Sputtering Bombers Badly In Need Of A Spark As Once-Comfortable Wild Card Lead Is Now Being Threatened

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Yankees have looked like zombies out on the field of late, sleep-walking their way through a stretch of winnable games before laying an egg on the first leg of their West Coast trip.

Maybe Didi Gregorius’ return to the lineup will snap them out of their funk.

Manager Aaron Boone said before Wednesday’s series finale against the Oakland Athletics that Gregorius would likely be activated before Friday’s opener in Seattle.

He can’t get back soon enough.

Didi Gregorius

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius hits an RBI triple in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 17, 2018. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Since going on the disabled list with a badly bruised heel on Aug. 21, the Yankees are 9-7. That’s respectable given the slew of injuries that have hampered them throughout the second half of the season, but they have dropped five of their last seven. And though Gary Sanchez returned on Saturday and Gregorius is expected back momentarily, the Bombers are still without their best offensive player, Aaron Judge, and one of the best closers in baseball, Aroldis Chapman.

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The Yankees (87-53) sit 9 1/2 games behind first-place Boston in the AL East, so the division race appears all but academic at this point, but there’s still no guarantee they will host the wild-card game, even with their gaudy record. Wednesday’s 8-2 defeat in Oakland gave the A’s the series win and moved them back with 3 1/2 of the Yanks.

And considering how Boone’s team has looked of late, fans should be concerned. Before heading out West, the Yankees went just 3-4 against the lowly Chicago White and Detroit Tigers at home, where they had been dominant all season. So, with this team sputtering heading into Seattle, it appears to be an ideal time to get back one of its best players.

“In a lot of ways, he is one of the heartbeats of this club,’’ Boone said of Gregorius. “He is in the middle of the diamond and playing a premium position as well as he does [and] gives us a lefty presence in the middle of the lineup. Kind of the captain of the infield out there. Just looking forward to his presence back in our lineup on both sides of the ball.”

Gregorius is batting .270 with 22 homers and 74 RBIs. His presence in the middle of the lineup would provide some protection for Giancarlo Stanton, who is hitting .120 (6-for-50) with just three RBIs over his last 13 games.

The Yankees will give the ball to Masahiro Tanaka on Friday against the Mariners, who are 5 1/2 games behind the A’s for the second wild card.