I spent the weekend avoiding the -15 degree weather in New York City by staying inside, watching countless episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and wondering why the NHL can’t just have their traditional skills competition during their All-Star Weekend. The Yankees spent the weekend continuing their public display of delusion about how the 2022 season ended and how they compare to the world champion Astros.
Brian Cashman went on 670 The Score this weekend and wanted to be celebrated for reaching the ALCS even though his latest roster to come up championship-less didn’t even win a game in that series.
“New York’s a tough grading system,” Cashman said. “So the only A you get is if you finish with that trophy in hand otherwise you get an F. There’s nothing in between.”
This is a misleading statement from Cashman. The 2017 Yankees lost in seven games in the ALCS and I would have given that team an A at the time given their expectations, performance and how set up for the future they appeared to be. I certainly didn’t think I would be sitting here five years later with these Yankees still having not won a championship.
The 2013-2016 Yankees were mostly hated rosters filled with either past-their-prime superstars like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez or roster stopgaps desperately hanging on to major-league careers like Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner. Those were truly awful teams that Joe Girardi was somehow able to squeeze winning records out of, and after 2017, I didn’t think the Yankees’ roster would be so universally detested again for a long, long time.
But that time has come again as the roster is littered with washed-up players like Josh Donaldson, overpaid busts like Aaron Hicks and bargain-bin disappointments like Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Add in a failed manager who’s protected by his general manager, and there’s a lot to not like about the current Yankees. It’s truly scary to think about if Aaron Judge had left this offseason. Giancarlo Stanton coming off the worst season of his career would be the position player face of the franchise.
The grading system Cashman speaks about is accurate when it comes to the current state of the Yankees. A team that in the last six postseasons has been eliminated by the Astros three times, the Red Sox twice and the Rays once. A team that is going on a 14-year World Series appearance drought and a team that has won it all once in the last 23 years. A team that has consistently passed over generational free-agent talent for less expensive options and in-house options that don’t pan out.
“In the end we were four games short of a World Series appearance,” Cashman said. “But it felt like with the way our fan base reacted and the press that we got knocked out in the first round.”
It’s not surprising Cashman thinks he and his roster should be praised for their embarrassing showing in the ALCS. This is the same guy, who a year ago, said the organization’s World Series drought doesn’t date back to 2009, it only dates back to 2017 because the Astros cheated, calling his Yankees the rightful champions that season in what what his lowest moment as general manager. It’s been a long time since Cashman won that he now has to conjure up championships in his head rather than have his team win them on the field. So of course he believes reaching the ALCS and not winning any games there is an accomplishment.
“The perception was we didn’t do well,” Cashman said. “And the reality was we had a hell of another run at it, but we fell short, so that’s just the New York market.”
If the young, inexperienced Guardians, with the fourth-lowest payroll in baseball, who weren’t supposed to sniff the postseason, had won Game 5 of the ALDS over the Yankees and then got swept by the Astros, I would say the reality was they had a hell of a run at it. Their entire roster made less than Stanton and Donaldson combined and they had the tying run at the plate in the ninth inning of a win-or-go-home Game 5 against the Yankees. Yes, if they reached the ALDS and were swept, so be it. They could be proud.
The Yankees shouldn’t be proud of their showing. A team that kicked their ass all season, kicked their ass worse than ever in four games over five days in October. It was demoralizing. The Yankees were mismanaged in Game 1, complained about exit velocity and open roofs costing them Game 2, were one-hit through 8 2/3 innings in Game 3, and when they finally broke through and scored five runs in Game 4, they allowed six runs. The Astros beat them in every way possible.
That’s not how Michael King sees it. While I was busy watching Mickey and Goofy find all the animals for their petting zoo, and while Cashman was telling sports radio in the Midwest about the participation award his 2022 Yankees deserve, King was on MLB Network Radio talking as if the Yankees had just won the World Series and had played in their sixth straight ALCS and not the Astros.
“Every offseason move that we make, you can see the Twitterverse going nuts, like ‘Is this enough to beat the Astros?’” King said. “It’s never just like ‘Is this enough to be a World Series team?’ It’s ’Is it enough to beat the Astros?’ Because we know that obviously, ultimately that will get us there.”
King wondered why Yankees fans can never just wonder if a move is enough to be a World Series team and then quickly realized that the American League berth in the World Series goes through Houston, changed course and corrected his incorrect initial thought. Then, toeing the Cashman/Aaron Boone company line, he goes back-to-back with the use of “obviously” and “ultimately” as if he were reciting a Boone postgame press conference. (And to think there are people who don’t think a team takes on the character of their manager.)
