I wasn’t upset when the Yankees lost on Thursday night, destroying the momentum they built with a two-game sweep of the Red Sox and falling to 3-7 at home against the Orioles, Tigers, White Sox and Royals. As I wrote on Thursday, I have tempered my expectations when it comes to these Yankees, and it’s hard to expect much, let alone winning streaks, until some combination of Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andujar and Didi Gregorius return to the lineup.
Thankfully, the Orioles were able to beat the Rays in extra innings and being swept by Tampa Bay to keep the Yankees at 5 1/2 games back in the division. I don’t expect the Yankees to go on any sort of extended run while they continue to bat four Triple-A to major-league-backup-at-best players in their lineup each day. The most important thing they can do right now is avoid being buried in the division race before their real everyday players return.
I don’t know what to expect from the Yankees for the rest of this four-game series against the Royals. I would like to think even these Yankees could easily handle this Royals team, but it’s hard to know which Yankees will show up on a given night? Will it be the Yankees who can’t hit Homer Bailey or Ivan Nova or will it be the Yankees who had a lead against Justin Verlander, beat Chris Sale and ruined Ryan Brasier?
The Yankees are now 8-10, but if I were to pick a time for these Yankees to play with some consistency and “turn Aaron Boone’s corner” for even three games, it would be this weekend. Because while the Yankees are hosting a very, vey bad Royals team, at the same time down in Tampa, the Rays are playing the Red Sox. There is potential for ground to be made up on the Rays or further separation from the Red Sox to occur in the standings with a winning weekend from the Yankees.
The question for Yankees fans is who to root for in Tampa? The answer is just no sweep. If the Yankees can win three straight, and there isn’t a sweep in Tampa, they will gain ground on Tampa and continue to create separation from Boston. No sweep, short starts and a lot of outs needed from both bullpens to poorly set them up for after this series. That would be the ideal weekend.
Eventually, we are going to need other teams to beat the Rays. The Red Sox? They’ll beat themselves. The Rays are the team I’m worried about in the division this season, not the Red Sox. If the Yankees are to end their division-winning drought and avoid the wild-card game for the fourth time in five years, they are going to have to beat the Rays to do so.
The Red Sox aren’t the Yankees’ biggest threat in 2019. They are who I believed them to be in 2018 before they put together an improbable season, winning 108 games and easily handling the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers in the postseason. The Red Sox have a built-in excuse for this season after winning the World Series last year and they are playing like it. There’s no 17-2 start, no weekly magical six-run, ninth-inning comebacks and there’s running away and hiding with the division.
Chris Sale, the most dominant pitcher against the Yankees other than Cliff Lee (at least to me), has to be hurt; David Price is his usual inconsistent self; Rick Porcello, the worst Cy Young winner in history, is once again pitching like the guy the Tigers gave up on; Nathan Eovaldi has reverted back to the Nathan Eovaldi who is on his fifth team despite being 29 years old and able to throw 101 mph; Eduardo Rodriguez continues to prove the Red Sox should have gotten more than they did for Andrew Miller.
J.D. Martinez still scares me, Xander Bogaerts is solid and Rafael Devers is very good for 22; Mookie Betts, for as great as he is, is no longer playing like Mike Trout; Steve Pearce is a few big games against the Yankees and a good week against the Dodgers from being out of baseball and hopefully sentimentality will continue to waste a roster spot and at-bats for the Red Sox; Eduardo Nunez sucks; Andrew Benintendi is hurt; Mitch Moreland isn’t an everyday player; Christian Vazquez only hits at Yankee Stadium and Sandy Leon wasn’t good enough to be on the Opening Day roster.
The 2018 Red Sox bullpen featured the second-best closer in history, but the bridge to him was so untrustworthy the starting rotation became the bullpen in the postseason. The Red Sox returned to the same bullpen this season minus its only valuable piece.
It’s no surprise the Red Sox aren’t any good. They just lost to a Yankees team missing their starting catcher, left fielder/designated hitter, center fielder, shortstop, third baseman, ace and best reliever. They certainly aren’t .316 winning percentage bad, but they aren’t 108-win good either. It took every below-average- and average player playing well, every good player playing great and every great player playing at an MVP level for their 2018 season to happen and they all did in what was one ridiculously improbable parlay that couldn’t be stopped. Screw the 1967 Red Sox. The 2018 Red Sox were the Impossible Dream.
The Rays won 90 games last year and didn’t need anything extraordinary to post that win total. They revolutionized the way a starter is used and a bullpen is managed with their “opener” strategy. They added Charlie Morton and have Tyler Glasnow for a full season to go along with the reigning Cy Young winner in Blake Snell and a pair of openers in Ryne Stanek and Yanni Chirinos, who have the ability to dominate for two-plus innings. Their lineup lacks any household name and it would take a miracle for the Rays to be represented in the All-Star Game by a position player. Their offense consists of .240 and .250 hitters up and down the order, who seemingly only gets hits with runners in scoring position and only hit home runs when there are men on. Their offense is centered around situational hitting and creating runs, not launch angles and exit velocity. The Rays are built on the postseason success blueprint of pitching and timely hitting, and everyone expects one of the two to fall off at some point, but they didn’t last year, and they haven’t this year. This isn’t just a 19-game sample size for the 14-5 Rays. This is now a 181-game sample size, and the Rays are 104-77 since the start of 2018.
I will be rooting for the Yankees to win all three from the Royals this weekend and for no sweep in Tampa. For now, Yankees fans don’t have to root for the Red Sox, but eventually we will.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!