankees have been lacking a left-handed batter who can make a significant impact. Players like Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, and Brett Gardner did not possess the same level of impact as feared left-handed batters, who can create a sense of unease among opposing right-handed pitchers.

The Yankees have made attempts to address their need for impactful left-handed bats by bringing in players like Joey Gallo and switch-hitter Aaron Hicks. Unfortunately, these acquisitions did not yield the desired results, particularly with Hicks struggling when batting from the left side. In the previous season, the team added Matt Carpenter and Andrew Benintendi, who showed promise but were both hindered by injuries. Carpenter’s attempt to return after an early August injury left him performing below his usual level, while Benintendi missed the final weeks of the regular season and postseason. Although Anthony Rizzo is a valuable addition to the lineup, he no longer possesses the same level of impact as he used to from the left side, possibly due to his neck injury suffered against the Padres.

The Sean Casey factor

The Yankees Nation is yet to see the extent to which the arrival of Casey can revitalize the performance of the veteran hitters. However, the Yankees’ prospects for the second half of the season may heavily rely on this rejuvenation.

Yankees hired TV analyst Sean Casey as hitting coach to replace fired Dillon Lawson
AP

Sean Casey expressed his belief in his ability to make a significant impact on the team. He mentioned his enthusiasm for the high expectations placed on him and the opportunity to work closely with the players on a daily basis. Casey aims to instill confidence in the players, improve their swings, and contribute to the team becoming one of the best offenses in baseball. He warmly embraces the challenge that lies ahead.

Sean Casey conveyed a sense of assurance, stating that he did not experience any intimidation. He expressed his belief that he would not encounter a significant learning curve in his role. Casey felt prepared and confident in his ability to establish connections with big-league hitters.

During the previous year, the Yankees had an exceptional first half of the season. They achieved a remarkable record, surpassing their opponents by 36 games and securing a comfortable 13-game lead in the AL East before the All-Star break. However, their performance in the second half of the season was not as remarkable, as they played at a.500 level, winning and losing an equal number of games.

This season, the Yankees are hopeful and aiming to change the trajectory of their performance.

According to Manager Aaron Boone, he believed that as they entered the second half of the season, the team had a promising opportunity before them. He emphasized that it was their responsibility to achieve success and acknowledged that they were currently in a favorable position to do so. Boone acknowledged that despite the challenges they had encountered, they were eagerly anticipating the chance to capitalize on this opportunity.

A tough second half

As the second half of the season approaches, the Yankees currently hold a record of 49-42 and occupy the fourth position in the East division. They are trailing the Rays by seven games in the loss column. Presently, the Yankees hold the sixth and final Wild Card spot. However, they are six games behind the Orioles, who hold the first wild-card spot. This suggests that only two Wild Card spots remain available for contention. It is highly probable that the Tampa Bay team will secure a postseason spot, even if they do not secure the division title against the Orioles.

The Yankees find themselves closely trailing the Astros and the Blue Jays by just one game for the final Wild Card spot. Simultaneously, they hold a mere one-game lead over the Red Sox, with four other teams in contention. These teams include Seattle, Cleveland, Minnesota, and the Angels, who are within four games of the Yankees but might face challenges due to their injuries.

Cleveland or Minnesota are likely to emerge as the winners of the Central Division, leaving the other team as a strong contender for a Wild Card spot. It is anticipated that the Astros will ultimately secure the top spot in the West Division. Consequently, Texas becomes one of the primary competitors for a Wild Card spot. It is worth noting that the Yankees lost the season series against the Rangers, giving the Rangers the tiebreaker advantage. It is important to remember that there is no longer a one-game playoff to determine the division winner or the Wild Card spot.

Looking ahead at the schedule, the Yankees are faced with a challenging road ahead. They still have seven games to play against the Astros, a team that has proven to be formidable this season. Additionally, they have upcoming away games in Miami and Atlanta, where they will face tough competition. On top of that, the Yankees have home series scheduled against the first-place Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona, both of whom have shown their strength and will not be easy opponents. The remainder of the season will indeed be a demanding grind for the team.

The Yankees still have 13 games remaining against teams from the Central Division, namely Detroit and Kansas City. However, the Yankees have struggled to take full advantage of facing supposedly weaker opponents, as their record against teams like Minnesota, Cleveland, and Chicago stands at 8 wins and 8 losses.

There are still 22 divisional games remaining for the Yankees, who have a record of 13 wins and 17 losses against AL East teams so far. This includes four games out of seven in Boston, where they have yet to secure a victory, as well as three games in Baltimore. Additionally, there will be home and away series against both Tampa Bay and Toronto. It’s important to note that during the All-Star game, Jordan Romano, the closer for the Blue Jays, experienced lower back tightness after throwing just five pitches.

The six upcoming games against the Blue Jays will be played in the final 12 days of the regular season, and they hold significant importance in determining which team will secure a postseason spot and which team will be eliminated. 

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