Yankees far from a sure thing to win AL East title

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The Yankees were rained out Tuesday, losing a likely win against their favorite opponent, the Twins, and that was about the best of the news coming out of Yankeeland.

The way things are going, for the first time the division looks to be in serious jeopardy. The Blue Jays are finally waking up, the Rays are always better than you and I think, and the Yankees, well, they are mostly licking wounds now.

Anthony Rizzo had to go on the injured list for headaches. This is one of the toughest guys in the game, so you know he is hurting.

Rizzo, who beat cancer in his youth and plays through all sorts of pain, joins many of the rest of the starting lineup in sick bay. If you are scoring at home, for the starting position players alone, there are four with foot injuries, which must be a record, plus one each with a hand and a head.

In Aaron Boone’s question-and-answer session Tuesday, nearly all the queries were about various aches and pains. Halfway through, even Boone looked a little depressed. Or less upbeat than usual, anyway.

“I think there are some hopeful signs for a number of the guys,” Boone said, hopefully.

For now though, they are a mess. The lineup consists of certain AL MVP Aaron Judge plus a couple of outstanding defensive players, struggling veterans and the injury replacements. Speaking of which, journeyman first baseman Ronald Guzman appeared in the clubhouse, up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which was the first clear sign Rizzo will miss further time.

Aaron Boone's Yankees are banged up. (Top to bottom): Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton are battling different health issues.
Aaron Boone’s Yankees are banged up. (Top to bottom): Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton are battling different health issues.
AP (2); Getty Images; N.Y. Post: Michelle Farsi

At some point you’d think Judge might get tired of carrying the club, but he seems to march on. The Yankees are 7-6 in their last 13, and Judge has an RBI in all seven wins, and a homer in six. Until Marwin Gonzalez broke a 0-for-29 slide and homered Monday, no one other than Judge had scored this month. So Judge is scoring most of their runs, and knocking them in, too. The question next to be answered: Can one man win a pennant single-handedly?

It remains a mystery why opposing managers keep pitching to Judge. The only one who was really catching on to what’s going on is Angels manager Phil Nevin. You’d think with all the extra analytics folks teams employ nowadays, an intentional walk would be obvious for Judge at this point. As one of Boone’s previous Yankees coaches until this year, Nevin may have a little extra inside info.

That Judge has only been intentionally walked 11 times in 577 plate appearances is an indictment of the league’s managers. Everyone says they are smart, but how smart is pitching to a guy with 54 home runs and leads the league in about that many categories? Of course, now that he is surrounded by replacement-level hitters, it’s hard to imagine they will.

DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton were obviously trying to play through pain, as we know what they were doing wasn’t them. Andrew Benintendi had surgery Tuesday to fix the hamate bone in his right wrist. Matt Carpenter, a godsend of the first half, has a broken foot. Both are hoping to be back if the Yankees advance in the playoffs. Unfortunately, that prospect is dimming now.

Andrew Benintendi had surgery to fix the hamate bone in his right wrist
Andrew Benintendi had surgery to fix the hamate bone in his right wrist
Getty Images

In the middle of all this pain talk, Boone had to answer a question about Josh Donaldson not hustling and being thrown out turning a sure double into an out (thank you Sweeny Murti for asking the non-injury-related question that needed to be asked). Boone said he didn’t approve and talked to Donaldson but added that he generally isn’t worried about Donaldson because he knows he’s a gamer.

Donaldson appeared to be chuckling after his predicament at second, and that wasn’t a great look either. However, the situation they are in is no joke now.

The Yankees, once overpowering their opponents, are averaging less than three runs a game over their last 29 games. During a time when their pitching has been quite good, especially their starting pitching, they are 20-31 in their last 51.

They have a chance to feel a bit better with the doubleheader scheduled for Wednesday against the Twins, as they beat Minnesota in their sleep. They are 112-39 against the Twins since 2002.

But, if opposing managers start walking Judge, you wonder where the runs are going to come from. Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jose Trevino are mostly defensive specialists (Trevino should win the Gold Glove, and he’s actually hit much better than expected), Donaldson and Aaron Hicks are hitting well below career norms, Gleyber Torres is in a hellacious slump and Oswaldo Cabrera, for all his defensive versatility and press clippings, is hitting .190.

The injuries have decimated the Yankees to the point where the division is in real jeopardy after they looked historically good early. Fangraphs still gives the Yankees an 85 percent chance to win the AL East. Nobody from that site must have sat in on Tuesday’s interview session. Or seen any of their recent games.

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