David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
After the Yankees kicked the ball around like Manchester United for 3 1/2 hours in a 10-4 loss to the lowly Twins, the sorry spectacle got us thinking.
Now that the first half is over -- or more accurately, the season's first 95 games -- what if we've already seen the best these damaged Yankees have to offer? What if this group, diligently rounded up by Brian Cashman, has maxed out, with every ounce of ability squeezed from it like toothpaste from a flattened tube?
But don't take my word for it. Listen to Joe Girardi, who was asked before Sunday's game to evaluate his team's first-half performance.
"I think our guys have done probably about as well as we could do," Girardi said.
That's a fair assessment. It's also not going to be good enough to get these Yankees (51-44) into the playoffs. Heading into the break, they are six games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox; in the race for the second wild card, they are tied with the Indians, three games behind the Rangers, with the Orioles in between. The Rays currently are in possession of the first wild card.
Insurmountable? Of course not. But the Yankees have legitimate reasons to be worried, and they no longer can point to recovering stars such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez or even Curtis Granderson as potential in-house saviors.
During the past week, as the Yankees finished the first half by losing four of seven at home to the Royals and Twins, we learned that Jeter couldn't make it through nine innings -- at DH -- without reinjuring himself.
We also got more insubordination from A-Rod, who reportedly didn't show up for Friday's rehab game at Steinbrenner Field. As if it matters. When he does play, Rodriguez can't even handle the bottom rungs of the Yankees' minor-league system. His biggest accomplishment so far? Buying steaks for the grateful youngsters holed up at Charleston and Tampa.
A month ago, it was easy to speak of Jeter and Rodriguez as if all they had to do was show up and the Yankees' sputtering lineup would roar to life. No one thinks that way anymore. After Jeter suffered a Grade 1 quadriceps strain in Thursday's short-lived reunion tour, Cashman expressed concern that his 39-year-old shortstop literally might run into trouble compensating for his twice-fractured ankle. Girardi also downplayed his own expectations after so many weeks of optimism.
As for A-Rod, it's looking more and more as though he might not make it back when his 20-day rehab stint ends July 21 -- either because of his surgically repaired hip or Major League Baseball's accelerated push to suspend him. Rodriguez heads north Monday to start the next phase with Double-A Trenton, and the Yankees can do little else but watch and wait.
Even if Jeter and A-Rod are nowhere close to their former selves, Granderson might be able to supply some badly needed power, but the Yankees have pushed him back to early August.
That hurts. For the first half, the Yankees' .683 OPS ranked 27th in the majors, ahead of only the Mets, Astros and Marlins. They also finished with 87 home runs, which ranked 20th, tied with the Mets.
Looking at some of these statistics, and the staggering number of bodies (44) they've gone through to get to this point, Girardi is right. The Yankees have done a decent job. But there is a sense that the job is going to get tougher when the season resumes Friday at Fenway Park, and the urgency is going to snowball in the next 10 weeks.
"I give it a passing grade,'' Vernon Wells said of the first half, "but we still have work to do. You control your own destiny when it comes to the second half. You play well, you give yourself a chance."
Sounds simple enough. But a C-plus or B-minus isn't going to beat the Red Sox, Rays, Orioles, Rangers or Indians in the second half. The Yankees will need to be better, and if that can't be accomplished with the current roster, time is running short for Cashman to improve on it.
Maybe the solution is not out there. Maybe the Yankees will continue to succeed by scraping for runs and praying their pitching staff saves them, the way it did during the first half. We have our doubts, though. They do, too.