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Bill Madden: Free-falling Yankees face critical three week stretch heading to trade deadline



As we close in on the All-Star break, with the Mets continuing to confound us as to whether they are going to be legitimate postseason contenders or not, there is this to say about the other team in town: How did the 2024 Yankees suddenly morph into the 2023 Yankees?

A month ago, it appeared the Mets were headed to be sellers at the trade deadline and the Yankees were going to buyers — but for just around the edges in the bullpen. Presumably both clubs will now be in the market for back-end bullpen help, but in the Yankees’ case there are suddenly a whole lot more leaks to plug — and the nagging thought amid their recent freefall since mid-June that maybe they aren’t really much better than last year’s 82-80 out-of-the-money pratfall.

What has to be concerning for Brian Cashman & Co., is that this June swoon-into-July Yankee breakdown has been total. Hitting, starting pitching and bullpen, epitomized by Friday night’s loss to the Red Sox which Clay Holmes blew on a two-out ninth-inning home run.

In games through June 18, when the Yankees were in first place (51-24, 2 1/2 games up on the Orioles), their starting pitchers were 36-15 with a collective 2.86 ERA and .213 opponents batting average — the best in the American League and all without Gerrit Cole. Since then, going into this weekend series against the Red Sox, according to the Elias Bureau, their starters are 2-10 with an 8.44 ERA and .291 opponents batting average and that’s with Cole. So what gives? It’s almost as if their starters who did such stalwart work in the absence of their ace, have all let up.

Clarke Schmidt got hurt and probably won’t be back until August. But Luis Gil, who was trending toward AL Rookie of the Year honors and possibly starting the All-Star Game with a 5-1 record and 1.82 ERA on June 4, gave up 20 earned runs in 19 2/3 innings over his next five starts and looks very much like he’s hit an innings wall. For now the Yankees are insisting he’s going to remain in the rotation, but given the fact he’s pitched a total of only 33 1/3 innings over the last three seasons, they might be better suited making him a late-inning bullpen option the second half of the season. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine him pitching anywhere close to another 89 innings as a starter.

Similarly, Marcus Stroman and Carlos Rodon both seem in need of the All-Star break. Stroman’s ERA has ballooned from 3.04 on June 6 to 3.58 after four straight subpar starts, while Rodon surrendered seven homers in his last three starts as his ERA, which was 3.08 on June 5, has swelled to 4.45. And before Nestor Cortes did Friday night, Yankee starters had gone nine straight games without completing the sixth inning.

But the Yankee hitting is just as troublesome, especially since Giancarlo Stanton went down with a hamstring injury June 22 when they were 52-27 and batting .250 as a team. They were 2-9 after Friday’s loss and were batting .236 and it didn’t help when, on the Fourth of July, Aaron Judge’s hitting coach, Richard Schenck, hurled a cherry bomb into their midst by ripping the Yankee player development system: “They’ve lost 13 out of 18 while (Judge) is hitting like an MVP. The Yankees offensive player development is terrible.”

Was he talking about Anthony Volpe, the most notable recent graduate from the Yankee development system, who has mysteriously lost his batting touch since June 5 when he was at .290? As his average plummeted nearly 40 points, the Yankees have had to drop Volpe out of the leadoff spot, but what do you think happened to all that work he’d done on leveling his swing, allowing him to hit more line drives and balls to the opposite field? A scout I talked to last week had this explanation: “He made his adjustments to start the season. Now the opposing pitchers are making their adjustments on him.”

Right now, the Yankees are essentially a two-man offense with Judge and Juan Soto and then a bunch of outs 5-through-9. Shortly after the break they’ll be getting Jon Berti back and that will enable Cashman not to have to add an infielder to his trade deadline shopping list.

But since their lineup and rotation are pretty much set and they just have to hope the regression of both is just temporary, the back end of the bullpen remains their most critical problem and Cashman has just so many prospect chips to fill that need. (According to Richard Schenck the Yankee farm system is devoid of talent.) There are a half dozen quality late inning relievers expected to be available — Miami‘s Tanner Scott, the Rangers’ Kirby Yates and Jose Urena, the Angels’ Carlos Estevez, Toronto’s Trevor Richards and Oakland’s Lucas Erceg. The problem is everyone is looking for bullpen help, most notably the Mets and the Yankees’ top AL East rival, the Orioles.

It’s going to be a very telling next three weeks in Yankeeland — and a referendum on Aaron Boone to get this ship righted and in position to still have a need to be buyers at the deadline.

IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD

Can you imagine if George Steinbrenner was still with us and he was celebrating his Fourth of July birthday at Yankee Stadium on Thursday when Trent Grisham seemingly lollygagged on that outfield hit by the Reds’ Jeimer Candelario as the Yankees were in the midst of being swept by Cincinnati?…The Marlins designated Tim Anderson for assignment last week and it sure looks like the end of the line for a player who is still only 31 and who, a few short years ago, was on his way to being part of the pantheon of “A-list” all-time great White Sox shortstops, along with Luke Appling and Luis Aparicio. In 2019, Anderson won the American League batting title at .335, and hit .322, 309 and .301 the next three seasons before starting to break down with groin and hand injuries that limited him to 79 games in 2022. When he had more injuries and hit just .245 last year, even though he’d been their acknowledged clubhouse leader, the White Sox let him walk as a free agent. There were also issues with his temper which alienated him from a lot of White Sox fans.

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