Saturday, September 26, 2020

The End of the Wrong Season...


Photo Credit: Associated Press

Yankees stumble to the Finish Line…

Well, there is one more game to go, but this is my final regular season post. I’ll be back for the play-offs but no plans for a season recap after tomorrow’s game.

Suffice it to say I’ve been disappointed with the uneven play of the Yankees this shortened season and the errors lately have been atrocious but there are a few bright spots. I am grateful, incredibly thankful, Gerrit Cole is a New York Yankee even if we couldn’t deliver him a division championship. For his part, he tried. The middle linebacker at first base, Luke Voit, has been a shining star for much of the season. And D.J. LeMahieu just continues to do what he does best, playing pretty damn good baseball with both bat and glove.

I wish we could say this is Aaron Judge’s team. I know, it is when he is healthy (which he is right now) but, unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of that this year.

When I say ‘Wrong Season’, I am not really implying what I think about the Yankees’ chances this year. Then again, maybe I am. My intent is mainly based on the fact it has just been a fucked up year with the Pandemic, the unnecessary loss of lives, total disruption of sports as we know it, empty stadiums, ballparks and arenas while games are played, the trials and tribulations of the Presidential election coming up in November (regardless of who you are voting for), and so much more about what went wrong this year. I am not a political person and I am certainly not going to make a political stand here but suffice it to say that I’ll be glad when 2020 is in the rearview mirror. 

As the Yankees continue to hang onto the fifth spot in the AL seeding order (by the narrow margin of the pinstripes on their jerseys). Maybe the Toronto Blue Jays, who are currently 1 ½ games behind the Yankees pending the outcome of their game tonight with Baltimore Orioles, will lose to make Sunday meaningless for the Yankees. But if the Jays beat the O’s tonight and tomorrow and the Yankees drop the season finale against the Miami Marlins, the Yankees fall all the way to eighth in the seeding order. It’s really hard for me to get excited about a team that can’t seem to win when it matters most. I have to admit that when the Marlins broke out to an unlikely 3-0 lead today, it felt like ‘here we go again’. Fortunately, the bats came to play and the Yankees took what turned out to be a cakewalk in the 11-4 victory. 

As crazy and pathetic as this year has been, it seems like a year an improbable team will emerge victorious. It could be the Tampa Bay Rays, well experienced with playing in empty stadiums long before the Pandemic, the Oakland A’s who have always fielded good but not great teams with a limited budget, the pesky Minnesota Twins and their thunderous bats, the Cleveland Indians and their pitching factory, and the Chicago White Sox, the up and comers, all seem to have a better chance than the Yankees in my mind. People like to laugh at the Twins and how the Yankees have owned them over the years. True, but I believe in the law of averages and inevitably the tide will turn. I don’t want it to happen this year, but that’s out of our control. The only team that can control it is the Yankees and of course the Twins.

Maybe everything changes when the playoffs start. The Yankees dominate every opponent. The starters hold the opponents to a run or two, and the bullpen slams the door game after game. The hitters spray the balls all over the playing field, with many going yard.  Everyone fields like they are Gio Urshela or D.J. LeMahieu. And Aaron Boones consistently makes the calls that no one can second guess. But then again, maybe not.

Depending upon the game tomorrow, the Yankees will either finish with 34-26 record or 33-27. If they hold onto the fifth spot, it is looking like they’ll be playing the Chicago White Sox or the Cleveland Indians. If they fall to eighth, there’s a date with the AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays who didn’t really have any difficulty beating the Yankees this year. From my perspective, I don’t really care who the Yankees draw. To be the best, you have to beat the best. Very simple formula. I don’t believe in free hand-outs. 

