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These three Yankees won’t be shielded by short-season excuse

It is a funhouse mirror, a high-speed free-fall ride and a freak show rolled into one.

Major League Baseball’s 60-game season also is something you’re more likely to find in a courtroom than at a carnival: A viable defense strategy against allegations of wrongdoing.

What, you seriously want to jettison Brian Cashman or Aaron Boone because of how the Yankees have looked in this COVID-compromised, dramatically reduced campaign? You think Gerrit Cole has lost something, or can’t handle New York? You took your Gleyber Torres Fan Club membership off autopay?

Nah. Not from the 43 games the Yankees have played, and probably not from whatever comes in the remaining 17 contests as well as the postseason. It constitutes, as I and my fellow nerds say, too small a sample size.

Yet the Yankees and their competitors can’t punt on every call this winter, even with the state of 2021 play in question, and there are some Yankees whose travails with either performance or health can’t be ignored altogether because they either continue disturbing trends or come at poor times. Yes, with 17 games left plus (possibly) the postseason, time remains for them to change the narrative, although they have dug considerable holes for themselves.

These are their stories:

1. Gary Sanchez

With Aaron Boone as his manager, from 2018 until now, Sanchez owns a .748 OPS, placing him ninth among those who have played at least 150 games at catcher in that time, and he has 59 homers, first overall (thanks, Baseball-Reference.com). When you subtract Sanchez’s monster numbers against the awful 2019 Orioles (10 homers and a 1.354 OPS), he still qualifies for the group and places third with his 49 homers … and ninth with a .705 OPS. Understanding that those games against the Orioles counted, that still represents a precipitous drop-off.

Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez and James PaxtonGetty Images; AP, EPA

The 27-year-old’s 2020 has proven such a rough ride, with an astounding 50 strikeouts in 122 plate appearances, that Boone benched him for a couple of days this past week. His two days back in the lineup produced an 0-for-7 with a walk and (only) two Ks. On Thursday, he was set to DH, with Kyle Higashioka catching Cole.

“Now we just want him to start translating obviously offensively in the game,” Boone said Thursday, before rain postponed the opener of this critical series with the improved Orioles. “Even though he hasn’t gotten any results the last two nights, I do feel like he’s done a better job at the plate, laying off some difficult pitches. … So I do really feel like he’s close. But hopefully we can get the Gary we know who’s capable of wrecking a game.”

Come November or sooner, the Yankees must determine what Sanchez still can do. Might it be best to trade him when he still holds some value? At the least, they’ll need to strengthen their depth at the position.

2. Brett Gardner

His surface numbers (.165/.293/.299) are simply awful, his underlying counts (exit velocity, line-drive rate walks-to-strikeouts and more) far less so; they’re all quite similar to last year’s renaissance.

“There’s definitely part of it that’s bad luck and why, in baseball, things play out over time,” Boone said of Gardner. “That said, I don’t think he’s where he wants to be and hasn’t clicked like we know [he can], but he’s been a lot closer than what his numbers have suggested.”

Two other numbers matter for Gardner: His age (37) and his team option for next year ($10 million), one the Yankees likely can’t justify exercising as the lack of paying fans crushes them. If he’s willing to accept a considerable pay cut, Gardner could fit on next year’s team, given Aaron Judge’s and Giancarlo Stanton’s continuing injury woes and Mike Tauchman’s regression. That gambit would make more sense if Gardner’s actual numbers could catch up to his projected ones.

3. James Paxton

Boone disclosed Thursday that Paxton, trying to return from a left flexor strain, has been shut down due to soreness. While the Yankees witnessed the lefty’s upside, they also witnessed his injury-proneness in a big way. The impending free agent will have to settle for a pillow contract somewhere, and probably not in The Bronx as the Yankees try to manage their payroll in the coronavirus age.

Honorable non-mention to Judge and Stanton, whose talent and contract/control statuses will bring them back next year, in the hopes of staying healthier, despite their continuing trips to the injured list.

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