In deploying 50 different lineups through the first 59 games, the Yankees had tried just about everything this season before Sunday night’s series finale against the Red Sox.
That’s included experimental concepts hatched during spring training, such as Aaron Judge in centerfield and Gio Urshela at shortstop. Ideas we never really expected to see once the regular season began, only because no one anticipated that degree of desperation.
Miguel Andujar? He’s no longer a third baseman capable of playing other positions. For better or worse, Andujar is the leftfielder, and the Yankees will stomach whatever comes with that in order to keep his bat in the lineup as one of its very few productive members.
These are examples of an inflexible roster stretched into uncomfortable positions — primarily because of subpar performance, not the injury-armageddons of seasons past.
It’s why the conversations with manager Aaron Boone never change much from day to day. Hope is a terrible strategy, but other than trotting out the same names, occasionally in different places, what’s left for a $200 million team that looks like a high-priced rip-off?
“I’m pretty steadfast in my confidence in these guys,” Boone said before Sunday night’s game. “It’s certainly a prove-it league, though. We’re doing everything we can. We’re grinding away behind the scenes to try and get us to where we know we should be.”
The Yankees were in a more conventional lineup for the series finale. Everybody was back in their typical spots, and that included Giancarlo Stanton being relegated to his all-too-familiar place: the bench.
Heading into this Red Sox weekend, Boone suggested that Stanton would be ready to play all three games, but he ultimately modified that pledge after talking things over with him following Saturday night’s 7-3 loss.
We’re not sure who exactly thought it would be prudent for him to sit this one out — Boone or Stanton — but the $325 million DH has been bringing zero to the plate anyway. Not starting him Sunday probably spared Stanton another o-fer and more booing in the Bronx, this time on ESPN’s national broadcast.
Since Stanton returned May 28 from a quadriceps strain, he’s hitting .087 (2-for-23) with a pair of singles and 11 strikeouts in seven games.
Whenever Boone is asked about Stanton taking a seat, his response is some vague combination of load management and/or mental breather.
“Constantly just having that dialogue with him, each and every day, trying to get him to that point where we need to get him, obviously,” Boone said. “We feel like he’s making steady progress to get there, but we don’t want to go the other way, too. We know how important he is to what we do in our offense.”
Well, Stanton has done nothing lately, and the Yankees have been maybe a notch above nothing. That’s not a coincidence.
But where is this place Stanton is trying to reach? Is he still not completely healthy? Or is this just taking a while to knock the rust off?
“I think they go hand-in-hand,” Boone said. “I think getting to him to that place where he feels really good and strong and at his best physically translates probably into really good results. Just making sure, kind of more importantly, not to have setbacks. And that’s just a little bit of a balancing act right now.”
Boone did offer that Stanton is dealing with “some residual stuff” with the need to build up strength and endurance. That’s certainly believable. He has appeared off at the plate.
Then again, he only has to DH. Despite hinting in spring training that he might ask him to try the outfield, Boone doesn’t dare do that now.
If Stanton is struggling this much just to make it through four at-bats a night, the Yankees can’t possibly consider forcing him to take any more than the absolute minimum number of steps, so forget ever playing the field. Right now, they’d be thrilled with a hit every once in a while. Perhaps one for extra bases.
With Stanton’s streaky nature, that version could surface again on the upcoming road trip. The booing decibel level increased this past week, and getting out of the Bronx probably wouldn’t be the worst thing for him. But Stanton hasn’t been alone in getting razzed at home. The rest of the Yankees have been hearing plenty of that, too.
And there’s no obvious solutions, no ready-made answers, to changing that vibe. Calling up Chris Gittens from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was one of the few bullets left for Brian Cashman, but that only served to create a nice moment Saturday night for the 27-year-old rookie, who got a warm reception from the otherwise cranky crowd.
The Yankees? They got the same result: another loss to a division rival.