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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Brian Cashman's words can't fix what's wrong with Yankees

Yankees GM Brian Cashman during batting practice before

Yankees GM Brian Cashman during batting practice before Game 6 of the ALCS against the Astros on Oct. 19, 2019. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Even after traveling to Buffalo, and a rare pregame meeting Tuesday with both the players and staff, GM Brian Cashman couldn’t help but admit that “talk is cheap.”

The Yankees -- with an original payroll of more than $250 million for this season — are not. And ultimately, that bill comes due. If the money doesn’t perform, the tab is paid with jobs. It’s unavoidable. Just part of doing business.

Cashman wasn’t there to collect Tuesday. By his own account, the GM showed up to “check boxes,” making sure he was doing everything within his power to help right the ship, a nautical metaphor he went to frequently during his 26-minute pregame briefing with the media.

This clubhouse chat -- or tent, as social-distancing required -- involved Cashman “taking temperatures” and reminding the Yankees of “who they are.” About four hours later, they got the answer: a .500 team (21-21) courtesy of a 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays.

“I know we’re better than that, but we haven’t played to our capabilities,” manager Aaron Boone said after his Yankees tumbled to 5-15 since Aug. 18. “We still have time here to turn this thing around and I’m confident we will. But we are a .500 team right now, so that’s the reality of the situation.”

It gets worse. With the Orioles also thumping the Mets, they moved to within a half-game of the Yankees for the eighth (and final) playoff seed in the American League. Here’s another harsh reality: the Yankees are in very legitimate danger of missing the postseason entirely. After witnessing this freefall, who would even be surprised?

“I almost feel like it’s embarrassing for us right now with everything that’s been going on,” Luke Voit said.

J.A. Happ pitched like a savior Tuesday, striking out 10 and allowing one run over 6 1/3 innings, but the Yankees misfired again at the plate, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranding 10. Previously, their .657 OPS during this skid ranked 26th overall, tied with the Royals, and their .205 batting average was 27th, same as the lowly Rangers. The Yankees also were hitting .180 with RISP, third worst in the majors during that stretch.

Coronavirus or not, Cashman built these Yankees to play in the World Series and now it’s a struggle just to get to October. The GM has never used injuries as an excuse, and he isn’t doing so this time, even with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and James Paxton on the shelf for extended periods.

But other than getting those players back -- and we should know by now there’s no guarantee of that -- the Yankees’ only strategy here is to cross their fingers and have faith  that some of these key healthy pieces return to producing as they should. Just putting on a Yankees’ uniform evidently doesn’t work anymore.

            “We’re used to better baseball than this,” Cashman said pregame. “Our fans deserve better baseball than this.”

            The GM described his Buffalo cameo as sort of a “shock to the system” designed to get people’s attention. The Yankees still delivered the same result a few hours later. It was like he wasn’t even there.

            Not that anyone expected the Yankees to suddenly wake up just because Cashman showed his face at Sahlen Field. But the GM had to help alleviate some of the building daily pressure on Boone, who has to be running out of motivational speeches by now.

            Boone is a smart, charismatic manager that easily connects with players, but nearly constant losing is exhausting for everyone, and a fresh voice doesn’t hurt. Even if the message is similar.

            “The effort’s obviously there, the results haven’t followed,” Cashman said pregame. “Clearly we have to get back on track -- yesterday. But I believe in these guys. They're here for a reason and they've done it before many times for us and they've stepped up.”

            The Yankees do have a drawer full of impressive resumes. There’s no disputing that. But once you lose 15 of 20, you’re just another bad baseball team, desperately clawing for a win, struggling to stay in the playoff race. And with this going on for almost three weeks, every night brings another search for a solution.

            Cashman said he couldn’t acquire one at the trade deadline, not for the asking prices, and the GM didn’t regret standing pat when asked about it again Tuesday. The answers have to come from within now, and they’ve been impossible to find lately.

            “A storm is upon us,” Cashman said. “If you're out at sea, the Coast Guard is not coming to save us. We’ve got to find a way to swim to shore and survive.”

            When this season began, the goal was the World Series. Now it’s survival. If the Yankees don’t turn this around fast, there could be a few people that never make it back to shore.

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