Sunday, August 21, 2022

Note to Yankees: Score More Runs...


Gerrit Cole / Photo Credit: Noah K Murray, AP

Team continues its offensive malaise as AL East Lead shrinks…

No question the first half of the 2022 season was more enjoyable than the second half. Since the All-Star Break, the Yankees are 9-19. The sluggish play quickly eliminated any comparison of the Yankees to the 1998 Yankees or the 2001 Seattle Mariners. Once armed with the best record in MLB, the Yankees (73-48) are now behind the three National League teams, Los Angeles Dodgers (83-36); New York Mets (78-44); and Atlanta Braves (75-47); and in the American League, the Houston Astros (77-45). In the rear-view mirror, the Toronto Blue Jays are larger than they may appear. The Jays (65-54) have closed within seven games and are only six games behind in the loss column. The Tampa Bays (64-55) are only one game behind the Jays. Heck, even the Baltimore Orioles (62-58) are just ten and a half games back. Things have certainly tightened and the AL East Championship, which once seemed firmly in the grasp of the Yankees, is now opening for the taking. 

Logically, I keep trying to tell myself the Yankees will stop the losing and will start winning games again. Guys like Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino, Zack Britton and hopefully a better version of Clay Holmes will soon be back. Yet, for pessimism’s sake, the team has not shown they can win for the past two months so there is nothing that leads me to believe anything will change. If the slide continues, it will be one of the most colossal collapses I have experienced in any sport in my lifetime. The tale of two seasons, part 1998 Yankees (114-48) and part 1990 Yankees (67-95). 

The trade deadline was a huge swing and miss by GM Brian Cashman. He had a chance to make a good team better and did not. I like Andrew Benintendi and he is certainly more valuable than Joey Gallo, but not surprisingly he has taken some time to warm up playing in Pinstripes. I think he will be fine by the end of the regular season, and it was a good trade. Maybe not well enough to ensure that he gets a new contract for an encore performance in 2023 but he serves a present purpose and if the Yankees expect to do well in October, they need Benny moving runners, getting on base, and providing elite defense. Nevertheless, regardless of what he does, Benny is not an impact player. He is a nice accessory. 

Andrew Benintendi / Photo Credit: Barry Chin, Boston Globe

Sadly, the trade results elsewhere are less favorable. While I remain of the opinion that Frankie Montas will be better Jordan Montgomery on a long-term basis, there has been a huge contrast in their respective performances thus far, with the scale weighted very heavily in Monty’s favor. My preference would have been to retain Monty for the starting rotation, forcing Montas to pick a different number, but sadly the Yankees’ Front Office did not phone a friend for advice. Monty’s loss still gnaws at me. It left such a huge negative feeling on August 2nd and has not dissipated. Maybe if/when Harrison Bader shows up and starts making sterling plays in center, the negative feelings will erode. For now, it still hurts, and I cannot help but think it factors into the team’s current slide.

I doubt Montgomery would have pitched as well for the Yankees in his last three starts but for the St Louis Cardinals, he is 3-0 with 0.54 ERA. He has given up just one run and has struck out 17 batters in 16 2/3 innings. It seems like he may have been able to be a stopper for these losing streaks at the very least. But of course, as Aaron Boone reminded us yesterday, “If we don’t score, it’s tough to win.” Cashman’s idea of making a trade for October at the sacrifice of today, in retrospect, feels a little arrogant, over-confident, premature, and foolish.

When the Yankees fell behind the Tampa Bay Rays 7-4 in the tenth inning on Thursday night, I did not think the Yankees had a chance. They had shown no signs of life in recent days and scoring a single run had become so arduous. So, when the Yankees loaded the bases in the bottom of the tenth, I certainly was not expecting Josh Donaldson to hit a grand salami to send the Yankee Stadium faithful home with smiles on their faces (a rare feat these days). Glad he did. He has been one of the most maligned players since the departure of Joey Gallo even if his glove has not failed him. Yet, any hope the home run would spark the team or mark an offensive resurgence by Chapman was quickly vanquished by the Toronto Blue Jays who have taken the first three games of a four-game set to start a new losing streak. Wins are so hard to come by the wins are starting to feel like aberrations. The Isiah Kiner-Falefa game, the Donaldson grand slam. There have been no ‘we’re better than you’ type of games, the kind of games where the Yankees bludgeon the opponents by ten runs or more. 