Going back to the players, D.J. LeMahieu leads Major League batters with .359 batting average. His closest AL competitor is Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox at .337. This should give The Machine the AL batting title to go with the one he won in the National League a few years ago. If the Yankees do anything this off-season, they need to bring LeMahieu back. I hope they do more, but that’s certainly at the top of the list for me. Masahiro Tanaka is a very close second. I lived in Denver during LeMahieu’s final season with the Colorado Rockies. I was amazed they were going to let one of their best players walk. I know they were saving their pennies to sign Nolan Arenado to an extension, but D.J. is a guy his Rockies teammates and fans alike loved. I get keeping Arenado but they should have kept D.J. too. Glad they didn’t, of course, but at the time, it seemed foolish they didn’t try. 

Luke Voit is the only Major League hitter with at least 20 home runs (22). He enters the final day of the season with a three-homer lead on Jose Abreu of the White Sox and, surprisingly, five more than the great Mike Trout. Abreu has the edge with RBI’s at 57 while Voit stands at 52 (with a couple of Braves hitters, Marcell Ozuna and Freddie Freeman, in between them). I like Voit but I honestly didn’t think he’d be one of the best players on the team. It wasn’t that long ago everyone had great debate about whether the first baseman should be Voit or Greg Bird.  With no disrespect to Bird who is currently quarantined with the coronavirus, I am so glad the Yankees didn’t bet the farm on Bird’s health and success. I will always love Bird’s swing but I like knowing Luke Voit, and not Bird, is the first baseman for the New York Yankees. Maybe Bird can eventually find some healthy success with his current team, the Philadelphia Phillies. I am not rooting against him, I just think it’s an uphill battle for him and his hairless cat. 

Sunday’s game against the Miami Marlins will also be noteworthy for another reason, aside from the potential playoff seeding implications depending upon what the Blue Jays do tonight. Top Yankees pitching prospect Clarke Schmidt will make his first Major League start. The first of many, I hope. Every great success story has a beginning and although Schmidt has sampled Major League hitters through bullpen eyes, he has a huge opportunity as a starting pitcher for the Yankees as soon as 2021. We know James Paxton is gone, we might lose Masahiro Tanaka, and hopefully J.A. Happ finds his way to the exit, so there will be plenty of room in the rotation, even if the Yankees grab someone like Trevor Bauer out of the free agent pool.  

Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg, The New York Post

I can’t say I was surprised Giancarlo Stanton will not be exercising his opt-out in the off-season. There is no way that he could have commanded a seven-year, $218 million deal (the money he is still owed on his existing contract). I know how agonizing those last few years of Jacoby Ellsbury were and he was never the player Stanton was. If Stanton has a continued downward decline, it’s going to hurt more than Ellsbury ever did until it reaches the price point the Yankees bite the bullet and cut him free. I keep hoping we’ll see 2017 NL MVP Stanton show up at some point. I remember that year. Stanton was blasting ‘em out of parks on almost a daily basis or so it seemed. When I was (much) younger, I always loved the way Dave Winfield would get hot and carry the team on his back. Stanton certainly has that ability. I am not talking about Winfield’s post-season history with the Yankees. He had to go to Toronto to win a ring, but when he went on one of those regular season tears, it throttled the team into better performance. 

A hat tip to Daniel Burch, the owner of the Greedy Pinstripes blog. He said that Gary Sanchez would not catch another game for Gerrit Cole a few weeks back and took much heat for making the statement. In the end, his take on Sanchez stood the test of time. If the Yankees want to dump Sanchez in the off-season to go after J.T. Realmuto, have at it. I have wanted Gary to be great for so long and we’ve seen it in brief flashes, but I am tired. I am ready for greater consistency and a backstop who draws raves from baseball’s highest paid starting pitcher. 

I am not sure what 2021 will bring for the Yankees. No doubt the lost revenue will impact the game for years to come. I can’t imagine the Yankees maintaining their current salary level. There will be cuts, for sure. For now, it’s best to have near-sightedness and cheer on the Yankees for post-season success from the confines of our living rooms. Despite my pessimistic attitude, the Yankees are a good team and they have the players and pitching to be successful. The new season, the post-season, is nearly upon us. Time to saddle up for the ride. Let’s win this damn thing.

As always, Go Yankees!