It's getting harder to find hope for Yanks

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
2:06
AM ET
BALTIMORE -- I wish I could be more like Joe Girardi and tell you Monday night's 11-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles was just a mirage -- something you can close your eyes and will away, a one-night aberration you can easily forget about by tomorrow.

I wish I could be more like Derek Jeter, who has the unmatched capacity to remain optimistic -- or at least give that appearance -- when all around him is clearly falling apart. He would have been a great guy to hang with in the final moments of the Titanic.

[+] EnlargeJoe Girardi
Joy R. Absalon/USA TODAY SportsJoe Girardi & Co. have found ways to stay stoic and optimistic about this Yankees season, but the truth is less sunny.
I wish I could be more like Mark Teixeira, projecting a stoicism in the face of continued futility, or like Carlos Beltran, who, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, insists the Yankees' offensive struggles are "a tough stretch," something unpleasant but temporary and sure to turn around any moment now.

All those guys draw paychecks from the New York Yankees, and as such they have a moral and financial obligation to put the prettiest face possible on what is turning into an increasingly ugly season.

I do not. My only obligation is to the truth, as best I can determine it.

And the way it looks is this: The 2014 Yankees are not a playoff team. They are not good enough to be a division champion. They are hardly good enough to sneak into October as the second wild-card team -- and even if they do, it is highly unlikely that will be anything more than a one-day delay of their winter vacation.

In fact, they are not a very good baseball team. Their 61-57 record, as mediocre as it is, is a mirage. And any thought that over the final 44 games of this season the true character of this team will be revealed is pure fantasy.

That character has already been revealed. The actors have all played their parts. Not much is going to change between now and Sept. 28. All we await now is the exit scene, which will comprise one very disappointed -- and possibly very relieved -- Derek Jeter taking one last bow at, of all places, Fenway Park. Hard as it might be to believe after the promise of the offseason, that's really all that's left here.

I was willing to give this season one more shot, especially if the Yankees had been able to rouse themselves, win these three games against the Orioles and pull within a quite surmountable three games in the American League East.

But having seen them fail to win a game in which the opposing starter needed 108 pitches to get through five innings and the opposing team made three errors -- two of them on one comically unsightly second-inning play that gifted the Yankees with two officially earned but mostly undeserved runs -- it is becoming harder and harder to believe they will ever pull out of this tailspin.

Once again, the starting pitcher pitched well enough to win -- with a competent offense behind him. Chris Capuano's six innings of six-hit, four-run ball was not the type of outing that wins Cy Youngs, but the type that does win ballgames with just a little bit of run support.

But once again, the Yankees offense proved that hitting a baseball, as Ted Williams once famously observed, is truly the hardest feat in sports. For them, it's even harder than that. Sometimes, it seems damn near impossible. They managed five hits all game and none after the fifth inning. In nearly half their games now -- 56 of 118 -- they have scored three runs or fewer. They've never overcome a deficit of more than three runs in any game.

What evidence is there that any of that will change in the final seven weeks of the season?

Most disturbingly, now it is the bullpen -- which for the longest time was the most reliable unit on the team -- that is showing cracks and frays. Adam Warren and Chase Whitley, both previously highly dependable, took turns putting this one out of reach as they allowed eight hits -- six of them extra-base hits, including two long home runs -- and the final seven Orioles runs of the game and turned what had been a 4-3 game into an 11-3 rout.

Unless you are collecting a paycheck from the Yankees, it is becoming rather impossible to find reasons to believe.

Girardi has to, of course; he is signed to manage the team for the next three seasons. Beltran too, given that he will be collecting another $30 million of Hal Steinbrenner's money for the two seasons following this one. The same goes for Teixeira, who will be collecting Yankees paychecks through 2016. And Jeter has to because he's Jeter; you don't finish up sixth on baseball's all-time hits list while being a mope.

You also don't get there by being a realist; some amount of blind faith is required to succeed in any professional sport.

So even as we give these men their due and commend them for continuing to believe, at least publicly, we must also drink our own dose of the reality potion.

The Yankees might not have needed to sweep the Orioles in this series, but they certainly would have liked to -- if only to send a message to them, and more importantly to themselves, that there's still life in this outfit. Even if they manage to win the next two, which seems highly unlikely after Monday night's performance, it will be hard to convince anyone but the most rabid -- or highly-paid -- that this team has a real chance to do anything of note this season.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Ellsbury
Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesBack in the winter, Jacoby Ellsbury was one of the Yankees' reasons for offseason excitement and hope.
"This is the team we have," Jeter said. "We have to win with the guys that we have. You can’t sit around and be negative. We have to stay optimistic. You gotta have a lot of faith in the team and your teammates, and you’re going to get the job done."

"It's one game," Girardi said, for perhaps the 15th, or perhaps the 50th, time this season. "It’s frustrating, because you want to be able to hold the lead and build on the lead, but as I said, it’s just one game. I talked about the importance of taking the series, and we need to win tomorrow."

"What can I say, man? It's baseball, man," said Beltran. "As a team sometimes, you go through stretches where you swing the bat well. We have to stay positive and we have to continue to turn this around."

Only Teixeira injected a note of reality. "Tonight was ugly," he said. "All season long, I think we've been disappointed. I think we all thought we'd be better. We just haven't really gotten it going. It's just the way it is. Hopefully the next two days will be better."

Teixeira described the second-inning play, in which both Beltran and Chase Headley were credited with stolen bases -- Beltran's a steal of home! -- on a hit-and-run gone wrong that turned into a fire drill of a rundown in which the Orioles committed two errors, as "like a Little League play, like the Bad News Bears score two runs."

But since that was the biggest Yankees rally of the night, there was really nothing funny about it, just as there has been very little that has been fun about this season.

Now it is 118 games old, and the odds are that what you have seen is what you are going to get.

"I still feel good about the team," Beltran said. "I don't know about you guys, but I feel good about the team."

He has to, but you don't. And at this point, I really can't anymore. Unlike Girardi, Jeter, Beltran and Teixeira, I've run out of places to look for answers.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
13 2.77 141 136
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146