The Jorge Posada mess was a fine diversion for the New York tabloids, containing all the elements of a classic Bronx brouhaha: a fallen superstar, a fan-the-flames stance by management and a camera-ready apology the following day. The quick apology from Posada undoubtedly was an effort to contain the fallout, but the situation is likely to remain toxic for at least as long as Posada’s batting average begins with a “1.”

(For what it’s worth, I can’t condone everything Posada did over the weekend. But I find it incredible that the Yankees would go to such lengths to embarrass someone with his legacy. Heck, the Washington Nationals go out of their way to praise Pudge Rodriguez at every turn, even though entering Sunday he and Posada had identical OPS figures of .621, and even though Rodriguez has none of the history in Washington that Posada does in New York.)

But the Posada affair is merely a diversion from the bigger story here, which is that the Yankees are in trouble. After being swept at Yankee Stadium over the weekend by the rival Boston Red Sox (who, incidentally, are finally at .500 after beginning the season 2-10), the Yankees are 8-11 over the last three weeks, and with a 20-17 record they have exactly one more win than the Nationals.

If the season ended today, the Tampa Bay Rays would be your AL East champs, and neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox would make the playoffs. The Rays, in fact, have a chance to widen their two-game lead this week, with ace David Price on the mound tonight as they open a two-game series against the Yankees.

The Yankees’ problems run from their lineup, which has no .300 hitters and an offensive black hole (in the person of Derek Jeter) in the leadoff spot; to their bullpen, which has been unable to count on supposed set-up men Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain; to their starting rotation, which is far too dependent upon retreads Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, who have combined for just one win in May. The Yankees are the oldest team in baseball, and most nights it shows.

By no means am I counting the Yankees out. They have numerous underperforming players due for a turnaround, and with the franchise’s vast resources and vast need there is every reason to expect them to acquire some big-name reinforcements this summer. But they have already lost five games in the standings in the past two weeks – going from three games up on May 2 to two games back this morning. As the season nears the quarter-pole, they have far bigger problems than Jorge Posada’s relative happiness.