The Yankees had an opportunity to win all three games against the Rays at Tropicana Field over the weekend. Instead, they won one and their deficit in the AL East is up to 10 games.
1. If you’re a Yankees fan who values your health and well-being, stop watching this 2023 team right now. Just walk away from this miserable roster, moronic management and clueless front office and enjoy life. Write down a list of things you wish to learn or achieve and take action. Always wanted to learn how to play a specific instrument? Well, 7 to 10 p.m. just opened up for the next five months on your calendar.
The 2023 Yankees are truly awful. Their wins are painful to acquire and their losses are excruciating to sit through. There’s very little to be excited about when watching the team, and when Aaron Judge isn’t playing there’s basically nothing to be excited about. (This is exactly why Hal Steinbrenner had to write Judge a blank check in free agency. He’s the only marketable everyday player on the team, and likely the only thing from keeping a faction of Yankees fans from learning guitar or piano instead of consuming Yankees baseball for the rest of 2023.)
2. This weekend was a chance for the Yankees to begin chipping away at the Rays’ seemingly insurmountable lead. A Rays sweep would end the Yankees’ division chances and a Rays series win would keep those chances on life support. But a Yankees series win would begin the chipping away process and a Yankees sweep (while improbable) could potentially turn this dismal season to date around. Aaron Boone made sure a Yankees sweep would stay improbable in the first game of the series.
3. The Yankees overcame an early 4-0 deficit on Friday night to tie the game with a four-run sixth. The game would be come a battle of the bullpens, and with the Yankees having yet to use an elite reliever, Boone decided he still wasn’t going to.
With the game tied at 4 and headed to the bottom of the sixth, Boone decided he would try to steal some outs since that always seem to work out well. Rather than recognize his offense just pulled off their biggest comeback of the season by scoring four runs in an inning when they typically score four runs total over three games, Boone let Albert Abreu face the first batter of the inning. Abreu got an out on deep fly ball, Boone figured he had played with fire long enough and removed Abreu for Ian Hamilton. Hamilton got the last two outs of the inning.
4. Then in the seventh, Boone went to Jimmy Cordero, who is this season’s inexplicable member of Boone’s inner circle of trusted relievers. Cordero isn’t bad. He doesn’t suck like Abreu, but he’s not Wandy Peralta or Ron Marinaccio or even Clay Holmes. And he’s certainly not Michael King. King was also warming up alongside Cordero, but Boone decided Cordero would be better suited to face a Rays order as it turned over. It worked about as well as you would expect.
Cordero walked 9-hitter Jose Siri on five pitches, and with one out, gave up a “double” to Wander Franco. The “double” was a catchable ball that Jake Bauers misplayed because he’s a first baseman the Yankees have playing left field. After the double, which gave the Rays the lead again, Boone then decided to go to the Yankees’ best reliever in King. King, of course, retired the next two batters on seven pitches.
I wish this were a one-time occurrence where Boone failed to use his best reliever (or even one of his best relievers) when the game was tied only to use him once the Yankees trailed. If King was available to pitch in the inning, why didn’t he start the inning? It’s the same reason Abreu was used for one batter in the previous inning: trying to steal outs. Trying to steal outs in the biggest game of the season to date. The Yankees would lose by one: the run Cordero allowed.
5. The following afternoon, the Yankees dug themselves a first-inning, two-run hole. Not scoring first in any game isn’t great for the old win probability. Not scoring first against the Rays is essentially a guaranteed loss.
Thankfully, Saturday happened to be one of the rare occasions when scoring first for the Rays didn’t work out for them. The Yankees battled back for three runs in the eighth and the bullpen held with Holmes against the heart of the order in the bottom of the eighth and Hamilton against the bottom of the order in the ninth. Why wasn’t King used? Because when Boone uses King, he only uses him for multiple innings, and then he’s not allowed to pitch the following day. So Boone’s decision to burn King with the Yankees trailing on Friday took him out of the equation on Saturday. Fortunately, Holmes and Hamilton got the job done.
Then there was Sunday.
