NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 17: Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out against the Houston Astros during the first inning in game four of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 17, 2019 in New York City.
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The New York Yankees need to get serious at the plate after losing four of their last five, including three of four to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Josh Benjamin

Who is this team and what have they done with the New York Yankees?

It’s a legitimate question after the Bronx Bombers dropped three of four to the AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend. Moreover, the Yankees have dropped four of their last five to fall to 10-6 on the year.

Now, before you go ahead and think, “Great, another New York Yankees hot take,” hear me out. There is no immediate cause for concern, which we’ll get to in a little bit. New York is still first in the division, albeit with just a two-game lead over the Rays.

And in an abbreviated season, even days off aren’t really days off. The Yankees start a two-game set at home against the Atlanta Braves at home following a Monday off day. This is followed by Thursday off, then seven straight against the Boston Red Sox and the same Rays at home. Seven consecutive games against division rivals.

The lineup needs to start hitting with a sense of urgency, and fast.

A short-term problem

Now, let’s make one thing perfectly clear. This recent rough stretch aside, the New York Yankees really aren’t having issues scoring runs. The team ranks in MLB’s top five with 79 runs scored on the season. Entering Sunday’s tilt against the Rays, the Yankees also ranked fourth in baseball with a team batting average of .255.

And of course, New York also leads all teams in home runs. Up until recently, the bats were very much alive. In fact, I’ll let my old friend Bugs Bunny paint a more detailed picture of this powerful Yankees lineup:

Alright, fine. That’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. Even with Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, and some other key pieces slumping, the New York Yankees have a lineup no team should take lightly.

All in all, this slump will pass as all others do. Every rational baseball fan, not just Yankees fans, should know that. But to see a team that’s great on paper struggle so mightily in one short stretch, especially against a division rival? It certainly raises eyebrows at how lifeless a powerful team can look.

Looking long-term

At this point, some of you are probably confused. This is an article about how the Yankees need to start playing with a sense of urgency. Meanwhile, I just detailed how, in the long run, this little rough stretch is probably meaningless. The New York Yankees will be fully locked in soon enough, which spells trouble for the rest of baseball.

However, the Yankees just lost star slugger Giancarlo Stanton for at least a week with a tight hamstring. More importantly, depth only goes so far in an abbreviated season. Miguel Andujar, Clint Frazier, and even Mike Ford would be Band-Aid solutions in Stanton’s absence. These are all players who need consistent at-bats to be effective and expecting All-Star quality hitting immediately is unrealistic.

But the real problem New York has is simple execution. Consider this. The New York Yankees as a team posted a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .326 in their last five games, which is a generally good mark. New York posted 37 hits over that stretch, so a clip of 7.4 hits per game.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, there’s little to show for getting men on base if they can’t be driven home to score. The team has hit a paltry .188 with runners in scoring position (RISP) in its last five games. On the season, New York is batting .277 with RISP and was at .320 before this slump.

Be it getting cocky or trying to do too much, one thing is certain. The Yankees seem complacent up at bat, like they can relax because they’re so good.

In reality, that means they have to be that much better.

Final thoughts

Look, all in all, the New York Yankees know they’re a great hitting team. Boone wouldn’t have referred to his players as “savages in the box” last season if it weren’t true. Once Torres and Sanchez break out of their respective slumps, the Yankees can and will run roughshod over opposing teams.

However, that won’t happen without a serious refocusing. It’s great hitting home runs, sure, but the longball has made up 32.5% of the Yankees’ hit total this year. Going up looking to knock the ball out of the park nonstop simply isn’t a winning strategy, and batting .181 with RISP over five games shows it.

Simply put, the Yankees are trying to do too much when it comes to extending the inning. Next time Luke Voit thinks he needs a home run, he should consider a single or double. Brett Gardner needs to rediscover his contact hitting roots. It’s not about getting the hit, but a hit.

This New York Yankees team has what it takes to win a World Series, shortened season or not. Oddsmakers predicted 37.5 wins for them for a reason. In a 60-game season, that should mean almost automatic home-field advantage for the entire playoffs.

But greatness on paper is meaningless without proper execution, especially in a shorter campaign. Just one rough stretch can mean a stumble from which a team won’t recover.

The good news is that the New York Yankees aren’t there yet. However, unless they can right the ship fast and the lineup refocuses and gets serious in the box, they very soon might be.

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