There have been a lot of times in the Brian Cashman era where I thought the Yankees were the best team in the league and they still didn’t win the World Series. In some of those seasons, they didn’t even make it out of the ALDS. This season, though, the Yankees weren’t the best team. They had the most talent. They just weren’t the best team.
The best team doesn’t have a manager who single-handedly swings a series for the worst or starting pitching that gets outpitched or a lineup that gets shut down by mediocre pitching. The Yankees had all these things and it’s why their real postseason lasted four games and why they had to play a game before the real postseason.
Top to bottom, one through 25 on the roster, I still believe the Yankees had the most talent, and on paper, should have won the division and should have represented the American League in the World Series. Underachievement, injuries and poor decisions forced them into the wild-card game, and those three negative traits eliminated them in four games against the Red Sox.
Just like that, the season is over. The grind that began in Tampa back in February and became official in Toronto is March is over, and for the ninth straight season, the Yankees’ season will end without a championship. The last nine seasons haven’t even provided a World Series appearance. The eight-year championship drought from 2001-08 has now been surpassed.
The final week or so of the regular season coupled with their impressive win over the A’s in the wild-card game and their effort in Boston in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS served as a facade for the team’s real problems. The lineup was too right-handed heavy and was then shut down by two right-handed pitchers in Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello. Their starting pitching was untrustworthy as seen by the disastrous starts of J.A. Happ, Luis Severino and CC Sabathia. And their manager’s lack of any managerial or coaching experience at any level was exposed on the postseason stage. When the Yankees failed to hit home runs, they failed to score, which put pressure on their rotation and forced their clueless manager to make meaningful decisions. When the Yankees failed to hit home runs, they failed to win. That’s not to say relying on home runs is wrong. It’s just that having home runs as your only source of offense is. And outside of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez’s power display in Boston, the Yankees couldn’t score.
The Yankees supposedly arrived ahead of schedule in 2017. They were picked to finish close to or last in the AL East and they wound up winning the first wild card, winning the wild-card game, coming back down 2-0 against the Indians in the ALDS and coming within a win of the World Series. Their unexpected postseason run made them the AL favorite for 2019 and they fell short of those expectations. Well short. They blew their division chances in August, barely hung on to the first wild-card spot, and then after winning home-field advantage from the Red Sox in ALDS, they suffered the most embarrassing postseason loss in the team’s history as they would lose both home games in the series.
This season was a step back for a team whose natural progression should have been at least a second straight ALCS appearance, if not a World Series appearance. Yes, the MLB postseason is a crapshoot, and just reaching the ALDS should be enough, but not when you’re built like the Yankees. Not when you reach the ALCS, come within a game of the World Series and then add the NL MVP and swap out Starlin Castro and Chase Headley for Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. That should have been enough to close the one-win gap the Yankees weren’t able to close when they went to Houston for Games 6 and 7 up 3-2 in the series. Instead, the gap is now even bigger than a year ago.
In the nine years since their last championship, the Yankees have three ALCS losses, two ALDS losses, a wild-card loss and three postseason-less seasons. Where do they go from here? I really don’t know. The team has many paths it can take this offseason, so that a year from now they are still playing games and not holding exit interviews and end-of-the-season press conferences. They have decisions to make on CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner. They have rotation spots to fill from within or outside the organization. They have to figure out who will be their first baseman and how they can add left-handed balance to the lineup. And on top of all that, they have to make the right choices when it comes to the best free-agent class in history. If you believe that the Yankees did arrive early in 2017 and that these last two seasons were just experience-building years then 2019 is truly the first year of this current team’s window of opportunity, and it can’t be wasted.
Success can be fleeting in baseball and nothing is guaranteed. On paper, the Yankees should be as good, if not better in 2019 than they were in 2018. But on paper, the 2018 Yankees should have been the best team in baseball, and their season ended short of their goal once again.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!
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.
Click here to purchase the book through Amazon as an ebook. You can read it on any Apple device by downloading the free Kindle app.