Gary Phillips: Mighty Braves show Yankees what a championship-caliber team truly looks like

ATLANTA — Before the Yankees began their three-game series with the Braves, Aaron Boone said the opponent had “no real weakness.”

“They’re kind of running away with their division for good reason,” the manager said of Atlanta, baseball’s best team.

Those comments preceded an 11-3 loss for the Yankees. And a 5-0 loss in which they were one-hit. And a 2-0 loss that capped a wretched 2-7 road trip.

“Right now, they’re the class of the league,” Boone said, later adding that there’s a big gap between them and the Yankees. “I mean, clearly. That’s where you want to be, and they’re obviously putting together a pretty great season.”

“That’s where you want to be” is a far cry from the championship-caliber labels the Yankees undeservedly gave themselves earlier this year. Such descriptions haven’t been used lately, as the team is now 60-61 and 6.5 games out of the third and final wild card.

“We’re scuffling our asses off, and we need to do better and we need to take some personal pride,” Boone said Tuesday after the Yankees made Bryce Elder look like a Cy Young contender.

Added Aaron Judge: “We’re not showing up. That’s what it comes down to. We’re not showing up when we need to, especially down the stretch right now. We got every opportunity to keep ourselves in the race. We’re not capitalizing when we need to.”

Even if the Yankees were to make an improbable run at the playoffs, this week’s series in Atlanta showed that the Bombers are no match for legitimate World Series contenders.

The Braves, who won it all in 2021, showed off a formidable pitching staff and a dangerous lineup that Boone described as “rugged and balanced.”

The Yankees, meanwhile, had more errors than hits on Tuesday and spent the last 18 innings of the series getting shut out.

“It’s a good peek at what you want it to look like and what you want it to be,” Boone said of the Braves. “But we got to worry about us, not only as team, but as individuals and trying to make sure we’re doing all we can to give ourselves the best chance to be successful.”

That ship sailed a long time ago, though, as the Yankees consciously began the season with serious holes in left field and at third base. By failing to upgrade an offense that got embarrassed in last year’s postseason and counting on injury-prone and aging players, Brian Cashman concocted a recipe for disappointment.

That’s exactly what the Yankees have been.

“It sucks,” Boone said. “We’re just simply not playing well enough. That starts with me and on down. We got to be better. It’s a broken record, right?”

As Boone’s quote suggests, this isn’t just about losing to the Braves, who look like a juggernaut right now. This is about the Yankees being mediocre when they claim to be the cream of the crop.

Take away an 8-1 record against the abysmal A’s and Royals, and the Yankees are 52-60. There’s nothing championship-caliber about that.

Still, this team insists that it’s “just a couple streaks away from being right where we want to be,” as Judge said Wednesday. Boone, meanwhile, spoke of teams that went on “unlikely runs,” such as recent Braves, Phillies and Nationals squads.

He also mentioned the 1995 Yankees and said there’s “a quarter of the season left.” That sounds a lot better than saying the Yankees have a mere 41 games or a month and a half left in their campaign.

“I get it looks bleak. And I don’t want to even suggest that we’re in a position to even talk about that,” Boone said of an unlikely run while acknowledging that the Yankees have not given anyone a reason to believe in them. “We got to fix our own house and get it going, but there’s a lot of season left, too, and we got to look at it that way.”

Boone is right in the sense that there’s still time for a turnaround, as the Yankees haven’t been mathematically eliminated yet. But this team isn’t supposed to be in this position. This team is supposed to be preparing for a World Series run, just like the Braves.

At least that’s what everyone was told.


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