Yankees’ biggest headache: Not Aaron Judge’s injury but lifeless veterans

The Yankees dugout looks heartbroken after their series loss to the Red Sox at at Fenway Park on June 18, 2023.

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The Yankees suffered a decisive 6-2 defeat in the first game of the doubleheader, followed by a 4-1 loss in the second game. The experienced players on the team struggled to produce runs both during the day and at night on Sunday, resulting in a sweep by the Red Sox in the doubleheader. And the veterans who they thought to be their mainstay continue to keep their bats quiet.

Anthony Rizzo acknowledged that the team’s current situation is a low point in the season, but he emphasized that experiencing ups and downs is a natural part of a long and challenging Major League Baseball season.

“It’s definitely a low in the season, but this is part of the ups and downs of a big-league season,” he admitted after the debacle at at Fenway Park.

Yankees first baseman expressed his disagreement with the notion that the Yankees are unable to win games without Aaron Judge. He asserted that the team is capable of achieving victories regardless of any individual player’s absence.

Rizzo acknowledged Aaron Judge as the captain and leader of the team but emphasized that relying solely on one player does not determine the team’s overall success. He stressed the importance of unity and collective effort, stating that it is unfair to solely attribute the team’s performance to Judge or any individual.

Veterans failed the Yankees

Rizzo and several other star players have been underperforming, and they share a significant portion of the responsibility for the Yankees’ struggles. Notably, middle-of-the-lineup regulars such as Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, and Josh Donaldson have been struggling for an extended period of time. Rizzo’s recent performance has seen him go 1-for-7, resulting in a decline in his batting average to .083 over the past 13 games.

Stanton, since returning from the injured list on June 2, has gone 0-for-8, bringing his batting average to .147 in the 12 games played after missing six weeks due to a hamstring strain. He is fast becoming a concern for the Yankees.

LeMahieu is seen with his Yankees teammates Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo.

As for Donaldson, he did not play in Game 1 and went 0-for-3 with a walk in Game 2, further lowering his batting average to .151 with six home runs and a .724 OPS in just 53 at-bats. It is worth mentioning that Donaldson also missed approximately six weeks due to a strained hamstring.

Over the course of 18 innings, the Yankees struggled to find their offensive groove, tallying a mere eight hits in total, with four hits in each game. Jake Bauers and Gleyber Torres were the standout performers, contributing three hits each, while the rest of the team combined for just two hits collectively.

The Yankees find themselves in dire need of reinforcements, seeking skilled hitters who can pull them out of their current struggles. They are looking for reliable performers who can break free from their prolonged slumps. At the moment, the team’s veteran players seem to be more symbolic figures rather than impactful contributors.

It has been a significant amount of time since the Yankees suffered a doubleheader sweep in Boston, with the last instance taking place on July 31, 1976. Similarly, their most recent doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Red Sox dates back to September 17, 2006.

However, those doubleheader sweeps were minor setbacks in otherwise successful regular seasons. The 1976 sweep was just a fraction of the 62 losses the Yankees experienced during their resurgence, which ultimately led them back to the World Series for the first time since 1964. Similarly, the 2006 sweep was only a small part of the 65 losses they endured that season and occurred approximately a month after a five-game sweep at Fenway that played a role in propelling the Yankees to their ninth consecutive AL East title.

The events that transpired on Sunday and throughout the weekend in Boston were distinct from the previous doubleheader sweeps. This time, it wasn’t just a minor setback or an anomaly; it reflected the current reality the Yankees are confronting.

Veterans unable to keep the Yankees on track in Aaron Judge’s absence

The absence of Aaron Judge has exposed the team’s inability to generate production from those who should step up in his absence. In the 23 games without Judge this season, the Yankees’ record stands at 9-14. Judge has been sidelined for some of these games due to his initial injury and subsequent stints on the injured list.

Since Judge’s injury and placement on the injured list, the Yankees have played 11 games and have yet to lose. Their record during this stretch includes three victories: a 3-0 triumph over the White Sox, a 3-2 win against the Red Sox, and a 7-6 victory over the Mets.

The Yankees have suffered eight defeats during this period, with a variety of factors contributing to their losses, including errors on the basepaths and untimely mistakes. However, the primary issue has been their offense. When the team’s hitting struggles, it often leads to scrutiny and questioning of the hitting coach by the media.

The Yankees’ offense has faced challenges throughout the year, but its struggles have become particularly evident as the supporting cast, which is expected to step up when Judge is in the lineup, is not performing up to par. This group consists of Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson, and Gleyber Torres.

After sitting out for an extended period due to a hamstring injury, Stanton’s performance has been affected by his limited rehab at-bats. Since his return, Stanton has struggled, going 5-for-41 with 15 strikeouts. This resembles his performance last year when he came back from a month-long absence due to an Achilles injury, batting just 18-for-109 (.165).

