- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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TORONTO -- As the Yankees fold, there are excuses you can make for them and ones you can't.
In the batter's box, they might have scored only six runs in 27 innings in Toronto because after this long, injury-filled season, their bats are spent. On the mound, Hiroki Kuroda continued to fail to be the ace that he was the first 4½ months, but, as his manager put it, he was "gutsy," pitching out of trouble all night and giving his team a chance to win by allowing just three runs during an arduous six inning.
But in relief, Joba Chamberlain might have concluded his amazing spiral from the top of the baseball universe in 2007 to being just a guy in the bullpen -- and not a very good one at that -- by giving up a three-run homer to break the game open. Still, Joe Girardi didn't think he had any better options in the seventh inning, and he might have been right.
However, where you can't make excuses for this team -- 3.5 games back of the wild card with nine to play -- is in sequences like the one that took place in the second inning. Alfonso Soriano -- just like the team's best player, Robinson Cano -- didn't hustle around the bases and was thrown out at second. It left his manager to do one of the things he hates the most: cover for a player when he knows the player is wrong.
"He just has to make a better decision when he goes and sees [left fielder Anthony] Gose pick up the ball," Girardi said of the hard shot into the corner. "Gose has a good arm."
It looked like Soriano didn't hustle. Can you explain what you mean?
"I don't know," an exasperated Girardi said after the 6-2 loss to the Blue Jays.
Soriano didn't think there was a problem. He just said he turned on the speed when he saw Gose pick it up.
The Yankees' lack of hustle is not why they lost the game, but it is why this season probably won't end in the playoffs. The Yankees have been an impressive, tough group, but as of late, they are not just tying the final knots of what could have been an impressive 2013. After winning three of four in Baltimore to start this road trip, the Yankees were just one game back in the wild card going into Boston.
"We ran into the Red Sox wave, and we haven't recovered," Alex Rodriguez said.
That Fenway Park sweep ended with Girardi unsatisfied with his team's effort, which he told them about last Sunday night. In Toronto, Soriano first outed the club for not having enough "energy" during Tuesday's loss, and then, by Thursday, he wasn't busting it out of the box. The Yankees lost six of the final seven games on the trip and now need a miracle to extend Mariano Rivera's career.
"We have to run the table," Mark Reynolds said.
The schedule is forgiving. The Yankees face the San Francisco Giants for three this weekend, culminating with Sunday's celebration of Rivera. Then, the Yankees will need to sweep the Rays at home. They end in Houston against the worst club in baseball. Besides being 3.5 games back with nine left, the Yankees have five teams in front of them.
"We are still breathing," Reynolds said. "We still have a chance. No one in here is giving up."
The last wild card is a reward for mediocrity, so no one should be too surprised that no team is grabbing it and making it their own. The wild cards are the fourth- and fifth-best teams in a 15-team league, so the Yankees continue to have a shot, even if it is not a good one.
"Somehow or another, we are still in the mix, and somebody wants us in -- that's for sure -- because we keep getting help from other people," Rodriguez said. "At some point, we have to do it ourselves."
Rodriguez is 1-for-23 and only playing DH these days. He might try to give it a go in the field at home, in what could be his final homestand in the Bronx if his 211-game suspension for violating the drug policy holds.
Overall, the problem with the Yankees is really not that complicated these days. They don't have enough exceptional players, and the players they do have aren't giving their best effort.
In the seventh, Yankee fans on Twitter might have blown up the social media site when they saw Chamberlain coming in, but Girardi said he had no better choice. Chamberlain hadn't allowed a run in his past two innings, while Shawn Kelley had struggled, and Girardi was saving Adam Warren for later, the manager said.
"He used to pitch in a lot of close games," Girardi said of Chamberlain. "That's who he was. Tonight, he didn't get it done."
None of the Yankees did, and now they have to run the table to even have a chance at the playoffs. Are there any believers left?