The lineup the Yankees deployed for Sunday night’s 5-4 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park was the sort that’s typically used after a team clinches a playoff berth, with the clubhouse reeking of stale champagne, not a club technically competing for a postseason spot. No, this was more a cry for help, an SOS signal, for a roster clearly in distress.
In the big picture, however, it probably didn’t matter much that Ronald Torreyes, Billy Butler, Mason Williams, Rob Ref snyder and new arrival Donovan Solano started against the Red Sox, who completed a four-game sweep. That made the weekend even more painful for Yankees fans. The season basically ended at Fenway Park, with the Yankees’ early September bounce ultimately falling flat.
The one constant, however, remains Gary Sanchez, who slugged his 16th homer in 41 games, another majestic blast over the Green Monster that helped the Yankees build a 4-0 lead off Drew Pomeranz. Just as they blew a four-run lead Thursday night and a three-run lead Saturday, they gave this lead away, too.
While we respect Joe Girardi’s unflagging optimism, there is only so much that can be expected from a Yankees team now running on spare parts.
Butler batting cleanup? A few days ago, he was at his in-laws’ home in Idaho when Brian Cashman called looking for righthanded-hitting help in the absence of Aaron Judge. Now he’s taken over first base from Mark Teixeira, who seems to be resting up for his ceremonial last day in pinstripes, just as Alex Rodriguez did before his abrupt exit from the Bronx.
The Yankees’ revival was fun while it lasted. But to see how drastic the makeover has been this season, take a look back at the Opening Day lineup, which shared only two starters — Brian McCann and Didi Gregorius — with those scribbled in for last night’s game. To paraphrase Girardi, that’s not what you want for a team supposedly in a must-win situation.
“It’s just sometimes things don’t go exactly how you planned,” he said, “and you have to adjust.”
Those plans were crumpled into a ball Saturday and tossed in the wastebasket after Starlin Castro and Jacoby Ellsbury had to leave the game with injuries. Castro could be done for the season. He has hit 21 home runs, so there’s no suitable replacement for him.
At least with Ellsbury’s absence, the Yankees can get an extended look at Williams, whose prospect status has been dented some by injury. But that’s searching for a silver lining, especially after Chase Headley was sidelined last night with his chronic back condition. That opened a spot for Torreyes, whom Girardi batted second. Previously, Torreyes had never been higher than eighth (three times) and mostly hit ninth (34). Girardi probably was hoping that might re-ignite the magic that propelled him to a seven-game hitting streak (.538, six doubles) at the end of August.
Then again, the Yankees aren’t a team swimming in options at the moment despite Girard’s belief that they’re still afloat.
The Yankees had trimmed their wild-card deficit to one game on Sept. 10 and raised their playoff probability as high as 18 percent, according to projections by fangraphs.com, but the Red Sox stopped that momentum cold over the weekend. Entering yesterday, their projection fell to 3.4 percent. That’s enough to test Girardi’s faith, if not squash it entirely.
“You have to overcome challenges and adversity and injuries and everything that happens,” he said. “But I believe.”