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees

Rizzo’s batting average dropped from .304 after the collision with Fernando Tatis Jr. at first base, which caused a neck injury, . Since then, he has struggled at the plate, managing only four hits in 48 at-bats. However, during Sunday’s game, Rizzo had a potential extra-base hit that was thwarted by a great defensive play.

LeMahieu, who signed a six-year contract after the 2020 season following his second batting title, is now in his third year with the Yankees. After a solid .268 average in the challenging 2021 season, he struggled with foot injuries last year, resulting in a .261 average. This month, LeMahieu has gone 6-for-35 at the plate, continuing his recent slump.

Donaldson, who also returned around the same time as Stanton after recovering from a similar injury, currently holds a .151 batting average. Last year, he posted a career-low average of .222, marking his lowest performance in a full season. In addition to his struggles at the plate, Donaldson made a critical mistake by getting picked off first base, further magnifying the team’s offensive struggles.

In the doubleheader, Torres contributed three of the Yankees’ nine hits. The limited number of hits is a noticeable contrast to the 1976 sweep, where the Yankees scored six runs on 15 hits, and the 2006 sweep, where they managed seven runs on 17 hits.

Torres has struggled this month, going 10-for-49 at the plate. He experienced an 0-for-20 slump during this period but managed to break it with a home run against the White Sox in the nightcap of the doubleheader.

Due to the absence of Judge, the Yankees’ team average has dropped to .230, and their on-base percentage stands at .298. Although these numbers are not terrible, when considering only the current month, the figures plummet to .192 and .250, making them the worst in baseball by a significant margin. The closest team in terms of poor performance is the White Sox, ranking 29th with averages of .207 and .270, respectively.

In the pre-1995 era, the Yankees’ current performance would leave them struggling to compete with a dominant division leader, with only a slim chance of success. From 1995 to 2011, they would have been within striking distance of the wild-card spot, trailing by 5 1/2 games. Between 2012 and 2019, as well as in 2021, they would have been right in the mix for the one-game elimination battle. However, in the present scenario, they find themselves tied with the Houston Astros for the third wild-card position, which would earn them a visit to the ballpark of the AL Central Division winner.

Stanton emphasized the need for the team to focus on winning games during his interaction with reporters. He acknowledged that Judge’s injury was a significant setback but emphasized the importance of finding ways to secure victories. Stanton stressed that the team couldn’t rely on excuses and had to rise to the challenge they were facing.

At some point, the Yankees know they can’t rely solely on that strategy, and they eagerly await Judge’s return. In the meantime, they are relying on the players they believe have the potential to perform and are hopeful that they will step up, particularly considering that 13 out of their last 19 games before the break will be played at home.

Boone admits the problem bur stays defiant

According to Yankees manager Aaron Boone, he acknowledged that it’s a recurring narrative that they will continue to hear. However, he emphasized that the team they field has the ability to be impactful offensively. For Boone, considering their current situation, he sees it as nothing more than an excuse.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone at Fenway Park on June 16, 2023.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone expressed his belief that the team they are fielding has the potential to be highly effective offensively. He dismissed the notion that the absence of their star player should be used as an excuse, emphasizing that they have numerous players who are more than capable of generating significant runs. Boone acknowledged that this will likely be a recurring topic in the media until they start producing consistently. He stressed the need for improved consistency at the moment.

In the past two weeks, the Yankees have registered the lowest OPS in all of Major League Baseball, standing at a mere .599. Their on-base percentage and batting average during this period are also the lowest in the league, measuring at .255 and .195, respectively. Furthermore, their slugging percentage of .344 ranks as the second-lowest among all teams, narrowly trailing the Royals, who are considered one of the weaker teams in the league.

During that timeframe, McKinney leads the team with the highest OPS at .820, followed by Torres with a mark of .792. Calhoun also performed well, securing the third-highest OPS at .739. On the other hand, LeMahieu, Stanton, and Rizzo have struggled, recording OPS figures of .478, .420, and .296, respectively. Their performances rank among the lowest on the team, with only Oswaldo Cabrera (.154), who was sent down on Sunday, trailing behind them.

Starting pitcher Luis Severino, who was charged with the loss in Game 2, acknowledged the impact of Aaron Judge’s absence on the team.

Severino acknowledged the impact of losing Judge, emphasizing that his absence would be a major blow to the team. Nonetheless, he emphasized the need for the team to remain resilient, grind through the challenges, and find ways to come out on top in games.

If the Yankees don’t start getting better contributions from players outside the RailRiders organization, their offense will continue to perform at a level more suited for Triple-A rather than the major leagues.

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