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With 'Panic City' approaching, Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees must start hitting again

Alex Rodriguez has one hit in his last 15 at-bats and is hitting just .135 in August. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez is hitting .138 in August, and it is not a small sample size. In 80 at-bats, he has just 11 hits, two of which were homers. His unexpected production has vanished, just like the New York Yankees' lead in first place, which was once seven games.

The Yankees are now looking up at the Toronto Blue Jays after another loss. They just finished a 10-game homestand in which they won the first three games, but ended it 5-5 overall. They scored a total of four runs against Houston over three games and were battered 21-4, leaving them fortunate to have taken one game from the potential playoff opponents.

"Today, we were kind of flat," Brett Gardner said after the Houston Astros' 6-2 drubbing.

Gardner is one of the most honest Yankees in the room, except when it comes to injuries. He is a Derek Jeter disciple and does not parade any bumps and bruises around like other athletes sometimes do.

Gardner, according to manager Joe Girardi, is "beat up." With another 0-for-4, Gardner is hitting .193 (16-for-84) in August.

In the Yankees' regular lineup, Gardner bats second, while Rodriguez is third. Flanking them are Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the order and Mark Teixeira at cleanup. Ellsbury sat Wednesday with a sore hip, the result of trying to make a diving catch.

Girardi is hopeful he could return Friday, but Ellsbury's history makes that less than a certainty. Teixeira didn't start his eighth game in the Yankees' last nine. After starting Tuesday, Teixeira grounded out as a pinch hitter to end Wednesday's game, as he slowly favored his injured shin.

Those are the Yankees' No. 1-through-4 batters. Before the homestand, they seemingly had a nice little scheduling quirk advantage with 10 extra home games compared to road games. After the 5-5 stand, they now have 18 games left on the road and 18 in the Bronx.

"We are just not hitting," Girardi said. "That's the bottom line. ... That's kind of been the root of our problems."

If not for Nathan Eovaldi's great performance on Monday in the Yankees' 1-0 win, this would probably have been a sweep. The Yankees hit just .165 over the series. As the manager is prone to say, "It is not what you want."

The Yankees' schedule offers some possible relief, as the team goes on the road to face the 18-games-below-.500 Braves and the last-place Red Sox. But over the weekend, the Yankees once again showed they can lose to bad teams by letting the Cleveland Indians take three of four.

Gardner said the Yankees were "flat" on Wednesday, which can be an incendiary comment about athletes making millions and, in many cases in the Bronx, tens of millions of dollars. In baseball, though, that is how you look when you can't put runners on and convert.

"It is contagious," Gardner said.

So is Panic City, the line Sandy Alderson laid on the media earlier this season about the Mets. It seems like that state may be moving boroughs. It is not there yet in the Bronx, but the team just gave some possible coming attractions.

This might just be a blip during a 162-game grind. The Yankees are an older, brittle team. The guys who surprised -- Teixeira and Rodriguez -- are beginning to break down. Ellsbury, despite his $153 million contract, is not really a leader or a guy a team can totally count on. Gardner is a rock professionally, but he is striking out a lot. With three more on Wednesday, the not-so-grand total is up to 108 on the season.

Brian McCann and Chase Headley help out at the plate. They are solid, but not spectacular. Carlos Beltran has been the only hot Yankee hitter, while Didi Gregorius is improving. His two-run homer, his sixth on the season, provided the Yankees with their only runs.

At the bottom of the order, Stephen Drew is the most hated man in the Bronx. His average is below .200 and he was pinch-hit for by Brendan Ryan. Robinson Cano is hitting .341 with a .887 OPS in August with the Mariners. The Yankees probably made the right long-term call in letting Cano go, but he could help right now.

But the Yankees have made their roster and are stuck with it. Michael Pineda did not look good in his return Tuesday, limited to just 71 pitches in 4 1/3 innings in which he allowed five earned runs. Masahiro Tanaka needs a lot of rest to pitch well. Ivan Nova has been inconsistent, while Luis Severino is young. In other words, there are no guarantees with the starting pitching.

So the hitting, which has looked so good at times this year, must get it going. Girardi's plan is to only use Rodriguez as a pinch hitter with no DH in Atlanta this weekend. That has rejuvenated him at times this season, though he had last weekend off and proceeded to go 0-for-12 against the Astros.

"We did face the No. 1 pitching team in the American League," Girardi said. "It did seem like the good swings that he had, he was fouling back. He was just missing them. Hopefully, that is a good sign and he starts centering them."

The Yankees need Rodriguez to return to form because Panic City is on the horizon.