Yankees Thoughts: 15 1/2-Game Collapse Coming?

Yankees' division lead is down to just five games in loss column over Rays

The Yankees lost another series to a bad team. They went to California with three straight wins and left as losers of four of seven against the A’s and Angels.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. On July 8, when the Yankees held a 15 1/2-game lead in the AL East, I never thought I would be here. Here being scoreboard watching the Rays and Blue Jays games as the calendar turns to September. But the Yankees’ 30-36 since June 19, their 15-24 since the All-Star break and their 10-18 in August has me doing exactly that with five weeks to go in the season.

A week ago, the Yankees were in the middle of what would be a five-game winning streak, momentarily stopping their free fall of more than two months. They were going to California for seven games against the worst team in the AL in the A’s and an Angels team that once again failed to meet expectations, fired its manager midseason and is just counting down the games until their miserable 2022 season ends. The Yankees were supposed to go beat up on the two AL West teams the same way they did earlier in the year when they went 6-0 against this lowly competition. They were going to make up some of the ground they had lost in recent weeks. They instead lost more ground.

2. After winning the first two games in Oakland, the Yankees lost the next two, splitting a four-game series with a team that traded their supposed best pitcher a month ago to the Yankees. The Yankees were one-hit over 11 innings in the third game of the series and scored one run in the final game of the series. Over the final three games of the series, they scored six runs in 29 innings against a team on pace for more than 100 losses.

Things would get better in Anaheim, right? That’s what Aaron Boone said. “We gotta better … We gotta turn the page.” Boone spewed his two patented lines after the debacle in Oakland, continuing to believe there’s always tomorrow up until he’s giving an end-of-the-season press conference while the postseason is still taking place, like he has in every season as Yankees manager. Things didn’t get better in Anaheim. Things got worse.

3. The Yankees lost the first game of the series 4-3 with Frankie Montas on the mound. Montas had allowed two earned runs total in his last four starts against the Angels, but in this one, he allowed four earned runs on eight hits, including three home runs.

Montas has been a bust as a Yankee. In five starts, he has only given them 25 2/3 innings. In those 25 2/3 innings, he has allowed 20 earned runs and 43 baserunners. After each of his starts, Boone has thought he looked “good.”

It was another bad performance from the Yankees’ prized trade deadline acquisition. How did his manager think he pitched?

“I thought he was good,” Boone said. “I thought his stuff was good.”

If “good stuff” has a pitcher giving up three home runs in six innings, I would hate to see what Boone considers to be “bad stuff.”

4. The Yankees finished August at 10-18. It was their worst month since 1991. So add that to Boone’s resume as Yankees manager. He has overseen one division title, one ALCS loss, two ALDS losses, one wild-card game loss, two postseason eliminations to the Red Sox and the most lopsided home postseason loss in franchise history. He was the first Yankees manager to return for a fifth season without winning a championship and now was at the helm for the worst month of Yankees baseball in 31 years. He does it all! Give him a lifetime contract!

5. The Yankees scored seven runs against the Angels in the second game (scoring more than four runs in a game for just the third time in their last 20 games) in a 7-4 win. Would that game be the game for the Yankees to go on another extended successful run? Just like every other failed attempt to go on an extended run since June 19, the Yankees followed it up with a disappointing effort in the series finale.

On Wednesday night, the Yankees staked Gerrit Cole to a two-run lead, and Cole looked like he would be able to preserve that lead for seven or maybe eight, possibly even nine innings to avoid having the division lead fall to just five games in the loss column.

Leading 2-0 entering the bottom of the sixth, Cole retired Max Stassi to begin the inning. He then allowed an infield single on a tough play that Josh Donaldson threw away to allow David Fletcher to go to second with one out. Fortunately, Cole got Mike Trout to swing at the first pitch of his at-bat and hit a routine ground ball to short. Unfortunately, Isiah Kiner-Falefa booted the ground ball. With Shohei Ohtani due up with two on and one out, trailing by two, well, if you didn’t see it, I think you know what happened next.

Two nights after beating the Yankees with a home run, Ohtani launched a 2-0 pitch from Cole to straighaway enter to give the Angels a 3-2 lead. Don’t let Trout or Ohtani beat you. That’s all the Yankees needed to do going into the series, and they decided to pitch to both of them throughout the series, and Ohtani beat them … twice.