Cashman should have identified how much Stanton’s bat protected Aaron Judge, prior to the deadline, and sought to find a player who could have provided the necessary insurance for Stanton’s health to keep teams from avoiding Judge in the lineup. If we truly believed this was a special team at the deadline, the Yankees should have done what it took to secure Luis Castillo instead of Frankie Montas. The cost would have been high, but it is the old adage, ‘you get what you pay for’.  Maybe Brian Cashman recognized that the first half success was a fa├žade and was unwilling to part with the necessary resources to bring the better players to New York. Who knows, but time is running out to give Cashman the benefit of the doubt. Yet, if Hal Steinbrenner were to cut Cashman loose, another team would make him their general manager within ten minutes. I think Cashman is the GM for as long as he wants it so while I think he should be fired if the season ends in failure, the truth is he will not be axed. Something must change but regrettably, as long as Hal Steinbrenner owns the team, nothing will. Making money is more important than winning (although you would think more of the latter would help the former). I do not miss George Steinbrenner, but I do miss his passion and intensity for winning.

George Steinbrenner / Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Yankees can change this. The power is within their control. Start winning now. An extended winning streak (I always love those of the ten-win variety) would go a long way toward reinforcing the AL East lead. We know the players can do it; we have seen it. Oswaldo Cabrera has been a breath of fresh air for the Yankees. He makes me remember what it was like with the Baby Bombers of 2017 when the youthful enthusiasm was so refreshing. For as good as he has been, Oswald Peraza is better which makes me wonder when/if Peraza will get his chance. The Atlanta Braves have certainly not been shy about reaching into their farm system this season for reinforcements and they have a better record than the Yankees to show for it.

A win today would help everyone, but it will not be easy. Nasty Nestor Cortes Jr (9-4, 2.74 ERA) will be on the mound today and he will be opposed by the extremely talented Alek Manoah (12-6, 2.71 ERA. With Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom looming on Monday and Tuesday, the road remains wrought with extreme challenges. Win today, and then let’s worry about Monday tomorrow. One win at a time, that is all it takes to start a new winning streak despite the dire odds. 

Paul O’Neill Day at Yankee Stadium. Paul “The Warrior” O’Neill will be immortalized today in Monument Park when his number 21 is retired. O’Neill becomes the 23rd Yankees player or manager to have his number retired. He spent nine of his seventeen MLB seasons with the Yankees and left a lasting mark on the hearts of Yankees fans. 

Paul O'Neill / Photo Credit: Getty Images

Personally, I have never been a big fan of retiring numbers. I know, that is probably sacrilegious to some Yankee fans. It seems weird to me that nearly 25% of the available numbers from 0-99 will never be worn again and the percentage will continue to grow for future lifetimes. I am not trying to begrudge O’Neill, he has earned and deserves his day, so I am not critical of removing his number from circulation, just the overall practice of why we do it to begin with. For Babe Ruth, his number was simply his order in the batting lineup. There are better ways to honor and recognize the legends than to put their numbers on moth balls. Honestly, if I were Ruth or Lou Gehrig, I would love to see young players wearing my number in the game today to remember those who once wore the number. Kind of the way everyone wears #42 on Jackie Robinson Day and remembers one of the game’s all-time greats. Every time I see #35, now worn by Clay Holmes, I still think of Hall of Famer Mike Mussina. 

That is just my opinion. No one is bigger than the game. Aside from that, congratulations, Paul, and enjoy your day at Yankee Stadium!

Dellin Betances calls it a career. I was first sad to see the news that the Los Angeles Dodgers had released Betances from his minor league contract this week, but further saddened when I saw the news that Betances was retiring.  Only 34 years old, injuries derailed the gentle giant who was once one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball. I am sorry that he was never able to get that one HUGE free agent contract that would have set him and his family up for their lifetime. His late start (26 when he became a regular part of the Yankees bullpen), the years of arbitration that held his salaries down, and then his final walk year (2019), he was hurt and pitched in only one game for the Yankees. What should have been a huge free agent contract had he been healthy, was a one-year $10.5 million “prove it” contract with the New York Mets. He was able to exercise a player option that gave him a second year with the Mets for $6.8 million.  Injuries prevented Betances from making any impact with the Mets, and he signed a $2.5 million minor league contract with the Dodgers this year. Unfortunately, 19 minor league appearances with a 10.26 ERA signaled the end of the road for Betances.

I am sure financially, he will be alright, but it is a travesty that he was never rewarded for being truly elite at his craft for his dominant run with the Yankees from 2014 to 2018.  He retires with 633 strikeouts in 394 1/3 innings (374 games). His career ERA is 2.53.  I never thought Manny Banuelos would outlast both Andrew Brackman and Betances.  I wish Dellin the best in his post-playing career. I hope he is a future participant at Old Timer’s Day even if it will be a while before he is an “old-timer”. Dellin, job well done. Thank you for your contributions for the Yankees. You made a difference.

Dellin Betances / Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg, NY Post

As always, Go Yankees!