Spring training begins next week. NEXT WEEK! The offseason is long as it is, and it’s made even longer when there have only been 67 Yankees games since Oct. 19, 2019. Baseball is almost here, even if it’s not real, meaningful baseball.
Just over a year ago (on Feb. 4, 2020 to be exact), I decided I was going to give Giancarlo Stanton a clean slate for the 2020 season. After an up-and-down first season with the Yankees in 2018, which culminated in him having one of the worst at-bats imaginable with the season on the line against Craig Kimbrel in Game 4 of the ALDS, Stanton barely played in 2019. A biceps strain turned shoulder strain turned calf strain kept him to only 18 regular-season games, and then he benched himself due to injury in the ALCS.
Three weeks after giving Stanton a clean slate for 2020, he was shut down with a calf injury. The clean slate was muddied before the end of February and I called him a joke and called him the new Jacoby Ellsbury. The season was delayed and it allowed Stanton to get healthy and not miss the time he would have missed had it began in late-March as scheduled. Then two weeks into the shortened season, Stanton was back at home on the injured list with a hamstring injury.
There’s no arguing Stanton’s is among the game’s best hitters when healthy, but for the last two years he hasn’t been healthy. Now he’s 31 years old, a full-time designated hitter according to Brian Cashman, and he’s played 53 games since the start of 2019. Maybe the new offseason workout regimen Stanton has implemented from director of player health and performance Eric Cressy will prove to be the difference in keeping him in the lineup in 2021. Im going to give him clean again.
Stanton is a generational power hitter. After playing in only 23 games in 21 months from end of 2018 until Opening Night 2020 (July 23), he still managed to crush a first-inning, two-run home run off Max Scherzer in his first at-bat of the season. After playing in only 23 games in the 60-game 2020 season, Stanton returned in time for the postseason and hit a home run (and six total) in the Yankees’ first five playoff games, while driving in 13. His bat went cold in Games 4 and 5 of the ALDS (like everyone else on the team), and he finished the postseason 1-for-7 with three strikeouts. But even with that two-game disappointment, he still hit .308/.387/1.038 in the playoffs. A 1.426 OPS. That’s what he’s capable of when he’s healthy.
Unfortunately, for Stanton, he entered Alex Rodriguez territory in his first Yankees season. That means he’s only as good to Yankees fans as his most recent at-bat. Once you reach that territory, there’s no going back. Last February, I wrote: Stanton could have the kind of postseason A-Rod did in 2009, and it won’t matter. And then he went out and had essentially the same postseason A-Rod had in 2009 in eight fewer games and half the at-bats.
Rodriguez in 2009 postseason: 19-for-52, 6 HR, 18 RBIs, .365/.500/.808
Stanton in 2020 postseason: 8-for-26, 6 HR, 13 RBIs, .308/.387/1.038
I said it won’t matter, and it won’t. Yankees fans won’t treat him any differently.
Stanton’s magical postseason ended with an ALDS exit for the Yankees because of a lack of timely hitting, no starting pitching and Aaron Boone’s ridiculous Game 2 decision. Stanton did everything he could to almost single-handedly carry the Yankees to the ALCS, but his teammates let him down, the way he and the rest of the Yankees let down DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres in the 2019 ALCS. It’s not Stanton’s fault the Yankees’ season ended against the Rays, but because they didn’t win, his postseason dominance might have not even happened.
I used to think Stanton was a luxury on the Yankees. They had gotten to within one game of the World Series the season before he became a Yankee, and in his lost 2019 season, they had won 103 regular-season games and gotten to within two wins of the World Series. But that was before it became apparent Aaron Judge might never play a full season again, before it became obvious Aaron Hicks wouldn’t spend part of every season on the injured list, before Gary Sanchez’s stopped hitting completely, and before Gleyber Torres regressed substantially after coming to Spring Training 2.0 out of shape last summer. Stanton is no longer a luxury on the Yankees. He’s become a necessity.
Because I’m a nice person, I’m going to give Stanton a clean slate for the second straight season. That means no sarcasm to start the season, no snarky comments, no “Ladies and gentlemen” tweets on Opening Day. I’m going to be positive when it comes to Stanton for as long as he lets me be positive. I wonder if he will let it last longer than the three weeks in February it lasted a year ago.
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