Yankees manager Aaron Boone walks to the dugout during a...

Yankees manager Aaron Boone walks to the dugout during a pitching change in the ninth inning against Atlanta at Yankee Stadium on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Yankees could have looked into the visitors’ dugout Saturday and found plenty to worry about: The Atlanta team that won 104 games last year, the same squad that handed them an 8-1 drubbing Friday night, yet another sign that climbing out of their current swoon won’t be easy.

Or they could have seen a cautionary tale.

Despite riding a three-game losing streak going into Saturday night’s 8-3 win, this has been a charmed season for the Yankees. Their .658 winning percentage is the best in baseball, they employ the services of two of the most fearsome hitters in the world, and recent missteps notwithstanding, their rotation has mostly been dominant. (Marcus Stroman righted them Saturday with 6 2⁄3 innings of three-run ball after they suffered back-to-back routs.)

“Everything has gone as well as it could go,” Aaron Boone said before the game, referring to their scorching start.

But Atlanta knows a lot about things going as well as they can go, and the pitfalls that come along with it.

They are, after all, the team that won more than 100 games two seasons in a row and ran away with the NL East title last year. They’re also the team that proceeded to take those “charmed” seasons and roll over in the playoffs, losing three games to one to the Phillies in the Division Series both times.

There are plenty of reasons for their postseason troubles: the revamped playoff format, an offense that went quiet and an opponent that got hot when it needed to.

But there’s also this, courtesy of Spencer Strider, speaking after Atlanta was eliminated last year: “The people trying to use the playoff format to make an excuse for the results they don’t like are not confronting the real issue .  .  . You’re in control of your focus, your competitiveness, your energy.”

As the adage goes, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, and though no professional player will ever describe an MLB season as perfectly smooth, there’s something to be said about the intensity that comes with just a touch of desperation.

It’s a tool the Yankees can tap into right now, even in the glow of victory: They’re 3-6 in their last nine, and Giancarlo Stanton left Saturday’s game with left hamstring tightness, the latest in a slew of injury setbacks that includes Anthony Rizzo and Jasson Dominguez. There’s still plenty to fight through and Boone, a baseball lifer if there ever was one, knows it.

On Friday, he was asked about Carlos Rodon, who allowed two home runs and three runs in the first inning Friday night and proceeded to bark at someone (no one could say exactly who) in the dugout.

“We’re playing for a lot,” Boone said. “No issue with his intensity coming out. I wanted and expected more.”

After that outing, Rodon was sitting morosely on the bench, and when Gleyber Torres moved to comfort him, the lefty appeared to begin crying — using his hat to shield his face.

Say what you will about Rodon’s performance, but that’s the type of intensity that can beget durability down the stretch, as long as the ability to get outs comes along for the ride.

It also can translate to increased focus when it matters the most — when you’re duking it out in the playoffs against scrappy teams that have had to claw their way to October and who often show the ability to wield baseball’s unpredictability like a well-honed sword.

If the Yankees do keep cruising, they’ll have to marry dominance with determination in their effort to not fall victim to the same traps that felled Atlanta .  .  . and the Orioles .  .  . and the Dodgers last postseason.

“I feel like we are absolutely cut out for it,” Boone said Saturday, referencing their recent adversity. “Sometimes a little reminder, or getting your lunch handed to you or getting popped in the mouth, helps you in the long haul. Keep that edge. Keep that sharpness and it allows you to dig in on how a team attacks you, maybe, and where you can button those things up.”

So for now, go ahead and call this recent swoon a reminder. And if they need any more forewarning, they can just look toward the third-base side of the diamond Sunday to a team full of cautionary tales.

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