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8/16/2014 1:02 P.M. ET

Yankees fighting, but running out of time

ST. PETERSBURG -- Eleven players who were with the New York Yankees the last time they played the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, in April, are long gone.

A 15-page packet of supplemental bios, containing the names of eight new Yankees, stood out like a sore thumb before the Yanks succumbed to Alex Cobb and the Rays, 5-0, on Friday night. It was their fifth straight setback.

To say the Yankees' 2014 roster has been a revolving door is an understatement.

New York has used 52 players -- count 'em -- this season, which says a lot about how difficult it has been for general manager Brian Cashman and skipper Joe Girardi to keep the team afloat.

Or better put, a $199.1 million payroll doesn't go as far as it used to.

Because of injuries and a lack of production, in many instances, Cashman has gone to the discards of other teams to fill gaping holes.

I mentioned to Girardi that this could be his most trying season, with players coming and going and new faces arriving frequently.

"Well, we still haven't caught up with last year," Girardi said with the hint of a smile. "We're five players short, and I'll let you know at the end of the season.

"We were without many of our position players for most of last year. Curtis Granderson was on the 60-day disabled list twice. We used 56 players, and so we're five short of that right now."

Not surprisingly, the Yanks did not make it to the postseason in 2013 for the first time since '08, and the likelihood of staying home this October is very sobering, if not real.

The Yankees began play on Saturday afternoon mired in third place, eight games behind the first-place Orioles in the American League East and 4 1/2 games back for the second AL Wild Card berth.

The Rays, who with Friday night's win became the fourth team in Major League history to reach .500 (61-61) after falling 18 games behind, are just a game behind the Yanks in the East and playing much better.

If New York is able to restore a measure of consistency in its remaining 42 games and gain a trip to the postseason, it will be Girardi's greatest job of managing, even better than in 2009, when the Yankees won their last World Series.

Skippers guiding teams with huge payrolls that are expected to win, such as the Yanks, seldom win Manager of the Year awards. What Girardi has done this season certainly should make him a candidate. In 2006, he was bestowed the honor when his Florida Marlins were "only" 78-84 and finished fourth in the National League East.

As I watched Cobb completely stymie the Yankees' offense on Friday night, I wondered how the late George Steinbrenner would have addressed the shutout.

The Boss' son, Hal, now the Yanks' managing general manager, told reporters earlier this week in Baltimore that his team has "got to step it up, and they know it. The injuries have been frustrating, as they were last year. When you lose four of your starting pitchers by the All-Star Game, it's going to have an impact."

After the Rays quickly took a two-run lead in the first inning on Friday, the Yankees put their leadoff batter on base five times and didn't score. In the eighth, trailing, 4-0, they loaded the bases with one out before Cobb struck out Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira.

They also made two errors; two of the Rays' runs were unearned.

"It makes it harder, obviously, when you're not scoring runs and they're getting runs through errors," Girardi said.

During their five-game losing streak, the Yanks have managed just seven runs and are hitting only .174, with 46 strikeouts.

Girardi recalls a year when he was on a Yankees team that had a 12 1/2-game lead over the Orioles, "and by Sept 1, it was 2 1/2. We've seen teams have really hot streaks and really cold streaks. You can have one really good week and another team doesn't have such a good week, and you're right back in it."

He added, "If you want to play in October, you have to avoid losing streaks. It comes down to execution. We need to out-execute everyone else. I've seen us play extremely well during the course of certain weeks, certain months, certain time periods.

"The thing is, we haven't done it over a prolonged period, but it's obviously there. It's been a strange year. The bottom line is, you've got to fight. You got to come out and give everything you have every day. Eventually, it's going to turn around.

"It's strange how this game has been this year. At times, we look really, really good. And at times, we have trouble scoring runs. I think we're better than where we're at [in the standings]."

"We're running out of time," said outfielder Brett Gardner. "Every day that goes by and we lose increases the chances of us going home at the end of September. It's my job at the top of the lineup to get on base and score runs. I haven't been doing that. As a team, we have to put together better at-bats. At the end of the day, we have to do a lot better job.

"We still have a chance. We're not out of it by any means, but we have to take advantage of opportunities, which we haven't been doing."

Said Carlos Beltran: "With 40-some games left, we have to find a way to play better baseball; we have to continue to fight."

While the Yanks were nursing wounds from their second shutout in five games, across the clubhouse, there was a faint sliver of hope.

Masahiro Tanaka, sensational before leaving his July 8 start against Cleveland with a partial tear of his right ulnar collateral ligament, told reporters that he felt no discomfort during a long-toss session earlier at Tropicana Field.

On Saturday, Tanaka was to throw 25 fastballs from the mound. That will be an important step during his recovery.

"If I can't throw the way I want to throw on a mound or in a bullpen, then there's no way I'll be able to throw that way in a game," Tanaka said through an interpreter.

Tanaka was 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA when he sustained the injury, which often leads to Tommy John surgery.

The Yankees are hoping that if all goes well in his recovery, Tanaka might make two or three starts in September.

Which could improve the hope for October.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.