How far will the New York Yankees rely on their talent to win games before realizing they have to put in more effort than that?
Last night's 7-6 victory by the Tampa Bay Rays, their fourth consecutive victory against the Yankees, serves as a great example that hard work beats good talent when good talent doesn't work hard. Gary Sanchez learned that first hand, but the Yankees failing to get off the schneid at Tropicana Field while simultaneously falling to six games back from the always-winning Boston Red Sox needs to serve as a wake-up call for a team that's been sleepwalking against inferior opponents.
Consider this: the Yankees are 10-10 against the Rays and Orioles, teams that seemed to have fallen out of the playoff race after the first week of the season. The Red Sox are 19-5. There lies the difference in the division race: one team's inability to beat the teams they're supposed to beat.
That they can beat the teams that are playoff-bound such as the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, and Seattle Mariners, such be reassuring, but the one-and-done Wild Card elimination game takes its boot-heel to your reassurance, because this is baseball, and anything can happen. But as we near the dog days of August, the Yankees find themselves as Sisyphus did: looking uphill with an incredible burden to carry.
Here are a couple things that are worth mentioning from last night's game.
If you thought his recent DL stint would serve as a break from the mental and physical beatdown that's been the 2018 season, you were mistaken.
Because showcasing last night's game was a chorus of criticism directed towards Sanchez's work ethic. And—as a mere writer with his own opinion — warranted. Yet another passed ball escaped him; that it allowed a runner from second to score because of this shoddy effort put in by the star catcher is inexcusable.
The killing blow came in the top of the ninth, with the bases loaded and two outs. Sanchez hits a hard ground ball behind the bag, fails to beat out the throw at first, and costs the Yankees the game. Embarrassing, unacceptable, inexcusable, Sanchez's transgression transcends that singular game. It's not how baseball is supposed to be played. You don't quit on a play before it's completed.
A benching should be in order. Aaron Boone needs to send a message to his clubhouse they have neither proven nor earned anything that could excuse such antics.
Is now the time to complain about the budding ace?
Because for a pitcher that has pitched himself into the Cy Young conversation is giving reasons he shouldn't win it. His ERA has ballooned to 3.40 in his past seven games; for the third consecutive start he's given up at least a hit per inning and at least three earned runs. His ERA, which was 1.98 after his matchup with Boston on July 1st where he pitched 6.2 scoreless innings, is now at 2.63.
Perhaps it's just a blip on the radar, an unmarked territory on the map that will eventually be figured out. But the eye test shows a flat fastball that has lost a few ticks in velocity and consistently hard contact. Monday was his third straight game giving up two home runs; he gave up two in all of June. His slider has lacked depth, and he seems less confident in his changeup.
Under normal circumstances, this doesn't raise an eyebrow. But the fact of the matter is the Yankees have failed to keep pace with Boston, and with Severino being the only true bright spot in a rotation that is riddled with questions, his sudden flash of mortality can't help but make you wonder if the Yankees have the stuff to survive October.
Bunting in the ninth
Why was this play put on?
The hype over small ball and the "strategic" game often implemented by the National League is over-hyped. Why? Because it's not exciting to see a bunt play executed.
So why was Didi Gregorius, with Giancarlo Stanton behind him, bunting with runners on first and second and nobody out? Ignore the fact it was a lefty-on-lefty matchup. The play took the bat right out of Stanton's hands, who feasts on lefties and was already 4-4 that night. Why you would entrust Aaron Hicks in that situation is beyond...well, anyone.
Yes, I know with Gregorius up you risk the double play/an unproductive out. But Stanton is Stanton.
Hicks is not.
A .643 winning percentage is good. Superb. But a .696 winning percentage is far better.
The Yankees are running out of time. Six games behind Boston isn't insurmountable under normal circumstances, but Boston's 71-31 record before August isn't normal circumstances. They've been hot from the start and haven't cooled. The Yankees have had their own climate epochs of blistering heat waves followed by glacial freezes.
We've learned in these moments the Yankees have talent. On paper, perhaps the Yankees have a deeper and more talented roster than the Red Sox. But baseball isn't played in Helvetica or Times New Roman. It's played in dirt-stained road grays heavy with sweat.
And the Yankees' jerseys have looked clean recently.