Joe Torre grimaced.
Joe Girardi’s face screamed, “Next topic.’’
“We have a long way to go.’’
Rightfully so, managers despise “What ifs” on a lot of levels. What if so-and-so hadn’t gotten hurt? What if a certain player hadn’t performed to expectations? What if the big trade acquisition fell flat on his face?
And the biggest one: If the Yankees go .500 the rest of the way, what do the teams behind them have to play in order to catch them?
Yet, when the schedule picks up after the All-Star break, the only real story for teams leading divisions and those in the hunt deal with numbers that have nothing to do with spin rate or launch angles.
Boone’s message to his players before the All-Star break was very simple but poignant.
“They put us in a great spot here but that is all it is right now,’’ said Boone, whose 57-31 club has a 6½-game lead over the second-place Rays in the AL East and a nine-length bulge over the third-place Red Sox. “We got some unfinished business and a long way to go, but we have put ourselves in a position to have a really special season.’’
Boone is correct on all points. The Yankees are in good shape regarding winning the AL East, but there are 74 games remaining, which is a very long way from showering each other in champagne after winning their first World Series title since 2009.
Considering how they played through injuries to star players, the thought of the Yankees going 37-37 the rest of the way is hard to buy into. Giancarlo Stanton will return at some point and the Yankees are hopeful of getting Luis Severino and Dellin Betances back, but until the right-handers are on the mound who knows?
And in a small sample size — the only one available — there is this: Since surviving two slugfests with the Red Sox in London, the Yankees went 3-3 (.500) against the miserable Mets and Rays.
So, here it is:
If the Yankees play .500 the rest of the way and finish with 94 wins, the Rays would need to go 42-29 tie them. To complete an impressive comeback, the Red Sox would need to post a 45-27 record.
“We have a good lead in the AL East,’’ James Paxton said on the eve of the break. “We are going to come back on a mission to get to the postseason and win the World Series.’’
Acquired from the Mariners to be a front-end starter, Paxton (5-4, 4.01 ERA) pitching better than he did in his first 15 starts would help the Yankees win their first AL East title since 2012. The same goes for J.A. Happ, who was 7-4 in 17 starts, but lugs a 5.02 ERA into the first game of the second half Friday night, when the awful Blue Jays open a three-game series in The Bronx. Happ is slated to start Saturday.
One area the Yankees need to improve is having their starters going deeper into games. Going into Friday’s action the Yankees are 10th among 15 AL teams in innings pitched with 443²/₃ innings. A brilliant bullpen has covered the starters, but that can’t go on forever.
Of course, general manager Brian Cashman is expected to upgrade the rotation and pen before the July 31 trade deadline. Both areas could be impacted by a trade for a starter and putting Domingo German, Friday night’s starter, in the bullpen.
“There is a long way to go. Right now we are in a good spot,’’ Brett Gardner said.
Good enough to hold off the Rays and a Red Sox team that is too talented not to pull closer?
One way is to play better than .500.