You can’t win the division in April and May but you can certainly lose it and the Yankees are on a course to make the rest of the season a chase for an AL Wild Card spot.
Following a sweep of the feeble Oakland A’s, the Yankees were feeling pretty good about themselves as they opened a pivotal, four game series against the AL East and Major League leading Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium last night. Suffice to say, the Yankees took a large step up in competition and they fell down the competitive stairs as they were hammered by the Rays, 8-2.
“This team [Tampa Bay] is sitting at the top. You wanna try and gain some ground on them and get a couple of wins here and keep it close,” Aaron Judge said. “We got four games here at home, looking forward to gettin’ that next one on ‘em.”
The Rays became the first team in the majors to 30 wins while the Yankees dropped to 21-18, 9 games back of first place in the second week of May.
Josh Lowe homered and drove in five runs and was one of three Rays hitters who had multi-hit games. Wander Franco had two hits but left the game in the fifth with neck stiffness.
Rays starter Drew Rasmussen did not even break a sweat against a Yankee lineup that produced two baserunners on two harmless singles by Jake Bauers and never got a runner to second in the first eight inning. Rasmussen went seven scoreless innings and struck out seven as he continued his dominance of the Yankees.
“He [Rasmussen] made his pitches when he had to, kinda kept us off balance whole time he was out there,” Judge said. We couldn’t really get anything going offensively. I don’t think he walked a single guy so he was pounding the zone.”
After being acquired from the Brewers in June, 2021 in the Willy Adames trade, Rasmussen has pitched 21 innings against the Yankees and has not given up a single run. During that time, he’s given up 12 hits with two walks and 26 strikeouts. “We certainly haven’t solved him yet,” Yankee Manager Aaron Boone said after the game.
For a number of times this season, Boone has left himself open to second guessing for lifting a starter too early. You can add last night’s game to that list.
With the Rays leading 1-0 in the sixth, Domingo German was pitching well and got the first two outs in the sixth before he walked Taylor Walls on five pitches. With Luke Raley due up, Boone went to Ron Marinaccio out of the bullpen.
German had retired Raley on a pop out to shortstop and a strike out in his previous two at bats, but Boone did not like the match up and went to the reliever.
The move backfired as Raley singled up the middle to put runners on first and second with two out. Marinaccio then hit Manuel Margot to load the bases and on his tenth pitch of the inning, Lowe roped a double up the gap in right center field to clear the bases and give Tampa Bay a 4-0 lead.
This was the third instance this season where Boone lifted German when he was pitching well. So far, he’s 1-2 in those instances.
In April, German had tossed six scoreless innings (the first five perfect) against the Minnesota Twins, but gave up a one out double in the seventh. Micheal King relieved and gave up a run but the Yankees won that one, 6-1.
The second time was much worse. On May 1st at Yankee Stadium, German was shutting out Cleveland through eight innings. In the ninth, German gave up a one out double and much to the dismay of the fans, Boone lifted his starter and went to Clay Holmes who blew the game as the Yankees lost 3-2.
German gave up two runs, one earned in 5 2/3 innings pitched and was the loser. A rare error by Anthony Rizzo on an easy ground ball led to the Rays first run.
With one out in the fifth, Rizzo bobbled a soft grounder that allowed Josh Lowe to reach. German retired Francisco Mejia on a pop up to third and should’ve been out of the inning but lead off hitter Wandy Diaz doubled down the left field line to score Lowe.
The Yankees have wasted some good pitching in this early portion of the season.
Judge had a rough night going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. He knows that the offense has not been holding up their end. “To keep an offense like that off balance for awhile,” Judge said. “That’s all we’re asking for as an offense, put up a couple of zeroes and let us go to work. We waste an outing like that for Domingo, it’s tough, but we’ll pick him up next time.”
Tampa scored a run in the seventh and then closed the scoring with three in the eighth, keyed by a two run homer from Lowe.
The Yankees broke through in the ninth on a two out, two run single by Gleyber Torres off Rays’ reliever Javy Guerra. It was a cosmetic addition to the final score because, as evidenced by the standings, the Rays looked and just felt like a much better team than the Yankees right now.
With the AL East being the most competitive division in baseball and less games against divisional opponents, these head to head match ups take on even more importance.
After three more games against the Rays, the Yankees head out on a seven game road trip with four in Toronto and three in Cincinnati, then home for three more against the much improved Baltimore Orioles.
This 13-game stretch could provide a measuring stick for what kind of season this is going to be for the Yankees.