Yankees Thoughts: Can’t Be Satisfied Without 1-Seed

Yankees have one more important goal to achieve in remaining 70 games

The Yankees finished the first “half” of the season with back-to-back wins and a series win over the Red Sox. After a lackluster previous week, the Yankees go into the All-Star break with a two-game winning streak, having outscored their rival 27-3 in their last games.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The Yankees are nine games into the second half of the season. Sunday was their 92nd game and 57 percent of their season has been played. They are going to the postseason. (They will never not make the postseason with 40 percent of the league getting in.) They are going to the postseason as AL East champions. They still need to go to the postseason as the 1-seed in the AL.

In recent years, the Yankees haven’t cared about how they got into the postseason, as long as they got in. When it was still a four-team format, they didn’t care about winning the division and having home-field advantage in the ALDS. When it became a five-team format for nine seasons, they didn’t mind having to play a one-game playoff to advance to the ALDS, and they did so four times, going 2-2. Now that it’s a six-team format, the only way to avoid the best-of-3 at the higher seed’s home is to win the division and have a better record than at least one of the other division winners. They have done that. The division was clinched a month ago, and once they won the division, their bye was clinched as the AL Central winner was never going to outplay the East winner or the Astros.

Now that the first two goals of the season have been achieved (winning he division and earning a bye to the best-of-5 ALDS), the next goal is to finish with the best record in the AL. If the Yankees want to finally get past the Astros in the playoffs, they’re going to need to play the most amount of games possible at Yankee Stadium in October. Having to play Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 in Houston has already not worked out twice for the Yankees, and based on the way the two teams match up and the way they have played each other this season, if the Yankees blow their 1-seed lead, I think we all now how a potential Yankees-Astros ALCS will play out.

2. The Yankees haven’t managed or played of late like they are concerned with holding off the Astros (who still have 16 games left against the A’s and Angels). The lineups have more resembled last-weekend-of-the-season-with-everything-clinched than the need to finish with the best record in the AL and baseball. The bullpen decisions have resembled the same. The way the Yankees have shown in the past that they believe getting into the postseason is more important than what seed you are when you get in, they are now showing they believe there’s no difference in being the 1-seed or the 2-seed. They couldn’t be more wrong.

3. The Yankees are nearly unbeatable at home, where they are an MLB-best 37-12. Here are their 12 home losses:

  1. 4-3 loss to the Red Sox, in which they left 12 runners on
  2. 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays and their kryptonite Alek Manoah, in which they brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth
  3. A 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays, in which they had the tying run at the plate in the ninth
  4. A 4-2 loss to the Rangers in the second game of a doubleheader, in which Michael King had his one bad game of the season blowing the lead in the seventh, and the Yankees still brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth
  5. A 3-1 loss to the White Sox, in which Aroldis Chapman gave up the go-ahead runs in the ninth
  6. A 5-0 loss to the White Sox, in which they were one-hit for the first seven innings
  7. A 6-4 loss to the Orioles, in which they blew a two-run lead and still brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth
  8. A 3-1 loss to the Astros, in which they had the winning run at the plate in the ninth
  9. A 3-0 loss to the Astros, in which they were no-hit
  10. A 4-3 loss to the Reds, in which they blew a 3-0 lead in the ninth in Clay Holmes’ one bad game of the season
  11. A 7-6 loss to Reds in 10 innings, in which they had the winning run on base in the 10th
  12. A 5-4 loss to the Red Sox in 11 innings, in which they left the bases loaded with no outs to win in the ninth and left the bases loaded with one out to win in the 10th

The Yankees have suffered two true home losses through 49 home games: the 5-0 shutout by the White Sox and the 3-0 no-hitter by the Astros. In the other 47 games, the Yankees have either won or lost because their two all-world relievers had their only bad games of the season, their highest-paid reliever melted down in the ninth or they stranded a billion runners or they. In 10 of the 12 losses, they had the tying run at the plate or on base in the ninth. The only exceptions being those two games against the White Sox and Astros.

Knowing all of this, how could you not do everything possible to earn home-field advantage through at least the AL playoffs? If the Yankees clinch the 1-seed and lose in the postseason, so be it. At least they put themselves in the best possible position to win in that aspect. If they blow the 1-seed and eventually lose on the road in the ALCS to the Astros, it will be completely unacceptable.

4. A lot of what Aaron Boone has done of late has been unacceptable, and as we grow closer to October and the postseason, my physical, emotional and mental states begin to deteriorate thinking about what he may or may not do in the biggest games.

If Boone could just make simple, logical lineup and in-game choices as manager of the Yankees, my life would be so much easier. My emotional, physical and mental health would be so much better. His life would be easier too, as would his emotional, physical and mental health. He wouldn’t have to constantly answer for his stupidity. He wouldn’t have to always be coming up with some asinine reason a move he made or tell blatant, easy-to-uncover lie about why he did what he did.

