By Ernie Palladino
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For the first time in 21 days, after 20 straight games, the Yankees rested Thursday.
And boy, did they need it.
After getting swept by the White Sox in Chicago for the first time since 1991 and seeing their AL East lead tighten to three games, the Yanks were a team looking for a blow.
Not a physical rest. A mental one.
We really don’t buy into the idea that a 20-game stretch is going to physically ruin a team, and it obviously didn’t do that to the Yanks. Derek Jeter, for one, wasn’t so exhausted that he couldn’t hit his third homer in as many nights in Wednesday’s 2-1, series-ending loss, the first time in his career he’s ever done that. And Phil Hughes wouldn’t have had a seven-inning stint worthy of victory that same game if his arm was hanging like a limp dishrag.
No, this break is more of a reset for the upcoming stretch. Kind of like the guy who gets up from his losing poker hands at midnight and circumnavigates his chair to change his luck.
The Yanks could use that worm to turn right now, as 22 of the next 25 games come against AL East teams. After their three-game set in Cleveland, which begins Friday with CC Sabathia’s return from the DL, they head home for three against the Blue Jays and three against the Orioles before they hit the road again.
They would love to win four of those and maybe re-extend that lead to four or five games before they head off to another nine-game road trip to Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Boston. But they’ll need to be in a proper mindset to succeed in that stretch.
By the time their most recent string ended, they were decidedly not in said psyche. Even Joe Girardi showed the strain when he went after a post-game heckler at his press conference Wednesday night. And Jeter, though it didn’t show in his performance, seemed mighty ticked about an ESPN announcer’s pondering about whether he’s somehow mixed up in this whole mess surrounding performance-enhancing drugs.
It hasn’t been all that easy mentally. And it won’t be easier now that Ivan Nova has been placed on the DL with shoulder problems.
Nick Swisher, as easy-going a guy as you’ll ever meet, admitted the Yankees’ collective noggins could use a rest.
The situation isn’t exactly critical, though one can imagine that watching a 10-game lead on July 18 whittle itself down to three just over a month later can be quite unsettling. But at least, with the exception of Nova, it’s not a physical thing. If it was, Girardi’s team would be in a real jam.
It’s more mental. A lot of stuff converging to provide just enough distraction to send the Yanks into another post-All Star Game slump.
What they could really use is a strong, winning performance from Sabathia. Something to build upon. Something to set them back on the right path.
If they don’t find that soon, the AL East will truly turn into a dogfight that this team never wanted, or perhaps even contemplated, heading into the All-Star break.
Swisher told the press Wednesday night that he knows the Yanks can make a lot of good things happen in a short period of time.
That time is now, because the division race will truly begin in September. With Tampa Bay streaking at 13-3 over the last 16, a Rays charge would not be out of the ordinary.
Unless the Yanks start winning again.
What’s your prediction for the Yankees over the next 25 games? Let us know in the comments below…