Little can bring things into focus for the Yankees like suffering a three-game sweep against the rival Red Sox, as they did over the weekend. Before the series opener against the Angels Monday night, one could hear it when manager Aaron Boone used the phrase "our season’s on the line" more than once in his pregame news conference.
However, little had changed since the Yanks fell to 0-6 against Boston this season and 17-24 against the AL East. There were no roster moves. And there was no shuffling of the batting order.
"I still am not ready to abandon the core things that we believe in as a group, and as a team and especially the makeup of our team and what we expect to be," Boone said. "I do believe that they are really confident in what they can and, hopefully, will do. And I think that confidence is borne out for good reason. These guys know what they're capable of doing and we've certainly done it in spurts this year."
An inability to score runs has stood out like no other weakness. The Yankees entered play Monday ranked 13th of 15 in the American League with 3.99 runs per game. Boone, however, is correct that they were considerably better during a 14-game stretch in June in which they averaged 5.5 runs.
Boone was asked about what could be changed to make an immediate impact. He answered that the field staff is mindful of who is underperforming at the plate and added that there have been discussions about whether some of the players in the minors – perhaps referencing Triple-A middle infielder Hoy Jun Park, who has a 1.028 OPS in 40 games – could make a difference for the big-league club.
But the word right now for the Yankees is patience.
Players with a track record, like most of the Yankees, typically will play up to their numbers. Boone still thinks his players believe they will be what they always have been while conceding that the patience is not unlimited.
"We still haven't gotten to where we want to get to," he said of the lineup. "There's a lot of meat on that bone to continue to improve and get better and get to be that juggernaut we expect to be. . . . We're a team that expects to be really good. We're a team that expects to compete for a championship and we're getting to the middle of the season. There's a lot of calendar that's gone off the clock already."
"The guys understand the importance of the series . . . against the Angels," said Jameson Taillon, who will pitch for the Yanks on Tuesday. "We need to go out at this point in the year and win every single game or at least have that attitude that we're going to take it to teams more often than not. I think [the sweep in Boston] could have been a wake-up call. There's 13 games left before the All-Star break – the time is now to start playing our best baseball."
With the foundational belief that the team, as assembled, should be good enough to rise to the top, the Yankees hope that wake-up call in Boston – certainly not the first wake-up call of this season – finally rouses them.
"We need to, as best we can, be ready to go each and every night. Our season’s on the line," Boone said. "We’ve had too many ups and downs and we're in too good a division to have those ups and downs. . . . We can't afford to play great for two weeks and struggle for a week, not if we're going to make up ground."
There is considerable ground to make up behind division leaders Boston and Tampa Bay, who are 11 games over .500 and 10 games over .500, respectively, against the AL East.
"We've dug ourselves a little bit of a hole in the division obviously," Boone said. "The good news is we still are in complete control of the script. But I don't think there's any question moving forward that night in and night out, our season is on the line."