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Mudville: June 18, 2024 8:50 pm PDT

The Evil Empire had its day.

So far in 2021, this is again the story of the Yankees: The Empire Strikes Out.

That’s what the Yankees excel at right now and if their approach doesn’t change it will be another frustrating year for the franchise that has won as many championships as the Marlins since 2003 – one.

The Yankees have had only 80 at-bats this season with RISP –  21st in the league.

They are not putting men in scoring position and when they do, they are not delivering, hitting .225 with RISP, also 21st in MLB.

The Yankees are less than mediocre right now at 5-7 and last in the AL East.

Mediocrity reigns throughout baseball – except in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers are trying to become the first team to win back to back World Series since your father’s Yankees won three in a row in 1998 -’99 – 2000. With the odds they’re getting right now, don’t be shocked if they win it all again.

This current Yankees team has shown so many holes as it is off to that 5-7 start, losing four of six games to the much younger and more exciting Blue Jays.

The latest loss came via walkoff on a Bo Bichette home run Wednesday, his second Oppo home run of the game to give the Blue Jays a 5-4 win in Dunedin.

By the way, lose the Fake Cutout Fans, Blue Jays.

Bichette is off to a hot start at .327 while Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres is hitting .220.

Bichette is the much better defensive shortstop as well.

Bichette hit a 2-1 breaking ball off Chad Green.

Yankee pitchers are being beat by more than their fair share of bad breaking balls as their young pitching coach Matt Blake continues to emphasize sequencing.

It didn’t fool Bichette.

“My dad threw me a lot of breaking balls growing up,’’ Bo said of his Blake Street Bomber dad Dante Bichette.

The Yankees certainly can do better than this start and the starting pitching other than Gerrit Cole has not been good.

If they want to get to the postseason, they must work out the kinks. What is particularly disturbing about this Yankees team is that they fail miserably at so many baseball issues.

They are dreadful running the bases.

The defense is terrible.

The approach at the plate is the same home run or strikeout-fest over and over except for Gio Urshela.

They don’t pitch intelligently, throwing many senseless pitches on 0-2.

They are a power-based organization and that appears to be all that they worked on in spring training.

Power pitching, power hitting.

“There’s one really good team in baseball, the Dodgers”

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays - DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - APRIL 14, 2021: Bo Bichette #11 of the Toronto Blue Jays gets water poured on him from Rowdy Tellez #44 after hitting a walk-off home run against the New York Yankees in the ninth inning at TD Ballpark on April 14, 2021 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

What about all the gentle nuances of the game?

That seems to have escaped the game plan in Tampa. Again, this can all change quickly but right now the Yankees are not a good team. Someone needs to tell them they all don’t get an invite to the postseason this year year like they did in 2020.

And here are just some numbers to back up my points. I don’t want to put you into a numbers brain-freeze like it is all the rage now with those who chronicle the game but here goes:

The Yankees are 18th in batting average at .228. The Dodgers are No. 1 at .285.

Yes, I know, in this Elite Baseball World, batting average is meaningless as they tell us, but you know what, -stuff it – batting average still means a lot to me, and evidently to the World Champion Dodgers.

Let’s go to on-base percentage.

The Dodgers are first at .371, the Yankees are 13th at .314.

Interestingly enough, the Mets are third at .350, and that’s with Michael Conforto completely lost at the plate and that is why so much “traffic’’ as they like to say has not translated into runs for the Mets.

How about OPS, you ask?

Guess what: The Dodgers are No. 1 at .867.

The Mets are 10th at .707 and the mediocre Yankees are 21st with a .682 OPS.

Even the Yankees analytical driven front office that has been created under Brian Cashman can’t dispute those less than mediocre results.

One more for fun.

Always, my most important offensive statistic through six decades of watching baseball is RBIs. RBIs are what the game is all about from an offensive standpoint.

That is money time.

The Dodgers are second (the Reds own first place), the Yankees are 22nd and the Mets are dead last.


That is a pretty telling number and shows you the superior level of pitching the Mets are getting to be able to survive such paltry RBI production from their hitters.

Throughout every division mediocrity reigns.

