Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If any Yankee fans were looking for Aaron Boone to call out his team or turn over a food table after the Houston Astros completed their sweep on Wednesday, they were once again disappointed by the even-tempered manager.
And as unsatisfying as it might be for a bloodthirsty public, Boone was exactly right, both in style and substance, when he said the following:
"I still feel like we're really close. We compete. We've got to tighten it up a little bit, play obviously a little bit better, but I believe we're really close to turning the corner. I'm really pleased with what the guys are coming in with each day: the approach, the focus. It's a little bump in the road, that's inevitable in a major league season and we'll work on it."
The most important thing to remember about this is that Boone wasn't talking to you. He was talking to his clubhouse, where the message was received and appreciated. The manager's job is to motivate his players to succeed, and earn the credibility to browbeat them every so often.
This was not a time to browbeat. The team's play in Houston was far from crisp, and players know they are not clicking. But they also know they are talented, and capable of much more than they have showed. Most of them also remember being 9-9 on April 20, 2018, and going on to win 100 games.
The Yankees know they have real issues, most of them injury-related. It hurts to lose Miguel Andujar and Luis Severino to injuries that could easily cost both dynamic young players an entire season. Dellin Betances would have come in handy this week, too.
But there are a few other problems that are not as dire as they seem. The much-hyped bullpen had a tough week, but Adam Ottavino lost the series opener on an infield hit. He's fine. And Zack Britton, who has endured a few bad games, actually has peripheral numbers that suggest a quick correction.
Britton is a key reliever on this team. His ground ball rate, the most significant indicator for him as a sinker-ball pitcher, is in line with his career norms, and a tick better than last year so far. Opposing batters' average on balls in play is a bloated .400, and because Britton is not giving up a lot of hard contact, that BABIP isn't sustainable. His performance will correct itself.
On the offensive side, last year's sensation Luke Voit is batting just .196, and scouts are raising questions about his ability to make adjustments once the league throws him fewer fastballs and more off-speed pitches. One scout who attended all of the Yankees' first homestand noted the high volume of breaking balls that Baltimore and Detroit pitchers used to strike Voit out.
Voit himself shook off the notion that the league was figuring him out.
"Nah," he said recently, when asked if he was seeing more offspeed. "They've always pitched me like that."
Voit's numbers back those claims. He has swung at 25.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone so far this year, which is actually a tick better than last season. His BABIP is .172 and his power is still there. He'll be fine, too.
Some Yankee problems aren't as easily fixable. Aroldis Chapman's fastball might never return, and James Paxton hasn't yet adapted to his higher-profile job as well as expected. The talented Domingo German remains very raw, with inconsistent mechanics in his delivery.
But take a look around the division, and you see a Boston team with a worse record and deeper issues with its pitching staff. The Tampa Bay Rays might end up the more formidable opponent this year.
The Yankees have done nothing to indicate that they won't hang in the race all season. Boone knows it, his players know it, and -- trust us on this -- the clubhouse appreciated their manager's even hand after a tough loss.