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05/19/08 12:50 AM ET

Yankees dig way into familiar territory

Latest edition of slow start has October veterans in last place

NEW YORK -- The Yankees are the closest thing to postseason fixtures that contemporary baseball is allowed to have. But this year's team appears capable of altering that status, and not for the better.

The Yankees are 20-24. The only possible solace in that record is that it is exactly the same record they had at the same point last season.

The 2007 Yankees went 74-44 from that point, to grab a postseason berth, their 13th straight. The current club aspires to precisely that sort of performance, but it has created precious little evidence that it is capable of any sort of sustained excellence.

But you wouldn't want to call the Yankees' bullpen deep with a straight face. Witness, for instance, Ross Ohlendorf's four runs in one-third of an inning of work on Sunday night. Placing Kyle Farnsworth in critical situations has not, historically, been a recipe for success. Perhaps Edwar Ramirez can help, a great deal.

The starting rotation may be the most troublesome issue of all. In defending the outlook for this group, Girardi suggested that the top three starters were working well. This is true in the case of Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang, his loss to the Mets on Sunday night aside. But Andy Pettitte hasn't won a decision in a month.

Girardi praised the work of Darrell Rasner, who has been solid in two starts. But the manager also suggested that Ian Kennedy would come around and be a productive member of the rotation. The 8.48 ERA of the pitcher in question tells you that this is a hope, not a plan.

The two losses against the Mets were particularly discouraging, not because of the Subway Series hoopla, but because of the performances of Pettitte and Wang, two pitchers who are expected to carry a large part of the load for this team. The Yankees were set up to succeed in these two games. They were subsequently outscored, 18-6.

The Yankees can only toss the first quarter of the season over their shoulders and look ahead.

"I thought our record would be better, but it's not about those 44 games," Girardi said. "It's about the next 118. And it's really about the next one, starting on Tuesday."

It is too early in the season to write off any team, particularly a team with this much talent and tradition on its side. But the automatic assumption that the Yankees can turn this thing around because that's what they did last year is flawed.

"I would hope that they're not thinking that way," Girardi said of his players. "Just think about Tuesday and what we're going to do on Tuesday. You can't think in big pictures in this game -- you've got to think in small amounts of time."

For the Yankees, thinking about Tuesday -- when they will face the Orioles -- as opposed to thinking about the last seven weeks, would be much less painful. And thinking about Tuesday, as opposed to thinking about another October, would be, at this point, simply much more realistic. This is a season in which nothing can be taken for granted, even for the Yankees.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.