MIAMI — For the first 84 games of last season, the Yankees were the best team in baseball.
At 61-23 on July 8 last year, they were a season-high 38 games above .500 with a 15 ½-game lead atop the AL East while winning at a near-historic pace.
Since then, they have mostly been mired in mediocrity.
After hitting their high-water mark of 2022, the Yankees have played to a 100-102 record, including the playoffs.
They will enter the series opener against the Marlins on Friday night at 59-56 this season, five games out of the final American League wild-card spot with 47 games left.
And yet, at least publicly, they have continued to express confidence that they are capable of getting hot, even if they have shown little in the way of doing so.
“We just haven’t seen it yet,” Aaron Judge said Wednesday night after the Yankees lost a series to the miserable White Sox in Chicago. “Ebbs and flows of the season, a lot of ups and downs. I got confidence in these guys.”
Manager Aaron Boone has spent much of the last few months defending his team and portraying a message to Judge’s, insisting that the Yankees have better play in them.
He has continued to cite players’ track records of past success — the main culprits not living up to that being Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, Josh Donaldson and DJ LeMahieu — even as the present numbers have piled up in the wrong direction.
After a loss to the Angels on July 18 in Anaheim, Boone vehemently pushed back against the idea that mediocre is just who the Yankees are.
But the middling end results since have done little to change that narrative, with the Yankees so far unable to overcome underperformance and injuries.
They hoped Judge’s return from a nearly two-month absence due to a torn toe ligament could deliver a spark.
Instead they have gone 5-8 since the reigning AL MVP came back.
“I do think we do have the talent and the capabilities,” general manager Brian Cashman said on the day he basically stood pat at the trade deadline. “Saying it is one thing. Watching it lately hasn’t been anything close to what you’d feel comfortable with.”
Though the Yankees played around .500 ball over the second half of last season, which was buoyed by Judge’s chase for 62 home runs, Cashman did not make any significant additions to the lineup entering this year.
He re-signed Judge and Rizzo and banked on bounce-back seasons from other veterans.
For most of the first half of this season, the Yankees’ strong pitching staff — particularly the bullpen — covered up for a lot of the offense’s deficiencies.
Now, the rotation is beginning to show more cracks, through a mix of injuries, unavailability and poor pitching — to the point at which the Yankees have had to continue to use Luis Severino though his ERA rose above 8.00 on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, even after swapping Sean Casey for Dillon Lawson as hitting coach at the All-Star break, the offense has remained maddeningly inconsistent.
The Yankees have often pointed to their better overall at-bats lately, and while that has led to increased traffic on the base paths, the improved approach has yet to pay off consistently.
The Yankees are 48-13 when scoring four runs or more — the fourth-best winning percentage in that split — but their 61 games doing so are the seventh-fewest in the majors.
By the time the Yankees entered their day off on Thursday, their run differential for the season had sunk to minus-one. They have not had a winning month since May. Aside from sweeping the lowly Royals last month — their only series win in their last 11 attempts (1-7-3) — they have not won three straight games since May 27-30, a few days before Judge’s toe slammed into the Dodger Stadium wall.
“It’s no fun when you’re not just rolling, like many of those guys have throughout their careers,” Boone said. “When it’s up and down, win one, lose one, win a couple, lose a couple, you’re kind of desperately trying to find that consistency. Because we know we gotta go on a good run.
“You also have to have a level of professionalism to have that process and mentality of every day coming in focusing on what you have to do and not getting too emotional about it, too. That’s a hard balance to strike and we need to.”
Despite an extended stretch that seems to suggest otherwise, the Yankees keep believing they are capable of going on a run. But the more often they have to say it, the closer they get to running out of time.
“We got a job to do on the field and we gotta just worry about the game that we’re playing and not where we’re at [in the standings],” Judge said. “I’ll look at the standings right before the postseason starts.”
Unless the Yankees suddenly find the hot streak they have been starving for, he may not like the results.