Yankees’ horror show opening treacherous AL East door

For three weeks, the Yankees have been terrible. Can’t succeed in any phase of the game, kind of terrible. Worst in the majors, kind of terrible.

It began with the Red Sox winning the final two games of three at Fenway Park on June 15-16 — first by tearing into the stronghold that had been excellent Yankee starting pitching and then fully exposing how helpless the Yankees are in shutting down running games.

Neither team has been the same since. In the ultimate Yankee nightmare scenario, they have gone an MLB-worst 4-13 coinciding with the three teams they despise the most — the Red Sox, Astros and Mets — basically playing the best to push back into the playoff picture.

The Yankees have gone 4-13 since their last series against the Red Sox. Charles Wenzelberg
Alex Cora’s Red Sox entering their series against the Yankees on a tear. AP

The door that has opened this weekend in The Bronx is treacherous for the Yankees. They have spent the better part of this season trying to outdo the Orioles for first in the AL East. Suddenly, with the Red Sox in town, they are feeling the heat from behind. Boston is just four back in the loss column, and if you think Red Sox manager Alex Cora is going to do anything but keep the accelerator floored against an opponent Boston stole nine bases against the last time they played, then you have not paid attention over the years how much Cora loves to live under the Yankees’ skin.

“You have to get beat down to find out what you are made of,” Aaron Judge said Thursday after the Reds completed a three-game sweep with an 8-4 triumph. “We are going to find out real soon.”

There have been two seminal moments in this Yankee plummet from what was the majors’ best record of 50-22 after beating the Red Sox 8-1 on June 14. That stolen-base spree seemed to unsettle the Yankees, as if a glass jaw was revealed and the team just has not restored its group confidence since.

Plus, once it was understood when Gerrit Cole was returning, it is as if the Yankee rotation exhaled. As if doing an overwhelming job of compensating for the loss of the AL Cy Young winner had either left the other starters exhausted and/or they mentally lost an edge with their ace returning. Carlos Rodon dismissed the theory, arguing “Adjustments have been made against us, and now it is time for us to adjust back.”

But the before and after photo is so stark. Through June 14 — or up to the point that the Yanks knew that Cole was going to step in the next time around the rotation — the Yankees had an MLB-best 2.77 ERA through 72 games. In the 17 games since, the starters have an MLB-worst 7.76 ERA.

Marcus Stroman allowed the Reds five runs in five innings Thursday, marking the seventh time in the last 17 games (beginning with Rodon allowing five runs in five innings at Fenway) that a Yankee starter had yielded five or more runs after the group surrendered that much just three times in the first 72 games.

The culprit is overt. Stroman allowed three homers. That is 21 in the last 17 games by Yankee starters. They permitted 46 in the first 72 games.

Marcus Stroman allowed five runs across five innings during his start Thursday. Charles Wenzelberg
Aaron Boone is pictured earlier in the Yankees’ series against the Red Sox. Charles Wenzelberg

Basically, the Yankees have had the same game on endless loop during this horrendous stretch. They have not led at any point in their last 11 losses. The offense is dormant early and the starters give up homers to put the Yanks behind for good. The Yanks did not lead for one of 27 innings against the Reds.

They didn’t score in the first five innings of the opener, the first six innings Wednesday and the first four innings in the finale as they fell behind, respectively, 5-0, 3-0 and 5-0.

“We have got to play better on all fronts,” Aaron Boone said. “It seems like we’re playing catch up a lot.”

Stroman particularly bemoaned a two-out, three-run homer allowed to Spencer Steer in the fifth that made it 5-0. In the bottom of the inning, Austin Wells and Ben Rice (first of his career) hit solo homers to put the Yankees in striking distance. Then the not good enough to pitch for the White Sox portion of the bullpen — Tim Hill and Jake Cousins — combined to allow three seventh-inning runs to negate the impact of Juan Soto’s two-run homer in the bottom of the inning.

Boston sits just four games back of the Yankees in the loss column entering their series. USA TODAY Sports

By then, this three-week horror show was fully displayed. The shorter poor starts have forced Boone to ask more from a weak bullpen that had been protected by the rotation for 2 ¹/₂ months. The offense that last year was a one-man show with Judge is now a two-man show with Judge and Soto. Boone tried a jolt by dropping the slumping Anthony Volpe to sixth and leading off Rice, who along with Wells continue to have among the best at-bats on the team.

Still, the Yankees were swept for the first time this season. They have lost nine of their 12 home games after losing just eight of their first 30. Now the Red Sox are coming to The Bronx. The bad times began with Boston. Can the Yankees stop them against Boston — or are the last three weeks more revelatory about who the Yankees are than the team that showed up at Fenway Park on June 14?

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