New York Yankees: Slumping into midseason

Jun 23, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (1) scores on a passed ball against the New York Yankees during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (1) scores on a passed ball against the New York Yankees during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports /

The New York Yankees have hit a skid at an odd time. They outscored Baltimore 38-8 in a three-game sweep two weeks ago but proceeded to lose six in a row during a 1-6 West Coast swing. Then the team lost consecutive home series to the Angels and Rangers.

Today, the Bronx Bombers face the White Sox in Chicago as fans and experts speculate whether the green roster can hold up through the 162-game season and possibly beyond.

It isn’t difficult to diagnose New York’s problem during its recent funk. In terms of runs surrendered, the team owns one of the stingiest pitching staffs in the league, ranking fifth-best in the majors — yet the Yankees have surrendered 75 runs in their last 13 games. That accounts for close to a quarter of their total of 313 this season.

Neither starters nor relievers have been particularly effective for manager Joe Girardi in recent series. Anyone not named Dellin Betances seemed to be a liability out of the bullpen during the road trip, and breakout workhorses Luis Severino and Michael Pineda have failed to log a quality start since a homestand in early June.

At the same time, the heralded Bronx Bombers offense has begun to slow. The team has totaled 55 runs in the 13 games since the Baltimore series — more than a full run per game below its season average — and Chris Carter was designated for assignment last week after providing scarce production and suspect defense at first base.

But thankfully, Aaron Judge remains on his year-long tear.

It makes sense that this rough patch has come as New York struggles with a sudden rash of injuries: Veteran rotation presence CC Sabathia strained his hamstring in Anaheim, which is expected to keep him on the shelf for more than a month. Two days after Sabathia hit the disabled list, Adam Warren joined him there with a trapezius issue. And just as Jacoby Ellsbury got over his concussion, Aaron Hicks suffered an oblique strain that will cost him three to four weeks of action. At least Aroldis Chapman has returned to anchor the bullpen.

But the Yankees’ recent troubles go beyond a thinned-out roster. It wasn’t a lack of depth that caused Pineda to cough up seven runs against Texas on Sunday, or Tyler Clippard to get blasted for 11 runs over his last six relief appearances. Is this stretch an aberration, though, or a regression to the norm?

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Remember, many of New York’s saviors this season were not productive last year. In addition to Judge — whose offseason adjustment is mentioned without fail in every national TV broadcast — Hicks also endured a frustrating first year in pinstripes in 2016, hitting .217 in 123 games. Severino was even worse: He was demoted in May after carrying a bloated 7.46 ERA through seven starts, and he eventually came back up to dominate out of the bullpen in September. This year, Severino owns a 3.30 ERA with 97 strikeouts, and Hicks is one home run shy of tying his career high of 11 through less than half the season.

Pineda, meanwhile, has been a constantly frustrating prospect since his arrival from Seattle in 2014. There are times when he looks like the future ace of the staff.

Then there are days like Sunday — and they seem to come relatively often for a pitcher with Pineda’s natural stuff.

The Yankees’ hunt for their 28th championship hinges largely on how many talents like Pineda, Severino and Hicks hit their ceiling. It seemed like players were plowing right through them during the early months of the season, but that could just turn out to be a hot streak. The coming weeks will show if New York can dig itself out of the slump and establish itself as a legitimate World Series contender.

Fortunately for supporters and executives alike, it actually doesn’t matter if the team falls short: None of the prospects that arrived in last year’s blockbuster deadline deals have even broken into the big leagues yet. Unlike the Mets’ conundrum with Tim Tebow, the Yankees have both the time and numbers to let unfinished products like Judge and Jordan Montgomery develop. General manager Brian Cashman could decide to let Pineda walk in free agency next offseason, as highly rated prospects such as James Kaprielian and Justus Sheffield wait in the wings.

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So even if the Yankees’ current skid proves to be the status quo for the rest of the season, there’s no need to panic. The rebuilt Bronx Bombers won’t arrive until the likes of Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier are roaming the Yankee Stadium field. Until then, every win is gravy. Yankee fans have already enjoyed 40 helpings this year — let’s see if that continues into October.