SEATTLE -- The New York Yankees are in trouble.
As tough as it is to imagine, the struggling Bombers are off to a worse start than last year's stumbling bumblers.
Going into last night's game with the Mariners at the Kingdome, the Yankees had won just six of their first 18 games. Last year, in which they ended up losing 95 games, reaching an ineptitude the organization had not seen since 1913, the team was 7-11 at this point.
Two weeks ago, Jesse Barfield said, "We just cannot allow ourselves to get off to a bad start like last year and fall into a hole so deep that we can't dig out."
Well, every Yankee's worst fear is happening. The only salvation this season is that no one in the American League East, which has started the year playing Western Division teams, has pulled away. Still, the Yankees went into last night in last place, 4 1/2 games behind the Red Sox, Brewers and Blue Jays.
Exacerbating matters is that the Yankees still have six games remaining on this 11-game road trip. At the start of this Chicago-Oakland-Seattle-Anaheim excursion, the players had whispered how great it would be to at least tread water on the West Coast and come back close to .500. Unless the Yankees sweep the remaining six games, an unlikely scenario, they will not come back at .500.
They started the trip well enough with a thrilling 3-2, 11-inning victory over the White Sox. It was the best game they have played all season. Looking as if they had fed off that performance, they opened up the second game against the White Sox with a 4-0 lead, but when Scott Sanderson gave it all back, things fell apart.
The Yankees had lost four straight going into last night, which matched Sanderson against Brian Holman.
The Yankees have four games in Seattle and then finish up with two against the new-and-improved California Angels.
"This is getting serious," one Yankee said. "We're better than this, but we're falling into a rut thinking we're not going to win games before they've even started. I can feel a losing attitude starting to develop, and that's bad."
There is also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with Stump Merrill. The Yankees, used to having the manager fired when things go wrong, already are using Merrill as a crutch when in fact, the major factor has simply been poor pitching.
But the wear and tear of the poor start is beginning to show on Merrill. The manager has begun to look tired and worn. Each loss seems to sap more and more out of him. Many observers believe he needs either a winning streak or a pat on the back from GM Gene Michael. In fairness, Michael already has labeled speculation of a firing as "ludicrous."
Somehow Merrill has to patch this whole mess together -- and quickly. Making that mission tougher is that he now has Jim Leyritz chirping about playing time and soon is likely to hear from Mel Hall, who has been relegated to permanent bench status following the announced intention of playing Hensley Meulens every game. Hall has handled the move well and said he will do the best he can with the at-bats he gets, but his patience can last only so long.
The bright spot for the Yankees is that they have had success against the Mariners, particularly in the Kingdome, in recent years. They won nine of 12 from Seattle last year and were a robust 5-1 in the Dome.
They need that same type of effort this weekend or things actually can get worse.