Every move the Yankees make needs to answer the question: Does this move close the gap between the Yankees and the Astros? Right now the gap is sizable. It’s four postseason wins, which is the equivalent of an entire league championship series. It’s enormous. The Yankees might have made it to the baseball final four, but they did nothing once they got there. It’s not something that should be celebrated. Not for the Yankees and not for this group of Yankees the string of postseason failures they have put together.
“I think that if we faced the Astros when we were rolling in those May, June, July months, I think it’s not even close,” King said. “We were by far the best team in baseball.”
Michael, Michael, Michael. The Yankees did face the Astros in June when the Yankees “were rolling.” The Yankees were 51-18 and 7 1/2 games up on the Astros when they met for the first time on June 23 for the start of a four-game series. And the Yankees “were rolling” for the end of April, May and most of June. In July, they were falling apart.
Here’s how those four games when the Yankees “were rolling” went:
June 23: The Yankees are no-hit for seven innings, strike out 10 times and pull off a miraculous four-run ninth inning for a walk-off win.
June 24: The Yankees score once and lose.
June 25: The Yankees are no-hit, strike out 15 times and (obviously) lose.
June 26: The Yankees are no-hit for the first 6 1/3 innings, rally for two runs in the ninth and walk it off in the 10th after Dusty Baker rests all of his ‘A’ relievers.
Here’s how the other three regular-season meetings between the two teams went:
June 30: The Yankees score one run, strike out 11 times and lose.
July 21: The Yankee score two runs and lose.
July 21: The Yankees score five runs (and still lose) off a starter who wasn’t in the Astros’ postseason rotation and a reliever who’s no longer in Major League Baseball.
The Yankees saw the Astros when they were the so-called “best team in baseball” and never had a lead. They faced them when they were starting their second-half collapse and got swept in a doubleheader. They played them in the ALCS, scored nine runs in four games and were swept.
“We hit a little bit of injury. Trade deadline I think kind of just like threw off the locker room a little bit,” King said. “But if it’s all together I think this team is unbelievable and there’s no chance an Astros team could stop us when we’re rolling.”
Well, the Astros did stop you when you “were rolling.” At one point the Yankees had a 9 1/2-game lead over the Astros in the AL and that was erased. So not only did they stop you, they stopped you, caught you and passed you, humiliating you in the process.
The Yankees did have their fair share of injuries, but so does every team. The 2021 Astros didn’t have Justin Verlander or Lance McCullers Jr. They went to the World Series. The 2021 Braves didn’t have Ronald Acuna and they won the World Series. The 2022 Astros lost their 2-hitter after 64 games in Michael Brantley and still won it all. Every team has injuries. No one wants to hear about injuries, especially the Yankees’ injuries.
As for the change in the clubhouse at the trade deadline, well, King last pitched more than a week before the deadline after suffering a season-ending injury, so he wasn’t in the new-look clubhouse daily. But yes, clubhouse favorite Jordan Montgomery was traded at the deadline. Did the removal of Montgomery from the clubhouse make Boone a bad in-game manager in October? Did Montgomery’s departure cause Judge to go 1-for-16 with a single in the ALCS? Is it the reason why Donaldson went 1-for-13 with 10 strikeouts? Kiner-Falefa couldn’t handle routine ground balls because he was upset the Yankees traded one of their homegrown starting pitchers? It’s hard for me to think Harrison Bader dropped a ball in center field because he was uncomfortable being the player Montgomery was traded for.
“I never want to make the excuse of injuries because every team goes through it,” King said, “But unfortunately, we just had some issues that made is so we weren’t at full strength.”
King doesn’t want to make excuses for injuries, but unfortunately, he’s going to anyway! What team is at full strength by late October? Sure, if the Yankees had a completely healthy Matt Carpenter batting and if DJ LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi were available and if King himself never got hurt, then yeah, the Yankees’ chances of beating the Astros would have improved. But the Yankees didn’t have those players, and they lost. That’s the way it goes.
If the Yankees and Astros meet again in the ALCS in 2023, I don’t expect that either team will have the 26-man rosters they planned on having for the series. And if the Yankees and Astros do meet again in the ALCS in 2023, I pray the Yankees finally win, so I don’t have to listen to excuse-filled interviews like these ones.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!