Sure, if you are a disbelieving Yankees fan, you can dismiss what happened this weekend as being the by-product of playing a team that entered the series on a 117-loss pace for the season and exited on a 118-loss pace. The Royals are that bad. The Royals are bad enough to make a run at the ’62 Mets’ record for futility (if the Athletics don’t beat them there).
But here’s the good thing about baseball.
It isn’t fishing. You don’t have to throw any of them back. All of the teams the Yankees care about will get six (and in some cases seven) shots at the Royals. And as the Yankees have shown more than a few times the last month or so: Just because a team stinks doesn’t mean you’re going to beat them.
Which brings us to the Mets, and to the second half of the Subway Series that commences Tuesday evening at Yankee Stadium. The Mets may not belong in the same discount bin as the Royals or the A’s (although there were times this weekend in Boston when it sure looked like they did), but they are a vulnerable and eminently beatable foe right now, and if the Yankees want to back up their three-game sweep this weekend in an important way, they will take care of business across the next two in The Bronx.
“It’s no secret we’ve been struggling,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Sunday afternoon after the Yankees had completed their three-day joyride against Kansas City. “To come home and regroup and get a series sweep … we still got a long way to go. We feel like we have a chance to be a really good team.”
They do have a long way. Just not as long as when they reported for work Friday night. They were four games out of the final wild-card spot when they started the weekend. They shaved that in half by merely doing what they needed to do against the Royals. Not bad for a weekend’s work.
Now come the Mets, who made sure the Yankees would retain a piece of the AL East basement by losing two out of three to the Red Sox. The Mets are banged up, and weren’t exactly a pretty sight before that. They are maybe days away from being splintered in advance of the trade deadline. If the NL wild-card picture insists they are still within range of contention, common sense tells us otherwise. They are bloodied and blemished.
The Yankees need to pounce.
The Yankees need to sweep.
And if the Yankees can do that, then they will enter the varsity portion of their work week in reasonably good fashion. That’s when they’ll travel to Baltimore to play their last three games against the relentless Orioles, who took three out of four from the Rays in Tampa this weekend to zip by them into first place in the AL East. Maybe the Yankees no longer reside in the Orioles’ heads to the extent they used to, when just by stepping onto the field at Camden Yards they’d find themselves ahead 3-0. But if they go there on a roll — on a five-game winning streak — they’ll arrive with a little juice in their bones and a little gas in their tank.
Which means slapping the Mets away Tuesday and Wednesday.
It’s a shame that the Subway Series has been reduced to this, in what was supposed to be a baseball summer for the ages in New York. But here we are. The Mets are barely on the fringes of the wild-card picture and have yet to make a serious push to even reach .500. The Yankees are also out of playoff position as you read this, and there are certainly some moves percolating between now and Aug. 1, but they’ve yet to fire their engine, either.
Sad and sadder.
Bad and worse.
But the Yankees still have enough season — and, as Boone keeps insisting, enough horses — to change that narrative.
“We’re incomplete without question, but we do feel like there’s some things on the horizon that are going to fortify us,” Boone said Sunday.
That would be Aaron Judge, of course, and his presence in the Yankees lineup will make a difference, whenever that happens. But the Yankees can’t afford another stretch like they had just before the Royals series, when they were unable to get out of their own way and dug themselves a playoff hole. There is momentum now, positive momentum, and enough that it could well carry the Yankees. And really, all they need to is get themselves in position after 159 games. Because the scheduling gods have given them a delightful present the last three games of the season.
At Kansas City, where the locals may well be setting their watches back to 1962.
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