David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
As a service to our readers, many of whom seem to be suffering from Derek Jeter fatigue, we'll take a break from pointing fingers at the Yankees' captain. There's not much left to say on that front anyway. Joe Girardi's right. His team has plenty of other problems. And some of the biggest aren't going away after this season like Jeter.
Brian McCann had been one of the principal offenders. But a few more games like Wednesday night's's -- along with the Yankees showing a pulse -- could make us start to think differently about that five-year, $85-million deal.
McCann went 4-for-4 to bump his batting average up to .244, and his 17th homer, a two-run blast, put the Yankees in front to stay. But we're not sure how to label this one. Better late than never? Or what the heck took you so long?
When asked the reason for his choppy Bronx debut, McCann shrugged. "I haven't even tried to dive into it," he said.
Curious way to phrase that, since McCann, Mark Teixeira (.223) and Carlos Beltran (.239) have created a sinkhole in the middle of the Yankees' lineup. But how much of that can we attribute to being beat up? Or is age -- and the inevitable declining skills -- something the Yankees won't be able to recover from during the offseason?
They probably won't get an answer to that until April, after the bone spur has been removed from Beltran's right elbow and Teixeira gets a normal winter of training. We don't have a decent alibi for McCann, other than the culture shock of moving from Atlanta to the Bronx.
That's the best the Yankees can hope for. And with Brian Cashman's contract up at the end of October, it's going to take a leap of faith on Hal Steinbrenner's part to believe this group only needs to heal up. There are occasionally signs, such as this 5-1 victory over the Red Sox.
But what if this is as good as it gets? The Yankees invested in $500-million worth of multi-year deals with the expectation this would be the target season. For players like Beltran and Teixeira, the window is closing. To think this already is the beginning of the end would be tough for the Yankees to swallow.
"I think our guys are banged up," Girardi said. "But I think it's normal this time of year. I don't think anyone would use that as an excuse."
We know Jeter's not the same because he's 40. And Cashman would sleep easier if a few trips to the Hospital for Special Surgery could cure what's been ailing his offense. At least that means it can be fixed.
Remember how beat up the Yankees were a year ago in missing Jeter, Teixeira and Curtis Granderson for large chunks of the season? With Robinson Cano anchoring that skeleton crew, those Yankees ranked 11th in the AL by scoring 650 runs. Cano led that team with an .899 OPS, followed by Gardner (.759), Lyle Overbay (.688) and Eduardo Nuñez (.679), among those with enough qualifying at-bats.
The Yankees would get a boost in the second half from Alfonso Soriano and Alex Rodriguez, but still missed the playoffs. Now compare that roster to Cashman's retooled '14 version. Heading into Wednesday night, Gardner was tops with a .783 OPS, trailed by Ellsbury (.775), Teixeira (.737) and Beltran (.725). With Jeter installed in the No. 2 spot -- sorry, couldn't resist -- these Yankees are on pace to score nine fewer runs (641) than the previous year.
That's hard to fathom. And nearly impossible to explain. Girardi and Co. are asked about it on a daily basis, but the responses don't vary much. Aside from Gardner and Ellsbury, the Yankees' key run-producers aren't performing to their track records. Imagine a patient that's sick and no one can identify the illness.
"You'd have to be some kind of mad hitting scientist to go through it all and try to figure it out," hitting coach Kevin Long said. "I don't have all those answers."
We already knew that. The question is how long the Yankees will have to wait for the remedy.