When the Yankees gazed at their schedule last week and noticed that they had six games with the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays, they realized they had a superb opportunity to silence two wobbly teams and strengthen their lead in the American League East. It is politically correct for the superior team to say that the inferior team could win on any given day. But, in sports, politically correct isn’t always correct.
So what happened in those six winnable games? The Yankees played some uninspired baseball and went 3-3 against two struggling teams. After winning two of three against the Indians, the Yankees allowed the Jays to swipe two of three games from them at Yankee Stadium. Included in that series was an 8-5 loss on Wednesday in which CC Sabathia lost two leads and the Yankees made three errors and went 3 for 17 with men in scoring position.
“You got to put it behind you and move on,” said Manager Joe Girardi. “This day is over.”
As Girardi made those remarks, he was perturbed. His voice was stern, his tone was sharp. It was obvious that he realized how precious a chance the Yankees had lost by faltering against the Jays. Instead of maintaining a more comfortable lead in the division, the Yankees have to contend with this once-improbable thought: If the Baltimore Orioles sweep three games this weekend, they will be tied with New York for first place.
When the Yankees woke up on Friday morning, it was the 80th straight day that they had been in sole possession of first. But, because the Yankees didn’t stomp on the Indians and the Jays by going 5-1 or 6-0, they have put themselves in a precarious spot. Besides the Orioles, the pitching-rich Tampa Bay Rays are also chasing the Yankees and sit 4 1/2 games out of first. Across the next 10 days, the Yankees will play the Orioles six times and the Rays four times.
“We need to play better,” said Sabathia. “We haven’t played well. It starts with me.”
Sabathia was candid in taking the blame for Wednesday’s loss, but he has some teammates who could say the same thing. The Yankees didn’t have to feel this uneasy, but a mediocre week has created those feelings. Now the Yankees have to revive themselves, but it’s not against the Indians and the Jays anymore. It’s against the two teams that could nudge the Yankees out of first.
While I focused on the Yankees going 3-3 in the last week, they have actually been a .500 team for more than a month. In their last 32 games, the Yankees are 16-16. Yes, they have endured a spate of injuries, but they have too much talent to play .500 for that long. For the next 10 games and beyond, the Yankees have to prove that.