Yankees can’t hide from AL East reality any longer: Sherman

The Yankees are having two different seasons: the one against the Blue Jays and Rays, and the one against all other opponents. With Toronto’s blowout win Tuesday in The Bronx, the Yanks are 5-11...

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The Yankees are having two different seasons: the one against the Blue Jays and Rays, and the one against all other opponents.

With Toronto’s blowout win Tuesday in The Bronx, the Yanks are 5-11 against the two AL teams who until this week were based in Florida (the Blue Jays are now relocating from their minor league facility in Dunedin to Buffalo). The Yanks are 23-9 against everyone else they have played; that is 1-1 vs. the Braves and a winning record against their other seven foes.

The Yanks were bullies in a shortened 2020, overwhelming the outmanned Orioles and Red Sox with a 16-4 record while going 7-15 against the Blue Jays and Rays – which cost them the AL East. They played exclusively a regional schedule last year. This year they are 11-1 against non-Eastern division teams. That includes a sweep of the AL Central-leading White Sox over the weekend.

Chicago is good. But the recent history for the Yankees is that they will steamroll a Central opponent in the playoffs, like last season against Cleveland. Then they ran into the Rays and their season expired.

Plus, the AL East is projecting as a bear this season. Tampa Bay is as good as last year, Toronto is better, Boston is way better. Heck, Baltimore already has beaten the Yankees four times (in 10 games) this year after going 5-24 the past two years.

The Blue Jays series started a 12-game stretch in which the Yanks face the horrible Tigers, but also three three-game series vs. Toronto, Tampa Bay and Boston. All the AL East series are In The Bronx. By the end of play June 6, we should have a better clue who the Yankees are, in part because in Game 58 they will finally see the Red Sox for the first time. At that point, the Yankees will have 19 of their final 105 games – or 18.1 percent of their games – against their historic rival.

Justin Wilson gives up a home run to Randal Grichuk of the Blue Jays in a loss.
Getty Images

The AL East – and perhaps a wild card or two – could come down to how this strong foursome plays against each other. The Yanks did take two of three against the Rays in St. Petersburg two weeks ago. Still, in this division within the division, they are 5-11. The Blue Jays are 9-10. The Rays 11-8. The Red Sox 6-2.

Had the season ended Tuesday, the Yankees would have been the visitor for the one-game wild card. They were in that position because of how well they have pitched. But Corey Kluber’s shoulder injury reiterates that the fear within the Yankee starters was how few innings so many have pitched in recent years – and what this could look like as workloads mounted.

At some point – like so much of the recent past – the Yankee offense either wakes up and carries them, or this division and possibly a playoff spot altogether will escape them. The Blue Jays, Rays and Red Sox were three of the seven teams averaging five or more runs a game. The Yanks were one of seven averaging fewer than four. Batting average might not mean what we thought in, say, 1991. But even in 2021, it is going to be impossible to score consistently if eight of the 13 players who have batted most often continue to hit .202 or worse.

The Blue Jays are succeeding and their biggest offseason addition, George Springer, has been limited to four games. The Rays probably improved their offense by trading starting shortstop Willy Adames and replacing him with Taylor Walls. And Tampa Bay can (and probably will) summon at some point Wander Franco, the consensus best prospect in the sport, and Vidal Brujan, who might be Ketel Marte 2.0. Plus, with their system, the Rays will be a trade deadline threat for the best bat – someone like Nelson Cruz. Nearly one-third of the way through this season, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez have combined to hit .312 with a .966 OPS and 35 homers. The Yankee big three of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela were .290, .870 and 26 – and the fall after them was substantial, beyond a recent rise from Gleyber Torres.

Gleyber Torres scores on a double from Miguel Andujar.
Getty Images

So the Yankees badly need the DJ LeMahieu who led the majors in hitting last year and the Luke Voit who led in homers. They need Clint Frazier to be real and Brett Gardner not to be done. They need Gary Sanchez to at least be a power force if he is going to continue to not even threaten the Mendoza Line.

There is a race within the the race in the AL East, and so far, the Yankees have not been a hit.

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Joel Sherman

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