BOSTON — Even as the hot and muggy dog days of summer move in, an icy chill runs rampant through the New York Yankees‘ clubhouse. It’s a chill that has gone right after the team’s bats, causing the Yankees to post some of their worst offensive numbers of the season.
It’s a post-All-Star Game chill, too, that has contributed mightily to New York’s current four-game losing streak. A suddenly anemic offense has only six hits in its past two games.
But even as poorly as the Yankees have hit in recent weeks, they have a sliver of a silver lining entering Sunday night’s game at Fenway Park against the scorching-hot Boston Red Sox: They’re facing David Price.
Yankees fans whose fingers have been mere millimeters from pressing the panic button this weekend might want to step back a bit. If the Yankees can handle Price the way they have historically, perhaps they’ll discover a new method to jump-start their struggling offense and return to the dominance that made them arguably baseball’s best team during the first half of the season.
Until that happens, though, the Yankees know that they’re now 8½ games behind the Red Sox in the American League East, and they have quite the climb back ahead of them.
“There’s no question they’ve established themselves right now as the best team in this league. And that’s indicative of their record and how consistent they’ve been,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of the Red Sox on Saturday after his team dropped its third straight game to them. “That said, if you walk through our room out there, to a man, we know we can absolutely play with them.
“We know when we’re at our best, we can beat them.”
New York was at its well-oiled best on July 1 when it battered Boston in an 11-1 win in the Bronx, a victorious romp that came over Price in another Sunday Night Baseball game. After that game, both teams were tied atop the division, and it seemed they would be in a true seesaw race for the title, all the way to the season’s finish.
Things seem a little different now.
It was also in that game that Price was torched for eight runs and five home runs. Yankees slugger Aaron Hicks was the night’s big hero, uncorking three homers of his own.
“We’re an elite group,” Boone said. “Obviously, having a couple, few key pieces out, [but] we’ve got to do a better job.”
For the Yankees, the biggest difference in this Sunday night rematch with Price is that right fielder Aaron Judge won’t be playing. Hurt on July 26 when he suffered a chip fracture when a pitch hit him on the right wrist, Judge is on the disabled list for possibly another two weeks.
Against Price in last month’s game, Judge was 3-for-4 with one of the homers the embattled lefty allowed.
Throughout his career, Price has struggled to solve the Yankees. In 40 games, he has a 15-13 record against them with a 4.90 ERA. That’s his second-highest ERA against a team he has made at least 15 career starts against. New York’s .278 batting average against him also is the third-highest among teams he has made at least 15 starts against.
In two starts versus the Yankees this season, Price has a 24.92 ERA. Across 4⅓ innings, he has allowed 12 hits, 12 runs and six home runs.
“It’s time for me to kind of go back to that drawing board and kind of reinvent myself against these guys,” Price said just after his rough outing at Yankee Stadium.
With their own recent struggles, mostly highlighted by their ineffectiveness against Red Sox starters Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi on Friday and Saturday, the Yankees will be bringing a similar approach to Sunday’s game. Although they’re aware of the challenges of playing without Judge and the occasionally dangerous Gary Sanchez (who also is on the DL), this is still a chance to regroup and refocus on a way to better attack opposing pitchers.
“We always do a good job of controlling the zone,” Boone said. “When you have a couple of big boys out of the lineup and some guys in some different spots, it’s just continuing to focus, to grind. They’ve done a really good job the last two days, both Eovaldi and Porcello, of attacking the strike zone early, getting ahead in the count a lot. So that makes it difficult when they’re dictating counts to really run deep counts.”
Just how poorly have the Yankees played offensively in recent weeks? Consider the following pre- and post-All-Star break splits.
Before the break, the Yankees had a .252 overall batting average, a .251 batting average with runners in scoring position and a .463 slugging percentage and were hitting home runs once every 20.2 at-bats.
Since the break, the Yankees have a .267 overall batting average but are hitting .236 with runners in scoring position, have posted a .408 slugging percentage and are hitting home runs once every 33.4 at-bats.
In this series alone, the Yankees have batted just .152 overall and .222 with runners in scoring position.
With a ninth-inning rally that loaded the bases late in Saturday’s 4-1 loss, they had one final chance to improve upon those runners-in-scoring-position numbers. But then Greg Bird flew out to center field to end the threat and the game.
Still, it might have been a timely sequence for an offense desperate for a spark.
“Our guys continued to battle and had really good at-bats against an elite closer there to give us a chance,” Boone said of the inning against Craig Kimbrel. “That’s one of the things I love about our guys and this group is the way they do always compete. Had some really good at-bats there to give us a chance there in the end.”
As it pertains to the three games the Yankees have lost in Boston this weekend, power hitter Giancarlo Stanton — who has gone 4-for-11 with two doubles and a home run in them — doesn’t believe the numbers tell the full story.
“They’ve had good pitching, but we lined out a bunch of times also,” Stanton said. “Some of those fall. We hit some balls hard. Been an interesting couple of days. We’ve had good at-bats and put decent barrel on the ball. So we’ve just got to keep it up.”
Keep that up with Price on the mound and perhaps that icy chill in the Yankees’ bats will thaw, and then perhaps Bombers will be right back to their hot-hitting — and winning — ways.