If Boone were to bring King into a tie game in the eighth inning and he were to allow the go-ahead run, then there’s nothing you can do. As long as it’s the right choice, I will never be upset at the decision. No Yankees fan should be. But rarely does Boone make the right choice in a situation in which he needs to make a choice.

5. In games in which his starter goes seven and has a lead and he can go to King and then Holmes, and he doesn’t have do anything, it’s beautiful and relieving. But when his starter doesn’t go seven, or when his offense doesn’t show up, or when it becomes a bullpen game in the fifth, situations like these rarely ever end well for the Yankees, and if they do, it’s because the offense does finally show up before it’s too late.

Last week at Fenway Park, Boone helped lead the Yankees to losses on both Saturday and Sunday. His late hooks, puzzling bullpen decisions and trying to run wild on the basepaths led to two miserable, unnecessary losses. This past Friday night, Boone was at it again at home against the Red Sox.

The Yankees were able to overcome an early two-run deficit and chase Nathan Eovaldi in the fifth in what was a 3-3 game. The Red Sox’ bullpen is atrocious (like much of their team outside of their 2-3-4 hitters), and once Jordan Montgomery was lifted after the sixth, it became a three-inning battle of the bullpens, a scenario the Yankees should never lose, especially against the Red Sox, and especially at home.

6. This was one of those times when the offense didn’t show. A lot of traffic (hat tip, Boone) with not much to show for it, just a three-run, opposite-field home run from Giancarlo Stanton. It was also a game in which Boone’s starter didn’t go seven and the team didn’t have the lead, so he couldn’t just put the game on autopilot and hand it over to King and Holmes. He would have to think. He would have to use his brain.

The first decision Boone’s brain made was to bring in Chapman. Chapman came off two weeks prior after missing more than a month with an “injury” and Boone said he would see low-leverage situations until he got back on track. After three OK performances in low-leverage situations, Boone brought him into a tie game in the seventh inning at Fenway Park. Three batters later, the Red Sox had the bases loaded with no outs and would plate the go-ahead run off Chapman in their eventual win. Three days later, Chapman threw 20 pitches in an inning against the Reds, and two days after, Boone was willing to use him yet again in a tie game against the Red Sox.

Prior to bringing Chapman in, King had been warming up. It’s likely if the Yankees had taken the lead in the bottom of the sixth, Boone would then go to King for two innings and Holmes for the ninth. But because the Yankees didn’t take the lead, Boone scrapped that plan, and went with Chapman. It took one batter, the very first batter Chapman faced for the game to be untied. Bobby Dalbec took him deep and the Red Sox had a 4-3 lead.

7. After Dalbec’s home run, Boone got King back up. What? The Yankees were now losing, and Boone wanted to go to King next if Chapman couldn’t get through the inning. Boone had already bypassed using King because the Yankees hadn’t taken the lead the half-inning before, but now he was willing to go to him when trailing? So King could pitch if the Yankees were winning or losing the game, but not if it were tied? It sounds preposterous, and yet it happened.

If ‘The Plan’ doesn’t work out (‘The Plan’ being starter for seven with the lead to King and Holmes), Boone has no fucking clue what to do. He’s lost. He freaks out and loses any semblance of intelligence, not just baseball intelligence, but all intelligence.

Chapman was able to get through that inning without further damage, and the Yankees still trailed 4-3 going into the top of the eighth. With the fearsome right-handed trio of Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts due up, if Boone was truly willing to go to King while trailing, this would be the spot: the scariest “lane” (hat tip, Boone) the Red Sox have to offer. (In the postseason, trailing by one run in the eighth inning of a game with this kind of lane, Holmes should be in. But for this situation King was the right choice.) Boone didn’t choose King. He didn’t choose any righty. He instead went with the left-handed Wandy Peralta, who just six days earlier couldn’t get out the Red Sox’ right-handed hitters, taking the loss at Fenway.

Peralta did manage to get through the inning unscathed, but it didn’t make it the right choice. Choosing to drive drunk and making it home safely doesn’t make it the right choice because it worked out. Staying with a 16 with the dealer showing a 10 and the dealer busting doesn’t make it the right choice because it worked out. Going to Peralta there and not having the deficit increase doesn’t make it the right choice.

The Yankees tied the game in the ninth because Tanner Houck couldn’t throw the ball accurately to third base on the worst sacrifice bunt attempt you will ever see by Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and the Yankees were gifted the tying run. The Yankees ended up leaving the bases loaded with no one out in the ninth, and left them loaded with one out in the 10th, and lost 5-4 in 10 innings.

The Yankees lost the game because their offense scored three runs in the first eight innings, were able to tie the game on a gift error and then couldn’t score a runner from third with no outs and one out in back-to-back innings. Boone isn’t the reason they lost, but he played a role in the loss.

8. The Yankees’ offense is too inconsistent and too unpredictable that come October, the team can’t afford to have Boone play a role in losses. We have seen what the core of this offense tends to do in the postseason, and it’s not pretty. Boone will have to be near-perfect in October because that’s what it takes to win the World Series. You have to get hot, get lucky at times, get great starting pitching and timely hitting, and on top of all, have your manager push all the right buttons.

