By Ernie Palladino
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In case anyone hasn't noticed, the Yankees are looking more and more like a .500 team. Perhaps slightly better, slightly worse.
Either way, if this maddening flirtation with level ground in the standings continues, discontentment among the paying customers will override any thoughts of October baseball.
Then again, should this surprise anyone who has watched this team since their wild-card loss last season? For whatever few, non-free agent moves general manager Brian Cashman made in the offseason, manager Joe Girardi's roster remains full of holes. And now, he has presented to the world the final evidence that one of the great forces in the middle of his lineup has slid straight downhill.
The idea of platooning Alex Rodriguez, five homers away from 700 and holding a .296 career batting average, against left-handers would have been unthinkable even a year ago. But there he was, taking a start at DH Tuesday only because Rangers starter Cole Hamels throws left-handed.
A-Rod has hit a respectable .259 this year against lefties. But it's the .200 batting average against right-handers that indicates he is not even close to the player he was in years past. And by past, we're talking as recently as 2015, when he hit .245 and collected 23 of his 33 homers against right-handed pitching.
It all happened fast, this slide. He sits now at age 40, unable to play the field because of age and failing skills, unable to pinch run because of ebbing speed.
The way things stand now, he has gone from a middle-of-the-lineup force to an expensive, immovable, extra piece on the roster.
More than that, he has become a symbol of what this Yankees team really is -- a squad in dire need of a youth infusion. That started last year with the acquisition of shortstop Didi Gregorius, and this year with Starlin Castro. Next to ancient Carlos Beltran, the savior who left Tuesday's 7-1 loss in the first inning with a tight hamstring, Gregorius has shown himself as the team's second-most valuable hitter. And Castro hasn't done poorly, either.
The rest of the lineup is neither here nor there. One day, it looks like the 1927 Murderer's Row. The next it scores one run.
The pitching has cracks all over, save for the bullpen's Big Three of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. With Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova allowing a combined total of 44 of the team's 98 homers, the eight-highest total in baseball, the opposition has had plenty of opportunity for quick runs.
Eovaldi has folded often when things started to go downhill. Pineda had a horrible start and is still up-and-down. Opponents are hitting nearly .300 off Nova.
All have ERAs well over 5.00.
Even CC Sabathia has gone downhill his last two starts after a commanding start to the season, as evidenced by 11 earned runs in his last 11 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs in his seven innings Tuesday.
As a team, the Yankees have recently shown an ability to blow up with equal ease on a sunny mid-afternoon or at 3 a.m. following a 3½-hour rain delay.
PED issues aside, a Hall-of-Fame quality player has taken a semi-regular seat on the bench. A veteran Nick Swisher and a young Aaron Judge, both of whom could probably help the lineup gain some consistency, sit in Triple-A. The back end of the rotation has turned into a crapshoot.
That's a poorly painted picture. And the A-Rod situation doesn't make it any prettier, even if he did in fact drive in the Yanks' only run against Texas' Cole Hamels.
UnlessCashman wields his touch-up brush dramatically around the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the Yankees appear no better than a .500 team.
It's just not acceptable in these parts.
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