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Reality setting in for Yankees as they go cold against Tigers

NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi answered the question carefully and honestly.

Asked after Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers whether he has a good read yet on what his New York Yankees team is, Girardi didn't tell us how good the Yankees are or how good a chance they have at contending for an American League playoff spot.

"We know what our formula is for winning," Girardi said.

Their formula isn't that complicated, basically involving a few early runs and a decent performance from the starting pitcher, allowing the Yankees to get to the strong back end of their bullpen. It's simple, but they've been reminded the last two days that it doesn't work nearly as well when the other team has a top starting pitcher, too.

The Yankees didn't hit Justin Verlander on Saturday, and they didn't hit Michael Fulmer on Sunday. They never led in either game, so Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman didn't pitch in either game.

The good feelings generated by a five-game winning streak against four bad Los Angeles Angels pitchers and the Tigers' fifth starter aren't gone, but they're colored by two days of reality -- Verlander and Fulmer -- smacking the Yankees in the face.

They're back under .500 now at 31-32, and while the record figures to get healthy over the next two weeks with games against the Colorado Rockies and Minnesota Twins, the Yankees can't hope to become a real contender simply by beating bad teams and bad pitchers.

They'll solve one problem with the addition of first baseman Ike Davis, who according to multiple reports has agreed to a major-league contract with the Yankees. With four first basemen on the disabled list, the Yankees needed someone who can play the position competently.

Davis can do that, but it's hard to imagine he's the answer for a lineup that can shut down at the sight of a good opponent. In 39 games in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Davis had just four home runs and a .268 batting average for Round Rock. He did go 7-for-7 in the final two games before getting his release from the Texas Rangers' Triple-A affiliate, but that means until Friday he had a .230 batting average in the minor leagues.

The Yankees opened a roster spot for Davis when they optioned reliever Chad Green to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after Sunday's game, but the team didn't immediately announce the signing.

Davis did once hit 32 home runs in a season for the New York Mets, but that was four years ago, and he has just 23 home runs in 320 major-league games since.

The Yankees didn't hit any home runs or even score any runs in six innings Sunday against Fulmer, who was also once Mets property. The 23-year-old right-hander, who came to the Tigers in last July's Yoenis Cespedes trade, is now 7-1 with a 2.52 ERA.

He's legitimately good, and so is Verlander, with one scout who watched Saturday's game saying it looked like the Verlander of three years ago.

"They played better than us," Yankees right fielder Carlos Beltran said. "They pitched well. You've got to give credit to Verlander. Fulmer, I'd never faced before, but he pitched well."

The Yankees could be pleased with the way Michael Pineda pitched, surviving jams in the fourth and fifth innings and allowing just two runs in six innings. That's four decent starts in the last five games for Pineda, at least quieting the talk that he should be sent to the minor leagues.

"He's getting on a roll," Girardi said.

The Yankees hoped the five straight wins last week would get them on a roll. They scored five or more runs in four straight games, for just the second time this season, and they wanted to see it as a sign of significant improvement.

"If we continue to do what we're doing now, it's going to be fun for us," Beltran said during the streak.

They didn't continue, at least not for the last two days, not against Verlander and Fulmer.

Facing pitchers like that is not part of their formula for winning.