The Yankees on Tuesday kicked off the final homestand of a disappointing 2023 season that, barring a miracle of math more than anything else, will result in them missing the postseason for the first time since 2016.
Still, before facing the Blue Jays, one of the teams ahead of the Yankees in the AL wild-card chase, Aaron Boone said the notion of playing “spoiler” wasn’t necessarily a motivating factor.
“We want to kick your [butt],” Boone said early Tuesday afternoon. “That’s how we’re looking at it.”
A few hours later, it was the Blue Jays administering a swift kick to the Yankees’ collective backside, further diminishing their already super-slim playoffs hopes by sending them to a 7-1 loss in front of 38,545 at the Stadium.
The Yankees (76-75) came into this three-game series – which is followed by a weekend set against another team in playoff contention, the Diamondbacks – six games behind the Mariners and Rangers for the third wild-card spot in the American League (the Blue Jays, now 84-67, entered the night one game ahead of Seattle and Texas).
And even had the Yankees won the game, the math was decidedly against them. Entering Tuesday, FanGraphs had their playoff chances at 0.4% and BaseballReference’s calculations were even worse than that at 0.1%.
“Come prepared,” Boone said of the current clubhouse mindset. “Have some really good opponents [this week], Toronto and Arizona that are right in the mix. We want to win, we want to play well. We’re going to prepare to do that as best we can and, hopefully, we can continue to play good baseball and look up at the end and see how it all shakes out. Spoiler? Sure. We want to go out and win so if that’ means spoiling, then so be it.”
Instead, it was the Blue Jays, who have had their own issues in the season’s second half, asserting themselves early offensively and their pitching taking it from there, although lefthander Yusei Kikuchi left in the bottom of the sixth inning, after walking DJ LeMahieu, with what the Blue Jays described as a “left upper trap muscle cramp.” Kikuchi (10-6, 3.74 ERA) allowed one run and four hits over five innings in which he walked one and struck out seven.
Clarke Schmidt (9-9, 4.65) was not as sharp as he’s been at times this season, allowing four runs, four hits and two walks over five innings. The righthander allowed two homers. It was his first start since July 4 against the Orioles in which he allowed multiple home runs.
Toronto leadoff man George Springer started the game with his 20th homer of the season, an opposite-field shot to right. The Yankees tied it in the bottom half when Aaron Judge singled and came in on Gleyber Torres’ RBI double. But the Blue Jays took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on Cavan Biggio’s RBI single and they made it 4-1 in the fifth when Schmidt walked Springer with two outs, after putting the leadoff man in a 0-and-2 hole, then allowed a two-run homer to Bo Bichette (No. 19).
Following Kikuchi’s injury, righthanders Yimi Garcia, Trevor Richards, Jordan Hicks and Nate Pearson allowed a combined two baserunners the rest of the way.
Alejandro Kirk’s two-run homer in the ninth against Zach McAllister made it 6-1 and Toronto added an unearned run later in the inning to make it 7-1.
The Yankees entered this series having won five of their last six series, including both on a just completed trip that saw them take three of four games in Boston and two of three in Pittsburgh.
Though the odds of postseason baseball remain long, the Yankees’ perspective is they’re not eliminated until they are.
“That’s why we’re here, to go out there and win some games,” Aaron Judge said last weekend in Pittsburgh. “We’re not out of it, and we’re going to keep fighting, especially with this group. Like they’ve shown us this whole road trip, it doesn’t matter if we’re down to our last out, we’ve still got a chance, and we’re going to go out there and do our best.”