Yankees Thoughts: Flustered at Fenway

After winning the first game of the three-game series at Fenway Park, the Yankees dropped the next two and were humiliated along the way.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. I was sitting down the first-base line at Fenway Park on Apr. 26, 2009 for Sunday Night Baseball. Andy Pettitte was on the mound and trying to end the Red Sox’ early-season dominance over the Yankees, but he couldn’t.

With the game tied at 1 in the fifth, he allowed a two-double to David Ortiz, which scored Jason Varitek and moved Jacoby Ellsbury to third. After intentionally walking Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew came to the plate with runners on the corners. With a 1-1 count on Drew, Pettitte came set on the mound and as he stared at Youkilis at first base, Ellsbury took off. With Pettitte’s back to Ellsbury, he couldn’t see him running for home and by the time Jorge Posada realized what was happening to alert Pettitte, Ellsbury was too far down the line. Ellsbury stole home to give the Red Sox a 3-1 lead. He popped up, clenched his fists in celebration and made his way to the dugout where Terry Francona was laughing. (The Red Sox would win eight straight games against the Yankees to open the year.) The Yankees got the last laugh that season when they went on their own run against their rival, won the division and won the World Series. But that night at Fenway Park was demoralizing. I had seen (and have since) a lot of awful Yankees moments at Fenway Park, and the Ellsbury steal of home remains up there.

Yes, things are much different now than they were 15 Aprils ago: the Yankees have the best record in baseball and are 12 games ahead of the Red Sox in the division. But the level of embarrassment of watching the Red Sox steal nine bases in a single game against the Yankees is every bit as bad as it was when Francona put his arm around Ellsbury and the two shared a laugh at the Yankees’ expense.

2. “I think it’s matchup-dictated,” Aaron Boone said of allowing nine steals. “They had the right matchups out there on the field, and they took advantage of it.”

What matchup? The Yankees used six different pitchers in the game and the Red Sox stole off three of them (Marcus Stroman, Ian Hamilton and Luke Weaver). They couldn’t steal against Tommy Kahnle because he pitched a perfect inning, they didn’t need to steal against Caleb Ferguson because he was busy giving up hits all over the place and there wasn’t enough time to steal off Michael Tonkin. So the matchup is the entire Yankees’ pitching staff and Jose Trevino? Every team in the league watched the Red Sox run wild on the Yankees, and they will all now being doing it.

3. “That was good baseball tonight,” Alex Cora said. “Expect that from us. We’re going to push the envelope.”

Ken Rosenthal reported this week that if the Yankees were to suffer an early postseason exit or not reach the World Series that they would possibly replace Boone with Cora. If failing to meet expectations the last six years, culminating in the worst Yankees season in 30 years last year wasn’t enough for Boone to be fired, he’s not going anywhere if the Yankees simply reach the postseason (which is all they truly care to do). But even with an injury-riddled, mediocre roster that has Rob Refsnyder batting second, Dominic Smith as a middle-of-the-order bat and a center fielder playing shortstop, Cora still managed to manage circles around his counterpart yet again.

4. The nine steals against the Yankees served as the latest embarrassing accomplishment for the Yankees under Boone. Here’s some highlights on his managerial resume:

  • First Yankees manager to get a fifth season without having won a championship (and now a sixth and seventh season too)
  • Oversaw most lopsided home postseason loss in franchise history (Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS)
  • Managed the Yankees to their worst full-season record in last 30 years in 2023
  • Managed the Yankees to their worst month record-wise in 31 years in 2021
  • Most steals allowed in a game by the franchise in 109 years

Boone wasn’t needed in Friday’s 8-1 Yankees rout and there was nothing he could on Saturday thanks to the $162 million man. But on Sunday, after the Yankees had turned a late three-run deficit into a one-run deficit, the Yankees needed their manager to put the team in the best possible position to succeed over the final two-plus innings and he couldn’t.

With the Yankees trailing 4-3 entering the bottom of the seventh, Boone’s elite relievers were rested in Weaver and Clay Holmes, having yet to pitch in the series, and with a day off scheduled for Monday, he could afford to use them in a game the Yankees were currently losing. Instead, Boone went to Caleb Ferguson for the seventh, and after Ferguson faced the minimum three batters, the Red Sox had runners on the corners with one out, threatening to add to their one-run lead.

The seventh inning screamed Luke Weaver’s name, with the righty having pitched just twice in the last seven days, but Boone figured he could try to steal an inning with Ferguson and then go to Weaver in the eighth. The plan backfired and Boone ended up calling on Weaver to clean up Ferguson’s mess. If Boone was willing to use Weaver in the game and willing to use him in that inning, why not just give Weaver a clean inning to start with? That exact situation has now been played out countless times per season for six-plus years under Boone.

5. The loss on Sunday wouldn’t have hurt so bad if Carlos Rodon showed up on Saturday. But he didn’t. A national TV game in a hostile environment against a divisional rival? It was foolish for anyone to think Rodon would be anything other than the worst version of himself.

Rodon needed 109 pitches to get through five innings and allowed five earned runs and 10 baserunners.

“It just looked like he was in the heart of the plate a lot,” Boone said. “I thought his stuff was good.”

