Perhaps the biggest surprise of the MLB season thus far is that the New York Yankees ended April with a losing record, and are currently the second-worst team in the AL East.
While there is plenty of time for the Bronx Bombers to turn things around, the clear-cut favorite in the American League will need some of their stars to turn things around quick or they'll be in a huge hole behind their rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
The Yanks have the talent to turn things around in a hurry. These are the five players who have underperformed and need to get their act together if the Yankees are going to get things straightened out sooner rather than later.
Technically, LeMahieu has been one of the team’s most consistent hitters this season, which more or less sums up the Yankees’ problems. At the moment, LeMahieu is batting just .269 with an OPS of .702. That’s not even close to what he was producing when he was an All-Star in 2019 or won last year’s American League batting title. Perhaps more importantly, he’s not performing like someone who’s worth a six-year, $90 million contract.
Granted, nobody thinks that LeMahieu is going to be an average hitter for his entire six-year contract or even for the rest of the season. But he’s also not showing signs of coming out of his early-season slump, and the Yankees don’t have a lot of time to wait for him.
Over the last two seasons, he’s been the catalyst at the top of the lineup that sets the table for everyone else. The power hitters in the Yankees’ lineup are dangerous, in part, because LeMahieu is always on base in front of them. If he can’t do a better job of getting hits and getting on base, the Yankees can’t put stress on opposing pitchers and wear them down over the course of nine innings, which has been a big part of the club’s recent success.
Much like LeMahieu’s productivity in April, it hasn’t been close to good enough from Torres early in 2021. He’s batting .245 with no home runs as we're nearly a week into May, giving him an OPS of .629. That’s beyond unacceptable for someone who’s been batting fourth or fifth in the lineup for most of the season.
On the one hand, Torres is just 24, so it’s a little easier to look the other way when he endures ups and downs. On the other hand, Torres is a two-time All-Star who was also dreadful in 2020, hitting a modest .243 with an OPS of .724 during the shortened season. He’s been even worse this season, which is made even more concerning coming off his issues last year.
The issue is that the Yankees have no other options. Of course, they can explore their options on the free-agent market next winter. But in the short term, Tyler Wade is the only other internal option at shortstop. The Yankees have no choice but to stay with Torres at shortstop, at least until the summer trade season, so there is considerable urgency in getting him turned around.
Taillon was a serious addition to the rotation this winter, but the Yankees had to be expecting something better than the 5.24 ERA he has through his first five starts. He was the second-overall selection in the draft once upon a time and should be competing with Gerrit Cole to be the team’s ace rather than merely filling a spot in the back end of the rotation.
While Taillon had one decent start against the Braves, Taillon has failed to impress in his other starts. He deserves some slack after missing all of 2020 because of elbow trouble. But shaking off the rust isn’t going to be an excuse for much longer. Sooner or later, the Yankees are going to need results.
The fact that Taillon has the stuff to be a frontline starter is part of the reason why the Yanks are expected to win the AL East and have championship aspirations. The club will likely have to deal with some ups and downs from the aging Corey Kluber. That means Taillon needs to step up and be the No. 2 starter. Otherwise, the team’s rotation outside of Cole doesn’t look any better than it did last year.
Elsewhere in the rotation, the Yankees need to squeeze a little more out of Montgomery. The southpaw looked great in his first start of the season but has been solid if unspectacular since then. Forget about the 4.39 ERA through five starts, Montgomery is walking way more batters than he has and has been hurt by the long ball.
Much like Taillon, injuries can’t be an excuse with Montgomery any longer. In June, he’ll be three years removed from Tommy John surgery, which is more than enough time to get back on track. He came back late in 2019 and made 10 starts for the Yankees last year. That should be enough for him to find the form he had early in his career.
Keep in mind, Montgomery posted a 3.88 ERA over 29 starts as a rookie in 2017 and looked even better early in 2018 before needing elbow surgery. The Yankees need that Montgomery taking up residence in their starting rotation. He doesn’t need to be Cole’s co-ace. But he needs to be a consistent No. 3 starter who gives them a chance every game and lets the offense do the rest.
Torres is easily the most disappointing Yankee thus far while Hicks might be the most surprising player on the team to struggle in April. Coming off shoulder surgery that ended his 2019 season, Hicks ended up putting up decent numbers in 2020, batting .225 with an OPS of .793. With another offseason to rest and create more distance between himself and the surgery, the Yankees were hopeful the old Aaron Hicks would show up in 2021.
However, that hasn’t happened, as he’s currently batting .157 with an OPS of .570. Even with a few home runs, Hicks has a slugging percentage slightly over .300 and is striking out at a high rate. It’s been a frustrating start to the campaign for a player who was supposed to key figure in the middle of the batting order. As a switch-hitter in a right-hand-heavy lineup, the Yankees need to start getting more out of Hicks, who is showing no signs of life aside from the occasional home run.
Much like Torres, there aren’t a lot of options behind Hicks. They need his defense in center field and can only ask Brett Gardner to play there so often. Plus, the aging Gardner isn’t producing either while trying to share left field with Clint Frazier. If Hicks can get it going, that would go a long way toward helping the Yankees solve their problems and fulfill their potential.
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