BOSTON -- The New York Yankees are not quite resting in peace, but they are resting in pieces.
With their playoff hopes tattered and hanging by the slimmest of threads, the Yankees sent two more of their everyday players home on a plane. Their next stop: an MRI tube. For the second time in three days, the Yankees couldn't hold a three-run lead over the Boston Red Sox, and the numbers are getting ugly: seven games back in the division, 4 1/2 games out of the second wild card and a mere 14 games left to play.
Even though it's still mathematically possible for the Yankees to sneak into October, we know for sure that they are not good enough to contend this year. Now is the time to spin that question forward: Will they be good enough to contend next year or the year after?
The injuries to Starlin Castro, who strained a hamstring while running out a fifth-inning double, and Jacoby Ellsbury, who injured his right knee while sliding into the center-field wall chasing Xander Bogaerts' seventh-inning double, mean it is likely that for the final two weeks of the season, the only "veteran" in the Yankees' everyday lineup will be Brett Gardner.
It is almost certain that Castro will not play again this year, and considering Ellsbury's injury history, I wouldn't buy tickets with the express purpose of going to see him play. That means we'll get plenty of Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin and Mason Williams the rest of the way, to go with Gary Sanchez, Ronald Torreyes and a full slate of Triple-A relief pitchers.
The question is will this collection of the young and unproven turn out to be better than its predecessor: the old and infirm? The likelihood is no, it will not.
"We do have a lot of young guys here, and it's been a great learning experience for them, and a lot of those guys have played really, really well for us," said Gardner, who is likely to return to being the Yankees' everyday center fielder if Ellsbury misses the remaining 14 games. "But we still have some veteran guys on this team too. I don’t think any of those guys shy away from the big games or the bright lights or the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. I don’t think I’ve seen any of that bothering any of these guys. I think they’ve really embraced it. And obviously, these first three games didn’t go our way, but I think those guys are capable of doing this. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here."
Although some of the young Yankees have shown tremendous promise -- Sanchez clubbed another home run, his 15th in 154 at-bats, in the third inning to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead that turned out to be ephemeral -- their inexperience shows through as well.
They lost 6-5, their third straight to the Red Sox and sixth in their past seven, for a variety of reasons. Bryan Mitchell, a 25-year-old with a world of promise, couldn't give the Yankees five innings that Joe Girardi could trust. Refsnyder, who is likely to become the everyday second baseman, looked lost at the plate against David Price and struck out three times. Austin Romine, a young catcher in mainly for his glove, was unable to block an Adam Warren curve that bounced in front of him with runners on first and third in the seventh and allowed the winning run to score.
The loss was hung on Warren, but he ran into the worst kind of luck. Coming in with a runner on third and the Yankees leading by a run, Warren gave up a chopper to Mookie Betts that bounced over the head of a drawn-in Didi Gregorius and tied the game. Then he bounced the curveball to Travis Shaw that ultimately lost the game.
"I didn't do my job," said a despondent Romine, who drove in two runs with a fourth-inning double. "I’m not here to hit. I’m here to catch. I’m the backup catcher, third-string catcher, whatever label you want to put on it. I’m here to catch. I’m here to block balls. And I didn’t do my job.”
Mitchell, who was charged with four runs (three earned) in 4 2/3 innings, took on a similar share of the blame. Girardi, always as protective as a mama cat over her litter of kittens, jumped to his players' defense.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s all that," he said. "Four of our RBIs came from kids today. I know we have some young pitchers that are out there too, but it’s everybody. It’s not just the inexperience. We’re not playing good enough to win."
That's true, but in the same way that it was clear back in August that the Yankees veterans needed some help, it is becoming clear that the kids need some help in the crucible of a September playoff chase. These young players might well develop into useful major leaguers, and Sanchez likely into a star, but you begin to wonder if the club that started this season way too old might have gotten a little too young.
Certainly, the Yankees' infusion of youth at the trade deadline gave this team a jolt, both on the field and in the clubhouse. But now, with the league having seen what they can do for about a month now, it seems the addition of a veteran or two might help.
It's probably too late to make a difference this season; the Yankees' elimination number is 11, and after the first three games of this series, it is hard to imagine the team leaving Boston without being swept in Sunday night's series finale. But it is not too early to start thinking about next year and, more immediately, this coming winter.
There is a famously thin crop of free agents this winter, but one name stands out: Yoenis Cespedes, who will undoubtedly opt out of his contract on the strength of an MVP-caliber season for the Mets. He could provide another fearsome bat in the Yankees order to go with Sanchez, and Sanchez is going to need some protection in a lineup that doesn't offer much right now.
The Yankees will probably move Gardner in the offseason, and it's unlikely he or Brian McCann will be a Yankee next season. That means even fewer weapons to back up Sanchez, and let's not forget that a half-season of rookie success does not at all guarantee an impressive sophomore season. Just look to Luis Severino, the pitching sensation of last August, and his erratic performance this season.
Girardi, as he must, continues to mouth the platitudes of a manager whose team has yet to be numerically declared dead.
“I don't lose faith. That's not who I am," he said. "I know some people do, but I don't. Don't you see them fighting? They ain’t giving up. These guys aren’t giving up. These guys are fighting.”
Sometimes, the will to fight isn't enough. You need sufficient troops to win the battle. With 14 games to go, the Yankees are in pieces, and the pieces they have left need help -- if not this season, then before the beginning of another.