The Yankees haven't been bad, exactly. They're sitting at .500 while playing in the American League's toughest division.
They sure looked bad Monday night, though.
Monday night, the Yankees were shut out by the Royals for the first time in the Bronx since 1999.
That year, a rookie named Dan Reichert shut out the Yankees for seven innings, and the bullpen took over from there. Dan Reichert started eight games in 1999 and finished with a 9.08 ERA.*
* In fairness to Reichert, a once-fine prospect who finished his career with a 5.55 ERA, he actually pitched even better in a game the next year, tossing a six-hit shutout against the Tigers.
In '99 it was Dan Reichert; in '12 it was Felipe Paulino, who stymied the Bombers for 6⅔ innings before the bullpen took over. The Yankees left 10 runners on base, and failed repeatedly in the clutch. They're now tied for last place with the Red Sox, and have the division's worst run differential: a whopping +1.
Yesterday -- before the Yankees lost and the Red Sox won -- David Schoenfield hearkened back 28 years to May 21, 1984, another date on which the Yankees and Red Sox were tied for last place. His point, which seems a good one, was that if today's Red Sox are in trouble, aren't the Yankees in trouble, too?
Which team is the better bet moving forward? I look at all the positives for the Yankees -- Derek Jeter's hot start, surprise production from Raul Ibanez (eight home runs), Curtis Granderson proving 2011's power surge wasn't a fluke -- combined with the negatives (Teixeira and A-Rod looking old, Mariano Rivera's injury, a starting rotation that may not improve), and I see a flawed team, certainly one as flawed as the Red Sox.
It makes you wonder: Maybe Red Sox fans will get the last laugh.
At this point, there's no compelling reason to think one of these teams is better than the other. But there's also no compelling reason to think that both won't eventually climb the standings and get into the playoffs. Remember, only two American League teams outside the East even have positive run differentials. There's an excellent chance that three teams from the East will qualify for the postseason tournament. The Rays are looking pretty good and the Blue Jays might be a year ahead of schedule and the Orioles might be for real ... But isn't it most likely that the Yankees and Red Sox will do what they almost always do?
Being in last place is embarrassing. Getting shut out by the Royals is embarrassing. But these things do happen, and the same year the Yankees were shut out by Dan Reichert and Derek Wallace and Jeff Montgomery, they won the World Series.
Maybe Orioles fans and Blue Jays fans will actually get the last laugh. But I wouldn't dare more than a furtive chuckle before the All-Star break. Monday night, the Yankees hit a bunch of line drives directly at Royal defenders. It's probably just a matter of time before those line drives start zipping to the wall for two-run doubles.