Yankees losing grip on playoff spot after free fall back to .500

Mark Townsend
·Yahoo Sports Contributor
·4 min read

The New York Yankees are packing more drama into this 60-game season than we ever thought was possible.

With Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees having shockingly fallen all the way back to .500 at 21-21 after beginning the season 16-6.

To put it another way, New York has gone from preseason World Series favorites, to a near postseason lock after 22 games, to now opening the door for potential chaos with the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners all positioned to challenge them for a postseason berth.

Here’s the good news: They haven’t been passed ... yet. Thanks to the expanded 16-team postseason — which will feature eight teams from each league making the playoffs — New York would be in — in the eighth and final spot — if the playoffs started today.

Now, here’s the bad news: The playoffs don’t start today. The Yankees season can still go a lot of ways, one of which is down the tubes.

Here are four reasons why New York’s season is moving in the wrong direction, and why fans have reason to be concerned about the season’s final three weeks.

Yankees injuries are piling up

Last season, the Yankees placed a league-record 30 different players on the injured list. Through six weeks this season, they would be on pace to break that record again over a full 162-game season.

Over a dozen players have missed time. That includes Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres in the lineup. On the pitching side, James Paxton, Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton have all had IL stints, while Luis Severino’s season ended before it started.

It’s a who’s who list that would threaten any team’s season.

The struggles of catcher Gary Sanchez are just one reason why the New York Yankees are losing their grip on a playoff spot. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
The struggles of catcher Gary Sanchez are just one reason why the New York Yankees are losing their grip on a playoff spot. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Yankees remaining regulars are struggling

In 2019, the Yankees overcame all of the injuries to win 103 regular-season games and reach the ALCS. That happened because the group of veteran players general manager Brian Cashman added as insurance paid off.

Offensively, Gio Urshela, Luke Voit and Mike Tauchman all enjoyed breakout seasons. On the pitching staff, Adam Ottavino, Britton and Luis Cessa elevated their game. That group helped supplement the remaining regulars, which allowed New York to continue playing at a high level.

This season, it’s a completely different story. Despite the fact that Urshela, Voit and Clint Frazier are all playing well, they simply don’t have enough help. Foundation players like Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andujar and especially Gary Sanchez, are setting the offense back by providing next to nothing.

Collectively, that quartet is hitting .180 this season through 360 at-bats. And there have been no signs that any of the four are close to breaking out

Yankees bullpen has fallen apart

Early in the season, New York’s bullpen was among the best in baseball on paper and in terms of production. This, too, has been a different story since Aug. 18.

Oddly enough, that rough stretch also coincides with the return of Chapman, which everyone thought would boost the bullpen. He’s one of several who are struggling.

Here are the ERAs of New York’s key relievers during the 5-15 stretch: Aroldis Chapman (6.75), Britton (7.36), Chad Green (11.37) and Ottavino (20.77).

That won’t cut in.

The Yankees starting rotation is still in the top half of MLB. But everything around it is preventing New York from repeating last season’s success.

Rebuilding teams came to play

That the Yankees postseason hopes are in trouble isn’t just about the Yankees themselves. We must give credit as well to the Toronto Blue Jays, who entered the season rebuilding and without a home stadium thanks to the pandemic. Even with young star Bo Bichette injured, Toronto is 24-18 and three full games up on New York.

Likewise, the Baltimore Orioles (20-21), Detroit Tigers (19-21) and Seattle Mariners (19-22), are keeping the pressure on despite their management teams having no real intention of putting a winning team on the field this season. Collectively, those three teams finished 147 games below .500 last season.

The pride, determination and energy all three teams are playing with might be aided in some way by the wide-open possibilities of a 60-game season. But it’s still mighty impressive seeing each compete with the Yankees and even the Houston Astros, who are hovering around at 21-21 as well, for a coveted spot in October.

Maybe all three will eventually fade. Maybe they won’t. Whatever the case, the onus is on the Yankees to bounce back and bounce back quickly.

More from Yahoo Sports: