Six games stand between the Yankees and the All-Star break.
They’ll need more than that to claw their way back into the thick of the AL East race, but beginning to pick themselves up off the mat won’t come easy.
Starting Tuesday night, the Yankees (42-41) will play the last six games of the first half on the road against teams with better records than them — three games against the Mariners (45-40) before a three-game showdown with the Astros (52-33).
“I think we understand what’s at stake,” manager Aaron Boone said before Monday’s off day. “I think we understand the hole we’ve dug for ourselves and we understand the importance of every game. We gotta go play well. We understand that. We’ve talked about it a lot. We’re going out West with a lot on the line.”
The Yankees have lost seven of nine, dropping from four games back of first place in the AL East to 10 entering Monday. They were also 5 ¹/₂ games back of the final AL wild-card spot, with the Mariners one of four teams between them.
In the midst of their recent slide, general manager Brian Cashman said he would be a buyer ahead of the July 30 trade deadline unless “we fall like a stone.” The Yankees would prefer not to find out how many more losses it would take to meet that threshold.
Tuesday they’ll face Justus Sheffield, the left-hander who they once acquired with Clint Frazier in the Andrew Miller trade before sending him to the Mariners in the James Paxton deal. The 25-year-old Sheffield is 5-7 with a 5.88 ERA in 14 starts this season.
“A young team that’s playing well,” Boone said of the Mariners. “We have an off day to gather ourselves a little bit. We gotta go play well in Seattle. That’s where our focus lies.”
After a series in which Nestor Cortes Jr. provided a solid spot start and Michael King was sharp out of the bullpen — they combined for 7 ¹/₃ innings of one-run ball — Boone said he would consider piggybacking the two.
King had made six straight starts before coming out of the bullpen Saturday. He has an ERA of 15.00 in the first inning compared to a 2.13 ERA in innings two through eight, which makes the idea of pairing him with an opener like Cortes an intriguing one.
“Could be,” Boone said. “We could have something like that in play first game in Houston potentially, where we’ll need a spot there. Depending on how guys are used in the Seattle series, we’ll try to come up with a plan to get through that.”
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