NEW YORK — The New York Yankees expressed plenty of bluster and braggadocio on Wednesday as they realized their skid was nothing more than a pothole on the way to a World Series championship and they had no need to hold on.
After losing the two-game subway series to the New York Mets 3-2, the Yankees’ actions proved to be more powerful than their words.
The Yankees made their first major move at the trade deadline, acquiring All-Star outfielder Andrew Benintendi from the Kansas City Royals for three minor-league pitchers, and they’re no doubt looking for more help. Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto is no longer in the picture, but Cincinnati Reds ace Luis Castillo and bullpen help are on their radar.
“Obviously, he’s a great player,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Despite the road bump here, we have a ton of confidence. But any time you bring in reinforcements and All-Star-caliber players, they’re just going to make a longer, stronger, more formidable team. We’ll certainly welcome him back and build him up.”
The trade comes amid the Yankees’ longest skid of the season. They have dropped 10 of their last 15 games, scoring five runs against the Mets in the series, one of which was not produced by a home run. Their lead over the Houston Astros was cut to two games thanks to home-field advantage.
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The Yankees insist there is no panic. They will tell you that they will lose now rather than in late September or October. However, despite the confidence and best record in baseball, the Yankees front office decided not to take any chances, sending minor-league pitchers Chandler Champlain, TJ Sikkema and Beck Whaley to Benintendi on three-month rentals.
“We know we’re really good, and we know we’re going to struggle this season, and we’re ready for that,” Boone said. “We’re ready to face it. We’ve actually taken a little bit of adversity, but we’ll power our way through it. There’s no question in my mind.
“We’re clueless. We know where we’re going.”
Certainly, adding the left-handed hitting Benintendi would make the Yankees more balanced. While Benintendi has just three home runs, he is hitting .320 with a league-leading 34 multi-hit games. He has reached base in 31 of his last 33 games and is batting .398 with a .457 on-base percentage since June 27.
“It’s definitely a big part of what we have going on here,” Yankees slugger Aaron Judge said. “He’s a really good player. He’s hitting over .300 all year, playing really good defense, and has been a sparkplug in Kansas City. If you’re not careful, he can leave the yard at any time at Yankee Stadium.
“So, if you ever bring someone like that into the culture we’ve got, give us a little pump. I think he’s a perfect fit.
The only real danger with Benintendi, who won the Gold Glove Award last season and has made no mistakes this season, is that he is unvaccinated. The Yankees still have three games left in Toronto — requiring vaccination cards to enter the country — and could meet them in the postseason. Benintendi said last week that he would consider inoculation if traded to a contender to join a fully inoculated team.
Benintendi might be perfect for a team full of sluggers, but Boone bristled when asked if he thought the Yankees had too many free swingers.
“It’s fake news that we have a lot of power hitters, a lot of sluggers, that’s fake,” Boone said. “We have savages in the lineup and really good hitters.
“Benintendi is a great hitter. Gets the base at a really high-clip. It’s another big league hitter to add to the mix that can extend our lineup and give you the balance you’re looking for.”
The Yankees could use a boost. This is the team with the best record in baseball history, but suddenly not the best in New York.
Their lineup was smothered by three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer on Wednesday, with Jordan Montgomery and Domingo German torching their starting pitching in a series that spanned seven innings.
The Yankees still hold the best record in baseball at 66-33. They have an 11½-game lead in the AL East. This might be their most talented team since winning the 2009 World Series.
But they’ve lost five of seven games against the Astros this season, and never once in the series have they led after a full inning.
“We’re still one of the best teams in the game,” Judge said. “So I wouldn’t judge our season after a few weeks.”
The Yankees now have the hurting Royals (39-59) coming to town Thursday for a four-game series.
Goodbye hardship, hello revival.
“It’s never good to lose games, but if you want to do it, now’s the time to do it,” Yankees infielder/outfielder Matt Carpenter said. “Every team goes through adversity. There’s no doubt in my mind, we’ll get hot again and you’ll be playing your best baseball in October.”
It was at this time a year ago that the Yankees made a series of moves at the deadline, acquiring first baseman Anthony Rizzo, outfielder Joey Gallo, reliever Clay Holmes and starter Andrew Heaney.
They wound up in the playoffs, but lost to the Boston Red Sox in the wild card game. This time, they believe they will play deep into October.
“Anytime you add at the trade deadline it’s always a good thing, always a boost,” Rizzo said. “I love the group we have here right now, but all the additions are generally good. We have a lot. Guys that have been here a long time, so a skid like this, it’s been a long season. It’s good to have it now. It’s just part of the ebbs and flows of the season.”
Now they could use some pitching help. They have an ace in Gerrit Cole, but there are red flags with the rest of the rotation. All-Star Nestor Cortes (8-3, 2.48 ERA) is 6 1/3 innings shy of last year’s total. They don’t know when Luis Severino will return. Jameson Taillon (10-2, 3.93 ERA) is posting a 6.98 ERA with an .890 OPS over his last six starts. Montgomery is 3-3 with a 3.50 ERA. They already have five starts of 3⅔ innings or fewer this month alone, which is the same total as the first three months of the season.
Now squarely on their radar is Castillo, who forms a 1-2 punch with Cole in the rotation.
“We’re good, we know that, but we obviously know we’re very beatable,” Boone said. “We try and don’t let anything get in the way of that focus.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @bnightengale.