A-Rod, Yanks aim to get past trends at plate
ANAHEIM -- The first two months of the 2012 season have come and gone and some trends for the Yankees are obvious. Their pitching continues to rank 18th in the Major Leagues, and because of that, even when they hit they don't necessarily win.In addition, their offense with men in scoring position has been sporadic. The Yanks also rank 18th in that category with a .223 batting average. Their No. 3-4 hitter, Alex Rodriguez, is struggling with seven homers and 19 RBIs. If he remains injury free, those numbers have him on a pace to hit 21 homers and amass only 57 RBIs, both low water marks for a full season in his 19-year career. Rodriguez can still do some good things with regularity, although the time may have passed when hitting home runs in bunches is one of them. Only time will tell. "No, no, no. That will not happen," Rodriguez insisted before the Yankees salvaged the finale of a three-game series on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium with a 6-5 victory over the Angels, snapping their eight-game winning streak. But it's happening before everyone's eyes. Rodriguez hit just three homers in May and only two since May 6 coming in the same game -- May 23 at Yankee Stadium against the Royals. For the month he drove in only eight runs. Yankees manager Joe Girardi doesn't seem as concerned about A-Rod's overall power as he is about his run production. When Girardi was asked if, say, 70 RBIs out of Rodriguez was sufficient, he responded that the club expects more from its $280 million man. "Yes, we do. We expect him to be in the 100 area," he said. "That's what we expect. There are a lot of guys that for us have struggled with runners in scoring position and we need to turn that around. That's where those totals go up." Still the Yankees are 4-2 on this road trip that continues on Friday night with the opener of a three-game series against the Tigers in Detroit. Despite it all, after 50 games the Yanks are 27-23 and are a comfortable 1 1/2 games behind the Orioles and Rays in the American League East. The new extra Wild Card berth also looms big giving every contending team an additional margin for error. But as Girardi said, right now the Yanks are aiming at nothing less than another division title. "We're one down in the loss column from first place," Girardi said after the game. "Would I like to be 40-10? Sure. But we're not and we just have to keep plugging away." They've had to overcome serious injuries, losing Brett Gardner and David Robertson for extended periods of time and Mariano Rivera for at least the season -- if not longer. The bullpen has a much different look with Rafael Soriano holding the closer's role and Girardi mixing and matching a group of middle-inning setup guys to get the club to the finish line at end of each game. Soriano registered his sixth save in a pressure-packed ninth inning on Wednesday night. "Well, I'm always greedy, but considering the circumstances, we're holding our own and we'll just try to keep doing it," Girardi said. At nearly 37, Rodriguez hasn't shown the power of old since he missed a good portion of the 2011 season because of knee and shoulder injuries. He was out from July 8 to Aug. 21 and when he returned for the remainder of the season he hit three homers and had 10 RBIs, giving him 16 homers and 62 RBIs on the season in a career low 99 games. Adding it all up, he has 10 homers and 29 RBIs since last Aug. 21, continuing a pattern. Rodriguez said he's healthy now and has played in 49 of the team's first 50 games. But even his .283 batting average is 18 points below his career .301 mark. Rodriguez said on Wednesday that he doesn't measure his production in homers, which is quizzical for a right-handed hitter whose 636 homers is fifth on the all-time list behind Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660). He has five years to go on his contract and he'll need to average 26 homers a season through 2017 to pass Bonds. Does he still expect to hit home runs? "No question, but you can't chase home runs," Rodriguez said. "You have to chase good at-bats. Then you're going to end up with walks and home runs and all that kind of stuff. That's part of the process." But even A-Rod said he wasn't satisfied with his current run production, that 19 RBIs is not acceptable. "Yeah. Obviously, I wish I had 35 or 40. That's definitely a low number," Rodriguez said. "I think, to a man, if you walked around here, we all feel like we should be doing better. This team is capable of doing more, but you can't talk about it, you've got to go out and do it and keep grinding it out." Every season has its trends. For the Yankees some of them already seem to be set. They have 112 games left to see how it all plays out.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.