Yankees aim to alter trajectory vs. Red Sox
for his pinstripes. It’s hard to work up the animus for the current crop of talented good guys such as Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius. And if you have a problem with Xander Bogaerts, well, that’s on you.
None of this diminishes the importance of this weekend’s series in the Bronx. This will be the most significant showdown of the season between the teams. You can see it as the Yankees’ last chance to stop what baseball executives generally agree is the AL’s best club.
To say Boston is on a roll only skims the surface of just how difficult it has been for the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays to keep up. Entering Thursday, the Red Sox
Seems perfect, doesn’t it, that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are back to waging a late-summer battle in the American League East, even if the relationship between the two organizations (and their fan bases) is less volatile than the days of rage in the early 2000s.
The villains are gone: Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and even Derek Jeter, who, though respected on Yawkey Way, was no less hated
were riding the majors’ longest winning streak (eight), scoring 50 runs in that span with 34 extrabase hits. The bullpen hadn’t allowed a run in 18 consecutive innings, and the pitching staff boasted a 3.04 ERA during the winning streak.
Strange timing, indeed. Boston lost David Price to the disabled list and hasn’t looked back. No one suggests they’re better off without Price — he was finally getting in sync in July, significantly trimming his ERA before his elbow blew up again. And the left-hander shut out the Yankees over eight innings the last time he faced them. But there has been less noise, better focus since Price receded into the background. If he wasn’t already unpopular with Red Sox Nation, the feud with Dennis Eckersley was ugly enough to certainly enhance the chances he’ll opt out of his contract after 2018.
The Price-less Red Sox might just be ready to pull away. What could prevent that from happening? A Judge hot streak, for one.
The Yankees are in dire need of greater production from their right-handed hitters, Judge in particular, especially since the Red Sox have lined up three lefties for the weekend. They’re about to face Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz and Chris Sale, which emphasizes how much the Yankees need a rebirth from Judge.
With a .167 average and 38 strikeouts in 84 at-bats since the All-Star break, Judge has looked alternately exhausted and overwhelmed. It was reasonable to expect he wouldn’t maintain those Triple Crown-like numbers in the first half, but the Yankees are dismayed at how quickly the 25year-old rookie has regressed.
According to research compiled by ESPN, pitchers have adjusted to Judge in two significant ways: challenging him with fastballs around the eyes and sliders just off the outside corner. Through Wednesday, Judge had seen 119 sliders in the second half, swung at 56 and missed 36. He had no hits and made 20 outs against them.
Manager Joe Girardi has been quick to defend Judge, reminding reporters that hitting slumps are contagious and that Judge hasn’t been alone in his struggles. That much is true; the Yankees have underperformed as a group of late, falling from the AL’s No. 2 offense in the first half to No. 12 in the second half.
Still, there’s something to be said for the fear factor, which Judge patented like no one else in the Yankees lineup. Gregorius has emerged as a fine cleanup hitter, and Todd Frazier had a huge night against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, going 3-for-4 with a home run in an 11-5 blowout.
The Yankees did exactly what was required — beating up on a last-place team. But there was no sign of Judge, who had another hitless game and saw his average drop to .294, down 35 points since the break.
That brings the conversational road back to its starting point — whether the Yankees have the firepower to keep up with the Red Sox. The answer was already revealed in general manager Brian Cashman’s failed attempt to acquire Jay Bruce from the New York Mets on Wednesday.
The GM doesn’t think he has quite the right fit, not with Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro on the disabled list, rookie Clint Frazier injured and Judge in a funk. The only good news is that Aaron Hicks, who had been disabled since June 25 because of a strained side, was activated Thursday afternoon.
He’ll be needed this month. Remember, the Yankees and Red Sox are facing each other over the next two weekends — six games during which they’ll see Sale twice and have Sonny Gray once. Because of the way New York’s rotation is set up, the newly acquired right-hander will be wasted against the Mets early next week. At this point, with Boston on the verge of sprinting away, the Yankees will have to think about nailing down the wild card.
Either way, it’ll make for compelling theater between the Yankees and Red Sox down the stretch. Yes, even without the ghosts.
After hitting .329 with 30 homers the first half, Yankees rookie Aaron Judge entered Thursday at .167 with five homers since.