The 2013 New York Yankees are, if nothing else, resilient. But after being swept by the Red Sox this past weekend, you have to wonder how many more punches this team can take.
They have four series remaining this season out of 52, and after Round 48 they’re back on their stool in their corner, trying once more to summon the strength to get back up. They’re wounded from Austin Romine’s head to Derek Jeter’s ankle, and gasping for oxygen in mountain-thin air.
Like any stouthearted boxer, they’ll rise to their feet again tomorrow night and continue the fight. They’ll be swung at and they’ll swing back, locking horns with whoever stands in the opposite corner and struggling valiantly to the finish. But this may all be in vain for the Yankees, whose season may have finally been lost this weekend in Boston.
They were swept in humbling fashion, outscored on the weekend 22-8. For a team that couldn’t have come to town with more confidence, having just taken three of four from the Orioles, they couldn’t have left town with more doubt. With their ace of the year on the hill Friday, their ace of August on the hill Sunday, and the suddenly resurgent C.C. Sabathia going in between, the Yankees had high hopes for the weekend.
But on Friday night they were devastated, losing 8-4 after rallying gamely from four runs down. The following afternoon they were stifled, falling 5-1 in a game they never seemed to wake up for. And on Sunday night they were simply crushed, crumbling to the mat after a 9-2 loss.
Neither Kuroda nor Sabathia nor Nova pitched past the sixth inning. Combined, they allowed 15 runs in 16 innings, good for an 8.43 ERA on the weekend. Meanwhile, the offense did little to help.
Rally though they did on Friday night, the bats were kept quiet for the better part of three games. After racking up 23 runs on 40 hits when they came to Fenway a month ago, the Yankees eight runs came on just 16 hits this time around. They swung Little League bats reminiscent of their summer swoon, and found those crooked numbers that win games to be in critically short supply.
The Yankees were sent a number of bad signs this weekend. For one, Kuroda’s decline is only continuing. For another, Nova’s regression is only escalating. And for one more, Sabathia’s revival was merely a tease. But more distressing than all of that is the apparent hole left in the lineup by Brett Gardner’s absence.
Gardner, who went down in Baltimore with a strained oblique and appears to be done for the season, has been the sparkplug to the Yankees’ offense all season long. If Robinson Cano is the waiter who clears the table for this team, Gardner is the one who sets it. And though a hitter with a slash line of .273/.344/.416 may not seem like a huge loss, Gardner’s value to the offense can’t be translated in three easy statistics.
Simply with him out, the rest of the lineup is shortened. In Boston, Joe Girardi was forced to use Curtis Granderson as the leadoff hitter, which meant that either Lyle Overbay or Vernon Wells was once again hitting fifth. And though Granderson is a speedy runner, he is most impactful when hitting lower in the order with men on base.
It’s backwards and counterintuitive, but when the Yankees lost a 5’10 pest of a slap hitter, their lineup disintegrated from a well-rounded, run-producing machine into a top-heavy, pockmarked defect. Reading the team’s lineup card once again inspires feelings of desperation, for if the first four hitters don’t manufacture runs it’s hard to believe anyone else will either.
That’s been written before about the Yankees this season, but after picking up Soriano and getting back Granderson and A-Rod, it didn’t look as if it’d be written again.
But this is the 2013 Yankees we’re talking about, a team as unlucky as Wile E. Coyote. It’s one thing to see the grizzled likes of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez suffer through injuries, but when one of the game’s most durable players goes down with them, you have to look to the heavens and wonder how this is happening.
But the Yankees can’t spend time feeling sorry for themselves, because certainly no one else is either. In fact, the baseball world has been waiting for this inevitable breakdown to hit the Yankees and knock them down for good. Many have been craving it.
Maybe that sense of Us Against the World is something for the team to rally around. Maybe there’s still a little iron-willed defiance left in their bones. Given what they’ve achieved so far this year, there’s probably a lot.
But with twelve games remaining and three games to make up in the standings, the Yankees need more than a Spartan’s spirit. They need the offense that steamrolled through August and the pitching (read: bullpen) that sailed through the summer. Right now, it appears they have neither.
Still, they’ll get back on their feet, come to the center of the ring, and tap gloves with the Blue Jays to start Round 49. They’ll prepare to empty every ounce of the tank over the next 12 games, knowing that for every punch they absorb they must land five more. They’ll do this because they know no other way, because even if some human, rational part of them wants to acknowledge defeat, the competitive side of them will refuse to.
That’s honorable, for sure, and deeply admirable. Despite this team’s lack of pop, the Yankees of the Past would be proud to call these guys teammates. The Yankees of the Past, of course, would know how to dig themselves out of this hole. They would start scoring runs tomorrow in Toronto and not stop until sometime in late October.
But the Yankees of Today, though they have that will, don’t have that power. They did briefly in August and September, but that surge seems to have short-circuited with the loss of Gardner.
With wobbly knees and swaying shoulders, they come to their feet for what could be the final time. One more heavy punch – that being a series loss – will likely be the blow that kills them. Just don’t be surprised if they find a way to dodge it.