Maybe you’ve sort of let baseball fade into the background as the dog days of summer have worn on, which is an entirely acceptable way to live your life. You may then be surprised to learn that the New York Yankees, who you might remember having spent the first three months of the season winning at a historic pace, are currently playing like total butt, and have been doing so for long enough that it no longer looks or feels like a standard slump. Now you know.
People might not believe you when you tell them this. In our Slack, only discussion of our terrible teams is allowed. So when I broke in to Tigers and Nationals chat to bemoan that the Yankees are basically unwatchable right now, I was treated with scorn and derision, just like Jesus. My boss told me to shut up and that he wanted to Stone Cold Stunner me, which I will be informing HR of presently. But it’s true! After closing June with a 56-21 record and a 14-game division lead, the Yankees have gone 13-13 in July and 3-11 in August through Tuesday’s listless 3-1 home loss to the Rays to drop their fifth straight series. Since their high-water mark on July 9, the Yankees have played .333 baseball, worse than everyone but (yes) the Tigers and Nationals.
“We’re all frustrated,” manager Aaron Boone said. “But we can’t let the frustration get in the way of preparing and getting ready to go every night. We’ve got a few guys who are in a rut. We’ve got to prepare and get ready and fight our way out of it. It’s part of it. It’s no fun when you’re going through it, but that’s where we are right now.”
So what’s going on here, besides me being punished for early-season hubris? As you might have guessed, a team doesn’t go from winning two-thirds of their games to losing two-thirds of their games without basically everything going wrong at once. The rotation, elite to start the season, has regressed to and possibly past the mean, going from MLB’s second-best unit at preventing home runs to second-worst. The bullpen, a strength, has been racked by injuries and ineffectiveness, both personified in Clay Holmes, who went from out-of-nowhere all-star to losing his closing job to the IL, all in the span of a month. The lineup has suffered from injuries to Matt Carpenter (likely out for the season) and Giancarlo Stanton (out until September), and nagging health issues for DJ LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo that have seen them miss time and scuffle when they do play. And the rest of the hitters are not exactly picking up the slack: Josh Donaldson, Aaron Hicks, and Gleyber Torres have been disappointments, while the defense-first offseason moves to stock the bottom of the order have lived down to expectations at the plate. Basically, Aaron Judge is the only good thing happening in the Bronx right now.
It would be one thing if they were simply losing, but to a fan desperate for something to fill the hours in this baseball-only stretch of the sports calendar, it’s even worse than that: They’re basically unwatchable. Tuesday’s loss was typical of their recent nosedive: Fall behind early, scratch out a single (unearned) run, and never threaten again. At least they scored a run, which they hadn’t done since Saturday. It’s like a whole lineup of Joey Gallos. (Though perhaps it has been a blessing in disguise that they haven’t had more baserunners, because of what happens when they do.)
With the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline a thing of the past, the Yankees still have a couple of levers they can pull. Outfielder Estevan Florial is expected to be called up, and should receive immediate at-bats. Shortstop Oswald Peraza, the organization’s third-ranked prospect, has been raking at Triple-A and should soon follow.
The good news for the Yankees is that all those early-season wins still count, so they still possess a nine-game cushion in the AL East, and anything can happen in the postseason. The bad news is that there’s reason to believe that this scuffling roster is closer to Who They Are (as much as that can mean anything at any specific point in a long season) than their first-half fireworks. If a team is never really as good as they are when they’re hot and never really as bad as they are when they’re slumping, the 2022 Yankees were predicted to have a dingers-or-bust offense with a questionable-to-mediocre rotation. That formula has historically never been too effective in the playoffs, and this is the worst version of both. Call it the curse of Joey Gallo.