Yankees’ slide feels like familiar rock bottom: ‘No one’s too discouraged’

NEW YORK — The Yankees have reached the “it’s all right there in front of us” portion of the season. 

By now, we know those seem to be Aaron Boone’s favorite words when the team is spiraling — seven straight series without a win, kind of spiraling. How can Boone and the Yankees believe that phrase — the one we’ve heard year after year when the team sinks to a new low — is a rallying cry, when all it does is remind us that the organization has failed to go and get whatever it is that’s right there in front of them? The results of the past few weeks make it imperative that the Yankees dig deep. Instead, they’re feeding us the same lines of assurances, with little reason to trust their feigned confidence.

“It’s tough,” Juan Soto said after the Yankees fell, 3-0, to the Red Sox on Sunday. “Everybody’s aware that we’re going through it. I think the energy is still up. We’re still believing. We’re still grinding. Every day we come in with the same energy. I think it’s really positive on our side.”

Right, because there’s so much to be positive about. The Yankees have won only five of their past 20 games, far and away the worst such stretch in the major leagues in that span. Since June 15, New York ranks 26th in batting average (.244), 24th in slugging (.384) and 30th in baserunning (-3.3). The Yankees’ .700 OPS since June 15 has even dipped below the league’s average (.707) in that span. As far as pitching, the Yankees started the year boasting MLB’s top ERA (2.77) through their first 72 games, only to suddenly fall off a cliff after ace Gerrit Cole returned. Since June 15, New York’s staff sports the league’s worst ERA (6.19) with the most losses (15) in the majors to boot. 

Where did the Yankees’ sense of urgency go? 

Maybe it got lost in the 74 days they owned first place in the American League East. Perhaps it’s cushioned within their winning percentage, when they climbed to a season-high 28 games over .500 on June 14. It could be that their urgency all but disappears on a nightly basis, after Boone publicly coddles his club and defends his players’ mental lapses, while Aaron Judge favors an even-keel approach for his clubhouse.

Wherever their focus and drive went, the Yankees better find it quickly. This is the year they have Soto, who hits free agency in November, so they can’t afford to waste their season — and eventually, the playoffs — away. Their recent display reeks of lack of hustle, inability to execute fundamental plays, and overthinking or pressing, which has allowed moments to get too big. Things have gotten so bad in the Bronx that the two-man act of Judge and Soto has long stopped distracting us from the rest of the roster’s myriad problems. 

The latest mishap arrived in their astounding 5-3 loss to the Red Sox on Friday in the Bronx. Though there were more than a few blunders that will stick in the memories of those unfortunate enough to witness the club’s meltdown, none stood out more than Anthony Volpe’s apparent confusion on the basepaths in the bottom of the third inning. On a double-play ground ball to first, Volpe opted to jog in from third to home, keeping him from touching the plate before the final out of the inning was made. To make matters worse, DJ LeMahieu failed to force a rundown between first and second, which otherwise would have allowed Volpe more time to score. 

After the game, Volpe was asked if he was aware of the rule that, if he touched home plate before the final out of the inning, the run would’ve scored. Lacking accountability, the 23-year-old said he thought the ball that was put in play was actually foul. That explained the look of deep disorientation on Volpe’s face after the inning ended, but a better answer would’ve been something along the lines of, that mental lapse was simply unacceptable. 

“I just gotta hustle all the way through there,” Volpe said. “Yeah, I mean, the play was in front of me. I just gotta be better.”

He isn’t alone, although no Yankee has struggled more the past three weeks. Among 172 qualified hitters since June 15, Volpe (34), Alex Verdugo (43) and LeMahieu (55) all rank in the bottom 18 in wRC+ across MLB. Only the Yankees lay claim to three such hitters. 

Right now, in the toughest stretch of their season to date, we’re seeing what the Yankees are made of. They’re giving their fans a slapdash product that’s difficult to watch with so many roster holes that it’s impossible to believe general manager Brian Cashman could address them all by the trade deadline.

“Brutal,” Volpe said when asked about the Yankees’ rough stretch. “We play to win and we expect to win. Regardless of when we’re on winning streaks or when it’s like this, I think we have a really good clubhouse — staying even-keel and showing up every day. We trust each other, we trust ourselves, we know we got everything ahead of us. No one’s too discouraged. We’re ready to go.”

This could be part of the problem. After the Yankees’ 16th loss in 22 games, you’d expect them to be discouraged, to be down, to go back to the drawing board and openly discuss their flaws, and be raw and honest about where to go from here. Instead, Boone’s Yankees are once again boasting positivity and composure, an out-of-touch response that doesn’t address the warranted concern for the immediate future of this team. If every loss is the same as the others, what is there to learn? 

Yankees hitting coach James Rowson told FOX Sports he doesn’t mind these tough times because he expects these spells to make the roster tougher. 

“What I prefer is just guys, every day, look at the guy next to you, and I expect you to give me everything you got,” Rowson said. “And if you did that at the end of the day, man, I’m never going to ask more of you. I’m going to pat you on your back whether you went 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. I look at it a little bit differently. I don’t necessarily get wrapped up in the everyday stats. I get wrapped up in the entire process.”

Rowson has been encouraged by the way players, specifically Volpe, are adjusting to league pitching this year. Even though the offense’s numbers are ugly — players with the last names “Judge” and “Soto” are exempt — Rowson believes his unit trusts the process. But, is that process working? The only active hitters with an OPS+ of at least 100 (minimum of 60 at-bats) more than halfway through this season are Judge and Soto. 

The club’s series loss to Boston arrived after getting swept by the NL Central’s fourth-place Cincinnati Reds, and on the heels of relevant criticism from Judge’s personal hitting coach. Richard Schenck, an independent hitting coach who has worked with Judge for years, took a shot at the Yankees in a social media post last week. Boone shrugged off Schenck’s critique, and Judge said he wouldn’t respond to “somebody else making a comment” because he’s “got no control over what another person does.” 

Not exactly a vote of confidence. 

“They’ve lost 13 out of 18 while [Judge] is hitting like an MVP,” Schenck said last week. “The Yankees offensive player development is terrible.”

Really, with the all-or-nothing reliance on guys like Judge and Soto, that criticism of the Yankees offense could’ve been harsher. The manager’s analysis of the overall underperformance could’ve been more honest. The team’s response to this downward spiral could be so, so much better.

It all feels like rock bottom. At least in that sense, the only direction this organization can go is up. 

Deesha Thosar is an MLB reporter for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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