NEW YORK – On June 12th, the New York Yankees held a 38-23 record and sat four games above the second place Boston Red Sox – but things certainly took a turn for the worse when they lost seven straight series, bringing their record to a mediocre 45-41. Several things went wrong for the Bronx Bombers during their rough stretch, but they certainly are not out of the playoff race. If the Yankees want any chance of playing in October Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances and Gary Sanchez all need to perform to their full potential.
Tanaka needs a confidence boost
The Yankees’ ace, Masahiro Tanaka, is having the worst season of his career. The right-handed pitcher has shown glimpses of greatness in a couple of starts this season, but a majority have been him getting hit around like a piñata. In Tanaka’s time in the Majors, he has a 3.53 ERA overall, and it would most likely be near a 3.00 if it was not for his 5.47 ERA this year. Tanaka’s main problem this season has been his inability to locate his pitches and the excess of home runs that he has allowed. He has already surpassed the amount of home runs he allowed last season (22) and, obviously, the season is only half way through. The splitter that Tanaka so frequently gets hitters to chase has been rising up into the strike zone and hanging for easy hits. Going into his final start of the first half against the Milwaukee Brewers, he posted a 1.29 ERA over his previous three starts, but fell back to his bad tendencies when he allowed two home runs in a losing effort.
Tanaka got himself into trouble early on in the first inning, and Travis Shaw capitalized on 3-2 off-speed pitch that hung right over the plate. In the very next inning, Tanaka allowed a solo shot to Stephen Vogt on the same pitch that Shaw took deep. Catcher Gary Sanchez set up down and away, but the pitch found its way back to the inner half. In many of Tanaka’s bad outings this season, he struggles early to locate and then loses all confidence in himself to bounce back. Despite the struggles, he is a proven pitcher who the Yankees need to have rebound. Staying out of trouble early and finding his groove will be his keys to success in the second half of the season.
Is Betances trying too hard to get outs?
Yankees’ reliever Dellin Betances is not having the year he envisioned going into this season. Despite leading relievers is K/9 (16.84), he is walking hitters more than he ever has in his entire career. Entering this season, he has had a 3.38 career BB/9 ratio. He has nearly tripled that number this year with his 8.26 BB/9. So what really is the problem with Betances? To put it simply, he is trying too hard to get outs and over throwing pitches regularly. After looking very effective in his final appearance of the first half, Betances struggled mightily to locate pitches during the All-Star Game.
Betances was just a tad wild in that inning pic.twitter.com/z1HZBKQ2Yd
Fellow all-star Bryce Harper noted how Betances struggles locating his pitches. “I feel like he’s a guy you can go up there and just take,” Harper said. “He’ll walk you.” When Betances is on, he has two phenomenal pitches: a fastball that can top out at 100 MPH, and a breaking ball that buckles hitters’ knees as it falls through the strike zone. He is pressing too much just as he did in the month of September last year when the Yankees needed him to be most effective. Playing in New York is a tough task, but he has proven to be capable of handling the spotlight. Now all he needs is the support of his teammates and to relax on the mound. At the end of the day, it’s just a game and you are getting paid millions to pitch one inning in relief – get the job done.
Sanchez needs to be better defensively
Gary Sanchez is a player that has not been talked about because of the emergence of Aaron Judge – which is almost a good thing for the young catcher. Sanchez has been hitting the ball well most of the season, but ended the first half on a 1-for-17 skid. Offensively, Sanchez does not have anything to worry about, however, when he is behind the plate fear starts to creep in for a lot of fans.
When Sanchez was called up to the big leagues, scouts raved over his arm strength and ability to throw out base runners. The issue with him is his inability to prevent passed balls and the amount of errors he has made this season. The backstop ranks second to last in errors this season, as he has made nine in his 47 appearances behind the plate. He ranks only ahead of Willson Contreras, who has made 13 errors in 73 games this season. Sanchez also ranks second to last in past balls allowed, as he has let seven slip by him. Yasmani Grandal has allowed nine past balls in his 69 games played. The two players that Sanchez ranks ahead of in errors and past balls have played far more games than he has, putting the young catcher on pace for worst defensive catcher in those two categories.
Manager Joe Girardi has already spoke with Sanchez about needing to block balls and how to get into a better position when blocking pitches in the dirt. “It had nothing to do with scolding him,” Girardi said following Sanchez failing to block a strike-three splitter from Masahiro Tanaka. “It was about where you put your weight on certain pitches. I don’t have a problem with his effort, but sometimes he shows his frustrations. But he’s still a very young player.” Sanchez has a plethora of potential and needs to hone in on his defensive skills if the Yankees want to make a run at a playoff spot this year.
Why these three players?
I chose these three players because they are all so fundamentally important to this team’s success. Tanaka needs to be an ace if the Yankees want to make the playoffs, Betances needs to be the effective set up man that he has proven to be over the years and Sanchez needs to be better behind the plate. Out of these three players, I say that Sanchez has the biggest influence in shaping this team into a playoff contender. A catcher needs to call a stellar game for his pitchers every time out and needs to ensure that no runs are scored because he lets a ball slip past him in a pivotal moment. If Sanchez can figure out his defensive struggles, while Betances and Tanaka improve on the mound, look for the Yankees to bounce back in the second half of the season.