Pick your word. Unforgivable. Unpardonable. Unacceptable.
The Orioles showed up in The Bronx as a piñata. They had won three times in a month (against 24 losses). They were 50 games under .500. They were closer to Triple-A than the top of the AL East.
Yet, the Yankees lost a series to that team, which means a few more words to pick from such as humiliating and embarrassing. The Yanks haven’t looked right since their 13-game winning streak, as if that took the best out of them, left them an exhausted marathoner at the 24-mile mark. Still, even on fumes, winning a series in their home against Baltimore must be par.
Instead, the piñata hit back to win two of three. On Sunday, the Yankees blew two three-run leads — 4-1 and 7-4 — and lost 8-7. They lost for so many reasons.
Because they played death-match games against the undermanned Orioles the previous two days, leaving their pen shorthanded — even more so with the team’s revelation Sunday morning that its best reliever, Jonathan Loaisiga, was going to the injured list; as big an injury as the Yanks have incurred all season.
Because Gleyber Torres nonchalantly turned a routine Kelvin Gutierrez grounder that should have been the final out of a scoreless Baltimore sixth into a gift single that brought the Orioles’ best hitter, Cedric Mullins, to the plate to hit a two-run homer that began a devastating domino effect for the Yankees.
Because the Orioles showed up having allowed 14 or more hits in a game 19 times this year — four more than any other team — and the Yankees managed 14 hits in 29 innings over three games. Even on Sunday, when they scored seven runs, six of them were driven in via two homers by Gary Sanchez (who in his previous 23 games had one homer and six RBIs). The rest of the team was 5-for-30 with one RBI. After Sanchez’s second homer made it 7-4 in the sixth, the Yankees followed with a 1-for-12 finish.
“Incredibly frustrating that we didn’t put our best foot forward the last couple of days,” Aaron Boone said. “Now, we have a very good, hot team coming in to play us. We have to do better.”
That opponent, the Blue Jays, just generated 29 runs in three games against the A’s, who had begun the series with a 3.76 ERA before being swept. Boston is a half game behind the Yanks for the top wild-card spot. The Blue Jays are 4 ¹/₂ back and play the Orioles four games after four against the Yankees. So by not pulverizing the Orioles, the Yanks have made themselves more vulnerable to missing the playoffs altogether, especially if the stumble continues against Toronto.
And the Yankee pitching staff is just not in a good position for a series against an elite offense because:
1. The 13-game winning streak was constructed on one close win after another — nine of them by three or fewer runs and eight by one or two runs. That led to a heavy, pressurized workload on the pen. The eight games since that streak (in which the Yanks are 2-6) have all been decided by three or fewer runs — all six defeats have been by one or two runs.
2. Every starter but Gerrit Cole has begun to give too few innings. Jordan Montgomery and Corey Kluber combined for just 8 ¹/₃ innings in the two losses to Baltimore. The Yanks are trying to build up Kluber in a pennant race. Jameson Taillon, who starts Monday, has gone through the lineup once well in each of last two starts, then fallen apart. Perhaps the innings are beginning to wear on a pitcher who hardly pitched in 2019-20.
3. Loaisiga’s loss is enormous. I believe he was having the best Yankee setup season since Mariano Rivera in 1996 — in a similar role of being used wherever necessary, often to put out fires. His 24 outings of at least four outs were tied for third in the majors and he had 0.66 ERA in them; and a 0.45 ERA in 10 outings of two innings. He led all relievers in Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement.
He certainly would have been in Sunday’s game to subdue the Orioles. But he has a strained rotator cuff and will not pick up a ball for at least 10 days. Who knows if he will return this year? Zack Britton already is gone for the year.
So much weight now shifts to Aroldis Chapman, who seems in a fight with his confidence, and Chad Green, who went six up, six down Sunday. But by then Andrew Heaney, in particular, made such a mess of things that the Yanks asked Wandy Peralta to become just their second reliever this year to pitch three straight days.
And with all of that said, the opponent over the weekend was the Orioles. A couple of blowouts could have rested the pen. A couple of wins could have at least helped the psyche — and the wild-card lead. Instead, the Yanks lost two of three.
Unforgivable. Unpardonable. Unacceptable.