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Here’s the pitch: Maybe the Yankees won’t finish what they started

Masahiro Tanaka

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Let’s face it, last weekend was the time the New York Yankees were supposed to put the American League East on ice. But instead, two games of their lead melted away thanks to a spate of horrific starting pitching.

The best thing you can say is the Yankees still owned an 8 1/2-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays heading into Monday’s action and its likely going to require a collapse of historical proportion for it to totally be whittled away.

One thing is certain. The Yankees proved they are capable of a biblical collapse. They aren’t feeling as cozy about things as they were before they opened their four-game series in Boston on Thursday. That quartet of games laid bare every concern New York has about their staff, which suddenly doesn’t look adequate enough to survive the AL postseason, let alone a run in the World Series.

“We’ve entered this process at the deadline with a pretty good feel of what we’d like to do, what we’re willing to pay for it and the built-in discipline of walking away if we don’t find the right matches under those circumstances,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Friday after Yankee starters had been bashed in the first two games.

The next 48 hours will tell us what the Yankees plan to do to shore up their starting staff. One of the pitchers supposedly on their radar, Marcus Stroman, was gobbled up by the Mets on Sunday. But there are other arms the Yankees likely covet. They need at least one of them.

In the meantime, the Yankees understand they face another four-game series with the Red Sox beginning Thursday night in New York. And losing three of four, as they did in Boston, would shave another two games off the lead and set the stage for an August race few felt was probable before July began.

And it might come down to just the Yankees and Red Sox because the Rays have been fading and just lost their ace, Blake Snell, to elbow surgery.

“If you want to be a World Series team, you’ve got to consistently do the little things,” reliever Zack Britton said told The New York Times. “And that’s what they [the Red Sox] did last year. That’s all facets of the game: not walking guys, getting ahead, making good pitches all the way through, moving guys over, playing good defense, not giving up extra outs. That’s the separator between us and them on a given night, and the team that consistently does that is going to be the team that season series-wise is the winner. But also with the talent, it’s the difference between winning the World Series or not.”

JA Happ

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Yankees have operated all season without the injured Luis Severino, who been out with a rotator cuff injury. It was expected that he’d anchor the staff. Without him, Yankees manager Aaron Boone has cobbled together a rotation of James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, C.C. Sabathia and Domingo German that’s been just adequate, made to look better by the way the team has swung the bat.

German pitched the Yankees to victory in the finale on Sunday, allowing three runs over 5 1/3 innings to improve his record to 13-2. But he was the first starter in over a week to even get to the fifth inning.

Paxton’s ERA is 4.72. Tanaka’s is 4.79. Happ’s is 5.23 E.R.A., and Sabathia, who is on the injured list again with a troublesome knee, is languishing at 4.78. It’s all very troubling stuff.

Here’s the perfect illustration of the Yankees problems: Counting Saturday’s 9-5 loss to the Red Sox, the Yankees had allowed 73 runs over their last seven games – the most over the same span since the franchise was born in 1903. Their combined ERA was 16.62.

“It’s frustrating,” said Sabathia. “You want to pitch well. We know we have a good team over here. A great offense. We’ve been the reason why we’ve been losing games. We want to turn that around.”

The Yankees’ 10-5 loss on Friday was the sixth straight game their starter has allowed at least six runs in four innings or fewer. That was the longest such streak by any team in the live-ball era which dates to 1920.

And that followed a 19-3 loss on Thursday. The 19 runs were the most the Sox have ever scored in a game against the Yanks. The margin of victory was the highest in any game against New York at Fenway, equaling a 17-1 crushing on July 15, 2005.

“It’s been really tough,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “It’s been tough on them, tough on the team. But it’s my responsibility to get it right.”