Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees played well in half of their four-game set against the rival Orioles. A comeback win to start and then a commanding one later, everything was looking good for a series win and maybe gaining some ground in the standings.

Cue a bullpen meltdown and Luis Severino hitting another rock bottom in his contract year. Instead of improving their standing in the AL East and perhaps leapfrogging Baltimore into second place, nothing has changed. They’re still in third place, except they’ve gained a game on Tampa Bay and are only eight games back.

The downside is the Toronto Blue Jays are now tied with them. Aaron Judge still has no timetable for a return, and playoff prospects officially look daunting.

Some takeaways:

DJ Teixeira. We can officially say that DJ LeMahieu’s six-year contract he received before the 2021 season was a mistake. The two-time batting champion’s production is sinking faster and faster despite a few recent hard hits. LeMahieu was 1 for 11 in the series, is batting .136 in July, and his batting average on the season is down to .219.

It’s worth noting that LeMahieu, despite having a hefty three years and $45 million left on his deal, also has a limited no-trade clause that kicked in this year. He claims he’s healthy and it’s just a hole in his swing. In which case, he and hitting coach Dillon Lawson could be a poor fit and it’d be better for him to rebound elsewhere.

Just ask former Yankee Aaron Hicks, who’s batting .261 and thriving with Baltimore since leaving New York.

Help isn’t on the wayNot to beat the dead horse but the most frustrating part of the Yankees’ latest struggles is that, to be blunt, they shouldn’t be. There’s plenty of talent in the lineup aside from team captain and reigning MVP Judge. That the offense has ground to such a standstill, even with injuries to key players like Harrison Bader and Giancarlo Stanton, is unacceptable.

There are no obvious trade targets (yet) and Judge, though improving, has no return date. Lefty-hitting spark plug Jake Bauers also just dinged his shoulder. There’s only one way out for the Yankees:

Play better, plain and simple.

They are who we thought they were. Pardon the brief NFL interjection from the late Dennis Green, but it fully applies to the Yankees and Orioles this season. The Yankees underperformed early and are in third place. Tampa Bay and Baltimore each took advantage of soft schedules and essentially had month-long hot streaks.

And yet, the Yankees are still the better team on paper than Baltimore. We observed this in May and it holds true in July. Baltimore blew a 3-0 lead Monday and then couldn’t hold a tie Tuesday as the Yankees won again. Wednesday was a rare bad night for New York’s elite bullpen, and Luis Severino turned in another stinker Thursday.

None of this is to say the Orioles are a bad team. Manager Brandon Hyde is a Joe Maddon disciple and can count on his young squad to give the rest of the division fits. They’re a young and pesky team, but not quite a championship-caliber one yet.

All this to say that the Orioles are who the Yankees thought they were. And instead of finishing the job, they let them off the hook.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.