Except these aren’t normal circumstances. New York continued its stretch of sloppy and inconsistent play, losing two of three to last-place Cincinnati. Between Clay Holmes’ improbable meltdown on Tuesday and Thursday’s extra-innings drama, one could even say the Reds stole their two wins in the series just as the rival Red Sox stole two in last weekend’s four-game set.
None of this means the Yankees are in rough shape. They still own a healthy 13-game lead over the second-place Rays in the AL East. Moreover, New York still has the best record in baseball, at 62 wins compared to just 27 losses.
But this series was absolutely a reality check for the Bronx Bombers. A gut punch. Getting a cold, hard slap across the face by a hand that’s just been soaking in ice water.
Guess what? The Yankees can be the best team in baseball and still have serious flaws all at once, even if we’re only seeing some first-half fatigue set in right now. Looking at the last few games, it’s clear the lineup is having a harder time finding base hits and relying instead on walks and home runs. Opposing teams have also started to figure out how to beat the Yankees’ still-elite pitching.
And even if this is just a blip on the radar, a microcosm in the grand scheme of the 162-game season, the timing of it is still just awful. The Red Sox visit Yankee Stadium this weekend to close out the first half and have Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale fresh off the injured list and ready to pitch. Forget the Rays just sweeping them over four games; Boston is still a good team.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, they win this series. The non-All-Star Yankees then get three days off before coming back for:
• A Thursday doubleheader with the tough Astros
• A weekend series with the suddenly red-hot, over .500 (but still last place) Orioles
• The first two games of the Subway Series with the Mets.
This isn’t a weekend series and then the All-Star Break for the Yankees, who are 4-6 in their last ten games. This is running the gauntlet with a brief reprieve in between particular rounds.
Again, the Yankees aren’t in trouble (yet) and this likely isn’t the beginning of the end. No one expects perfection from this team. As we’ve discussed before, all that is expected is baseball and for it to be played to the high standard for which this team is known. They just need to be focused, strong, and most importantly, be the Yankees.