New York Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray at Tropicana Field in Tampa.

USA TODAY Sports Images

Palladino: Yankees Holes Could Lead To Wild Card Scenario

Ernie Palladino
July 02, 2018 - 12:13 pm

It’s no secret that the race for the top of the AL East is and will stay a two-team battle between the Red Sox and Yankees.

Right now, Boston holds the upper hand by a game. But for Yankees fans who grow anxious about a significant fall, just give it a minute. Things will change, places will exchange.

And so it will go until September, with neither team taking full command of the situation.

Unless, of course, those ever-growing holes in the pinstriped lineup and pitching staff reach critical mass.

It’s not there yet, but signs exist that they’re getting close.

Witness Sonny Gray.

Had he looked anything like the No. 2 starter the Yanks acquired last year, Brian Cashman wouldn’t be approaching panic mode about finding an additional rotation arm.

Yet he is, and here’s why. In addition to an inability to beat just about anyone, he’s been especially bad against the Red Sox. He’s started eight games against them with both the As and Yanks, and has compiled a less-than-glowing 6.87 ERA against them.

That includes Saturday’s 11-0 shellacking in which he lasted 2 1/3 innings and allowed six runs to bump his season’s ERA to 5.44

Still, the Yanks and their power-laden lineup could compensate if the issues stopped with Gray. But they haven’t.

They now have a catching problem.

With big bat Gary Sanchez out of the lineup for an extended period with a strained right groin, they’re missing all that potential power.

Austin Romine has done more than a credible job as his backup, but now he’s day-to-day with a tight hamstring.

That leaves them with Triple-A call-up Kyle Higashioka, who has registered just one hit in 25 at-bats since his summoning to the majors last year.

Right-handed hitter Brandon Drury, out since April 7 with blurred vision, came back Saturday, but not at his traditional third base spot. Aaron Boone stuck him at first in place of Greg Bird for matchup purposes against the southpaw Chris Sale, and Drury responded by getting overwhelmed, striking out twice in seven pitches. He had no luck against reliever Heath Hembree either, fanning a third time.

He’s hitting .192 in nine games this year.

As for the lefty-hitting Bird, Friday’s homer was an encouraging sign that his power is returning. But let’s not mistake that for a total comeback. He still has some work ahead of him if the Yanks expect him to become the young, mashing complement to Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and, once he returns, Sanchez. That’s not to mention Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, who have struck 26 homers between them.

But Bird sticks out with an ugly .204/.315/.452 slash line.

As noted, the Yanks have enough firepower right now to keep things close despite the holes. But if those deficiencies persist, those holes could turn into crevices that will turn what should be a one-or-two game gap into a larger margin.

And that would certainly relegate the Yanks into a one-game wild card mode come October.

For a team with such game-busting potential, no one wants to see a win-or-go-home scenario.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino