The term “dog days” has been circulating for centuries, dating to ancient Greece. It is said to have its origin in astronomy, with the appearance this time of year of Sirius, or the dog star. That seems odd because, in baseball terms, these days are when players are anything but stellar.
This is when the air is unbearably hot and the bats get cold. For some batters, this is when they hit the wall, and little else. In this year’s dog days, the right side of the Yankees infield is on the wrong side of momentum.
Greg Bird, the heralded first baseman, experienced the brunt of it on Thursday afternoon, getting booed during the team’s 3-1 loss to the Rays at Yankee Stadium. His batting average fell to .211, his slugging percentage dropped to .396 and on-base percentage drooped to .302. Worst of all, he fouled out to third with no outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.
Gleyber Torres, the rookie second baseman who shone like Ursa Major in late spring and early summer, did manage a bloop single in that same half-inning. But he had been 0-for-17 just before that. He said he is feeling “100 percent” after the hip strain that kept him on the disabled list until July 25, but his batting average is only .151 since then.
This is not a five-alarm crisis for them or for the team, which still has the second-best record in major league baseball and is almost a cinch to host the American League wild-card game no matter who does what for the next month and a half. It is just a pain in the neck and hardly a shining look.
Aaron Boone pretty well summarized the dog days when he said, “When you’re not scoring runs you’re getting shut down, you’re not getting that big hit when you need it.” He added that, in the Yankees case, how that all manifests itself: “We default to ‘flat.’ ”
Three losses in the past four games have shown how much the Yankees miss Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. The team lacks the pop they bring, and the lump they put in opposing pitchers’ throats. Just as important, the lineup is that much thinner. Consider the batters and averages that composed the bottom part of the order Thursday: Neil Walker, .218; Bird, .211; Kyle Higashioka, .170 and Shane Robinson .129.
Without the Judge-Sanchez thunder, there is more pressure on production from the likes of Bird and Torres. They are cited as examples of the Yankees resilience and resourcefulness — they always find just the right young guy to fill a role. But the season can get long and August can be a bear for anyone who never has made it all the way from April to October.
“Just baseball. Just trying to compete. Sometimes it’s not there,” Bird said when he was asked about his first-pitch, foul-out in the scoreless ninth. “Obviously that would have been a nice spot to keep the line moving but it happens. I’ll be the first one to tell you that I wanted to get it done.”
But Bird was philosophical and a touch emotional when he alluded to the fact injuries have stifled his career so far: “I’m playing baseball every day. I’m extremely happy about that. At the end of the day I’m proud of that. And I’m proud of this team. We’re going to be fine. We’ve got a great team. It’s awesome. It’s setting up great. Plain and simple, that’s how I look at it.”
Torres basically sees it the same way: “Everybody does adjustments and I’m making my adjustments, too. A couple of games, I didn’t make a hit. Just be focused on tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.”
They both have a month-and-a-half of tomorrows to get ready for the only time of year that really matters for the Yankees. October is when we see if young guys really are stars. That is when the big dogs come out to play.