Yes, maybe the Yankees really are in trouble

Al Bello

I've been putting off this column for a few weeks and I'm not exactly sure why, but it's probably well past the time for saying this ... The New York Yankees are in trouble.

Some of you might think that's tremendously silly, since the Yankees are 30-22. Even after losing four straight.

Some of you might think that's tremendously silly, since the Yankees are so obviously in trouble, and have been in trouble since Opening Day.

But I suspect the Yankees really are in trouble, if not so obviously.

Yes, they're 30-22. But might I mention in passing that there's only one team in the American League East with a worse run differential than the Yankees' +17? The first-place Red Sox lead the pack by a fair piece, with the third-place Orioles at +19 and the fourth-place Rays tied with the Yanks, 17 runs to the good. As we all know, run differential's got its limitations, but it's not a real stretch to suggest that the Yankees are just a few bad bounces away from being in fourth place rather than second. And if they were in fourth rather than second, it might be just a little easier to argue that they're in trouble. To Joe Fan, anyway.

Remember what was happening a month or so ago? Francisco Cervelli was enjoying the Month of His Life. Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis and especially Vernon Wells were all doing their level best to put Brian Cashman in the Hall of Fame. Jayson Nix was just making plays. Phil Hughes was pitching like he used to, and Andy Pettitte was pitching like he always has.

Cervelli got hurt, and so did Youkilis and Pettitte. Somehow, the Yankees kept winning. Hughes began to struggle, and still the Yankees kept winning.

And so nobody really noticed that Eduardo Nuñez was struggling as an every-day player, and Ichiro Suzuki wasn't hitting like Ichiro Suzuki. But lately it's hard to not notice. Wells and Overbay still have decent numbers, and lately Brennan Boesch has joined the party. But Nuñez and Ichiro and Nix have just been awful, and they've been joined in that category by the likes of David Adams and Chris Nelson and Ben Francisco.

Yes, this is what things have come to. In April and for much of May, there seemed to be this bizarre notion that you could just throw pinstripes on just about any replacement-level player and he'd suddenly start socking line drives to all fields. But baseball doesn't work that way, not for more than a few weeks anyway. You have enough of those guys, and the laws of probability dictate that a few of them will surprise you. Most of them won't.

The Yankees are fortunate to be 30-22. They could just as easily be 22-30, in which case the general tenor of the discussion would be quite a bit different than it's been. Some of us actually thought the Yankees might finish in last place this season, and that wouldn't seem so crazy today if the Yankees were 22-30.

Ah, but there's good news! Derek Jeter's supposed to come back at some point this summer, and even diminished he figures to play better than everybody who's been playing shortstop so far. Curtis Granderson's supposed to come back (again), and he's better than everybody whose plate appearances he'll take. Mark Teixeira's supposed to come back, and he'll be better than Lyle Overbay (though perhaps not a great deal better).

The best news of all, though? The Yankees are 30-22, and there's nothing in the rules that says the Yankees have to give back any of those 30 wins. There are only three teams in the American League with more than 30 wins, and five teams get to participate in the tournament this fall.

Almost anybody can go 30-22 over a 52-game span. The fact that the Yankees went 30-22 over the season's first 52-game span is a good thing; they have more chances to go 30-22. But I'm willing to wager a day's wages they don't go 30-22 again without a lot more talent on the 25-man roster than they've got right now. And even then, it's going to be a close-run thing. Because while the Blue Jays are (or have been) worse than we figured, the Red Sox and the Orioles are better. The Yankees still probably won't finish last. But I'll be really surprised if they finish first.

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