Yankees looking ahead after falling below .500

Offense tries to heat up behind Judge, while King makes starting case

August 17th, 2023

ATLANTA -- A disappointing road trip came to a frustrating end for the Yankees on Wednesday night, as they went quietly in a 2-0 loss to the Braves at Truist Park. It was New York’s fifth straight loss and seventh on its nine-game trip.

The loss dropped the Yankees (60-61) below .500 for the first time in 2023. They remained 6 1/2 games behind Toronto for the final Wild Card spot in the American League postseason race. It’s the latest into the season that New York has been below .500 since Sept. 5, 1995, when they were also 60-61.

A scuffling lineup managed three runs over the three-game sweep by Atlanta and was shut out in each of the final two games. The last time the Yankees were shut out in consecutive games was Aug. 14-15, 2022. Here are three takeaways from a quick defeat at the hands of baseball’s best team:

Judge needs help
Aaron Judge has not been his usual dominant self since returning from the injured list, but he’s been plenty effective and he entered Wednesday with a .901 OPS since his return.

But while Judge is rounding into form, other Yankees need to step up. Gleyber Torres started August hot but had a very tough road trip. Giancarlo Stanton went 5-for-31 on the trip. DJ LeMahieu has a hit in each of his three games after missing nearly a week due to injury, and Anthony Volpe has shown encouraging signs recently, but there’s not enough lineup depth at the moment.

There are hitters capable of producing, and they just aren’t.

“I think it weighs on some guys,” Judge said. “Guys maybe go up there and try to do a little too much. Get that big hit, try to get a three-run homer with nobody on base.”

King gives something to think about
Rookie starter Randy Vásquez was not bad in Wednesday’s defeat, allowing a two-run homer in the second to Eddie Rosario but overall holding his own. Yet it was reliever Michael King who made a strong case for another opportunity to join the Yankees’ decimated rotation by pitching 3 2/3 strong frames against the potent Atlanta offense, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out three.

The issue for King is that he’s established himself as an immensely valuable “Swiss Army Knife,” as he called himself -- a pitcher who can pitch in just about every role. So while King is being stretched out to near a starter’s duration, Yankees manager Aaron Boone reminded reporters that King might well be needed in relief before the next time he gets a starting opportunity.

Still, with the way King threw the ball Wednesday, it’s clear that he’d at least like to make that a difficult decision.

“I always hope I’m making every decision he makes hard … in terms of what he wants me to do,” said King. “It’s definitely a goal that guys have, especially since I obviously do have aspirations to be a starter.”

There’s still time
In Yankeeland, where every game carries the weight of a series and every series is analyzed like a season, it can feel like a bad road trip and a 6 1/2-game deficit in the AL Wild Card race add up to the end of the world. And Boone acknowledged that the standings paint a “bleak” picture right now.

But not every opponent is the Braves, thankfully. New York comes home after an off-day to face the Red Sox, a team they’ll need to vault in the standings and one that’s not exactly lighting the world on fire itself these days. Then, the Yankees host the Nationals, a young team that’s arguably overachieving -- but that still should provide an opportunity to get right.

“I think we’re excited to get back home, get past this road trip,” Judge said. “It didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but we’ve got work to do. We’ve got an off-day coming up, and [it’s] time to reset and get back to it. We’re just a couple of streaks away from being right where we want to be.”

In short, there are more than six weeks of baseball left. And that 1995 Yankees team that was 60-61? As Boone noted, it made the postseason.

“The game is still littered with examples of teams going on unlikely runs,” said Boone. “I know we’ve put ourselves in that position to not give anyone that confidence, but we’ve got to continue to work and fight and compete to do that.”