You didn’t hear the Yankees chirp much about it, but at the game’s fringes, the chatter had sure started. The Yankees had won four games in a row, and the Red Sox had lost three in a row, and for the first time in many weeks the Yankees had actually taken a substantial bite out of the Sox’s lead in the AL East, shaved it from 10 ½ to 8 in the course of four days.
And there was a moment Wednesday night when it seemed the engine was hitting another gear: The Red Sox had fallen behind the Indians 2-0, while the Yankees nudged ahead of the Marlins 2-0. Seven games is still a lot of territory to make up, but it sure has happened before, and that seemed like precisely the place the Yankees might be when they escaped South Florida …
Except they never escaped South Florida.
Lance Lynn never escaped the sixth inning, Chance Adams got cuffed around and the Yankees lost, 9-3. In Boston, the Sox did what the Sox always seemed to do, they hung a five-spot on the Tribe on Wednesday (avoiding what would’ve been their first four-game losing streak of the season) then clobbered Cleveland again Thursday, 7-0.
So Friday, 18 days after the Yankees left Fenway Park with a four-game losing streak but flush with a month’s worth of games ahead of them against most of baseball’s dregs, they woke up 9 ½ games out, the exact number as when the Sox were done sweeping them, with almost three weeks taken off the calendar. Boston’s magic number for clinching the East is 26.
So now it is time for a new emphasis, and it’s a simple one: Guys have to get right.
Look, it’s hard to fillet a team that is still 32 games over .500 and, in a normal year, would at least be in a dogfight for first place if not comfortably up (Cleveland, for instance, is nine full games worse than the Yankees but leads the wretched AL Central by 12 ¹/₂ with a magic number even tinier than the Sox’s, 24).
But the fact is, there is an element to what Pedro Martinez said the other day that is absolutely right, even if you take his comments with a whole salt pillar given his history with the Yankees: They don’t look sharp. They don’t look right. It was only due to the Marlins’ remarkable ineptitude to three times fail to plate a runner from third with less than two outs (twice with no outs) that they weren’t swept in Miami. As it is, the Yankees are 2-2 against the Marlins, 3-3 against the Mets and 6-6 against the Orioles — who are a combined 95 games under .500 this year.
The Yankees get four cracks at the Orioles in Baltimore this weekend, and one of the immediate goals has to be a sweep. Why not? The Red Sox had four games in Baltimore two weeks ago (including a doubleheader, as the Yankees do) and won all four. The Orioles are that bad, bad enough that a sweep is all but mandatory.
Another goal simpler than that: Guys have to simply start playing better. Especially on offense.
Nobody is minimizing the plight of losing Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius. That’s a terrible hit. But one of the things the Yankees were praised for, relentlessly, was that Brian Cashman had allegedly built a roster that was deep enough to withstand calamity. And it should be that strong.
Of the other Yankees who play virtually every day, Aaron Hicks has had a respectable showing since Judge’s injury (.263/.434/.438), and Neil Walker is at .269/.346/.478. You could certainly live with those numbers regularly. But there are too many holes where there shouldn’t be holes.
“We’ve got to get after this starting Friday,” a stone-faced Aaron Boone said after Wednesday’s depressing loss in Miami. “These games are important. Look, sometimes bad things can happen to a team, that’s the course of a game. We have to turn the page quickly.”
They need to seize what remains of a pillow-soft schedule for another week-and-a-half, yes. More important, they need guys who can play better than this to actually play better than they have. They were built to survive injury. Now they have to prove that they really can.