Yan­kees aim to al­ter tra­jec­tory vs. Red Sox

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Bob Klapisch NEW YORK

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.

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