‘Struggling’ is a relative term to describe the 2012 Yankees, of course. The Yankees are sitting at two games over .500, but find themselves in fourth place in the American League East. The division is turned upside-down, according to preseason projections, with the Baltimore Orioles atop the standings with the best record in the AL at 28-17.
But Wednesday’s 8-3 win over the Kansas City Royals could be the spring board the Yankees had been looking for prior to heading on a three-city, nine-game road trip that kicks off this weekend in Oakland. After telling reporters he had found something in his swing that was going to lead to a hot-streak, Alex Rodriguez broke a 52-at-bat stretch without a homer by going deep twice on Wednesday. The win gave New York it’s first set of back-to-back victories since winning three in a row from May 11-13.
Rodriguez’ slash line isn’t what it used to be when he was in his physical prime, but he’s still has a respectable 815 OPS that could be on the rise if his two-homer performance Wednesday is any indication.
New York captain Derek Jeter has turned back the clock, playing like he’s 27 and not 37 years-old. He has 64 hits in just 43 games, with his best slash line in years (.348/.389/.484). The future Hall of Famer hadn’t registered an OPS above 800 since 2009 after signing a contract that offseason that will keep him in pinstripes until at least 2013, with a player option for 2014 worth up to $41 million.
Second baseman Robinson Cano remains New York’s best statistical player, with a 19.6 RAR and 2.1 WAR. He started the year slowly, hitting just .267 in April, but has fared better in May, hitting .329 and raising his OPS from 712 to 962. The Bombers’ most disappointing position player thus far is first-baseman Mark Teixeira, who is hitting .226/.291/.381 and has seen his OPS fall each of the last five years.
Due to make $22.5 million over the next five seasons, the switch-hitter’s struggles have been caused, in part, by a respiratory problem that has plagued him all season, according to Girardi. But the team shouldn’t be too concerned, because Teixeira is a year removed from 39 homers and 111 RBIs, despite hitting just .248. Throughout his career, he has started slowly and he owns career OPSs of 899, 911, 955 and 945 in June, July, August and September/October, respectively.
The A's will play the weekend set without some of their most productive hitters. Yoenis Cespedes remains out of action while dealing with a hand injury, while Brandon Inge is slated for a return from the 15-day DL on Monday, at the earliest. Cespedes will make a change in his hitting style when he returns, holding the bat handle more traditionally, instead of holding the knob of his bat in his left palm, in hopes of preventing future hand soreness.
Many players hold the knob of their bats in their palm to generate more bat speed. It makes the bat seem longer, making the barrel move faster as players swing. But the practice has been to known to cause hand injuries similar to what Cespedes is dealing with. He will likely begin using a longer bat to help generate the same whip of the bat head. Reportedly, the slugging center fielder has swung pain-free over the last two days, but there’s been no indication when he’ll resume batting practice or come off the disabled list.
After losing two of three to the Los Angels Angels at home this week, the A's still own one of the worst offenses in baseball, with a team-slash line of .210/.287/.333. But next week, the club will likely get Cespedes and Inge back in the lineup, and possibly Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez is eligible to join the major league team in Minnesota on May 30. He currently has four hits in 16 at-bats with Triple-A Sacramento. All of his hits have been singles, giving him an OPS of 583 in his five games. A's manager Bob Melvin has said the team hopes to get Ramirez 40 minor league-at-bats before the team promotes him to the big leagues, but that could change if the club is desperate for offense. With just 16 at-bats in Triple-A through Thursday, it’s unlikely Ramirez will reach 40 on Monday, which would allow him to travel to Minnesota Tuesday, and play for the A's on Wednesday.
With the A’s off the following Thursday before traveling to Kansas City, Ramirez could get to 40 at-bats by playing Tuesday and Wednesday with the River Cats, then joining Oakland on Friday to play the Royals.
This Friday’s series-opener will feature two young right-handers with impressive stuff. The Yankees will send Ivan Nova (4-2, 5.69 ERA) to the mound, while Oakland will counter with Tyson Ross (2-4, 5.73). Nova has four pitches, with a fastball sitting at nearly 93 MPH on average, with a hard slider, curve and a rarely used changeup.
But the 25-year-old has struggled of late, allowing 10 earned runs and 14 hits in his last 11.1 frames. His last win came on May 8 against Tampa Bay, when he allowed two runs in seven innings. But despite his high ERA, the Yankees are 6-2 in his starters, scoring six runs a game when he takes the rubber.
Ross has lost four of his last five starts, but has pieced together three decent outings since getting hammered in two starts on the East Coast April 22 and 28 in Baltimore and Tampa. In those two starts he allowed 16 runs in 7.1 innings. Since then, Ross has allowed just five runs in 17.2 innings, good for a 2.87 ERA. The right-hander will also have the luxury of pitching at home, where he’s permitted hitters a .205 average this year.
Saturday’s matinee will feature two former Cy Young Award winners when Bartolo Colon (4-4, 4.09 ERA) takes on Vallejo, Calif. native C.C. Sabathia (5-2, 3.78). In his last start on Sunday, Colon earned his first win since April 18 by yielding two runs in five innings against the San Francisco Giants. He has been frustratingly inconsistent for the A’s, who acquired him to bring stability to an otherwise unproven rotation. Colon, who pitched for New York last season, has struggled against the Yankees in his career, going 4-5 in 12 starts with a 6.07 ERA versus the Bronx Bombers.
Despite growing up about 30 miles from Oakland, Sabathia’s career numbers in the Coliseum haven’t been typical of a pitcher many consider one of the top left-handed starters in the game. In 11 outings, he’s 3-5 with a 5.40 ERA there.
After winning five-straight straight starts, Sabathia has lost his last two, allowing seven runs over his last 13 innings. The 31-year-old is still striking out more than a hitter per inning, with a fastball averaging better than 92 MPH. He sticks to throwing mostly fastball and sliders, while occasionally mixing in a changeup and curve.
Sunday’s finale will see Tom Milone (6-3, 3.75 ERA) toe the rubber against Hiroki Kuroda (3-6, 4.56 ERA). Milone is a different pitcher at home than on the road. In Oakland, the southpaw owns a 0.60 ERA and .158 average against in 30 innings, compared to 7.16 and .295 away from the Coliseum. Sunday’s start will be his first ever against the Yankees.
Milone’s calling card has been planting his cutter in on the hands against right-handers and away from lefties. In starts where he has struggled, he has gotten hit hard when missing with his fastball to the right-side of the plate (inside to left-handers).
Kuroda has been similar to Colon in his inability to maintain consistency this season. The former Japanese Professional League star has yet to win back-to-back starts this season, and has earned a decision in each of his starts. He has been a far better pitcher at Yankee Stadium than on the road, owning a 3-2 record and 3.41 ERA in the Bronx compared to 0-4 and 6.23 elsewhere.
The Yankees signed the 37-year-old righty away from the Dodgers in the offseason after Kuroda went 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA. The four-pitch thrower has a lively fastball, hard slider and split-finger fastball. But so far in 2012, he has shown a propensity to give up the long ball, allowing 10 already this year.
The A's won’t be at full strength for this series against the tough American League East team. Despite that challenge, the A's will need to win the series to finish at least .500 for the homestand before they head out on the road to face two struggling opponents in Minnesota and Kansas City.