MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

It's not now or never, but Yanks need to get going

It's not now or never, but Yanks need to get going

Two thoughts on the New York Yankees, neither of them mine. First, let's turn the floor over to manager Joe Girardi.

"You can't take all nine of them out," he said.

Now, some thoughts from designated hitter Alex Rodriguez.

"Don't overcomplicate it," he said.

Pearls of wisdom, friends. The Yankees are 5-9 after Thursday's 7-3 loss to the A's, which has them in last place in the American League East.

At this point, so many things are broken that there has to be some small amount of comfort for Girardi. Three of his most important players -- A-Rod, Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley -- are hitting under .200. Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting .255, and one of the new Yanks, Aaron Hicks, is hitting .095.

Graveman freezes A-Rod

If it were one hitter struggling or even two, Girardi could move the pieces around and look at some different combinations. But with so many important players doing so little, Girardi's job becomes simpler.

It's to ride out the slumps, nurture the confidence and keep telling reporters things like, "Hey, look, Tex is going to hit. Alex is going to hit. Those are the last guys I'm worried about."

Besides if A-Rod and Teixeira don't hit, the Yankees may be in for a long season. However, it's April, and both guys have distinguished track records.

There's real concern because both are older players. A-Rod is 40, Teixeira 36. Because of that, their slumps are viewed differently. In other words, is this the end?

Every veteran player deals with it. As Randy Johnson said once in Spring Training, "If you keep writing me off every year, one of these days, you'll be right."

Actually, we were never really right about his decline, but that's another story. This is about the Yankees. On Opening Day, virtually every Yanks fan worried about just one thing: the starting rotation.

If there's a silver lining, it's that this offense has been so poor it has taken the attention away from the rotation. Incidentally, it hasn't been very good either. Yankees starters have a 4.86 ERA, which ranked near the bottom in the AL.

Other than Masahiro Tanaka, every Yankees starter has struggled. There's every reason to hope Luis Severino, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi will eventually get straightened out.

Tanaka's strong start

Virtually every team has stretches like this. When it happens at the beginning of a season, it's magnified. Perhaps that's Girardi's biggest challenge: To keep the noise in the hallway and to continue to nurture the confidence and remain patient with players who have a history of producing at a high level.

There may come a point for change, but we're not there yet. Unlike some previous years, the Yanks may have options in the Minor Leagues. Again, though, we're a long way from that.

And then there's the AL East. At the moment, all five clubs have impressive strengths as well as worrisome problem areas. So teams can play the standings for a good long time, knowing the season is unlikely to get away from them.

Check it out:

• Blue Jays
Strengths:
Offense, defense.
Areas of concern: Starting pitching, bullpen.

• Orioles
Strengths:
Offense, defense, bullpen.
Areas of concern: Starting pitching.

• Red Sox
Strengths:
Offense? Bullpen?
Areas of concern: Starting pitching.

• Rays
Strengths:
Starting pitching, bullpen.
Areas of concern: Offense.

• Yankees
Strengths:
Bullpen.
Areas of concern: Starting pitching, offense.

Primetime Performance: 1-2 Punch

This may be a division race that's settled by the team that's able to adjust its roster during the season, either through trades or the farm system. This could also be one of those division races that still has no clear front-runner on Sept. 1, which would make for a fascinating sprint to the finish line.

The Yankees have stepped away from free-agent spending to focus on replenishing the farm system and adjusting to a more traditional player-development approach. But if a division championship is within range on Sept. 1, history says they will figure out a way to strengthen the roster and position themselves for October.

If you're a baseball fan, this is fascinating stuff. If this division isn't decided until the final days, so much the better.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.