TORONTO — A couple more games like this one and the Yankees’ concern will be who’s behind them, not ahead of them.
Again swinging dead wood on a trip pockmarked with such efforts, the Yankees fell to the Blue Jays, 4-0, in front of 43,212 on Thursday night at Rogers Centre.
“We’re definitely going through a rough moment right now,” Gary Sanchez said after his team struck out 10 times, went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11.
Going 3-4 on the trip was not an ideal way to head into a crucial three-game home series against the AL East-leading Red Sox, who were off. The loss by the Yankees (60-53) bumped Boston’s lead to 4 ½ games. Friday night marks the first of 10 times in a 24-day stretch in which the Yankees will play the Red Sox.
“It’s very important,” Brett Gardner said. “Any time we play the Red Sox, especially when you’re behind in the standings, once you start getting to the middle and end of August and into September, you start running out of time to make up ground. So it’s very important for us to go out and win this series.”
The Yankees’ bigger concern, however, is becoming whether they can hang on to one of the two wild-card spots. They have scored two or fewer runs six times in the last eight games and struck out 81 times in that span.
“It’s just been a little bit of a struggle,” Joe Girardi said.
In his second Yankees start, Sonny Gray (6-7, 3.39) allowed three runs (two earned), four hits and four walks in six innings. He struck out six.
“Too many free passes and not enough quality strikes,” said Gray, who pitched for only the second time since July 25 and allowed single runs in the second, third and fourth. Jose Bautista’s 19th homer, off Chasen Shreve in the seventh, made it 4-0.
The Yankees haven’t scored in the 12 innings in which Gray has been in the game for them. That was understandable against Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber of the Indians a week earlier, but this time it was Marco Estrada, who came in 4-7 with a 5.12 ERA.
Estrada, who allowed five hits and three walks in seven innings, had only two clean innings. “He was very effective but a guy that was very hittable as well,” Todd Frazier said. “Maybe we put a little too much pressure on ourselves [with RISP], to be honest. I’m a pure example. I’m looking for a pitch, but at the same time, sometimes I swing out of my shoes instead of putting the ball in play, getting the run in. We have to figure out a way to get up 1-0, 2-0 in the first inning and put a little pressure on the other team first.”
Aaron Judge doubled but struck out twice, extending his club record to 27 straight games with at least one strikeout (45 in 94 at-bats in that span).
“If I’m swinging at the right pitches, good things will happen,” he said. “When you miss your pitch to hit in the major leagues, bad things are going to happen. I have to make sure I get my pitch and drive it.”
The Yankees’ RISP failures started early. With two outs in the first, Judge walked and Didi Gregorius doubled, but Estrada struck out Sanchez swinging at a 90-mph fastball.
In the fifth, Garrett Cooper made it six hits in his last seven at-bats with a single and Ronald Torreyes walked, but Gardner flied to left, Aaron Hicks popped up and Judge was called out on a borderline 1-and-2 pitch.
“Obviously, offensively we need to improve,” Gardner said. “Sonny pitched well enough to keep us in the ballgame. It’s up to us to get runs and we didn’t do that tonight.”