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Yankees in freefall after hot start

The New York Yankees were not supposed to be a playoff team this year. The Boston Red Sox were the clear favorites in the American League East, while the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles were both picked to finish ahead of them by ample pundits.

Instead, the Yankees ran out to a lead in the East through the first two months of the year, largely on the back on rookie sensation Aaron Judge. Judge, 25, is hitting .330 with 30 home runs and 66 RBI, giving him an easy track to the AL Rookie of the Year. On Friday, Judge swatted his 30th home run of the season, giving him the all-time franchise record for homers by a rookie. It’s July 7.

Still, New York finds itself woefully skidding off course. The Yankees lost 9-4 in the Bronx to the Milwaukee Brewers, despite the visitors committing five errors. With the defeat, New York has seen its record go from 38-23 on June 12 to a mediocre 44-40. Now, the Yankees are skidding far off course, falling 4.5 games behind the Red Sox.

Much of the blame has to go to the pitching. The Yankees have gotten virtually nothing out of Masahiro Tanaka, who is sporting a 5.25 ERA with only nine quality starts in 17 chances. Michael Pineda has also struggled, allowing 20 home runs and 103 hits in 96.1 innings. On the flip side, Luis Severino has been terrific, racking up a team-best eight wins with a 3.52 ERA and 114 strikeouts.

In recent weeks, the bullpen has also struggled. On Wednesday, the Yankees lost to the Blue Jays with Dillon Betances walking four batters, including the winning run across the plate. Aroldis Chapman has also been hit hard, posting an alarmingly high WHIP of 1.34 for a hurler with a fastball that consistently over 100 MPH.

For the first two and a half months of the campaign, everything was working. New York has been carried at the dish by Judge and a collection of hitters playing out of their depth, including Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday and Brett Gardner. All are fine players, but Castro has never proven to be a .300 hitter (he’s currently hitting .313) while Gardner and Holliday are on pace for 30 homers and 100 RBI each.

At some point, that proverbial worm is going to turn. With the pitching already falling apart, the Yankees’ division hopes are fading quickly. If Holliday can’t get healthy, if Gardner can’t keep up his power surge, and if Castro can’t keep hitting like a batting champion, the Yankees are only going to continue their recent nosedive.

New York is still tied with the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals for a Wild Card spot, but the issues are apparent. The Yankees have time to fix them, but they may not have the right tools.

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