Monday, September 7, 2020

Preparing the White Towel...


Photo Credit: AP

Yankees continue to sputter…

I wish I felt good about the 2020 New York Yankees, but unfortunately, I am not feeling it right now. I know every season has its bumps in the road, yet this is the one season, with only a 60-game schedule, a team could ill afford an extended slump.

With just 20 regular season games, the Yankees find themselves in third place in the AL East, a game behind the Toronto Blue Jays and 6 ½ games behind the division leading Tampa Bay Rays. Forget about an AL East championship this year, the Yankees will not catch the Rays. The Blue Jays, a young talented team, were aggressive at the trading deadline, unlike the Yankees. The final week of August saw the Jays bolster their pitching staff with long-rumored Yankee targets Taijuan Walker (Mariners) and Robbie Ray (Diamondbacks), plus Ross Stripling (Dodgers). They also acquired infielder Jonathan Villar from the Marlins, a player the Yankees could have certainly used about now. 

The Yankees and Blue Jays play a total of 10 games this month which represents half of the remaining schedule. These games, with 7 to be played in Buffalo, NY, will determine the fate of the Yankees. So far, unless you are the Boston Red Sox, AL East teams have fared very well against the Yankees this year. If the Blue Jays hold the same type of mastery the Rays…and surprisingly the Orioles…have over all things Pinstriped, it does not bode well for our favorite team.  Historically, the Yankees have not matched up well against the Jays, a team that has only gotten better. 

The Yankees should still make the playoffs, barring a total collapse, but at this point, they’ll be limping in and it feels like it will be an early exit. Perhaps the team can get hot in the next couple of weeks. The playoffs are generally about who is playing the best baseball at season’s end and not who is going through an early September slump. Unfortunately for the Yankees, it’s the combination of a slump and key injuries (Injured List includes Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Urshela, James Paxton and Jonathan Loaisiga). The bullpen has not been able to replace Tommy Kahnle, who was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. I thought it was a good time for others to step up, but aside from a few isolated strong performances, the bullpen has not been the same without Kahnle. I thought the trading deadline would bring in much needed reinforcements but after determining the prices to be too high, the Yankees passed.

Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg, The New York Post

We could debate all day long whether GM Brian Cashman was right or wrong. Personally, for as much as I wanted some strong reinforcements to infuse the pennant chase and bring more energy into the clubhouse, I don’t blame Cashman for saying no when it comes to the team’s very best prospects. If I felt a trade would have been the difference maker in winning the World Series, then the Yankees failed to make the right moves. Unfortunately, as it looks right now, I am not sure what potential trade could have been the difference maker for the Yankees. It’s not like the Mets were going to trade Jacob deGrom, particularly not to the Yankees even if they were. 

TGP’s Bryan Van Dusen (@Bryan_TGP) had a good tweet yesterday: “Last year was fun (except for the end, of course), but if anyone really thought the #Yankees could survive another #NextManUp season they’re delusional.” I agree with Bryan’s assessment.

Fans on social media (not Bryan) are calling for the heads of GM Brian Cashman and Manager Aaron Boone. I seriously doubt either man loses his job this year. This has been a very odd year with the pandemic…nothing has been normal. I fully expect Cashman and Boone to get the chance to make a run at another 162-game season before we encounter any potential changes. Honestly, I feel Cashman has a job with owner Hal Steinbrenner for as long as he wants it. For as much as George Steinbrenner embraced change, Hal seems reluctant.  Is he wrong? I don’t know. It’s his money. If he is getting the return he seeks (monetary; not championships), perhaps he is happy.  His team. His right. I know that’s tough to hear for fans who want desperately to win. As each year passes, Cashman becomes one of the fewer links to the George Steinbrenner era.  Meanwhile, Hal’s bank account continues to grow. Why tip the apple cart?...

I wish I knew the answers for how the Yankees can change their present course. There are just some seasons you just scratch your head and move on. I am not going to get worked up about a lack of October success this year. A strange season and one I hope we never encounter again in our lifetimes. I look forward to baseball played in front of hungry, excited fans…not a bunch of empty seats and cardboard cut-outs.  

I’ll throw in my usual caveat: I hope…very strongly…the Yankees prove me wrong.

There was a time I would have really been excited about the Major League debut of Yankees outfield prospect Estevan Florial. But after a few underwhelming minor league seasons that dropped his standing among Yankee prospects, his promotion to the active roster seems like an afterthought. The Yankees called him up from the alternate training site yesterday (sending down RHP Miguel Yajure in the corresponding move). The promotion was hardly met with great applause. Maybe he can help. I’d like to see him finally achieve the success he once seemed so destined for, but to expect him to solve his deficiencies at this level seems to be a stretch.

The start of the NFL season could not come at a better time. I think I am ready for the distraction of football over baseball (it pains me to write that as a die-hard baseball fan). Not sure how I feel about my favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, this year. They took some heavy losses in free agency last off-season, and despite better play last year, I retain some doubt Kirk Cousins is the guy who can lead the team to the promised land. I was a little surprised when the Vikings only kept one quarterback (Sean Mannion) behind Cousins, cutting young QB’s Jake Browning and Nate Stanley. Both of those players landed on the team’s practice squad after the cuts. As a lifelong fan of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, Stanley, a former Hawkeye QB, remains a personal favorite. He may not have elite potential but I hope he carves out a nice career.

I did not expect the Washington Redskins, excuse me, the Washington Football Team to release former Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, given what seems to be a dearth of quality (or maybe just healthy) running backs in the Nation’s Capital. I was probably more disappointed when I saw Peterson sign with the NFC North rival Detroit Lions. I suppose it could have been worse. He could have signed with the Packers or Bears, but just like in baseball where I hate to see former Yankees go to Boston, I didn’t really want to see Peterson with a division rival.  I am not sure how much he has left, but he certainly has become a journeyman in recent years as he moves from team to team. I used to equate it to Emmitt Smith, the Dallas Cowboys legend, playing for the Arizona Cardinals late in his career, but Peterson has become much more of a gypsy than Smith ever was. 

A final note to bid farewell to Hall of Famer Lou Brock. Growing up in the Midwest, Brock’s role as an all-time great with the St Louis Cardinals was common knowledge. I was probably aware of Brock before almost any other player. During his 19-year career, Brock amassed 938 stolen bases, the most in National League history and topped only by former A’s/Yankees great Rickey Henderson for the Major League record. The first Major League baseball game I attended as a kid featured Brock in the lineup, a season (1974) in which he stole 118 bases. Brock, 81, passed on Sunday afternoon after poor health in recent years. The best quote about Brock might have been from his former manager, the late Red Schoendienst, who said, “Toughest SOB I’ve ever seen”. Like Gleyber Torres, Brock was a young Chicago Cubs prospect plucked away from the Cubbies by trade. Thanks for the memories, Lou! We appreciated you then and we honor you now. Forever in our hearts. Rest in Peace.

Photo Credit: Bill Greenblatt, UPI

As always, Go Yankees!