NEW YORK — Things are becoming awfully silly around Yankee Stadium these days. First, there was The Wave breaking out when the home team was losing 5-1. Then, a raucous ovation for David Ortiz when he lined a ninth-inning single, a sure sign that there were few, if any, Yankees fans remaining in the building.
Finally, there was this gem from the manager after his team had to start a pitcher whose ERA was 8.59 and was making his first appearance after a three-week banishment to the minors:
“[Tomorrow] is probably as important a game as we’ve had in July in a long time.”
I mean, who is kidding whom here?
Sunday night’s finale of the three-game series against the Boston Red Sox may be an intriguing pitching matchup — the always-steady Masahiro Tanaka versus the very puzzling David Price — but for the Yankees, it’s about as important as the first day of pitchers’ fielding practice in spring training.
If the Yankees win it, good. They will draw, once again, to within one game of .500 and, with luck, within 8 1/2 games of the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles.
And if the Yankees lose it, better. That will mean they are one day closer to the trade deadline and, presumably, one loss closer to convincing the holdouts in the club’s front office to do what every rational mind knows must be done to this roster: dismantle it and start over.
The Yankees ended the first half of their season on a relative high note, taking three of four games from the Cleveland Indians, who are leading the AL Central.
And now, they have started the second half on a low note, losing the first two games after the All-Star break to the Red Sox, one of the six teams they are chasing for the second AL wild-card spot.
And so it goes for the Yankees. One or two steps forward followed by two or three steps backward.
I’m no fool, and if you’re reading this, neither are you. Statisticians have a term for what is happening to the Yankees this season. They call it “regression to the mean.” Others might express it as water seeking its level, or as Yogi Berra often said, “It is what it is.”
The Yankees are neither a very good team nor a very bad team, although on any given day, they can appear to be one or the other.
What they are is an ordinary team, and ordinary teams eventually regress to the mean. Every winning streak will be followed by a roughly equivalent losing streak, and vice versa. That is why they sit at 44-46 through 90 games. They will never get much better or, probably, much worse. They are what they are.
The same can be said of CC Sabathia, who started and lost on Saturday, continuing a run of five starts in which all the good will and high hopes he had sown over the first two months of the season have gradually but inevitably gone up in smoke.
Sabathia has not won a game since June and has now lost his past three decisions. He has allowed 25 earned runs, 39 hits and five home runs in his past 28 1/3 innings — and surrendered five runs (four earned) in five-plus innings on Saturday.
Joe Girardi tried attributing Sabathia’s latest outing to bad luck. Four of the nine hits he gave up were infield hits — and his infielders made two costly errors behind him. But there was nothing unlucky about the three-run bomb Red Sox backup catcher Sandy Leon launched deep into the left-field bleachers in the sixth inning. And it’s not possible, or even plausible, to try to pass off a month of truly horrendous performance as the product of unusually bad luck.
Yet Sabathia’s early-season success can be attributed to a run of unusually good luck, especially since both Girardi and Sabathia say the 35-year-old lefty is healthy and that nothing substantial has changed in the quality of his repertoire.
And while Girardi said, “He pitched a lot better than what it looked like” of Saturday’s loss, the same could easily be said in reverse about a few of Sabathia’s early-season wins.
The point is this: Nothing is exactly what it has appeared to be on any particular day in this strange 2016 Yankees season.
The Yankees are what they appear to be — a .500 team give or take a game here or there –and if they were any other organization in Major League Baseball, we wouldn’t even be going through this daily Hamlet routine. The course of action would be clear, and indisputable, and the future of the season would certainly not ride on a single game in mid-July.
For all intents and purposes, this Yankees team has declared itself. Now, it’s time for the front office to declare this season a washout, and to begin the process of rebuilding.