The New York Yankees have lost five in a row and nine of 12. Suddenly, they're just 20-18 in a logjammed AL East, 2 games behind first-place Tampa Bay and just 1 1/2 games ahead of fifth-place Baltimore. Is this just a little slump or a crisis?
I vote for crisis. And here's why:
1. The offense is not underperforming.
Check out this chart, showing the starting nine's 2010 numbers, their projected 2011 numbers via ZiPS, and their actual 2011 numbers:
Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada aren't close to matching their projections, but they're balanced out by the hot starts of Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin (although he's cooled off lately). And in the case of Posada, who turns 40 this summer, not completely unexpected given his age. Yes, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez might hit a little better, but given their ages and the league-wide drop in offense, their numbers aren't that far off their projected totals. Cano's power stroke has been there, but a big reason for his MVP-caliber 2010 was improved patience, but his walk rate has dipped from a career-best 8.2 percent to 3.9 percent, his lowest since his rookie season. He's also striking out at a career-worst 17.5 percent. Mark Teixeira, usually a slow starter, has been about what you'd expect.
Anyway, it should be noted the Yankees do lead the AL in runs scored. I just don't expect much of a boost over what they've done so far.
2. The pitching has been better than expected.
Yes, Phil Hughes has struggled with a tired arm, but Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have both been solid, combining for a 3.50 ERA over 79 2/3 innings. That's better than what Hughes produced last season. A.J. Burnett is pitching as well as he ever has in pinstripes, averaging more than six innings per start with a 3.38 ERA. And the bullpen, despite Rafael Soriano's slow start, has been solid, with a 3.31 ERA. The point: I don't see where the pitching will get better, and there are obvious huge questions marks about the future performance of Colon and Garcia.
3. The schedule.
The Yankees are in the middle of a stretch where they play 32 games in 33 days. Joe Girardi has been reluctant to use his bench much -- Granderson has played every game; Cano, Teixeira, Brett Gardner and Swisher have sat just once; Jeter has missed just two -- leaving one to wonder how all these old legs will handle the wear and tear. They also haven't played Tampa Bay until tonight and haven't made a West Coast trip yet.
4. They failed to take advantage of their early schedule.
The Yankees played 24 of their first 38 games at home -- that's more home games than any other team -- but went just 13-11 in those games. Last season, they were nine games better at home.
5. Can they hit away from home?
The Yankees have thrived off the home run, hitting a major league-leading 60 (11 more than Cincinnati), and scoring a higher percentage of their runs via the home run than any other club. That strategy seems made for Yankee Stadium, but it will translate on the road over 81 games? Last season the Yankees had an .832 OPS at home, .742 on the road.
6. Increased parity means deadline deals will be more difficult.
Right now, Minnesota and Seattle look like the only American League teams who won't still be in the playoff chase come July, but neither has a difference-making pitcher who will be available. The National League looks even tighter than the AL. I just don't see a pitcher near the quality of Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt who will be on the trade market.
7. You can eat the money but not the results.
How long do the Yankees stick with Posada? Top prospect Jesus Montero is hitting .336 at Triple-A, but with just two home runs and six walks in 122 at-bats. Still, he would be a good bet to outproduce Posada from here on out. But will the Yankees let sentiment get in the way?
8. The Red Sox are only going to get better.
Boston didn't panic after its 2-10 start and has clawed back to .500. Unlike the Yankees, you can find several Red Sox underperforming their projected numbers, most notably Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia and John Lackey.
9. The Rays are for real.
This is going to be three-team race. Heck, maybe a four-team race with the Blue Jays in the mix as well.
10. Bad karma.
The Posada incident might have been blown out of proportion, but it symbolizes how things just don't feel right with the Yankees this year. This goes back to the contentious offseason negotiations with Jeter. For some reason, GM Brian Cashman has been more public in vocalizing his thoughts (he also bashed the Rafael Soriano signing). Not that players need support from their GM to play well, but the way he handled the Posada situation was definitely odd. Meanwhile, Girardi doesn't seem to offer the calming leadership that Joe Torre provided. Certainly, Yankee players are used to dealing with issues that blow up in the media, but in the past they've been able to rely on their depth of talent and ability.
Now that talent is older than ever and the on/off switch harder to locate. The Rays have won two of the past three AL East division titles and believe in themselves. The Red Sox are gaining steam. A lot has gone right for the Yankees this season -- and they're barely over .500 and now they get to face David Price as they try to end this skid.
(For more Yankees coverage, check out our SweetSpot blog affiliate, It's About the Money, Stupid.)