TORONTO -- This was how things were supposed to look this year in the American League East. The Blue Jays were dominating, Josh Donaldson was mashing, the Yankees were stumbling and the postseason would be headed north of the border for the third straight October.
Now, that's probably not going to be the case. But the Blue Jays are still at least on the periphery to make things interesting while the Yankees have growing issues.
Toronto's 4-2 win that opened a three-game series Tuesday in Rogers Centre somehow has the Blue Jays within four games of the second AL wild card, albeit with six teams to pass. The Yankees, meanwhile, have dropped four games behind the Red Sox in the AL East but still hold the No. 1 wild card slot.
Things in the Bronx, however, are tenuous at best. The prospect-laden lineup is looking very vulnerable. Veteran CC Sabathia was torched for a pair of two-run homers by Donaldson and only lasted three innings. Sabathia threw just 53 pitches, so was manager Joe Girardi giving him an early hook?
Television cameras caught Girardi in the dugout leaning over the rail and clearly stewing during the fourth inning. He had a good reason.
The manager dropped a bombshell after the game, saying Sabathia tweaked his surgically repaired right knee and is headed back home for tests. Sabathia said the pain came "out of nowhere" and was clearly down in the mouth when talking to reporters.
"It's the same feeling I get whenever my knee hurts," said Sabathia said. "Just a pain."
Girardi glumly said "there's concern" when asked if this might be a disabled list situation. Sabathia admitted it was alarming to get that feeling almost every pitch in the knee he had repaired last October.
"It's frustrating. It's been healthy all year," he said. "To go out today and not have it be where I want it to be is frustrating."
Sabathia, who just made his 500th career start last week, entered the game with an AL-best 2.29 ERA on the road this year. Donaldson entered it batting .229 for his career against the big left-hander -- with no homers in 35 career at-bats. Then he went deep in two straight.
Sabathia hung a changeup in the first inning and Donaldson punished it to right-center field. In the third, Donaldson jumped on a 3-0 slider and sent a laser just inside the foul pole in left for a 4-1 lead. Donaldson has 11 extra-base hits over his last 19 games in a small sign of life during a rough season.
— Blue Jays (@BlueJays) August 9, 2017
"Over the past month or so mistakes that I’m getting aren’t happening as much, so I have to capitalize on pitches that are mistakes when I do get the opportunity," said Donaldson, who entered the game batting just .219 since July 1. "And the last week to 10 days I feel like I’ve been able to do that for the most part.”
Now, it was hardly game over. The Yankees had 14 baserunners but left on 10. The middle of their lineup is a mess. Aaron Judge went 0 for 3 and struck out twice more, giving him 25 straight games with at least one whiff, and continued his post-Home Run Derby/All-Star Game slide that saw him come into the night batting just .182.
"These are our guys and they've got to get it done," Girardi said. "We'll keep going to it and they've got to get it done."
Girardi has plenty of problems on his hands.
Gary Sanchez was back behind the plate catching Sabathia following two days off after Girardi called him out over the weekend in Cleveland for his AL-high 12 passed balls. Sanchez came into the night at .265-17-52, more than deserving of his spot in the lineup. But he added about 12 pounds over the winter and no less an authority than General Manager Brian Cashman said over the weekend that's made him slow to balls in the dirt.
The Yankees' youth seems to be enduring the dog days of August.
Clint Frazier seems like he's headed back to Scranton sometime soon for a little more work. He entered the game in a 5-for-31 rut and promptly struck out in his first three at-bats.
It's times like these when the Yankees need to rely on their veterans to get some things done. Masahiro Tanaka (8-10) takes the mound here Wednesday and he's been much better of late, with a 2.98 ERA over his last six starts. Nick Tepesch is going to get the call from the Bisons to make his debut for the Jays. He's 1-0, 3.00 in three starts since being acquired from Minnesota.
That should clearly favor the Yankees. But things haven't been what we've expected all year in this division.
"Whenever you add that second wild-card team, it becomes a lot deeper," Girardi said of the playoff race. "Anything can happen the last 50 games so you have to continue to play well."