6. Kiner-Falefa should have never been the 2022 Yankees’ everyday shortstop. I have spent the last four months writing and saying as much. The Yankees have acted as though they are sacrificing his anemic bat for defense equivalent to Omar Vizquel, except they are getting defense equivalent to Gleyber Torres. The only way to justify Kiner-Falefa being an everyday player on this team would be if he played shortstop like Vizquel. He doesn’t hit enough (since he doesn’t hit at all) to continue to be the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees. If he were to be released today, he wouldn’t start at shortstop for another team in Major League Baseball.

Boone doesn’t see it that way. After the game he said Kiner-Falefa “has been one of the best defenders in the league at shortstop.” There is no defensive metric that suggests that’s true, so it’s just yet another lie from the mouth of the Yankees manager who lies daily.

As Kiner-Falefa continues to be an automatic out at that plate and unable to make the routine play in the field, the Yankees have the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball posting an OPS over .900 in the last three months at Double-A, and the No. 53 prospect in baseball posting a nearly .900 OPS over the last three months at Triple-A. While the Braves and Astros (the two teams that met in the World Series last October), along with teams like the Mets and Orioles continue to dip into their Triple-A and Double-A farm systems, the Yankees continue to stand pat, playing Kiner-Falefa every game.

7. Donaldson too. I have an inordinate amount of time, time I will never get back, writing and talking about the need to bench Donaldson. But because the Yankees owe him $24 million next year, and because once upon a time he was one of the best hitters in the league, he gets endless opportunities to turn his season around. There isn’t enough time to turn his season around. It’s September 1. Even with an Aaron Judge-like September, his overall season will still be a disaster.

The two seem to be a package deal. They came over as a package, and they man the left side of the infield and waste two rosters spots as a package. It’s gotten to the point where if Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza isn’t starting at shortstop on Friday night at Tropicana Field, I don’t know how I can root for the Yankees against the Rays. If the actual organization doesn’t care about fielding the best possible roster, why should any fan care whether they win or lose?

8. The Yankees have every ingredient needed for an unspeakable collapse. They have a front office unwilling to make a change. They have a manager who talks and acts as if there is an “x” next to the Yankees’ name in the standings denoting the team’s clinched postseason berth. They change leadoff hitters nightly, changing between DJ LeMahieu, who is playing through a foot injury and has a .349 OPS over the last three weeks, and Andrew Benintendi, who has a .698 OPS as a Yankee. They have a first baseman who has now missed games for a third time in the last month for chronic back issues. Their highest-paid position player has missed more than one-third of the season (again) and has a .776 OPS, which is more than 100 points below his career average. They have two automatic outs at short and third, and at second, a player they tried to move at the deadline and likely plan on moving in the offseason. The only two good position players to feel good about are Judge and Oswaldo Cabrera. The former is the AL MVP and the latter was inexplicably given the night off on Wednesday the day before a scheduled day off. Yes, a day off for an energetic 23-year-old, who was recently called up to the major leagues and probably sits in his uniform all day waiting for first pitch.

9. I used to love when the Yankees played West Coast games. I would look forward to them and stretch myself out for them in the days leading up to them like a reliever transforming into a starter. Now I hate them. Staying up late until the early hours of the following day with a four-month-old and near-two-year-old isn’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle. By the time I got my life back on track from the early-August games in Seattle, the Yankees were headed to California. I have had a headache since the series opener in Oakland last Friday and coupled with the Yankees 3-4 record against the A’s and Angels, and their overall free fall, the consistent headache is the least of my worries.

Last week, I wrote that things could get worse for the Yankees before they got better, and they might not get better this season. The Yankees could collapse themselves out of a first-round bye in the postseason. It’s still unlikely mathematically, but this Yankees team spits in the face of math. Their lack of urgency and general who-gives-a-shit attitude is why they are now playing meaningful games in September rather than sitting back and waiting for the postseason to begin. Their approach of sitting regulars and giving extra rest to their best starters and holding back their best relievers didn’t prevent injuries (yet again) and only helped them to this two-and-a-half-month stretch of under-.500 baseball. The Yankees have been acting like they have had everything clinched since early June and now they are clinging to a five-game lead in the loss column against a team they will play six times in the next 10 games. I thought it was bad enough when they weren’t playing to win the best record in the AL. They aren’t even playing to win the AL East.

10. September was supposed to be about getting healthy and ready for the postseason. Instead, the Yankees will have to play as if it’s already the postseason to avoid playing in the best-of-3 wild-card series.

This weekend represents the biggest series of the season. Something that didn’t seem possible two and even three months ago. Domingo German, Clarke Schmidt and Montas for the three games at the Trop? As we say goodbye to summer, we might be saying goodbye to the Yankees’ 15 1/2-game lead.

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