Friday August 26th, 2011

Someone forgot to tell the Yankees that run scoring is down this year.

The American League is on pace to score fewer runs this season than in any since 1992, but on Thursday afternoon in the Bronx, following an hour and a half rain delay, the Yankees overcame a 7-1 deficit against the A's with a 21-run outburst keyed by a major league-record three grand slams, with Robinson Cano, Russell Martin, and Curtis Granderson doing the honors.

The Yankees' 22 runs were the most scored by any team this season. The Bronx Bombers now have four of the seven-highest tallies posted by a single team this year, all of them coming in the last six weeks, and two of them coming against the A's, a team that ranks among the league leaders in run prevention this year.

Their thumping of the A's pushed the Yankees past the Red Sox as the major leagues' top-scoring team, with 706 runs in 128 games. That's an average of 5.52 runs per game. The Red Sox haven't gotten that run-scoring problem memo, either. After beating the AL West-leading Rangers 6-0 Thursday night, 13-2 Wednesday night, and 11-5 Tuesday night, they've scored 700 runs, for a 5.38 average.

The Red Sox actually averaged 6.33 runs per game in June and July, but their pace has slowed considerably in August. One needn't look hard to see why. Kevin Youkilis hit the disabled list last week with a sore lower back. David Ortiz missed nine games with a sore heel. Most Valuable Player candidates Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia have cooled off, Gonzalez hitting .308/.375/.538 in August compared to .388/.463/.602 the previous two months, Pedroia .281/.333/.360 compared to .379/.461/.646. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and rookie right fielder Josh Reddick have gone ice cold, Salty hitting a mere .211/.237/.509 in August compared to .304/.373/.545 the previous two months, Reddick hitting .212/.257/.333 in August compared to .324/.373/.571 from his June 19 recall through the end of July. That's two thirds of the Boston lineup on the downswing, and the other third includes the team's two weakest hitters this season, shortstop Marco Scutaro and $142 million seventh-place hitter Carl Crawford.

The Yankees, meanwhile, were already having their hottest month of the year, averaging 5.9 runs a game in August before Thursday's outburst boosted that number to 6.64. Granderson is having the best month of an MVP-worthy season, hitting .321/.452/.714 with eight home runs, 25 RBIs and 25 runs scored. Martin, who had homered just once in the previous two months, reportedly fixed a mechanical flaw in his swing and has hit .318/.346/.697 with seven home runs in August, including two in Thursday's onslaught. Cano, who hit the first of Thursday's three grand slams, has also perked up in August, hitting .344/.378/.644 with six home runs. Platoon righty Andruw Jones got a mechanical tip from his mom coming out of the All-Star break and has hit .354/.483/.771 since with six home runs, including a solo shot in his only at-bat as a late-game sub on Thursday. Over a much larger sample, Derek Jeter, who looked finished throughout 2010 and the first half of this season, has hit .358/.411/.480 since coming off the disabled list in early July, raising his season average 39 points and briefly passing .300 on Thursday. On top of all of that, the Yankees just got Alex Rodriguez back from meniscus surgery and a jammed thumb (he went 2-for-4 on Thursday). And I haven't even mentioned Mark Teixeira, who is two off the major league lead in home runs and also has six on the month.

Great as these those two lineups might be, neither is particularly historic on its own merits, but together, they have scored a larger portion of their league's runs than any other two teams in a 14-team league since the American League expanded to that number in 1977. Boston and New York have combined to score 17.6 percent of the American League's runs this season despite comprising just 14.3 percent of the league. The next-highest percentage belongs to the Twins and Red Sox, who scored 16.8 percent of the AL's runs in 1977, in part thanks to the ineptitude of the expansion Mariners and Blue Jays.

Put another way, the Yankees and Red Sox have combined to score nearly two and a half times as many runs as the average AL team. Using that formulation, we can compare the 14-team AL to the 16-team NL and see that no other two teams since the expansion in 1993 have scored that many combined runs relative to the average in their league (the next closest were the 2003 Braves and Cardinals in the NL, who scored 2.39 times as many runs as the average team to the Yankees and Bosox's 2.46 times). That means it never happened in the NL in the years before Colorado introduced the humidor; it didn't happen in the AL when the Indians became the last team to score a thousand runs in 1999; and it didn't happen in 1996, when the Mariners fell just seven runs shy of that mark while the second-place Indians scored 952 runs, more than all but one league leader since 2004 (that exception being, of course, a Yankee team, the 2007 edition).

That's all ample fodder for those who want to complain about the haves and have-nots in baseball. It's also yet another reason to expect Boston and New York, who also have the two best records in the American League, to meet each other in the ALCS this year for the first time since Boston's unprecedented comeback in 2004.

That's not guaranteed, however. As dominant as those two teams might be at the plate, and as strong as they might be at the top of their bullpens and rotations, both have depth issues on their pitching staffs, and age and injury risks elsewhere, particularly at shortstop, third base, and designated hitter.

Despite their big day on Thursday, the Yankees, who trail the Red Sox by one game in the AL East, look particularly vulnerable given the volatility of their rotation behind CC Sabathia. After all, they did trail Thursday's game 7-1 at one point despite facing a team that averaged 3.90 runs per game coming into that contest. Still, Thursday made clear that the Yankees and Red Sox remain the teams to beat in the AL, just in case you hadn't been paying attention.

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