Yankees exit Rogers Centre taking a hard look at themselves

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez goes out to talk to starting pitcher Sonny Gray. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

TORONTO — The kids didn’t leave Toronto empty-handed. Not completely. As Clint Frazier packed up his bag to leave the Rogers Centre Thursday night, his chest was all puffed out: he’d scored some prime OVO stuff, taking a little bit of Drake back with him across the border.

"October’s Very Own," Frazier explained to a couple of teammates, zipping up his equipment bag.

OVO does indeed stand for October’s Very Own and you could see the wheels spinning in Frazier’s head: October baseball. Yankees. Playoffs. Yet once again, this young Yankees group left the Rogers Centre taking a hard look at themselves. The place where their 2016 playoff dream cratered when they lost three of four in an end-of-September series. A place where their team has just one series win in its last 10 visits, that coming in mid-August, 2015. A place where Aaron Judge’s miserable post-all-star break slide continued with a 2-for-17 effort over three games that has left him 5-for-31 through two series here. It’s nice to hit the scoreboard in batting practice and hit the Citizen sign beside it. But it’s what happens after 7:05 that counts.

And now it’s back home to Yankee Stadium for a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox starting tonight. The Red Sox have won eight consecutive games and have a 4.5–game lead.

"We just have to keep working at it; have some good at-bats – some good team at-bats" said Brett Gardner when asked about a power outage that has seen the team win exactly one game with more than two multi-run inning since June 30 – that coming Wednesday in an 11-5 win over the Blue Jays.

"I mean, all these games are important. (Tonight’s) game was important. Any time you play the Red Sox, especially when you’re behind them and it’s August or September, you know you’re running out of time to make up ground."

Aaron Judge has struggled mightily since the all-star break. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

Even though the Yankees are squarely league average in terms of batting average since the all-star break, there is a reason that they have tried to trade for the likes of Lucas Duda and Jay Bruce recently, especially with Matt Holliday nursing a left lumbar strain.

"We’ve done a pretty good job holding down teams," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "I mean, I feel like we have a chance to win close games.

"We had some chances tonight with runners in scoring position. We just couldn’t square him (Jays starter Marco Estrada) up."

Asked about his teams lack of offensive consistency, Girardi shrugged.

"It’s baseball," he said. "Guys are working at it in early BP and in cage work. It’s just a struggle right now.

"I think we have enough," Giradi added when asked whether he had enough firepower to catch the Red Sox. Firepower, maybe … but what about time?

"You have to stay within striking distance when you’re chasing teams," he said. "And when you play them, you have to make up ground."

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Frazier was not a factor in this series after going on the 10-day disabled list with an oblique strain suffered during BP. He was 3-for-17 on this seven-game, eight-day Yankees road trip; Judge was 1-for-13 in this series. Catcher Gary Sanchez was 4-for-20 on this trip and was benched for defensive issues in Cleveland. He had an awful time Wednesday handling and communicating with Masahiro Tanaka and had happy hands catching Sonny Gray’s pitches at times Thursday, too. Sanchez spent Sunday in the bullpen catching Gray’s side session but Thursday was his first start behind the plate with Gray on the mound.

Gray agreed afterwards with Girardi’s assessment that being limited to two starts in 17 days – his last start before a trade to the Yankees from the Oakland Athletics was July 25 in Toronto – had messed up his rhythm. "It’s been a little bit odd," Gray said. "It’s taken awhile for me to get used to just moving around again. It’s going to be nice to get in a routine here. Maybe set some rhythm."

Both Sanchez and Judge have come so far so fast that it seems unfair to put the spotlight on them. Gardner, after all, was just 5-for-30 on the trip, as he freely acknowledged. But this is the flip side of being one of the game’s big first-half stories.

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When Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays talks about being uncomfortable at the plate, it’s usually all about missing his pitches – in particular, fouling them off. And there was Judge Thursday night, essentially saying the same thing.

"An out is an out," Judge said when he was asked about his mounting strikeout total – coming in a season in which he is also threatening Ted Williams’ record for rookie walks.

"The major difference between now and the first half is I’m just missing my pitch. I thought I had some good swings; I thought I swung at the right pitches, but it’s almost as if if the ball isn’t right down the middle of the plate, I’m not making contact.

"That," he added, "is just baseball."

And so here come the Red Sox, who have 10 games left against the Yankees beginning with this weekend’s three-game series. Time to make up some ground, knowing they have one more series at the Rogers Centre, Sept. 22-24. October’s Very Own? Not yet.