Everything Boone has done since Opening Day 2018 has been to prepare to win a championship. He has already failed four times at doing so. The lineup choices he has made in four-plus years and the bullpen decisions he has made over that same time haven’t changed much. The names have changed, but the choices and his lack of reasoning haven’t.

It was just three years ago that he was batting Brett Gardner third in the 2019 postseason and Edwin Encarnacion fourth, based on his unnecessary need to break up right-handed bats (Gardner) and his need to always bat former stars as high in the order as possible (Encarnacion). Last year, he married the idea of Hicks as the team’s 3-hitter in spring training to break up Judge and Stanton, a decision that was vehemently questioned from spring training right up until Hicks was dropped to the bottom-third of the lineup two weeks into the season. This year, he continues to bat Josh Donaldson fifth, ahead of Matt Carpenter, despite Donaldson being nothing more than a name at this point while Carpenter has produced at a Barry Bonds-like rate for two months. The names on the roster have changed, the similar decisions haven’t.

9. I’m extremely worried about what lineup the Yankees will generate for Game 1 of the ALDS in less than three months. I don’t think any Yankee fans would be surprised to see Donaldson batting fifth or sixth, Carpenter on the bench and Kyle Higashioka playing over Jose Trevino. I’m extremely worried about what bullpen decisions will be made when ‘The Plan’ doesn’t happen. Boone has already made these exact type of worrisome moves in the postseason in the past.

I’m talking about a guy whose starting pitching didn’t know what time Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS started. I’m talking about a guy who went to a non-strikeout starting pitcher with the bases loaded and no outs with the season on the line with Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green in the bullpen in that Game 3. I’m talking about a guy who let CC Sabathia face the entire Red Sox’ order a second time in Game 4 of that ALDS and put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole because the guy I’m talking about “liked the matchup” of Sabathia against Jackie Bradley, who bats ninth, so he let him go through the entire lineup again. I’m talking about a guy who benched Miguel Andujar and his .297/.328/.527 slash line, 27 home runs and 47 doubles for that elimination game and never used him as a pinch hitter. I’m talking about a guy who let J.A. Happ pitch until the Astros walked off the Yankees in Game 2 of the 2019 ALCS. I’m talking about a guy who used Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, and Adam Ottavino in five of the six 2019 ALCs games, and then seemed surprised when Britton said they were all fatigued after the Yankees were eliminated. I’m talking about a guy who sat Gary Sanchez for Kyle Higashioka in five of the seven 2020 playoff games. I’m talking about a guy who tried to trick Kevin Cash and the Rays by pitching Deivi Garcia for one inning and then going to J.A. Happ in the second inning in the pivotal Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS. I’m talking about a guy who used Mike Ford (who was sent down in September due to production) as a pinch hitter over Sanchez and Clint Frazier in an elimination game. I’m talking about a guy who gave Gerrit Cole the ball for the 2021 one-game playoff, even though it was public knowledge Cole was dealing with a hamstring injury and then manage Cole’s outing as if the didn’t have a nagging hamstring injury and as if the Red Sox didn’t own him at Fenway Park, letting him give up three runs, two home runs, a double and two walks before relieving him with two on and no outs in the bottom of the third. I’m talking about a guy who let Luis Severino (in his second inning of work in his fifth appearance in essentially two years) put two on with no outs in the sixth inning of that game before removing him. I’m talking about a guy who let Jonathan Loaisiga issue his third walk in that game before going to another reliever. I’m talking about a guy who once again started Higashioka in an elimination game. I’m talking about a guy who used Rougned Odor as a pinch hitter before Sanchez in that elimination game and a guy who gave two at-bats in a one-game playoff to Odor. I’m talking about a guy who is managing in 2022 just like he did in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 but has received a historic run from his starting pitching, is getting an all-time season from his superstar center fielder and who has the best backend bullpen duo in the majors. I’m talking about a guy who didn’t become some managerial genius between the end of the team’s underwhelming, disappointing and embarrassing 2021 and the start of 2022. He’s the same guy, making the same unfathomable choices, and he’s very capable of ruining the Yankees’ best chance at ending the championship drought. Boone winning the AL Manager of the Year would be every bit as bad as Rick Porcello having won the 2016 AL Cy Young award. Boone isn’t the reason the Yankees are 64-28. He’s just along for the ride and all Yankees fans are hoping he doesn’t try to force himself into the driver’s seat and crash the season.

10. I want to like Boone and I want him to win. I want to believe he’s doing everything he can do obtain the 1-seed and avoid going on the road to Houston if it comes to that. I want him to manage as if the Yankees are still trying to achieve a goal, and not as if they’ve already achieved everything possible.

After the final out of Game 162, I will give Boone and whatever the roster looks like at that time a clean slate for the postseason, the same way I have done in every other season. That clean slate needs to come as the 1-seed in the AL.

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