After a weekend at Fenway Park that included more injuries on the path to setting new roster records, poor starting pitching and a depleted bullpen, the New York Yankees limped out of Boston on Sunday night having been swept in their three-game series.
With the Yankees now four games back in the loss column in the race for the American League Wild Card, they are left hoping a scheduling advantage can keep them alive long enough to still be playing meaningful baseball next week.
When the series began on Friday night, the Yankees were free off a series win in Baltimore, but ominous signs emerged from the moment their plane landed in Boston.
Manager Joe Girardi had Hiroki Kuroda, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova slated to pitch the three games. At different junctures of this summer, or in the case of Sabathia, different junctures of other summers, it would have been an ideal trio to throw at the powerful Red Sox lineup.
Unfortunately for New York, timing wasn't on its side.
Through Kuroda's first 24 starts this season, the 38-year-old right-hander had been brilliant, posting a 2.33 ERA in 154.2 masterful innings. As the pitching staff around him struggled, New York gave Kuroda the ball every fifth day expecting brilliance. They were rewarded with a legitimate AL Cy Young Award candidate.
Since Aug. 17, however, that ace has disappeared due to to a likely combination of fatigue and regression to the mean. Kuroda's xFIP and FIP have been higher than his earned run average virtually all season. In other words, he was due to give up more runs based on how hitters had been faring against him this summer. After allowing five runs on Friday night at Fenway Park, Kuroda has a 6.69 ERA over his last six outings.
Sabathia, in the midst of the worst season of his career, could not stop the bleeding on Saturday afternoon. Despite retiring six of the first seven hitters he faced, the Yankees' former ace allowed five runs in six innings. For the year, Sabathia has a 4.90 ERA and has taken the Yankees out of more games than he has kept them in.
Ivan Nova, who was dominant in his first 12 starts with a 2.48 ERA after a June recall from Triple-A, scuffled through a pair of starts in Baltimore and Boston due to tightness in his right triceps. His dominance of June, July and August didn't carry over into Camden Yards and Fenway Park, however, as Nova allowed eight earned runs in the two outings.
As if their starting pitching woes weren't enough, the Yankees woke up on Friday to the news of Brett Gardner's rib cage injury potentially wiping out the rest of his 2013 campaign. On Saturday, Yankees' hitting machine Alfonso Soriano, (15 HR, 47 RBI in pinstripes) missed the game with a sprained thumb, via MLB.com. Factor in Alex Rodriguez's balky hamstring and the offense wasn't close to the outfit that carried New York back into contention in August.
Of course, even if the Yankees' battered starters and banged up lineup could have produced a lead or tie late in games, expecting the remnants of New York's bullpen to hold up against Boston's offense would have been foolhardy.
On Friday evening, the combination of luminaries such as Cesar Cabral and Preston Claiborne were forced into a moment their skill level and maturity was not ready to handle. The result, as you can see, wasn't pretty.
Despite the carnage in Boston, the Yankees aren't dead yet. With 12 games remaining, nine of which are against last-place Toronto, San Francisco and Houston, New York has a shot if it can play close to flawless baseball. There is also a three-game set against Tampa looming as a final chance to make up big ground in short time.
This week, the schedules of other contenders provide the boost. With Texas and Tampa squaring off, the top of the wild-card jumble will come back to the pack. A series between Cleveland and Kansas City could bring Cleveland down a peg or eliminate Kansas City from contention.
Last weekend, New York limped out of its own stadium after a big series loss to Boston. To the surprise of those counting the Yankees out, they took three of four in Baltimore to creep within one game of the second wild card.
If this coming week serves as a repeat of New York's ability to get up off the mat after being knocked down by the mighty Red Sox, they'll have to start improving immediately.
Will the Yankees still be alive heading into the final weekend of the season?
With only 12 games to go in New York's schedule, time is running out and every loss will push the Yankees further and further away from their ultimate goal.
A sweep, more injuries and mounting questions about starting pitching isn't the recipe for success in New York, but with two weeks remaining, there's still hope in the Bronx.