The Yankees won their first game of September. It was the one when Gerrit Cole struck out 15 Angels to end a four-game losing streak. Since then, as the nation’s children returned to school, the Yankees have been MLB’s kid that ignored the summer reading, showing up each day woefully unprepared.
The Yankees went 6-11 after leaving Anaheim. They went from sole possession of the first wild card spot (with a six-game cushion between them and Toronto in the loss column) to the outside looking in.
The Yankees are now third in a race that only rewards two teams. The Blue Jays’ improbable 15-3 September has shot them ahead of the Yankees, and while the Yankees can control their own destiny in upcoming series at Toronto and Boston, they’ll likely head into those games with loads of catch-up work to do.
After getting swept at home by the Blue Jays in a four-game set to begin the month, the skies were supposed to clear up. The Mets, Twins, Orioles and Indians were next, four teams that are playing for personal stats and next year’s contracts. The mighty Bronx Bombers went 5-5 over that stretch, giving up double-digit run totals in three of those losses.
The Yankees, who DJ LeMahieu accurately pegged as the “streakiest team in the league” have lived up to that title for the last 30 days. This time last month, they were in the teeth of their 13-game winning streak, which is threatening to become a cursed footnote in this season rather than the thing that saved it. They’ve had two different losing streaks of at least four games since then, with the worst one topping out at seven. They can’t beat the teams they’re supposed to beat, even with their best pitchers on the mound. Cole was rocked by Cleveland in Sunday’s 11-1 debacle and the team has lost both of Jordan Montgomery’s most recent starts, as well.
“The important thing to remember is that we’re not far off from where we were a couple weeks ago,” manager Aaron Boone said after Sunday’s letdown. “We’ve gotta play well. We gotta go play a complete game, but we can’t do that every two or three games. We’ve gotta play really good baseball if we’re gonna even think about being where we want to be.”
Boone, whose frustration has been palpable of late, seems to be avoiding the word playoffs as much as possible. He’s trying his best to not even acknowledge the possibility of missing the postseason, as though even muttering the word playoffs would bring the situation — and his potential dismissal — to life like a boogeyman hiding under his bed.
“If we play well we can beat anyone,” he went on. “We just haven’t done that consistently enough.”
Now Boone has to get his team ready for the Texas Rangers, a feat that shouldn’t be too hard, but everything is hard for the Yankees right now. Texas has lined up A.J. Alexy (14.2 career MLB innings), Dane Dunning (who is in the bottom ten of American League starters in opponents’ batting average and hard-hit rate) and Taylor Hearn (17 home runs in 93.2 innings) as their starting pitchers. By FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement, the Rangers’ best player is wearing pinstripes now. Even though he only played 95 games for them in 2021, Joey Gallo has still been the Rangers’ most valuable player, worth half a win more than Adolis Garcia.
Anything less than a sweep is unforgivable. But the same was true for the Yankees’ last two series against the Orioles, and they only won three of those six games. A favorable matchup at home against Cleveland became two days of the Yankees “getting their teeth kicked in” as Boone so gently phrased it. The combination of pennant-chase pressure and the awareness that they’re getting punked by bad teams has gotten to the Yankees’ clubhouse.
“I know how bad they want it,” Boone said of his players. “Sometimes that can get in your way.”
This team needs to get out of its own way if they want to be remembered for anything other than getting Boone fired. If they don’t figure it out against Texas — which would be the new frontrunners for worst losses of the year — they must against the Red Sox and Blue Jays, who represent a steep jump in difficulty from the teams the Yankees have already succumbed to this month.
This season has been full of tests, and the Yankees have made a habit of flunking the easy ones, putting themselves in a position where they need to go into the deep recesses of their brains and come up with something that they might not even have.
“I don’t think there’s any switch to flip,” Boone proposed. “I think it’s about playing a more consistent brand of baseball.”
Aside from the hallowed winning streak, a consistent brand of baseball has been absent, and now the manager is pleading for his guys to find it in the final dozen games of a season that’s slipping away.
“The track record that we’ve had, even going back to a few years ago, leads me to believe that it’s in there,” Boone ended Sunday’s press conference. “It’s been frustrating as hell trying to get it out. But that’s what we’re fighting to do.”©2021 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.