Yankees Still Can't Take a Punch

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Yankees Still Can't Take a Punch

On balance, the Yankees had a successful first half.

They hit a bunch of home runs, had some nice comeback wins, received extended stretches of quality pitching, and managed to overcome injuries to key players. Because of that, they are comfortably above .500 heading into the All-Star break.

But things aren't exactly as they seem.

The Yankees went to Anaheim this weekend and did what the Yankees usually do in Anaheim, which is lose. This particular weekend was especially ghastly, however, as the Yankees managed to put all of their worst qualities on display over three consecutive losses.

Poor starting pitching, inept relief, shoddy defense, and failure in clutch situations: We'll call it the Big Four of Fail.

When the final out was recorded in Sunday's fun-as-a-root-canal 5-4 loss, the Yankees had dropped their fourth straight to the Angels, falling to 2-4 overall against their AL West rivals.

They are now a combined 2-12 against the Angels and Red Sox, an especially disconcerting mark, seeing as New York will likely have to go through one (or God forbid, both) of these teams to reach the World Series.

These Yankees have a guts problem. They go through stretches where they appear to be as complete a team as they've been all decade. But then comes a right hook, usually supplied by the Red Sox but here by the Halos, and the Yankees don't get up. They just lay there, not unlike Ralphie's kid brother in A Christmas Story.

It's one of the worst traits a team can have. Sure, the Yankees have had 25 come-from-behind wins this season, a noble, if misleading statistic. But when they've been really popped in the jaw, like Jason Bay's two-run shot off Rivera in April or Kendry Morales' three-run blast off Joba on Friday, the Yankees seem only concerned with finding a rock to hide under.

"Just two more nights before we can start playing teams that are afraid of us again."

It's difficult to say how this team developed such an unsavory characteristic, and even tougher to try to figure out a way to expunge it. It may ultimately fall on the manager.

Question Joe Torre The Tactician all you want, but he was a master of the subtle gesture to loosen up a player or team. He was an expert communicator. This will be perhaps Joe Girardi's greatest challenge yet as Yankees manager. A black-and-white "numbers guy" by nature, he'll need to read and relate to this team in a way that has nothing to do with video or statistics.

The Yankees face two challenges as the second half beckons. The first is to win the 45 or so games to qualify for the postseason. But perhaps just as important, the team must make a statement against their two arch-rivals.

Both Anaheim and Boston think they're better than the Yankees right now. Whether or not that's actually true doesn't really matter. Perception becomes reality.

They have three more games left with the Angels in Anaheim from Sept. 21-23. They need to win that series, and not just because of the series' late placement on the schedule. A similar challenge awaits with the Red Sox.

Are the Yankees Glass Joe or Mike Tyson? We'll find out soon enough.

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