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The Yankees’ division lead and first-round bye are in danger

Calling up Oswald Peraza was the right move, but the Yankees have been shooting themselves in the foot for a long time now.

MLB: New York Mets at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees keep shooting themselves in the foot. With their Wednesday loss against the Los Angeles Angels, they finished August with a historically bad 10-18 record, and they are 15-24 after the All-Star break.

It’s hard to believe (and stomach) that the Yanks lost almost as many games in a month than they did before the All-Star break: they went 64-28 in the first half, when it looked like they were on top of the world. It’s a tale of two halves of this partial season to date, as in the first 66 games, they went 49-17; in the 65 since then, they are 30-35. The Yankees once had a 15.5-game lead in the AL East, and the Rays trailed by 15 as recently as August 2nd. Now, the lead is down to six games with over four weeks of baseball remaining.

Those second-place Rays will host the Yankees on a three-game series starting tonight at Tropicana Field. If New York loses the set two games to one, the Rays will move to five games behind. If they are swept, Tampa will be just three back with a final three-game set looming between the two at Yankee Stadium next weekend.

Losing the division would likely mean missing the first-round bye as well, because the Houston Astros are five games ahead of the Yankees and showing no signs of slowing down. They are playing like the best team in the American League for a reason, and they have the opportunity to thump a lot of bad teams over the next several series.

It would be preposterous, even downright scandalous, to see the Yankees squander the AL East and a first-round bye. They are still leading the division and playoff odds are decidedly on their side (FanGraphs had their AL East-winning odds at 91.5 percent on Thursday), but we would be lying if we didn’t think that this particular scenario is looking increasingly possible. They look lost, and the worst part is that the blame mostly resides on themselves.

It took forever for them to call up Oswaldo Cabrera, even with half of the infield struggling to get anything going offensively. It took them forever to call up Oswald Peraza, a top prospect who has a .927 OPS, 13 home runs, and 22 stolen bases in 52 games since June 11 (before last night). They finally gave in on Thursday night, and one would think he should be getting at least semi-regular at-bats.

From a roster construction standpoint, there is more than just failing to call up the young guns in time. Although they did make a concerted effort to bring in Frankie Montas, they also ended up trading Jordan Montgomery (who has been pitching like an ace in St. Louis) for a still-injured player in one of the most puzzling moves of the deadline.

Additionally, they kept Clarke Schmidt and Ron Marinaccio down in the minors for way too long when they clearly deserved to be on the MLB roster. The former was being stretched out as a starter, so it’s at least understandable. However, there is no way to justify the fact that the Yanks went out of their way to keep Albert Abreu up while demoting the ever-reliable Marinaccio, and that cost them close games in the first half of the month before Abreu went on the injured list. New York lost eight one-run games in August; those are when all these “own goals” tend to turn their ugly heads in bad moments.

After playing like MLB’s best team for three full months, it would be shocking to see the Yankees lose both the AL East division and the first-round bye, but it could conceivably happen if they don’t turn things around soon. This scenario was out of everybody’s plans a month and a half ago, but the Yanks’ lousy play has revived it. A monumental collapse is now within the realm of possibilities.

Calling up Peraza is a nice first step, or just “step” if we consider bringing up Cabrera the first one. As Jeff argued earlier today, the next one would giving Peraza ample playing time in detriment of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who has shown that he is just not a starting-caliber shortstop. IKF’s wRC+ is down to 80, and his .315 slugging percentage tells you everything you need to know about his offensive upside. He also made a costly error on Wednesday, and most metrics show that he is below-average defensively.

Some of the Yankees’ recent struggles can, and should, be attributed to not putting their best roster (and their best lineup, for that matter) on the field. With Gleyber Torres, Josh Donaldson, and IKF struggling at the moment, this is the perfect time to change that.

The Yankees still have some time to turn around their fortunes and start stringing together some wins, but they can’t expect better results if they keep shooting themselves in the foot.