NEW YORK -- In the wake of his team's second 2-1 loss in the space of four days, a loss that made the Yankees, officially, a mediocre team once again, Joe Girardi was reduced to philosophical waxings, professions of blind faith, and the one answer that no major league baseball manager -- especially one with a $200 million-plus roster -- should ever have to utter.
Asked why his offense, which was rebuilt at a cost of more than a quarter-billion dollars this winter but is performing worse than its makeshift predecessor of a year ago, continues to struggle, here is the best the manager of the New York Yankees could come up with: "I don't know."
There are many reasons, of course, none of which Girardi could bring himself to say publicly, and perhaps hasn't even been able to admit to himself in private moments.
Asked why he continued to believe that at some point, his offense will begin to produce the way it was expected to, Joe Girardi said, "These guys have proven track records."
But what he did not say, and what he refuses to confront, is the very real possibility that his lineup, built on past performances, has a track record that is too far in the past to be of any use anymore.
That is really the only logical explanation for the lack of hitting from a lineup that boasts names such as Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, and yes, Derek Jeter.
Last year, the names were Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Mark Reynolds, Travis Hafner, Jayson Nix, and yes, Robinson Cano, a scotch-tape-and-spit lineup if there ever was one. And after 82 games, that team was 43-39. This one is 41-41.
The only thing standing between the Yankees and total disaster is the fact that the AL East, once vaunted as the best in all of baseball, is this year a hotbed of mediocrity; despite this latest defeat, the Yankees' eighth in their last 10 games, they remain just 3 1/2 games out of first place, and no one in their right mind would consider them out of the wild-card hunt, or even the divisional race, with 80 games left to play.
But something has got to be done, and quick, or this illusion that the 2014 Yankees are contenders will crumble and blow away by the time July has turned to August.
Girardi dismissed the idea that his team, especially the hitters, were too old with a canned response: "I don't think you forget to hit in a year."
But the truth is, a year can make a world of difference for players in their mid-to-late 30s, which Beltran, Soriano, Teixeira and Brian Roberts all are, and especially in their 40s, a club that Jeter just joined along with Ichiro.
The Yankees spent a fortune on Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran, and only Ellsbury has come close to giving them value for dollars. Beltran's right elbow is likely hurting more than he lets on, and McCann, whether he wants to admit it or not, is finding that it takes more than a road map to go from Atlanta to the Bronx successfully.
But it's not just the new guys who are struggling; the team as a whole was hitting .249 with runners in scoring position -- and that was before Tuesday night's 1-for-9 finish with runners in scoring position -- and ranked in the bottom half of just about every offensive category, well below the league average in everything but batting average.
The numbers say that with two outs and runners in scoring position, the Yankees are among the worst teams in the AL, hitting just .218. Individually, here are the worst offenders: Roberts (.148), Jeter (.161), Soriano (.182), Gardner (.192), Beltran and Ichiro (both at .200). When these guys come up in that situation, the numbers say they are bound to fail.
This is not the hitting coach's fault; Kevin Long works hard with his hitters every day in the cage and on the field, but it's like teaching your kids to drive -- at some point, they have to take the wheel and do it themselves. Long can't go to the plate and hit for them.
If you want to make the case that it's the GM's fault, fine, but it would serve no purpose to fire Brian Cashman for spending his owner's money on the wrong players this winter. That's a decision for Hal Steinbrenner to make in the offseason. Besides, would firing the GM today improve the Yankees' offense tomorrow? Hardly.
And someone has got to try to right this ship in the 30 days between now and the non-waiver trading deadline.
Tuesday night, the Yankees got runners to first and third with none out in the fourth on a leadoff double by Jeter and a single by Ellsbury on which Jeter had to hold up because the ball was lined right in front of him. The Yankees wound up scoring a tainted run when Ellsbury got picked off first, but the Rays botched the rundown, hitting Ellsbury with a throw that allowed Jeter to score.
But the next three hitters -- Teixeira, Beltran and Soriano -- made out on two flyouts and a strikeout. The Yankees had another threat in the sixth, with runners on first and second with one out after Jeter singled and Teixeira walked, but Beltran flied out and Soriano looked at a third strike.
They had one final chance in the ninth, when the erratic Grant Balfour walked two batters, but Yangervis Solarte, who has cooled drastically since his hot start in April, bounced out to first to end the game.
Afterward, Girardi talked about a lack of "situational hitting," but he eventually admitted, as he had last week with the starting pitching, that he really had no choice but to go to battle with the army he has, not the army he would like to have.
"These are the guys that we have, and these are the guys that have to get it done on a nightly basis," he said. "As I’ve said in the game, no one is going to feel sorry for you, and no one has a magic potion. You just have to go out and grind it out."
Then, when asked if he felt "helpless" watching his punchless offense, Girardi, most unwittingly, said perhaps the most meaningful thing he has said all season.
"I never feel helpless," he said. "That I don’t feel. There’s too many other things in life that can give you that feeling, so I don’t feel helpless."
When a manager starts invoking the "there's bigger things in life than baseball" clause with half a season to go, you know he's beginning to lose hope.
"I don’t think you ever doubt yourself, and you don’t doubt your teammates, you don’t doubt your coaching staff," Gardner said. "You believe in the guys we have in the room, believe in our approach and what we do. It’s only July 1, so it’s not like we’re out of things. I don’t think anyone is ready to give up on each other. It’s definitely frustrating at times; it’s disappointing. I know the fans are disappointed because they expect better -- and they have a right to expect better. Hopefully we can turn things around starting tomorrow."
But he, too, could offer no concrete answer except to fall back on past performances, and track records, none of which has done much to change the state of the Yankees offense so far.
"As I've said, it’s not just a couple of guys struggling, it’s a number of guys," Girardi said. "Maybe you mix the order, but we got our guys that are swinging the bat the best up the most and the other guys have to find a way to contribute, too."
In other words, right now, the guys he's got are the guys he's got. Joe Girardi doesn't know why they aren't hitting, and doesn't know how to make them hit.
All he can do is hope they do, and soon. And all he has to go on right now is blind faith, which right now hardly seems to be enough.