6. The Yankees had split the first two games of the series, which was a welcome surprise. Not only that, but they had nearly beaten the Rays in a game they trailed by four runs and only lost because of the incompetence of their own manager (going to Cordero over King) and the incompetence of their own front office (constructing a roster so poorly that a first baseman is forced to play the outfield). Then the Yankees were able to beat the best team in baseball despite Domingo German starting, despite being down two runs in the first inning and despite Boone making King unavailable. With Gerrit Cole on the mound on Sunday, the Yankees would have a chance to win a series against the Rays, take off a game standings from when they arrived in Tampa on Friday, be winners of four of their last six and two straight series, and feel good about being able to beat up on an A’s team this week that is on pace to be the worst team in baseball history.
7. The Yankees led 3-0 after three, 5-0 after four and 6-0 going into the bottom of the fifth. That inning, Cole retired Christan Bethancourt with a strikeout to begin the frame before Siri took him deep. Solo home run? First home run allowed of the season? In a six-run game? Whatever. That’s what I thought and that’s likely what Cole was thinknig.
Then Yandy Diaz singled. Then Wander Franco singled and Diaz scored when Gleyber Torres threw the ball away (a ball Oswaldo Cabrera should have caught). The Yankees’ lead was trimmed to 6-2, but Cole struck out the Rays’ 3- and 4-hitters to end the inning. OK, a solo home run and a run that only scored because of an error? He did strike out the side in the inning. No worries. That’s what I thought. I should have been worried though. It’s the Boone Yankees, it’s the 2023 Yankees, it’s Cole against the Rays, it’s Cole in a big game (as big a game as a game on May 7 could be). I should have been very worried.
The Yankees left two on in the sixth and this how Cole’s sixth went: double, double, walk, home run. Six-run lead gone. Tie game.
It was shocking. Shocking because Cole had completely unraveled and shocking because Boone let it happen. This is the result of each of the final nine batters Cole faced:
8. By the time Bethancourt (the Rays’ 8-hitter) hit the game-tying, three-run home run, Cole had nothing left. He was yanking every fastball in the dirt and when he had to come in the zone, it would be middle-middle cement mixer. He should have been removed after the back-to-back doubles on four pitches to begin the inning, but the walk was the sign of all signs that he was finished.
Not for Boone, whose lack of feeling for the game in front of him is unrivaled. Boone was going to let Cole pitch until the lead was completely gone, and he did just that. “Small Game” Gerrit showed up at the worst possible time, and his manager was happy to take the steering wheel and drive the game right off a cliff.
The Rays took the lead that inning, but the Yankees offense managed to tie the game at 7 the following inning. The Yankees had now scored three days worth of runs in seven innings and yet were tied in a game Cole started. The problem was Kevin Cash had yet to utilize his big arms in the bullpen and once he did, it would only be batter of time until the Rays won. Once the game went to the 10th and the Yankees didn’t score in their half and Boone sent out Abreu with the automatic runner on second and no outs, the game was over. Sure enough, six Abreu pitches later, the game was over.
9. The weekend was a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity to cut a game off the Rays’ lead. A missed opportunity to create the idea the Yankees can hang around in the division race until they get healthy (if they get healthy). The Yankees are now 10 games back and with only 10 games remaining against the Rays, unless the Yankees get every single injured player back and playing to the best of their abilities by Thursday night, all the Rays have to do is win two of four next weekend to eliminate the Yankees from the AL East.
10. Before the Yankees play the Rays, they will host the A’s (who again are on pace to the worst team in the history of Major League Baseball). The Yankees can’t just win the series against the Rays, they need to sweep the A’s, because that’s what the Rays did in their three-game series against them earlier this season. The Rays swept the A’s and outscored them 31-5 in the three games. I don’t expect the Yankees to outscore anyone like that (even the A’s), but I do expect three wins.
If the Yankees want to pull off a miracle in the division, they need to match what the Ryas do against their opponents, and then in their remaining 10 games against the Rays, play them better than they did this past weekend. I don’t expect it to happen, that’s just what needs to happen if the Yankees believe they can still win the division.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available as an ebook!