On May 4, 2003, the Detroit Tigers beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays by a score of 7-3. Then they went on the road and swept the Baltimore Orioles to reach four wins in a row. Of course, that same Tigers team started the year 3-25 and ended up losing 119 games.
The point of that anecdote is that basically any team can win four games in a row, as the Yankees just did. It does not mean that they are realistically contenders. Obviously there’s a difference between the 2016 Orioles and those 2003 Devil Ray and Orioles teams defeated by those lousy Tigers, but this Yankees team has also proven themselves to be aggressively mediocre. When they won on Wednesday night, they tied their high-water mark for the season (last reached in April). That plateau was a whopping two games over .500. Now they’re back to losing.
The Orioles wasted no time getting on the board against CC Sabathia. With one out, Jonathan Schoop reached on an infield grounder that was just out of Didi Gregorius’ range at shortstop, and Manny Machado followed with a soft liner to right for a base hit. Sabathia induced a pop-up from Mark Trumbo but worked around Chris Davis, who walked to load the bases. J.J. Hardy smoked a Sabathia pitch toward Gregorius, but it was too hot to handle and two runs scored on the single. It would have taken some tremendous defensive work, but it was possible to escape the inning without any runs. No dice.
To his credit, Sabathia settled down over the next five innings, allowing just two baserunners on a single and an error that he made. He did have a weird play where he fell down trying to deliver a pitch, which was called a balk, but he got Hardy to ground out to strand the runner. Meanwhile, the Yankees did basically nothing against O’s ace Chris Tillman. They did score a run in the second when Gregorius led off with a double and scored on a Starlin Castro single, but outside of those two hits, the offense was a ghost town. Tillman twirled seven innings of one-run ball, allowing just two other hits and two walks while striking out seven Yankees. They only put four runners in scoring position the entire game.
Although Sabathia finished his outing with under 100 pitches, it was pretty clear that he grew weary in the seventh inning. That was when Baltimore added some insurance runs thanks to the bottom of their order. Caleb Joseph and Julio Borbon hit back-to-back singles with one out to give them a scoring opportunity. For reference, Joseph entered today with an OPS+ of 5 (not a typo), and the 30-year-old Borbon was making his first major league start since 2013. Sabathia struck out Nolan Reimold, but Jonathan Schoop made him pay with a two-run double to right field. While it was honestly one of Sabathia’s better starts of late, it was not nearly enough to outpitch the superior Tillman.
One small bright spot came from the recently recalled Chad Green, who capably covered the last 2 1/3 innings scoreless, walking none and giving up a mere two hits. Five Yankee batters had at least one hit, but the middle of the order went 0-for-11. That is not going to win games. Brad Brach and Zach Britton each threw scoreless frames to close out the Orioles win, avoiding a sweep.
The Yankees are back to just one game over .500, and they welcome the menacing San Francisco Giants to town beginning tomorrow night as Masahiro Tanaka faces Madison Bumgarner at 7:05pm. Get back in there at once and sell, sell.