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The Yankees must play better against the AL East

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The Bombers are only 26-23 in intra-division games.

Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

The Yankees boasted baseball’s best record as recently as July 1st. That comes thanks in part to their success against title contenders like Cleveland, Seattle, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and the defending World Series champion Houston Astros. All totaled, the Bombers have compiled an impressive 42-18 record when playing teams outside their own division, good for an astounding .700 winning percentage.

The club has floundered, however, against the AL East. They hold a winning record against only one divisional rival, that being Toronto at 9-4. Overall, New York is 26-23 in intra-division games.

The Bombers have been outscored 149-73 in those 23 losses. They have been shutout twice, and limited to two runs or less a total of 10 times. They’ve suffered two walk-off losses against zero wins, and are only 2-3 in extra-inning games against the AL East.

The 5-7 mark against Boston isn’t the only problem either. This year’s Red Sox are truly great, and currently on pace to finish with one of the best records in MLB history. But how can one justify the disappointing 6-6 marks against the Orioles and Rays?

Tampa Bay went into full-on tank mode before the season even started. The Rays parted ways with five of their six highest WAR players over the winter, including Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison, and franchise icon Evan Longoria. The team didn’t even have enough starting pitchers to fill out the rotation, resorting instead to employing several bullpen days per week. Some observers have kindly tried to spin this as an innovation, but it’s really just another sign of a franchise in disarray.

Despite the diminished competition, the Yankees managed to suffer their first three-game losing streak of the 2018 campaign against Tampa Bay at the end of June. The humiliating sweep in St. Petersburg was particularly tough to swallow because of the way the Yankees lost.

New York’s poor showing against Baltimore has been even more infuriating. The Orioles have maintained a pace to tally one of the highest loss totals in modern baseball history, while flirting with the possibility of breaking the Mets’ single-season record of 120 losses set during the Flushing squad’s inaugural campaign. Yet, fresh after being purged of their top major-league talent at the trade deadline, the Orioles managed to gain a split of a two-game series this past week against the Bombers in Yankee Stadium.

Although they sprinted out to a 6-0 lead early in game one, the Yankees failed to add on against Baltimore’s gutted bullpen and ended up having to rely on closer Aroldis Chapman for the save. The listlessness at the end of that game carried over to the next afternoon, when the Yankees were thoroughly embarrassed.

That loss afforded us a glimpse into the possible underlying problems on the team. Third base coach Phil Nevin was seen ripping the players in the dugout.

“You use different ways to fire the guys up,” Nevin told the Athletic. “I don’t think I need to tell you guys that we’re a lot better than what we did today. That was it. It wasn’t directed at any one person or one thing.”

Yankees first baseman Greg Bird acknowledged the team did not play well in the loss to Baltimore on Wednesday.

“Just as a whole, we were dragging today,” Bird said.

Manager Aaron Boone responded to questions about what occurred with his usual diplomat-speak. That’s fine for public commentary, just as long as the rookie skipper is addressing possible issues with the team behind closed doors rather than just ignoring the problem.

This is a mostly young team — very young, actually. So the lackluster performances we saw this week against Baltimore and then Boston can serve as teachable moments for the youngsters and help the club grow into the championship team they hope to be. It falls on Boone to make it so.

The Yankees may have effectively conceded the division to Boston with their play at Fenway Park this weekend, but the season is far from over. The Red Sox may be baseball’s best team, but the best team doesn’t always win the World Series. With the multi-tiered playoff format, it’s the hottest team in October that often comes away with the trophy.

New York has to get there first. After tonight, the Yankees have 52 games remaining, with exactly half of them coming against Toronto, Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa Bay. If the Bombers want to keep pressure on the Red Sox, while fending off the surging Mariners and Athletics in the Wild Card race, they are going to have to play better against their AL East rivals. Otherwise, they could find themselves having to win on the road in the single-elimination Wild Card Game, or perhaps even missing the postseason entirely.