Yanks Closer to Red Sox but Still Seeking First-Place Form

Yanks Closer to Red Sox but Still Seeking First-Place Form

For a moment, it seemed as though Giancarlo Stanton’s chiseled physique was not quite the product of rigorous exercise, drinking his milk and eating all his vegetables.

“I don’t like carrots,” Stanton said here on Sunday afternoon.

Alas, Stanton was speaking metaphorically.

As the Boston Red Sox have begun to slink back toward the Yankees, losing six of eight games including their first series sweep of the season, at Tampa Bay, Stanton preferred not to look at the morsel of hope it had provided the Yankees division title hopes as a root vegetable to chase.

“So, I’m not worried about them,” he said. “We’re just playing our game. We’ve got some more head to heads. It’s not ‘We’re in this striking distance now.’ Just keep fighting and see where we’re at at the end.”

The Yankees closed to within six games of the Red Sox after a 5-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday night, the nearest they have been to their rivals since being swept in a four-game series at Fenway Park at the start of August.

And if the Yankees’ six games against Boston over the final two weeks of the season end up being meaningful, it will be because they have been feasting on cupcakes in the meantime.

Their win on Sunday night completed a four-game sweep of the feckless Orioles, who have the worst record in baseball, and was their eighth victory in a nine-game stretch that has also included games with the underwhelming Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins, the second-worst team in the National League. Another inviting stretch begins Monday, when the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers visit the Bronx before the Yankees set off to Oakland, Seattle and Minnesota.

At the moment, the Yankees are hardly in October form. They needed to go to extra innings twice on this six-game trip, and although they got three hits apiece on Sunday night from Miguel Andujar and Luke Voit, who hit his third home run of the series, the Yankees’ frailties were on display.

Luis Severino, despite being given seven days’ rest in an effort to regain his ace form, was again nowhere near his best, needing 107 pitches to navigate five and two-thirds innings. Gleyber Torres committed his fourth error in six games at shortstop, and of the four bases the Orioles stole, two came without a throw.

Moreover, the Yankees are still missing four of their most indispensable players: right fielder Aaron Judge, catcher Gary Sanchez, shortstop Didi Gregorius and closer Aroldis Chapman — all of whom are on the disabled list.

But they have been resourceful.

“That’s what great teams do,” Stanton said. “Find a way to scrape when you’re beat up; find a way to win the close games, the sloppy games, the weird games that baseball tends to have. That’s what we’ve been able to do — and continue to do.”

When the Yankees alight on their trip across the country next Sunday night, Manager Aaron Boone is optimistic that Sanchez and Gregorius will be in tow.

Sanchez, who began a rehab assignment on Saturday as a designated hitter in the rookie-ball Gulf Coast League, will catch for Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Monday and Tuesday, and will have Wednesday off. Boone said that Sanchez, who played three rehab games in his last stint on the disabled list only to reinjure his groin, would play more minor league games this time but said Sanchez is in his best shape of the season.

“With all we’ve put him through to prepare him for this, we’ve given him a good amount of rehab games to make sure he’s right and hits the ground running,” Boone said.

Meanwhile, Gregorius, who is eligible to come off the disabled list on Thursday, will have his strained heel examined by doctors on Monday with the hope that he can ramp up his activity this week.

A return to action for Judge and Chapman does not appear imminent.

As for whether the Red Sox are in sight, the Yankees did not want to entertain such thoughts. Boone repeated once more on Sunday that the only team the Yankees are concerned with are the one they are playing on any given night.

“We have no say what they do 2,000 miles away,” Boone said of the Red Sox. “It’s nice when they lose — I like that. But I’m so consumed with trying to make sure our ship is going in the right direction.”

It was a message that carried throughout the clubhouse.

After all, Boston’s troubles came against the Indians and the surging Rays, who have also given the Yankees their share of fits in the last two months. Next up for the Red Sox is Miami and the White Sox.

“The fact of the matter is the Red Sox haven’t really gone through a rough stretch yet,” said utility man Neil Walker. “Who knows if it’s coming now or if it’s going to stop tomorrow? We’re not going to put the pressure of sweeping every series just to get back — that’s not fair, that’s not the right mind-set.”

He added: “Our thought process is they’re going to win every series the rest of the year, too, and when we play them, that will be our chance to gain some ground. Those are obviously going to be important. This game is too tough to think in those terms — ‘What are they doing, what is this team doing?’”

So the Yankees, it seems, will do their best to keep their focus on the task at hand, the best way to ensure that the carrot that lays ahead — the games remaining with the Red Sox — are not reduced to small potatoes.