NEW YORK -- On days like Sunday, the path for the New York Yankees seems all too clear.
When Nathan Eovaldi is allowing home run after home run and one Yankee hitter after another is looking futile at the plate, the Yankees seem like anything but a contender. With a 7-1 loss to the woeful Minnesota Twins and a 6-5 two-week stretch against the Twins and the almost-as-bad Colorado Rockies, the Yankees made it easy on those who want to see a July sell-off and a focus on the future.
For all the focus on these last two weeks, though, the bigger truth is that the next two to three weeks probably matter more. For all the opportunity the so-called easy part of the schedule presented, the challenges ahead should really tell us something.
When the Yankees host the Texas Rangers on Monday night, they'll begin a stretch where six of their next eight series will be against teams with winning records. They'll face four of the six teams currently in first place in MLB, starting with the Rangers, who lead the American League West.
The Yankees are 7-1/2 games out of first place in the American League East, a half-game shy of their biggest deficit this season. But when they finished their game Sunday, they were just 2-1/2 games out of a wild-card spot, with more than half the schedule still to be played.
As one rival scout said this weekend, they need to be prepared to be a buyer or a seller on next month's trade market, because either scenario could play out. The Chicago Cubs, among other teams, continue to send scouts to watch Yankee relievers, but there's still time for New York to prove it shouldn't be broken up just yet.
"We need to make up ground," manager Joe Girardi said, lamenting that two straight weekend series against the Twins had ended with the Yankees falling one win shy of a sweep. "The teams in front of us are playing well."
The Yankees will see two of the three teams in front of them when the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles come to Yankee Stadium immediately after the All-Star break. That could well be make-or-break time for a team that again looked broken Sunday.
Eovaldi gave up just two hits in the first five innings, although one was a third-inning home run by Danny Santana. Then, as Eovaldi himself said, "I fell apart." He served up back-to-back-to-back two-out home runs to Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Max Kepler in the sixth.
That's a career-high 17 home runs allowed by Eovaldi, with half a season to go. That's also 10 home runs in five starts this month, tying Kansas City's Ian Kennedy for the most in the majors.
The Twins also homered twice off Yankee relievers, meaning the Yankees gave up six homers in a game for the first time in four years. They haven't hit six home runs in a game since 2010, and they hit just two total in this three-game series with the Twins.
There was some significance to the one they hit Sunday, because it was Mark Teixeira's first in 148 at-bats, dating back to April 13. It was also just the second hit the Yankees had against Twins right-hander Tyler Duffey, whose bid for a perfect game ended with Aaron Hicks' two-out double in the sixth inning.
"That was important for me to show I can still do it," Teixeira said.
The Yankees need to show they can still do it. They'll need to show it against the Rangers, and against the Cleveland Indians and the Red Sox and the Orioles and the San Francisco Giants, because they don't have any "easy" games left against the Twins and Rockies.
Not that the games the last two weeks proved to be all that easy.
"We really struggled with Colorado," Girardi said. "You win five of seven from Minnesota, you can live with that."
Even after a horrible performance Sunday, the Yankees are still alive. It's how they do on the tougher road ahead that will determine how long that remains true.