By Pedro Moura
FOX Sports MLB Writer
ANAHEIM — The New York Yankees are not winning, mostly because they are not hitting.
Baseball’s best team through three months was one of its worst in August. The reasons are myriad, but after a dozen close losses across the month, club leaders have winnowed the primary culprit down to the offense.
“Basically over the last couple weeks, it comes down to: We haven’t scored a lot of runs,” manager Aaron Boone said this week at Angel Stadium. “We talk about it every day. We know we’re capable of it, but a lot of teams are capable of it. We have to go out and do it.”
First-year hitting coach Dillon Lawson, lauded after his charges dominated to start the season, agreed with Boone’s estimation. Several key hitters have lost their way of late.
“The team is right when the individuals are right,” Lawson said. “Right now, that’s not the case.”
Two hours after Boone and Lawson spoke Tuesday, Andrew Benintendi launched a home run on the eighth pitch of the Yankees’ game against the Angels. In an offensive explosion reminiscent of their spring success, the Yankees added two more homers and six more runs before dusk fell on Orange County. They followed that with a meek two-run losing effort Wednesday.
They remain in a luxurious position, six games up in the American League East, with the rival Rays recently sustaining significant blows. But the Yankees’ perspective has long stretched beyond the division race to the playoffs, where they will have to hit better than this to advance.
Lawson said it was debatable whether the second-half slump started or was sustained as a result of injuries to several of the team’s top hitters, including Giancarlo Stanton and Matt Carpenter. But, he acknowledged, their struggles are not only a product of injuries. The remaining healthy players have not responded in effective fashion.
“When it all mashes together at once, that’s when the guys that are left standing feel like they gotta pick up and do more than what they’ve been doing all year,” he said. “It’s a natural reaction to want to do more when the team needs it, but if that were possible, it probably would’ve already been happening.”
It has not been happening. But with even one good night, the possibility always arises that it is about to happen. Late last month, Lawson was encouraged by the club’s back-to-back victories over aces Alek Manoah and Max Scherzer. Those were quickly followed by consecutive losses to the likes of Adam Oller, Adrian Martinez and José Suarez.
“You look around the clubhouse and see the hitters that we have, and you’re full of confidence,” said All-Star catcher Jose Trevino. “I just think it’s a little skid in the road. We played well a few games ago. Everybody’s gonna hit their skids. You gotta come back in here, have good approaches, good team at-bats and go from there.”
Trevino is one of the few Yankees sustaining his first-half success. Aaron Judge, in hot pursuit of Roger Maris and free-agency riches, is another. D.J. LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo have only slightly regressed.
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“Our first half was unreal,” Trevino said. “Our success, people were dating back numbers from a long time ago, and that’s tough to keep up. But I don’t put it past anybody in this clubhouse that we can’t do that again, and that we can’t do that the next month, two months, three months, whatever it is.”
It’s often forgotten now, but the Yankees’ first-half success began in earnest two weeks after Opening Day, once their hitters adjusted to a collective slow start. Several Yankees drastically reduced their chase rates after April and forced opponents to walk them or risk damage. That led to repeated outbursts and a lot of fun.
“When we’re winning in New York, I find it hard to believe that there’s any better position in the entire world,” Lawson said. “There’s no better feeling.”
He sought to temper that feeling.
“Those first few months, that being my first experience, I was just constantly reminding myself, ourselves, ‘It’s not this easy,'” he said. “You’re asking yourself questions of: ‘OK, if this guy starts to slump, why do I think it would be?’ So that way you can try to beat it to the punch.”
They did not beat it every time, but, he said, they have now grasped the new ways opponents are targeting them.
“We made our adjustment early and were able to ride it out,” Lawson said. “Now we’re trying to make another adjustment as we head into September and then the playoffs so that we’re hitting our stride.”
Boone has tried a variety of public tacks, anger and denial among them, during the Yankees’ struggles. Lately, he has been acknowledging the failings, but arguing that the team remains close to finding its desired path. He’s tempering the feeling, too.
“I feel like we’re gonna get reinforcements back that are gonna help the equation,” he said. “I think we have all the pieces and have the chance to be a great club.”
For three-plus months, they were one. They have one more month to become one again.
Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Beat a Broken Game.” Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.
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