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The Yankees still have hope despite lengthy losing streak

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The Yankees can’t actually be this bad, can they?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The bottom fell out on the Yankees season. At least in the first half it has. After storming out of the gate with a 30 - 20 record through the first two months, the team fell flat on its face. The club has managed a weak 14 - 19 record since June 1st.

One could say that the Yankees have elevated losing to an art form, but that’s too kind. The bullpen, a supposed strength heading into the season, imploded. The struggles began once the calendar flipped to June, but the west coast trip seems to have exacerbated the matter. Since June 12, the relief corps has posted an unsightly 5.17 ERA. Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman stand out as especially bad. If the Yankees can’t win games with those two, then what can they do?

There’s also the first base problem. Brian Cashman noted that the Yankees have considered exploratory surgery for Greg Bird, which makes it sound like he’s nowhere close to returning. The Chris Carter experiment failed. Tyler Austin returned briefly only to land on the disabled list himself. The Chris Carter experiment resumed and failed again. Now a 26-year-old journeyman is the staring first baseman, and he’s considered an upgrade. No offense, Ji-Man Choi.

In short, the state of the Yankees over the last month can be summarized in a single tweet:

Having convinced you that the sky is falling, I would now like to step back and take a deep breath. Yes, things are going badly for the Yankees right now. They’re standing right on the precipice of total meltdown. That said, it’s possible that this near-collapse has come at the best possible time.

How so? Well, a prolonged losing streak to start the season can doom a team from the beginning. That’s essentially what happened to the Yankees last year. On the other hand, should a club fall apart in September, then there’s a distinct possibility of running out of real estate. Think back to the Red Sox in 2011 or the Mets in 2007.

The Yankees, however, built up a nice lead to start the season. Those wins were money in the bank, and the team used them for cover. Despite their extended poor play, the team still sits within striking distance of the division lead. They also occupy a Wild Card spot. Now they can recharge during the All-Star Break and kick off the second half with a quasi-clean slate. There will be little room for error, but the Yankees will very much be in the race.

Things look even brighter when you consider that reinforcements are on their way. Starlin Castro aims to return to the lineup this weekend. Matt Holliday is on the mend, as well, and looks to rejoin the team on Friday. While the problems with the Yankees have primarily zeroed in on the bullpen, penciling these two back in the offense should, in theory, take pressure off the relievers. There’s also the possibility of calling in the cavalry in the form of trade deadline help. Not all is grim yet!

The best way to back up this call for a collective deep breath is to look at FanGraphs’ playoff odds. Before the season, the site gave the Yankees a 14.1% chance of making the postseason. That number has jumped to 61.1%. Even with the prolonged slump, the team stands leagues ahead of preseason projections. Before the season, if you told me the Yankees would be in this position at the All-Star break, I would have been thrilled.

As much as it appears that everything is falling apart, the Yankees are far from doomed. In fact, they now get something most clubs crave: a hard reset. They’re in contention and upgrades are coming. In a sense, the real season begins in the second half. Past is prologue, and the Bombers have a fighting chance down the stretch. The margin for error will be gone, and any more of this long losing streak can sink the team. That said, we’re primed for an exciting few months of baseball, and that’s a great thing.