Scouting the Yankees

It’ll be a battle of fourth-place teams when the Royals open a three-game series in New York tonight. Yes, after a quarter of the season, the Yankees are still toiling in bottom-feeder territory in the American League East.

One big reason for New York’s woes (and, fortunately, the fan base likely has kept quiet about the Yankees’ sluggish play), is the team’s inability to get clutch hits. The Yankees are 22nd in baseball in average with runners in scoring position (.231). By comparison, the Royals are 13th (.253) in that category.

The Yankees had been 5 for their last 57 with runners in scoring position when former Royal Raul Ibanez homered one out after Robinson Cano's leadoff double in the sixth inning of Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Reds.

“The bottom line is we still didn't score a lot of runs,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after Sunday’s game. “That seems to be what we're struggling with right now.”

In Sunday’s loss, the Yankees had a hit in each of the first five innings, but only once did they get a runner past first base. But even then, Alex Rodriguez failed to deliver a key hit. Shortstop Derek Jeter was hit on the wrist by Jay Bruce's grounder in the ninth inning Sunday, but Jeter is expected to play tonight. He is hitting .347 with five homers and 15 RBIs this season.

Cano is batting .309 with 16 doubles and 16 RBIs, while Ibanez, 39, is tied for the Yankee lead (with Nick Swisher) with 27 RBIs. First baseman Mark Teixeira didn’t start all weekend (but he did pinch hit on Sunday) as he is trying to get rid of cough that's been bothering him all season. We’ll see if that has any effect on him in this series.

Of the three Yankees scheduled to start in this series, the most fearsome may be the guy who retired in 2010. Andy Pettitte, who will start on Wednesday, didn’t pitch at all last season. But he had the itch to return and was sensational in his second start of the season on Friday against the Reds. Pettitte went eight shutout innings, allowing just four hits (all singles) with one walk and nine strikeouts. He got his first victory since July 8, 2010. For his career, Pettitte has a 13-3 record against the Royals with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.256 WHIP. Tonight’s starter is Hiroki Kuroda, who is 3-5 with a 3.08 ERA this season. He struggled against the Royals on May 5 at Kauffman Stadium, allowing six hits and three runs (two earned) in 4.1 innings. Kuroda threw 91 pitches in that short outing.

On Tuesday, Phil Hughes (3-5 with a 5.23 ERA) will get the ball. He beat the Royals on May 6, giving up three runs in 6.2 innings at The K as the Yankees won 10-4.

As for the Yankees’ bullpen, Girardi is on his third closer of the season. Mariano Rivera famously tore up his knee while shagging fly balls at The K. Rivera’s replacement was David Robertson, but he was put on the disabled list last week with a strained left oblique. Rafael Soriano (2-0, two saves, 2.57 ERA) is the team’s closer.