I have tried to quit the 2016 Yankees, but I can’t. Believe me, I have tried. I have said I’m done through the lows of the 9-17 start and the three-game sweep at home by the A’s and the rain delay disaster against the Rangers and the 2-4 road trip against the Padres and White Sox. The problem is those lows were all immediately followed by incredible highs.
After the 9-17 start, the Yankees went 13-5 to get back to .500. After the three-game sweep at home by the A’s, the Yankees swept a four-game series in Oakland. After the rain delay disaster against the Rangers, the Yankees scored six runs in the ninth inning to walk-off on the Rangers. After the 2-4 road trip against the Padres and White Sox, the Yankees won three out of four against the Indians, the hottest team in baseball, in Cleveland. Every time the Yankees look like they are about to free fall, they fight back. And every time they look like they are about to go a run, they start what looks like that free fall. They have been a textbook .500 team and fittingly they are at .500 at the end of the “first half”. The hope is they can finally be something more.
Eighty-eight games is enough of a sample size for the front office to decide this team isn’t going anywhere and that it’s time to trade off every asset not named Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller. And if the front office did come to that decision right now, it would be hard to complain. The reason they haven’t and the reason I’m still not ready to concede my baseball summer is because the almighty question still lingers: What if there is a run in this team? It’s a question that has fooled franchises forever and with the implementation of the second wild card four years ago, the fooling has grown tenfold. What if there is a run in the Yankees?
There could be. But like a poker player chasing a straight or a flush on the river with the odds stacked against them, the last thing any Yankees fan wants is for this team to go all-in on a pipe dream past Aug. 1 and be left with Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran and any other tradeable asset still in pinstripes. Fortunately (or maybe I should say hopefully since Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine might want to play this thing out no matter what), for the Yankees, they will know if it’s officially time to sell in 10 days.
The first seven games after the All-Star break are against Boston (three) and Baltimore (four) at Yankee Stadium. It’s the ideal schedule for the Yankees to know where they stand before the trade deadline and whether they will have an actual shot at being a division contender or if they will have to settle for last-team-standing wild-card or second wild-card gongshow again. If the Yankees can’t win two series at home against the Red Sox and Orioles with their season on the line then that’s it. There won’t be any reason to believe some sort of 2015 Blue Jays or 2013 Dodgers miracle run is going to happen. I have a bad feeling the Yankees will go 3-4 or worse against the Red Sox and Orioles, only to then beat up on the Giants, Astros and Rays to suck ownership back into thinking the team can contend. That’s my nightmare and that can’t happen. A line needs to be drawn and July 21 is the line.
If these seven games are my last seven games believing in the 2016 Yankees, I’m OK with that. If it means getting future pieces for Carlos Beltran and Aroldis Chapman (who I think the Yankees could trade and still contend anyway), then good. If it means there’s a chance some team is willing to take on Brett Gardner or Brian McCann’s contract, then great. If it means there’s a chance some team is willing to give the Yankees anything for Mark Teixeira or Nathan Eovaldi or Ivan Nova, even better. If it means maybe a miracle of all miracles and some team is willing to trade for Chase Headley or Jacoby Ellsbury, then I will be building a float for myself for a one-man parade through the Canyon of Heroes. (I will be accepting applications for anyone interested in driving the float.)
The Yankees are at the crossroads they have been since their embarrassing 2012 ALCS loss, the same crossroads they haven’t wanted to admit they are at for three-plus seasons now. The second wild card tricked the front office into thinking they could contend in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and they can’t let it trick them again if they can’t win in these next seven games.
I know I have used other parts of the schedule as the make-or-break point for the Yankees and it was a lot like calling any game other than an elimination game of a series a “must-win”. Well, this is finally it. This is the Yankees’ elimination week. Three games against Boston and four against Baltimore, all in the Bronx. If the Yankees are back under .500 at the end of play on July 21 then I will be done.
I will be done thinking a .500 team through 88 games is anything more than a .500 team. I will be done doing things like waking up for a 1:05 p.m. game at 7 a.m. because I’m on vacation and six hours behind the Eastern Time Zone. I will be done being tricked into thinking “today is the day the Yankees go on a run.” I will be done with the 2016 Yankees and ownership and the front office should be done with them too.