It’s a conversation none of us thought we’d be having about a Yankees team that seemed destined to make history this year.
Not Aaron Boone, not Gerrit Cole, not Aaron Judge.
Frankly, me neither.
How bad are the Yankees right now? Considering they’re atop the AL East, probably about as bad as a first-place team could be. That’s incredible to say, given what they did during the first 3 1⁄2 months of this season.
A lot has changed, however. And that malaise continued Monday as the reeling Yankees were shut out for the second straight night and the fourth time in their last nine games, this time 4-0 by the Rays amid plenty of Bronx boos, with most of the vitriol directed at Aaron Hicks.
Hicks’ inability to track down David Peralta’s long fly to centerfield — he spun around three times, then lunged helplessly and didn’t come close to the ball — turned a catchable drive into a leadoff triple in the fourth inning. That resulted in the game’s first run when Isaac Paredes followed with a single off Gerrit Cole. Hicks also generated Gallo-level derision in the bottom half when, with the bases loaded, he tapped into an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play.
“Overall, just extremely embarrassing, actually,” Hicks said.
But Hicks isn’t the sole culprit for the Yankees’ tailspin, and their 8-16 skid since the All-Star break is the second-worst record in the American League in that span.
This isn’t just a recent funk. Since July 2, the Yankees (72-44) are nine games under .500 (14-23). They are 20-26 in their last 46 games. More recently, they have lost 10 of their last 12 and 21 of 32. In their last six games, they have scored eight runs and gone 31-for-197 (.157).
The Yankees hadn’t been shut out in consecutive games since 2016. “Obviously frustrating, but just got to keep chugging along and know that it will turn,” said Anthony Rizzo, who slammed his helmet on the dugout bench four times after his third-inning strikeout, one made especially irritating by the ruling that he had intentionally leaned into a previous pitch that hit him. “That’s just the way baseball life is in general. You just got to ride this one out.”
Remember when the Yankees were talked about as a potential challenger to the Mariners’ regular-season record of 116 wins? Now they’re just trying to stabilize themselves. They have fallen 2 1⁄2 games behind the Astros for the AL’s top record (at 49-16, they were nine games ahead of Houston on June 18).
But any crisis is relative, of course, and the Yankees are extremely fortunate that no one in the AL East has stepped up to take advantage. Since July 2, they’ve lost only 3 1⁄2 games in the standings, with their lead shrinking to 10 games. So much for a division that was billed as the sport’s mightiest when this season began.
Boone objected to the notion that his team’s huge cushion has bred some degree of complacency. The Yankees seemingly had been on cruise control for so long that it was reasonable to assume they could coast into September. But that isn’t the case anymore, especially after getting back from their 2-7 trip through St. Louis, Seattle and Boston.
It hasn’t helped that the Yankees have been trying to do that without Giancarlo Stanton, sidelined since July 24 with left Achilles tendinitis and likely another week or so from returning to the lineup. He did some light work on the field Monday but said he probably is a few days away from a rehab assignment.
“It’s very annoying,” he said. “It’s annoying not playing in general, but you gotta be smart also. That trumps everything.”
He said the Achilles is something they’ll need to “keep an eye on” going forward, which casts some doubt on his ability to play the outfield. “That area kind of has a mind of its own,” he said.
That didn’t sound very encouraging, and Boone didn’t shed much light on DJ LeMahieu’s foot injury, which kept him out of the lineup for a second straight game. The manager said Monday’s MRI revealed inflammation, and the team hopes to solve the issue with an orthotic device inside his cleat as well as medication.
The fact that this has become a recurring injury for LeMahieu is worrisome — he had a cortisone shot a few weeks back — and Boone was unsure of an exact return date.
“We have plenty of other guys capable of stepping in there and doing the job,” Boone said. “That’s what we’ve got to do — and we will. But it’s not great right now.”
Good thing for that double-digit lead, or the Yankees would be in a much worse place, and not just in the standings.