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Aaron Boone promised the best is yet to come with the 2021 Yankees in April, then he did it in May and you really do have to like the manager’s consistency. We are in June and his team’s inconsistent play has yet to knock the optimism out of him.
The season is still young enough that Boone can vow better days ahead. If the schedule were a cross-country trip from New York, it would be roughly in St. Louis. Heck, the Yanks are playing the Red Sox for the first time this year this weekend.
Yet the season is old enough that the Yankees’ pathologies are overt. So, unless they are about to get a lot more athletic, a lot higher in baseball IQ and a lot better hitting overall, especially from the left side, then Boone will be saying something like, “We are not where we need to be or where I think we will get” all the way through September and an early winter.
Often in the last quarter century the Yankees’ strengths — namely power in recent years — and intimidation factor could camouflage shortcomings. But the power hasn’t shown in a meaningful way, no opponent any longer appears cowed (certainly not the Rays) and, thus, what the Yankees don’t do well sabotages them more emphatically.
So splitting a four-game series against a Rays club that arrived having won 15 of 16 and then won the opener is, in theory, fine. But not when you have a chance to take the series with Gerrit Cole going against Ryan Yarborough in Thursday’s matinee. Cole was gone after five innings and five runs. Yarbrough, often a length pitcher in Tampa Bay’s arsenal of mixing, matching and openers, threw his first career complete game as the Yanks mustered solo homers by Brett Gardner and Miguel Andujar in a 9-2 loss.
That Gardner, who also doubled, homered was an achievement. It was just the 11th homer by a Yankees lefty hitter this season. It was just their fifth lefty homer at home — you know, where they have the short right-field porch — and just their second since May 1. Tampa Bay lefty Austin Meadows hit three in this series. Rays lefty hitters drove in 12 runs in the four games. Rougned Odor leads Yankee lefties with 13 RBIs on the season.
The Yankees’ lefty numbers across the board are the majors’ worst. One of the few other teams even in their zip code is the Blue Jays. But Toronto has done what the Yankees did in recent years — compensate with overwhelming force from righties, even with their major acquisition, George Springer, missing all but four games. The Yankees’ righties have not been as fierce.
Luke Voit has missed most of the year. Giancarlo Stanton seems to play as few games off the injured list as on it; Boone sat him again Thursday so, “Hopefully, we can roll him through every game of the weekend” against Boston. They are hoping they can play their no-field DH every game against their main rival. Aside from Aaron Judge, the righty impact is pretty much down through the roster.
“I feel over the long haul it [the offense] will be an overwhelming strength of the team,” Boone said. He said that in April, too. And May. And that quote was from before the Yanks scored two or fewer runs for the 22nd time, third most in the majors. The other four clubs who had done it at least 21 times — Baltimore, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Texas — began Thursday a combined 54 games under .500 (84-138).
The Yankees’ 31-26 mark reflects strong pitching. But the division is four-team competitive, and Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston have been among the league’s best offenses. And the Yanks’ run deficiency is exacerbated when your pitchers can’t field, your generally station-to-station offense has been so undermined by the worst baserunning in the league and the team’s general baseball intellect underwhelms too often.
When the series finale was still a 2-1 game with the Rays leading in the fifth with runners on first and second and two outs — remember that, two outs — Brandon Lowe (one of those Rays lefties) hit a floater toward shallow right. Perhaps Clint Frazier has a play if he races hard and dives forward, but that was an instantaneous tough call. But what Frazier did was try to feint the runner by lifting his glove as if he were going to catch the ball. Except — everyone now — there were two outs, so Mike Zunino was running on contact from second. Did the wasted, low-baseball IQ moment lead to a way offline throw? Who knows? But as even the over-protective Boone acknowledged, “The deke was not necessary.”
It did, however, fit into an April, May and now June in which the Yankees can lack situational awareness in every phase. Boone keeps promising that will get better too. Maybe.
After all, the season is only in St. Louis.f
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