When the Yankees were rolling along, looking like they were about to challenge the 1998 Yankees (and 1961, 1939 and even 1927 Yankees), I never would have conceived I’d find in my inbox a suggestion from my bosses to do a Yankees rip job column.
But there it was.
Oh, editors are more polite than that. They call it a Yankees concern column. But you get the idea.
Their world (and mine for the next hour or so) has turned upside down.
The Yankees are no longer challenging historically great teams. They are looking rather ordinary lately, and have a similar record to other top teams this season. That includes the Mets.
Yep, who’d have guessed our teams would have exactly the same mark entering Monday — 70-39 — and furthermore, that the Mets would be the ones looking like the world-beaters and the Yankees the ones getting negative columns written about them?
Hard as it is to believe, the Yankees are actually a losing team over their last quarter of a season, having gone 18-21 in their last 39 due to a variety of reasons, none of them involving Aaron Judge, who is still easily the Most Valuable Player. And if you don’t think that’s right about Judge, please re-evaluate your baseball priorities.
Anyway, it’s fair to say Judge needs more help. That ’98 team never lost five straight as this one has, thanks to some slippage in hitting but mostly a rotation that’s veered off its early torrid pace. Nestor Cortes, the one who concerned us, maintained his nastiness. Now it’s just about all the others that worry us.
If Yankees management is as worried as we are, they don’t show it.
“I like our team. There’s strength in all aspects of our roster,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “We’re going through some tough times, but we will navigate things to the best of our abilities. … And we hope we are flying high when it counts most.”
We’ve known since forever that October is all that matters. And it’s true, that plus-201 run differential doesn’t lie.
And let’s not forget, they aren’t at full strength. It’s no plus that Anthony Rizzo’s been out a few games or Giancarlo Stanton a few weeks. Yet of course, there are no excuses for the highest-revenue team. The truth is they aren’t performing as they had.
The bullpen hasn’t been the same since closer Clay Holmes started to look like the Pittsburgh Holmes. But there is plenty of reason for hope there. The uber-talented Jonathan Loaisiga is back, Zack Britton could be back in a matter of weeks and Aroldis Chapman — like Holmes — is starting to look like his old self.
While the Yankees presumably saved themselves and him a lot of future heartache and frustration by finding a new home for Joey Gallo, who folks figure will be his old self once he’s out of the 718/212 (he lived in Manhattan), and on to a smaller market, such as Los Angeles apparently. Anyway, in his absence, others are impersonating him. Aaron Hicks just got through an 0-for-33 slump.
Andrew Benintendi, one of the best contact hitters while in Kansas City, also is in Gallo territory (.133 as a Yankee entering Monday). Benintendi is a proven performer in Boston and the postseason, normally two good proving grounds for New York. But that still doesn’t explain why he’s hitting next to nothing since arriving.
Meanwhile, we assume he also remains the only Yankee not to be vaccinated, and now only says he’s “open-minded” to it. My suggestion: Call ex-Royals teammate Whit Merrifield, who was traded to Toronto, and whose choice was to vaccinate or find another vocation, and ask him if he’s grown horns yet. In the meantime, get off the internet!
Now back to the baseball portion of the column. It’s clear the Yankees’ biggest issue is a rotation that was looking nothing short of splendid the first half of the season. While we figured it wouldn’t continue on that path of near perfection, it’s hard to believe that the malaise has gone right to the top, and the $324 million man, Gerrit Cole himself, has been nothing but ordinary lately. And that’s on a good day.
The rotation ERA is 4.97 during their recent 25-game slide (they are 9-16 in that time) and that won’t cut it. We generally liked what they did at the deadline. But by trading both Jordan Montgomery (who shut them down as a Cardinal days later) and J.P. Sears, they didn’t leave themselves much cushion. They’d obviously prefer to hope on Clarke Schmidt and Luis Severino’s health.
Prescient pickup Frankie Montas understandably wasn’t himself in his Yankees debut after being out 10 days while preparing on his own and scheduling his bullpen sessions around his mother-in-law’s funeral. Ultimately, he should give them a great one-two punch, assuming Cole pitches to his any of his contract, name or track record.
But that’s on paper. And right now they look a lot better on paper than they do on the diamond.