BUFFALO — At some undefined point, the sample size no longer is a small one.
A bad start to a season simply becomes a bad season.
Whatever that undefined marker is on the 162-game schedule, the 33-32 Yankees, while not there yet, certainly can see that unpromised land from here.
Sunday’s 7-0 loss to the Phillies ended another subpar week, another seven-day stretch in which the Yankees failed to right themselves.
The loss completed a 2-3 week — hardly a disaster — but those victories came against the Twins. The two wins created, in some circles, a borderline embarrassing narrative suggesting that twice beating a team that typically turns into marshmallow when the Yankees show up was the start of something big.
Then, in a span of three pitches, Aroldis Chapman gave up a pair of two-run homers in the ninth inning of a walk-off loss to the Twins. That game and Saturday’s walk-off loss to the Phillies torpedoed that storyline and Sunday’s non-compete sunk it.
The Yankees, who have lost 13 of their last 18 games, are fourth in the AL East. They were off Monday and will start a three-game series against the hard-hitting Blue Jays on Tuesday (Toronto hit 13 home runs against the Red Sox on Saturday and Sunday.)
Fourth-year manager Aaron Boone bared some teeth publicly after Sunday’s loss, ditching the glass-half-full approach usually displayed to the media when things aren’t going well.
In response to a question, Boone said, "I don’t think there’s any getting used to freakin’ losing. Hell, no. Get the hell out of here with that."
Those whose job it is to find holes in the Yankees — rival scouts and executives — haven’t had difficulty doing that. However, not one contacted the last two days believes the Yankees’ fortunes are irreversible.
"You still look at the talent and at some level have to believe it will [turn]," said one American League evaluator assigned to the Yankees, noting the 22-8 stretch from April 22-May 23 that immediately preceded the 5-13 stretch.
"But there does seem to be something amiss [organizationally], too."
"What’s being emphasized."
As poor in the fundamentals as the big-league Yankees generally have been this year, opposing team scouts have commented all season how fundamentally unsound their minor-league affiliates appear to be. As several pointed out, the fact that there were no minor league games last summer because of COVID-19 without question is a contributing factor.
But, as one of those same evaluators added: "it certainly seems extreme with them."
After spending nearly a week watching one lower-level affiliate, an AL scout said: "I saw no [extra] infield or outfield work" while there.
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner is a behind-the-scenes owner, the polar opposite of his father when it comes to making emotionally charged knee-jerk decisions. But there are rumblings from Tampa, where Steinbrenner lives, that he has been growing agitated and starting to ask some pointed questions.
Feeding that irritation, no doubt, is that his team is struggling at the same time the Rays — the club in Steinbrenner’s backyard — lead the AL East (three games ahead of Boston, 8 1/2 ahead of Toronto and nine ahead of the Yankees).
Speaking of the Rays, the Yankees of late have resembled the Jets when it comes to their rival. Just as the Jets' organization for the better part of two decades has obsessed over how the Patriots do business, the same goes for the Yankees regarding the Rays, known for years as a team at the forefront of the analytics revolution.
But the 2021 Rays, though experiencing their own offensive issues, run the bases far better than the Yankees do and play superior defense, both elements taught, a National League executive said, "at every level of their organization. It’s a priority. And it shows [in the majors]. It’s not all analytics, much as that’s their [reputation]."
Under longtime general manager Brian Cashman, the Yankees year-by-year have increasingly taken a data-driven approach, pumping resources and money into those areas. Two recent examples: essentially turning over the store medically to Eric Cressey as their director of player health and performance and hiring Sam Briend of Driveline Baseball to be their director of pitching. And the immediate influence wielded by some of those recently-brought-in parties — not just Cressey and Briend — has created its share of discontent within the organization.
The emphasis on cutting-edge technology and data isn’t going anywhere and shouldn’t, as those elements have proven benefits for organizations that correctly utilize and implement them.
And they may well yield the desired results for the Yankees.
But, as the old line about life goes: "You’re either moving forward or backwards."
Same in sports.
You’re either moving toward a championship or away from one.
It is not difficult, as of mid-June 2021, to determine the direction in which the Yankees are headed.