Yankees mired in mediocrity

So after 82 games, the Yankees have reached the level of mediocrity. Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Rays put the Yankees’ record at 42-42. Another lackluster offensive showing wasted a strong start by Hiroki Kuroda and resulted in the Yanks’ fourth straight loss.

The Yankees’ only run came on a throwing error by the versatile Ben Zobrist, who is playing shortstop these days instead of second base or the outfield because Yunel Escobar is on the disabled list. After that, Jacoby Ellsbury stole second but was stranded as Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran flied out and Alfonso Soriano struck out.

Kuroda pitched well enough to win. He scattered nine hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in eight innings. The Rays bunched three singles for a run in the fourth inning. James Loney led off the sixth with his fifth home run for what proved the winning run.

In the bottom of that inning, Derek Jeter singled and stole second, but the Yankees couldn’t get him home. Ellsbury was called out on strikes. After a walk to Teixeira, Beltran flied out and Soriano looked at a third strike.

In the ninth, Grant Balfour, who has been a bust as a closer (5.34 ERA), walked two batters but escaped danger when Yangervis Solarte grounded out to end the game.

The Yankees had 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. The Rays weren’t much better (1-for-8), but Tampa Bay is a last-place club that is 12 games under .500. Former Cy Young Award winner David Price had his streak of consecutive double-digit strikeout games end at five but still had nine punchouts, the most he ever totaled in a game against the Yankees. Price raised his career record against them to 10-5 with a 3.81 ERA, including 6-2 with a 3.67 ERA at Yankee Stadium.

Wednesday’s series finale marks the end of five consecutive sets against American League East competition for the Yankees, who got off to a great start when they swept first-place Toronto, but they have not won a series since. They lost two of three to the Blue Jays in a return engagement at Toronto, two of three to the Orioles, two of three to the Red Sox and the first two games of this series to the Rays. They have gone from 3-0 to 6-8 in this stretch.

Fortunately for the Yankees, mediocrity seems to have hit the entire division. Despite the recent downturn, the Yankees are only 3 1/2 games out of first place. Checking the standings in the other divisions, it would appear that the Yanks would have to win the division in order to make the playoffs because four other clubs are well ahead of them for the two wild card berths. There are 80 games remaining on the schedule, however, plenty of time for the Yankees to change direction, which clearly they must to return to serious contention.

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