 “There’s one really good team in baseball, the Dodgers,’’ one top evaluator told Baseball or Bust. “The rest of the teams have so many holes that if you know how to play the game, you can take advantage.’’

The Yankees are ballyhooing the fact their pitchers set a major league record for strikeouts the first 10 games with 121, “Who cares, you are 5-7,’’ the scout said.

“Power trackable stuff as opposed to watching the game,’’ is what the scout noticed about the Yankees in spring training.  “Look how mediocre the games are, how mediocre the teams are day in and day out.’’

Nailed it.

MLB actually stands for Mediocre League Baseball these days.

“There are stars with talent but the way the game is played is a lowered bar of mediocrity,’’ the scout said. “It’s accepted when you listen to a game and they make excuses why a guy can’t put the ball in play.’’

Too many managers have become excuse makers – and Aaron Boone leads the pack.

The first place Red Sox are off to an 8-3 start with Alex Cora back managing the team. Cora has made a positive difference so far and it will be interesting to see if that holds up.

Anyone who has read BallNine knows I am a fan of Cora’s intensity when it comes to managing. Trash cans aside, he has a way of getting a lot out of his players.

The Dunedin Blue Jays’ Hyun-Jin Ryu carved up the Yankees on Tuesday night in a 7-3 victory.

The left-hander knows how to pitch. Knows how to read swings and no swings are easier to read than the Yankees.

The Jays have won Ryu’s last four starts against the Yankees as Ryu is becoming a modern-day Frank Lary, the Tigers pitcher who owned the Yankees, compiling a 27-10 record against the Mighty Yankee Teams from 1955-61.

My father was a Tigers fan.

I saw some of those games at Yankee Stadium back in the day, so it is not like I’m just throwing out some random name.

The Yankees can’t possibly be this bad, but the early indications are not positive, simply because the Yankees fail at so many of what I like to call “baseball activities.’’

Gary Sanchez getting caught off first base when the Yankees were mounting a comeback Tuesday night was one of those failures.

As the wild pitch kicked away from the catcher, Sanchez took off for second but stopped because Giancarlo Stanton had a slight hesitation going to third.

Bad read by Stanton but he eventually got it in gear and made it to third.

Sanchez made the mistake of stopping dead in his tracks.

If hitters took a little time in spring training working on base-running, the game would be so much better.

They will take hundreds of swings a day but will not take one base-running read, moving on a ball in the dirt. That’s where the game is at and that is the fault of those in charge who no longer emphasize the little things because most of those in charge don’t understand the little things.

Good baserunners anticipate a dirt ball and move accordingly.

The Yankees were caught flat-footed on a ball where both runners could have easily advanced. It’s a little thing. But it’s a big thing.

Boone, who used to be a lot more perceptive and critical as an ESPN broadcaster, took his usual excuse-making route for his players after that game, and that is a big part of the problem. The Yankees are not held accountable for their little mistakes. About the farthest he would go was that you’ve “got to be heads up.’’

Yeah, thanks Aaron. That will get it done. But this is the kind of management that Cashman wants.

Having your players’ backs is one thing.

Being a constant excuse-maker is another and Boone has fallen into that role where his credibility is essentially shot when it comes to talking about the play of his team and the injuries his team suffers.

A lot of that is coming from upstairs, but Boone is at the forefront now more than ever since there is only Zoom access to players and team personnel.

If Boone would hold his players more accountable, and get out of living in baseball Candy Land, perhaps the Yankees would have more game-time focus.

The wake-up call is coming for the Yankees once the Mets take control of New York City and that day is coming. If not for Conforto completely having lost his swing, the Mets would have a much better record.

Right now, they seem to have the more accountable, more interesting, more baseball-alert team.

Jacob deGrom sets the tone with his ability to perform at a unique level, but that talent and approach is evident elsewhere, too. Marcus Stroman is showing himself to be an expert at reading batters swings as well and making it work for him.

Other than Gerrit Cole, Yankees pitchers don’t do that or can’t do that.

Reclamation project Corey Kluber is posting a 6.10 ERA early.

Cole lost a win earlier this year to the Blue Jays hanging a late-inning 0-2 slider. Yankees pitchers are really into sequencing as I said. They should start taking that energy and putting it towards putting hitters away.

Jameson Taillon put on a clinic on Tuesday on how not to approach hitters with 0-2 pitches. It’s almost as if the Yankees pitchers are working off the cheat cards instead of working off what they are seeing from hitters in the box.

Wes Clements, a really sharp baseball broadcaster and former hitter who totaled 3,421 professional plate appearances, noted, “That cheat card doesn’t have eyes.’’

No it doesn’t. It is up to the pitcher to see the swing and react accordingly.

Every situation is unique in the game even if it has happened time and again.

You can’t pre-program baseball.

The game must play itself out and that is precisely why they call it a game. It’s not some science experiment. It’s not just numbers.

It’s the human element reacting to different situations.

As for the Mets, the Conforto situation has to be troubling for Mets fans.

“Conforto is the guy I worry about right now,’’ said a scout who saw the Mets this week. “He looks absolutely horrible.’’

Another scout noted: “He ain’t staying on the ball the way he used to.’’

That can be said for a lot of hitters and that is why there is so much lack of contact. Staying on the ball has been replaced by the big swing or as I like to call it: The Big Breeze.

In an effort to help hitters, the Mediocre Baseball League with the still juiced ball is a few steps away from really changing the game for the worse.

I mentioned it last week but it is official now that baseball will experiment with a mound that is a foot further from home plate in the Atlantic League.

So, 60 feet, 6 inches is no more.

Instead, it will be 61 feet, 6 inches.

Baseball is saying hitters will have more reaction time now to the pitch and the expectation is that more reaction time will help batters make contact more frequently.

Okay, as opposed to trying to make contact instead of swinging from your ass every pitch.

The strikeout rate has increased for 15 straight seasons from 16.4 percent in 2005 to 23.4 percent in 2020.

I would advise those Ivy League elites making these changes to actually sit down and watch a whole game, watch how batters have abandoned contact for power.

Persuading batters to make more contact would be the ticket but not in this baseball world.

It would be really funny that if with another foot of distance, the pitchers now use that to their advantage by creating a bit more movement to their pitches.

It seems to me, and I may be wrong, but perfecting the changeup from that distance might give the pitcher yet another advantage.

There are always Unintended Consequences when it comes to baseball and life.

The added foot of distance, another scout told me, will mean less strikes, longer at-bats, longer games, the opposite of speeding up games.

That figure you spotted over there in the corner is Rob Manfred opening yet another Pandora’s Box.

Remember how Instant Replay was going to work so well and it was all about getting it right? It has slowed the game to a crawl and they still don’t get it right.

They don’t even try with such things as “Call Stands.’’

Instant Replay should be instant and it should be a simple Yes or No. Safe or Out. Fair or Foul. Home Run or No Home Run.

And remember pitch counts. That was going to keep pitchers healthy. That has created a generation of pitchers who can’t finish a game, can’t finish six innings and they are still getting hurt, still getting Tommy John surgeries and shoulder impingements.

And I like that 60 feet 6 inches has a certain ring to it.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

When Aaron Judge homered in the first inning Wednesday, it marked the Yankees first run in the first inning this season. It took 12 games for the Yankees to score a first inning run. TWELVE.

Lineups used to be made where you get ‘em on, get ‘em over and get ‘em in. That has been replaced by “Swing Harder!’’

The Dodgers are showing that batting average is still important.

One final Yankee statistic that speaks volumes. The Angels lead the AL West and they also have the highest average for a No. 3 hitter at .375.

No. 3 hitters are kind of important for scoring, especially in that first inning.

They have Mike Trout.

The Red Sox No. 3 hitters this year are hitting .370 and the Dodgers No. 3 hitters are batting .362. That’s the top three. That three hitter, you build around.

The Yankees No. 3 hitters this year are dead last in baseball with a .116 average.

For most of that time that has been Aaron Hicks.

Hicks was in the leadoff spot Wednesday. Brett Gardner, who appears to be a leadoff hitter, was batting third. He went hitless.

The Yankees always have a lot going on, including, it appears, once again trying to be too smart for their own good.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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