Yankees’ lack of home runs, not small ball is the problem

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Umm … at least the Yankees embarrassed themselves less on The Day After?

At least Jordan Montgomery provided some length, rather than offering to gladly pay his bullpen teammates Tuesday for six innings of relief help Saturday?

At least fans didn’t pelt the Yankee Stadium field with baseballs or any other round projectiles?

Baby steps, right? Yet what the Yankees really need to escape this existential funk are more big flies.

Their fourth straight loss, 6-3 to the rival Rays in The Bronx, included no pinstriped errors, and Montgomery indeed made it into the seventh before petering out after one batter. Those were improvements on the 8-2 fiasco Friday night that prompted Aaron Boone to call a team meeting.

Ultimately, though, it proved the same old story, as the Yankees struck out 13 times and went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position to fall to 5-9, the worst record in the American League. What stood out from this tale, though, was how the Rays prevailed offensively:

Six hits, three of them long balls. Their first five runs came via the homer. The Yankees countered with five hits, just one of them over the wall, Rougned Odor’s first roundtripper with his new team.

“Today was a pretty evenly matched game, but they hit a few balls in the seats,” Boone said. “When they got their mistakes today, they hit them in the seats.”

No, while they deploy a tiny payroll relative to the Yankees,’ the Rays don’t win via small ball. No one really does in 2021, when pitching looks better than ever. Which is why Major League Baseball should be applauded for moving the mound back a foot in the experimental Atlantic League, but that’s a column for another day.

The Yankees’ problem right now isn’t that they’re overly dependent on the home run. It’s that they’re not hitting enough home runs.

They pushed Tyler Glasnow, the Rays’ ace, to the ropes early, loading the bases with two outs in the first inning without scoring, before plating a run while putting two more on base with one out in the second. Glasnow escaped in the first by retiring Brett Gardner on a grounder to first baseman Yandy Diaz and in the second by striking out Aaron Judge and inducing Aaron Hicks to line out to second baseman Mike Brosseau, perfectly positioned in short right field.

It’s challenging to string together a bunch of hits against someone as good as Glasnow, who now sports a 0.73 ERA. It’s no easy assignment to go deep off him, either, yet if you succeed once at that, you’ve impacted the scoreboard, which is why clubs emphasize launch angle and sell out for the homer, accepting the strikeouts in return.

Montgomery, meanwhile, served up gopher balls to Francisco Mejia in the second inning, a solo shot, and to Manuel Margot in the fourth, a two-run blast. Those proved to be the only two hits he surrendered. Those proved to suffice.

The Yankees have 15 homers in their 14 games, putting them toward the bottom of the AL pack. Even more alarming, their .354 slugging percentage gave them the AL’s worst, by a comfortable margin (the Rangers ranked next-to-last at .366) heading into Saturday night’s action. Their 129 strikeouts actually place them in the middle of the pack, well behind the Rays’ 153. They surely would accept more Ks in return for more dingers.

“We’ve just got to get guys going,” said Judge, who contributed an RBI double in the seventh. “I keep going back to having quality at-bats. Stick your nose in there and grind it out. Eventually those homers, those doubles, those extra-base hits you really need with guys on base will come.”

“There have been a handful of pitches each game that typically we do our damage on,” Boone said. “We’re putting those in the net [fouling them behind] or not doing damage when we do get pitches. That’s a lot of times the separator. … When you do get a mistake, you’d better hammer it.”

Right now, the Yankees are the nail.

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