‘We need a spark’ – New York Yankees battling to keep a slide from becoming a spiral

NEW YORK — When injured outfielder Harrison Bader first entered the Yankees clubhouse on Aug. 3, he couldn’t help but wonder what his new teammates were thinking.

“I’m sure everyone in here was like, ‘We just traded for this guy in a boot?'” said Bader, who, despite having plantar fasciitis, was transferred to the St. Louis Cardinals on deadline day. “‘Are you serious?'”

That sense of uneasiness is the mood in the Yankees clubhouse these days. The Yankees still sit comfortably at the top of the American League East standings, but dark clouds are gathering over the Bronx — and the urgency is growing.

A month and a half ago, it was hard to find someone in the dressing room without a smile on their face. Aaron Judge hit moonshots at a record-breaking pace. Clay Holmes and Michael King were baseball’s best assist duo. Matt Carpenter put together a comeback campaign for the record books. Giancarlo Stanton fired lasers into the stands at Yankee Stadium. Nestor Cortes and Jose Trevino broke out with all-star campaigns. New York’s hot start made it the third-fastest team in franchise history to win 50 games in a season, recalibrating expectations for the Yankees in 2022 not just to win a World Series, but to do so in historic fashion.

Then those expectations collapsed, hard. The Yankees are 4-11 in their last 15 games and 17-24 as of July 1, worse than the rebuilt Chicago Cubs and bottom-ranked Oakland Athletics at the same stretch. New York looks up to the Houston Astros, who now have the best pre-stretch run record in the American League.

In six short weeks the good mood has evaporated. And Gerrit Cole knows it.

“We need a spark,” said Cole after the Yankees’ opening loss to the second-ranked Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.

Two nights later, they hope to have found one. Perhaps Josh Donaldson’s Walk-Off Grand Slam Wednesday could ignite a flame. Whatever it is, they’ll need it as the team begins an important four-game series against division rivals Blue Jays on Thursday, followed by the home half of the Subway Series against the Mets.

Around the clubhouse, players have been more focused on details in recent weeks, trying to find solutions to the team’s sudden inability to make runs but also to some players pressing the plate.

“You can get in each other’s way a little bit,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who had his fair share of slumps as a player. “It can wear you down and whatever, Pressing, all that. I’ve gotten to this place a few times that I don’t care, I’ll be ready to go.” It was a bit of a low point for me, it liberated me quite a bit.”

After starting August as baseball’s top offensive line, clinching 551 runs while hitting .245/.331/.444, the Yankees’ production has slacked this month. With Stanton and Carpenter both now in the IL, the team is 24th in runs scored in August with just a .220/.299/.376 line.

This coincided with a pitching staff that has been struggling in recent months. Prior to July 1, the Yankees ranked No. 1 on the Staff ERA with a 2.92. They’ve since been in 19th place with 4.03, with the starters’ ERA up from 3.05 to 4.37 and the bullpen’s ERA up from 2.71 to 3.51.

Heading into the All-Star break, the Yankees held a 13-game lead in the division and had the best record in baseball. This pillow influenced the way the team thought.

“We had that lead and we were able to play some things conservatively with injuries and stuff like that,” said Holmes, who landed on the IL this week after bottling four of his last five saves. “We don’t play our best baseball. I think there will come a time when that sense of urgency will come back. Maybe that’s that spark [Cole]talk about.”

The Yankees’ roster shifts over the past few weeks suggest one team is looking for a fix. The team traded fighting hitter Joey Gallo to the Dodgers and left-hander Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals for Bader, a defense-focused outfielder, on deadline day. Earlier in the week they added outfielder Andrew Benintendi from the Royals and Frankie Montas from the Athletics. In an effort to shake things up, the Yankees pulled some young energy out of the minor leagues this week, bringing in supplies man Oswaldo Cabrera and outfielder Estevan Florial from Triple-A ahead of Wednesday night’s win.

Boone said he’s trying to create an environment where things feel like “business as usual.”

“They’re trying to get them as acclimated and comfortable in the environment as possible,” Boone said of the newcomers. “No one expects or anticipates that they will be the revelation that turns us around. Yes, sure, we want to have that spark and get things going offensively, but they’re here because they’ve earned their way here.”

But the changing environment has affected the clubhouse. Aid Michael King spent three weeks away from the team after undergoing surgery for a broken right elbow and noticed a difference. The recent roster change – with injuries, moves and squad calls – contributed to a very different atmosphere from the start of the season when the team was traveling at historic pace.

“It just creates a different mojo in the dressing room. Once we get used to it, we end up rolling, but you just have to get used to it,” said King, who decided to rehabilitate with the team to rebuild team chemistry. “We add three new faces to the team at the close of trade, we lose guys and then there’s a change that doesn’t make the whole clubhouse uneasy but different. We have to learn the new guys and keep going.”

Starting pitcher Jameson Taillon said the team is looking to players like Judge and infielder DJ LeMahieu to set the tone at the clubhouse.

“They know not to overreact to something like this,” Taillon said. “As long as we go out there and do our best. … I think everyone is trying to pull their weight. They don’t want to overreact and overemphasize, and things will only get worse.”

For Boone, it’s all about rekindling his team’s spark.

“Points,” Boone said. “We just have to score now.”

Judge is confident.

“We have a lot of great ball players here who have great track records,” said Judge. “We go through such a small stretch, but it’s how we come out and react the next day.”

As the team tries to work its way out of a slump that, surprisingly, has not yet impacted the playoff prospects in a more disastrous way, Boone looks within to find optimism. He thinks back to 2002 and 2005 when he faced the biggest struggles of his playing career. Those ups and downs shaped the consistency Boone brings to the clubhouse that he hopes can get the Yankees out of their funk.

“The season is a great life lesson,” Boone said. “It’s 162. It’s like life. Dealing with ups and downs, with difficulties. The good guys find their way.”

There are signs of life that things will not turn into a disaster. When the Yankees made a wonderful extra-innings comeback Wednesday with Donaldson’s walk-off grand slam, it felt like a breath of fresh air.

“There was some joy,” Donaldson said, “and some frustration.”

For Boone, the moment served as proof that the team can get back on its feet — and that maybe this Yankees team will find its way again.

“At the core, we know this is a confident group,” Boone said. “We have to focus and grind and get through it.”

https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34418314/we-need-spark-new-york-yankees-battling-keep-slide-becoming-spiral ‘We need a spark’ – New York Yankees battling to keep a slide from becoming a spiral

Emma Bowman

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