NEW YORK -- It was not hard to see this coming. Doing something about it is another matter.

Though the Yankees stand in second place in the American League East entering a weekend showdown with the first-place Red Sox, their offense has been exposed in recent days and weeks. A unit that earned plaudits for keeping the reigning division champions in the hunt is now showing cracks.

The Yankees' 3-1 loss to the crosstown-rival Mets on Thursday was their fifth straight defeat and seventh in nine games. In four of those losses, they scored one run. They tallied a total of 28 runs in the nine games.

In the deep, competitive AL East, that's not going to cut it. Against Boston, the second-most-potent offense in the AL, that's not going to cut it. And certainly as long as Andy Pettitte is unavailable and CC Sabathia is scuffling, it's just not going to cut it.

"It's frustrating," admitted leadoff man Brett Gardner, who was 1-for-4 on Thursday.

On Thursday, the Yankees were shut down by Dillon Gee, a fine Major League pitcher but not someone known for dominating lineups. Gee struck out a career-high 12, didn't walk a batter and basically had the game of his young career. He pitched well -- but a contending team should not be mowed down like that by a pitcher with a 4.39 lifetime ERA. When good pitching and struggling hitters go toe to toe, this is what you get.

"I think it's always a little bit of both," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "The great hitters that hit .300 don't have the deep valleys. A lot of times, they're really consistent. Some of the other guys are going to have some valleys, and you just have to find a way to get out of it."

Some Yankees, including Gardner, have hit well lately, but overall, there have been a lot of ugly numbers. Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki and Travis Hafner have all struggled mightily this month. Even the hitters who have contributed big hits aren't getting on base enough.

For years, the Yankees' offense was built on "take and rake," getting on base and hitting home runs. They're still doing the former, but they're not doing nearly enough of the latter.

And since a hot start to the season, they're not really doing much of anything. Dating to April 21, an admittedly arbitrary date but right about the time some of those hot starts began to cool off, the Yankees are hitting .237 as a team. They have a .293 on-base percentage in that span, last in the AL. They're 13th in slugging at .377 and last at 3.62 runs per game.

Good pitching can make up for some of that, and often it has for the Yankees. Their rotation has been good and their bullpen has been great. But you can win only so many games, 2-1 and 3-2.

Maybe Kevin Youkilis and Mark Teixeira are the answer -- and maybe they're not. It appears that both will return to the lineup on Friday after missing time with injuries, but there's no being sure that either is a panacea.

There's no way to know what Teixeira in particular will be able to offer. He played all of five games in Spring Training, plus two Minor League rehab games. Even if he's at full strength, it's certainly an open question how sharp he'll be after facing so little live pitching this year.

"It could be a great boost," Girardi said. "I don't want to put too much pressure on the guys coming back, but it depends on what kind of starts they get off to."

Both at least have good batting eyes, so even if the power isn't there right away, they should help with the on-base issues. But it's unclear whether even vintage Youkilis and Teixeira are enough.

The guys on hand have to hit better. The guys who are hurt have to come back and play well when they do. The Yankees' offense needs to get better, and fast.