The 2023 New York Yankees aren't full-strength at the moment, but that's not excuse for not playing hard and playing smart.
If anything, these current Yankees can only win if they play near-flawless baseball, and need to tune out distractions tenfold if they're going to have any chance of treading water -- especially against a machine like the Tampa Bay Rays.
On Saturday, we were given yet another example of the undermanned Yankees playing foolishly and inattentively at the worst possible time.
After Domingo Germán allowed back-to-back hits to begin the bottom of the first inning (cool), he retired two batters consecutively before Manuel Margot stepped to the plate. With one strike on the batter, catcher Kyle Higashioka called for a chase pitch, believing he was in the midst of a two-strike count.
He wasn't, and robbed himself of the ability to call the pitch (after wandering away from the plate as if he'd completed the mission), neutering the team's strategy when there was actually a 2-2 count on the board. Margot deposited a pitch that got too much plate into the left-field corner, and Tampa took a 2-0 lead that felt like more than enough.
Anthony Rizzo pulls Yankees captain duties vs Kyle Higashioka
Following the two-run double (that felt like a two-run death knell), first baseman Anthony Rizzo was spotted taking Higashioka to task in the dugout.
Tensions are understandably running high, at the moment, as the Yankees careen back towards .500 while the Rays further extend their remarkable, double-digit lead over New York in the early going. It's the first time the Yankees have been 10+ games back in the division this early since 1984, when the Tigers were still in their division.
All Rizzo can do is put on a brave face and try to be a leader, while still trying to toe the line of alienation.
If this team's going to continue a Wild Card push, which could become an AL East push if the chips fall in the right place, they'll need to stay together, as several bats (hopefully) come to life. So far, it seems they're more likely to come apart at the seams instead.