I will be at the Stadium on Wednesday, Oct. 3 for the AL Wild-Card Game. Well, that’s if the Yankees don’t play themselves out of the first wild-card spot and then have to go to either Seattle or Oakland for the one-game playoff. Well, that’s if the Yankees don’t play themselves out of the wild-card game altogether and miss the playoffs completely. Because right now, that’s where this thing is headed.
You couldn’t have dreamed up a worse weekend in Boston. Blowing an early 4-0 lead and mismanaging to a loss on Thursday. Getting one-hit by Rick Porcello, the worst Cy Young winner in history, on Friday. Getting shut down by former Yankee disappointment Nathan Eovaldi, whose career has survived countless starts of four innings and 100-plus pitches, on Saturday. Blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning and losing in extra innings on Sunday. Letting Steve Pearce, a former Yankee who did nothing in pinstripes, become David Ortiz, and letting former Yankee joke Eduardo Nunez double and steal like the player Brian Cashman envisioned he would one day become, which he never became.
Early on Thursday, it looked like the Yankees might make this weekend and this pennant race interesting, but those positive thoughts didn’t even last four full innings. Now, the division is officially over. So if you still think the Yankee are coming back in the AL East and avoiding the AL Wild-Card Game for the third time in four years, stop kidding yourself and wasting your time. Even if the Yankees swept the remaining six games against the Red Sox this season, that still wouldn’t erase their current deficit in the standings, and the Yankees will be lucky if they win one of those six games. The division is over. O-V-E-R. No matter what the actual standings say, you can put whatever letter you want next to the Red Sox in the standings to denote that they have clinched the division and you can change the Yankees’ division elimination number to zero.
This was supposed to be a championship season. At worst, a return to the postseason without having to be put through another one-game playoff just to reach the ALDS. If the Yankees were to lose in the ALDS or ALCS, so be it. That’s the crapshoot that is MLB’s postseason format. But coming off a season in which they had two chances to win one game to advance to the World Series and then added Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar in place of Jacoby Ellsbury, Starlin Castro and Chase Headley, this season was supposed to build on last. This season they were supposed to get that fourth ALCS win and possibly four more after that.
Maybe they still will. Maybe they will beat the Mariners or A’s in the AL Wild-Card Game and then beat the Red Sox in the ALDS even with Games 1 and 2 in Boston and without Luis Severino for either of those two games. Then maybe they will overcome the Astros in the ALCS or knock the Indians out of the playoffs for a second straight year. It’s all possible and it all could still happen. But by going back to the wild-card game, their path to where they want to be, to where Yankees fans thought they would be, is a whole lot more difficult.
It didn’t have to be this way. This disastrous weekend at Fenway could have still happened, and while it would still hurt, it would hurt a whole lot less if the Yankees had “taken care of business” (what Aaron Boone always like to say) against the weak teams in the league, and there are a lot of them, but they didn’t.
The Yankees are 21-20 against the Orioles, Rays, Mets, Rangers, Nationals, Tigers and Marlins, none of which are postseason teams. The Orioles are on pace to lose 113 games, the Mets 95, the Rangers 92, the Tigers 94 and the Marlins 96. Had the Yankees beaten up on the bad teams the way good teams are supposed to, they could have handled a bad weekend in Boston and still been in play for the division. (It turns out games in April are just as important as games in August and September.) But because of their poor play against the league’s worst, the Yankees went to Boston with no margin for error, and left Boston winless, riding a five-game losing streak, their chances at winning the division destroyed and their grip on the first wild-card spot having dwindled to 2.5 games.
The Yankees are in trouble. Big trouble. The starting pitching, offense, defense, non-elite middle relief and closer have all gone into a slump at the same time. The manager has been in a slump all season, aside from the five weeks when the team was seemingly hitting five home runs a game when anyone could have managed the Yankees to wins. The only thing to not be slumping right now is the team’s elite middle relief pitching and that’s because they haven’t really been used. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they join the team-wide slump upon actually appearing in games because if there’s one thing anyone should know about Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances is that they are ineffective following long layoffs and we saw it with Chapman on Sunday.
Teams are going to slump though. That’s baseball and that’s what happens in a 162-game season. It’s unfortunate that the Yankees endured a team-wide slump in the most important series since last year’s ALCS. But there should never be a reason for the manager to slump or not be on his game.
Boone’s in-game decisions have been atrocious, his bullpen management has been a disaster, his lineups have rarely made sense (Luke Voit over Greg Bird being his latest example of genius) and his need to have Shane Robinson starting five of the last nine games was the icing on the cake in a pennant race that is now over. Boone has been in over his head as a manager this season, which is what you expect from a rookie manager with no coaching experience at any level. That’s why you don’t hand over a championship-ready team to a blank resume because of a postseason home run he hit 15 years ago and because he and his family are baseball lifers and because he’s calm and will communicate well with his players. In close games, when his decisions have mattered, he’s been awful because he’s never had to make those decisions before and because he’s never been involved in those decisions before. Thursday’s game wasn’t anything new from him, it was just magnified because of the opponent and the importance of the series. Anyone who has watched this team all season wasn’t surprised by his decisions in the series opener. It was just another loss that could be pinned on him. Unfortunately, this season, there have been too many of those.
Now the Yankees head to Chicago to play the 41-70 White Sox, another bad team in a year with so many bad teams. From there, they will play the 49-64 Rangers, then the 45-64 Mets, then the 56-56 Rays (who are 5-1 in their last six games against the Yankees), then the 51-60 Blue Jays, then the 46-67 Marlins, then the 34-78 Orioles, then the White Sox again and then the 47-65 Tigers. The Yankees won’t face a possible postseason team until Sept. 3 when they go to the West Coast to play the A’s and Mariners. Will they finally “take care of business” with 27 straight games against teams without a chance of reaching the postseason? Through the first 110 games of the season, there’s been nothing to suggest they will.
The remaining 52 games aren’t about trying to catch the Red Sox. That’s not happening. They’re about trying to win the first wild card and play the one-game playoff at home.
I’ll be at the Stadium on Wednesday, Oct. 3 for the AL Wild-Card Game for the the third one-game playoff in four years. If I’m not there because the game isn’t being played there, or if the Yankees don’t win that game, Boone should be fired. It doesn’t matter that it’s one game and that anything can happen in one baseball game. That’s no excuse, rather it’s the reason why winning the division was so important and why Boone should have done everything he could to do so. It will mean that one year of this championship window was wasted. Another one can’t be.
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The book details my life as a Yankees fan, growing up watching Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams through my childhood and early adulthood and the shift to now watching Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and others become the latest generation of Yankees baseball. It’s a journey through the 2017 postseason with flashbacks to games and moments from the Brian Cashman era.
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