The way the Yankees have played over the last few weeks, or the entire season really, you would think they were the 107-win team in the AL East waiting for Game 1 of the ALDS on Friday, Oct. 5. Instead, all the Yankees have clinched is a wild-card berth. With now four games to play (one in Tampa Bay and three in Boston), we still don’t know where the wild-card game will be played. How is that even possible?
It’s possible when the team is managed as if everything has been wrapped up for weeks or even months. It’s possible when Aaron Boone continues to let starting pitchers stay in too long or when his wildly unsuccessful batter-to-batter strategy backfires time and time again or when he elects to give players unnecessary days off when so much remains on the table. There have been countless examples of this throughout the season and Wednesday’s loss to the Rays was just the latest.
When Neil Walker hit a three-run home run in the first inning on Wednesday, I figured the game would be a laugher. Then the Yankees were held scoreless until the ninth when they produced another failed comeback. (Yankees blue balls as I like to call them.) Between Walker’s home run and the Yankees eventual 8-7 loss, Masahiro Tanaka gave the three first-inning runs right back in the bottom of the first and got knocked around for his second straight start, most likely taking himself out of the wild-card starter conversation; Giancarlo Stanton, who has had maybe four big hits all season, failed to produce any runs with the bases loaded and one out, hitting into an inning-ending double play; Miguel Andujar, Gary Sanchez, Adeiny Hechavarria and Gleyber Torres combined to go 0-for-12 with a walk (Sanchez) and six strikeouts; Boone decided to keep letting David Robertson try to get out of the eighth inning when he clearly didn’t have it, throwing 24 pitches and giving up four runs (three earned); and Boone decided to let Tyler Wade bat, the career .168/.227/.487 hitter who has had two at-bats in September and whose last hit in the majors came on July 28, as a pinch hitter with the game on the line in the ninth.
The least egregious of those things are the four hitters combining to get on base once in 13 plate appearances because that will happen. But nothing that happened on Wednesday night surprised me. That has been Yankees baseball since the end of June and that has been Boone all season.
Despite Boone saying Torres was healthy enough to play on Wednesday, the Yankees manager wanted to give him another day off because of the turf. Thursday’s game would also be played on turf. Would Boone then give Torres a second unnecessary day off because of the playing field? Boone ended up using Torres anyway, completely negating his entire plan. So Torres was able to play on Wednesday, just not start. With Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks banged up and unavailable, Boone took one of his few remaining trustworthy bats out of the lineup for what? To prevent a 21-year-old from playing baseball on a hard surface, even though Torres plays the middle infield, which is played on dirt.
There’s nothing Boone could say or a move he could make at this point that would surprise me. It was just Sunday when he let A.J. Cole destroy a lead against the historically-bad Orioles and it was only last Thursday when Chad Green struck out the side against the Red Sox in the sixth to hold a one-run lead and Boone decided to run Green back out there in the seventh, despite every Yankees fan knowing to not let him pitch a second inning. Green allowed a leadoff home run in the seventh to the light-hitting Jackie Bradley Jr. to tie the game and then was allowed to give up a single to the next batter, the ninth-hitting catcher. It was only then that Boone took the ball from Green, after he made sure he let him put one more runner on. That runner came around to score. After the game, Boone said the Red Sox “weren’t going to be denied”, believing his bullpen management had nothing to do with the loss that clinched the division for the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
Friday’s loss to the Red Sox, Sunday’s loss to the Orioles and Wednesday’s loss to the Rays all happened in six days. Six days with the first wild card still not clinched following months of the same style of nonchalant managing and accountability.
It’s been 15 days since I wrote The Yankees Are in Trouble and back then I said the following:
If the A’s do pass the Yankees for the first wild card and the Yankees somehow win the game in Oakland, they will have to fly from Boston following Game 162 to Oakland for one game then fly back to Boston to begin the ALDS. They will have used the starting pitcher the organization deemed their best starting pitcher in the one-game playoff and then will face the well-rested Red Sox, who clinched a playoff berth on Tuesday, in a best-of-5 series knowing that the team’s likely best starter won’t be available until Game 3.
With the way the Yankees are playing, I would almost rather have them lose the AL Wild-Card Game than have them win it only to be embarrassed by the Red Sox in the ALDS. Like I have always said, there’s nothing to gain from the Yankees ever playing the Red Sox in the postseason. If the Yankees win, they’re the Yankees and they’re supposed to win. And if the Yankees lose, it’s the end of the world. Even in a season in which the Red Sox might win 110 games those rules still apply. I want no part of a postseason series with the Red Sox, especially given the huge travel and personnel disadvantage the Yankees will be in following the one-game playoff.
I have kept telling myself that there’s no point in getting upset with any losses for the rest of the regular season because the next game that matters is on Wednesday, Oct. 3, but that was when it seemed like the first wild-card spot was a given. Now it’s anything but a sure-thing and all I envision is Mike Fiers shutting down the Yankees for six scoreless in Oakland and the A’s bullpen putting an end to the 2018 Yankees season, a season that was supposed to end with a trip to the World Series.
The Yankees are in even bigger trouble than they were when I wrote that over two weeks ago. The magic number to clinch the first wild card sits at 2 and the Yankees have to play in Tampa Bay on Thursday and then in Boston the next three days where the Red Sox will be playing their actual lineup for at least a couple of the games before a four-day layoff leading into the ALDS. The A’s, meanwhile, have Thursday off and then play their last three regular-season games against the Angels, who haven’t had anything to play for in months, and can taste the finish line and end of the season and the four-plus month break before spring training.
There’s a good chance the A’s won’t lose any of their final three games. I don’t think they are going to lose any of three games in Anaheim, which means the Yankees will have to go 2-2 in their final four games against the Rays, who desperately want to screw up the Yankees’ season, and the Red Sox, who after clinching the division at Yankee Stadium can give the Yankees one more big EFF YOU by sending them across the country for one game. The Red Sox would certainly rather play the A’s, who are without any real postseason starting pitching option, and by sending the Yankees to the West Coast, they would be assured that whichever teams win the wild card would have to fly across the country and then play a well-rested best team in baseball about 36 hours later.
If the Yankees end up as the second wild card, I really would rather have them lose in Oakland. They will have burned a starting pitcher, likely have used their best bullpen arms, will have had to fly to California and back and will have then been on the road for 11 days before first pitch in the ALDS. It would be a miracle if they were to upset the Red Sox under those circumstances and I can’t bank on a miracle when I know what it feels like to lose to the Red Sox in the postseason. If the Yankees are playing in Oakland next Wednesday, they should end the season there as well.
The Yankees are in real trouble now. They went from World Series favorite to potentially the second wild card in the span of three months all while playing as if they have had everything locked up over that time period.
I have waited for Aaron Boone to manage with any sense of urgency this entire season. I waited while he gave games away with his bullpen management all summer and when he frequently gave players days off in an attempt to prevent injuries that arose anyway (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gregorius, Torres and Hicks have all missed significant time). I waited some more while he let fringe major league pitchers let one-run deficits become four-run deficits and when he would create nonsensical lineups with his best hitter at times batting ninth and batting behind the pitcher in interleague games.
Thankfully, I don’t have to wait much longer to find out if the Yankees are in fact going to completely collapse and head to Oakland for one game, in which we will already know the outcome. Unfortunately, there’s now only four games for Boone to manage and the Yankees to play with urgency and avoid having this seven-day road trip become a 10-day road trip and a 13-day road trip if they were to win the wild-card game in Oakland. The Yankees haven’t managed or played with any urgency for 158 games, I doubt they will now.
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