PHILADELPHIA — Do the Yankees have a glass jaw?
Do they get punched in the mouth, as the saying goes, and stay down for a while?
It seems fair to wonder whether that’s true after a meek, 7-0 loss to Joe Girardi’s Phillies on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, the Yankees’ third straight defeat and 13th in 18 games, dropped them to fourth place in the AL East, a season-worst 8 ½ games behind the Rays.
They own a 33-32 record, and if I were Hal Steinbrenner, the current tally wouldn’t concern me as much as the way the Yankees have arrived there: These guys are a roller coaster, the same as last year. The dips and dives are ugly. They reflect poorly upon their manager.
I asked that manager, Aaron Boone, if he thought the team’s confidence dropped upon suffering adversity. Whether, for instance, Aroldis Chapman’s blown save Thursday in Minnesota carried into the weekend and produced two more L’s.
“I don’t think there’s a confidence drop,” Boone said, “and I do feel like we’re competing better — and at times I feel like we’ve needed to be better in that regard, and I feel like that’s absolutely happening right now.
“…I don’t think there’s a confidence drop, but that said, I think we all know when we put this uniform on we’re expected to win. And we need to pick it up in the biggest kind of way.”
Boone expressed fire, for him, after the game, snapping at a question about the team’s potential complacency and describing himself as “very concerned” about the state of things.
“We’re going to find out what kind of character we’re made of,” he vowed.
This team’s character, and by consequence the effectiveness of their manager, is in serious question thanks to the two-season sample we are in the middle of collecting. You might recall that the 2020 Yankees built their underwhelming 33-27 record thus: 16-6, 5-15, 10-0, 2-6. Forgiving minds, including this one, wrote that off as a small sample being conducted during a pandemic.
Yet here we stand now, and look at the 2021 Yankees: 5-10, 23-9, 5-13. It’s not like the same guys are doing the same things, either. The starting rotation has changed by more than 50 percent. Gary Sanchez is much better, Clint Frazier is much worse. The injuries have alleviated, even with back spasms sidelining Aaron Judge on Sunday.
“As the offense gets going, that’s where we gain a lot of our swagger from,” Boone said. Yet the Yankees received what could’ve been one of their biggest hits of the season Saturday, DJ LeMahieu’s ninth-inning, game-tying, three-run homer off Phillies closer Hector Neris, and failed to capitalize, losing in the subsequent inning. LeMahieu knocked two more hits Sunday, an encouraging sign for The Machine.
Nevertheless, in the wake of Saturday’s tough loss, Domingo German surrendered four runs in the first two frames Sunday, and the Yankees were toast against Phillies’ Aaron Nola, a good pitcher. How very fitting that the first runner the visitors placed in scoring position, Rougned Odor, followed his seventh-inning double by getting caught off the bag when Gio Urshela stroked a grounder to former Yankee Ronald Torreyes at shortstop. Yeesh. If these Yankees ran the bases any worse, they’d be investigated for betting on the other guys.
How does a team strengthen its jaw and eradicate questions about its resolve? If we can’t determine the cause, we’d recognize the effect: Playing more consistent baseball.
“It starts with me in setting the tone, in setting the culture here that’s hopefully putting everyone in a good position to go out and perform at their highest level,” Boone said. “We clearly have not done well enough at this point.”
Clearly. Alarmingly. Boone deserves the chance to solve this mystery, as well as the consequences if he can’t. It’s well past time for the Yankees to rise from the floor and stay off it.