Boone has yet to see a starting pitching performance in six-plus years in which his starter didn’t have “good stuff.” I don’t know how he can say Rodon “was in the heart of the plate a lot” and then in his next breath say he “thought his stuff was good.”

Rodon has now struggled against the Red Sox (5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 K), Orioles (4 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 3 HR) and Blue Jays (4 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 5 K). Guess who the Yankees play the most games against each season? The Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays (and Rays who Rodon has yet to face this season).

If Rodon is healthy come October, he will undoubtedly get the ball for a playoff game because money owed is more important than performance or logic, and Rodon is owed a lot of money (he makes roughly $800,000 per start) and the Yankees’ postseason plans are rarely created with logic (like using an opener in Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS or having Clarke Schmidt be the first guy out of the bullpen. Game 1 of the 2022 ALCS or a million other examples during the Boone era). Rodon has only made one playoff start in his career (2021 ALDS Game 4) and he didn’t get through three innings (2.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K). Saturday night was a postseason-like atmosphere, just like it was in May in Baltimore, and unsurprisingly Rodon’s two worst starts of the season came in those two games. Thankfully, he won’t get to face the Orioles this week.

6. Thankfully, Luis Gil will face the Orioles this week. Gil couldn’t command his fastball or changeup on Friday night and still gave the Yankees five innings of one-run ball to lead them to their only win of the series. He’s so good.

7. Gleyber Torres isn’t good. In fact, he sucks. He flat-out sucks. When he isn’t dropping pop-ups, booting grounders, getting picked off or rushing throws, he’s putting together disgusting and disturbing at-bats.

Torres went 0-for-Fenway over the weekend and reached base once via a walk in 12 plate appearances. Between Friday and Saturday, he left 11 runners on base, and yet, he was somehow worse on Sunday.

In the series finale, the Yankees trailed 4-3 in the seventh. They were able to load the bases with no outs and Torres coming to the plate. Torres got ahead 3-0 because new reliever Zack Kelly wasn’t even close on any of his first three pitches. Then Torres took back-to-back fastballs down the middle on 3-0 and 3-1 to run the count full. The Red Sox knew Torres would be swinging at the 3-2 pitch unless it hit him in the head, so Connor Wong called for a sweeper away, Kelly threw it away and in the dirt and Torres struck out swinging to add three more runners left on base to his weekend tally of 14.

If you like Torres, you don’t like the Yankees. How could you when his very presence in the field, on the bases and in the batter’s box is detrimental to the success of the team. Torres doesn’t hit for average (.222 batting average) or power (.333 slugging percentage). He doesn’t provide speed (four steals) and doesn’t get on base often (.298 on-base percentage). He’s a horrific defender (leads all second baseman in errors) and has the worst Baseball IQ of any player I have ever watched (Nick Swisher is off the hook). Torres is a losing player who provides no value to the team, and yet, he’s the only Yankee Boone has decided needs no days off.

8. The offense is so bad outside of Juan Soto and Aaron Judge that when the Yankees don’t score when the duo is up, you immediately start to count how many innings it will be until they may get up again. Because the rest of the lineup is so blah, being average or the slightest bit above average has fooled the perception of the production of hitters like Alex Verdugo, Anthony Volpe and Giancarlo Stanton.

It’s a good thing Alex Verdugo had a big night on Friday in his return to Fenway because he didn’t do anything for the rest of the series. Verdugo’s home run was his first in June, and the Yankees’ “cleanup hitter” is hitting .260/.313/.426.

7. I nicknamed Brett Gardner “The Streak” during his playing days because he was the streakiest player of all time. Well, it looks like the Yankees’ latest leadoff solution is ready to inherit that title. Here is Volpe’s season broken down into four parts:

March 28-April 14: .382/.477/1.041 (1.518 OPS)
April 15-May 5: .163/.247/.238 (.485 OPS)
May 7-June 5: .333/.368/.539 (.907 OPS)
June 6-16: .154/.154/.192 (.346 OPS)

He hasn’t walked in June., Volpe has one extra-base hit in June. He hasn’t walked in June. He has one home run since May 9.

8. Stanton leads the league in strikeouts and only has a .293 on-base percentage, but there’s nothing really to say about him. This (.776 OPS) is the best version of Stanton at this point, so he’s playing as well as he can play, unfortunately.

9. The Yankees need lineup depth. I thought they would get that in Jasson Dominguez, but now he’s on the injured list, so it’s back to hoping Verdugo can be better than he has been (unlikely since he has a 108 OPS+ and a 106 OPS+ for his career) and that Volpe can find some consistency. It’s back to praying some combination of Torres, Anthony Rizzo (if healthy) and DJ LeMahieu can hit even a little bit.

The rotation is fine and the bullpen is what it is until they either get healthier this summer or acquire help in the next six weeks.

The Yankees have the best record in baseball, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have glaring issues. Fortunately, their issues are masked a lot of games because they have the best two hitters in the world hitting back-to-back in their lineup. But the issues still exist. The Red Sox exposed the Yankees’ lineup with mediocre pitching, beat up a bullpen that has trouble generating strikeout and demoralized a staff that can’t hold runners on and a catcher with one of the weakest arms in the league at the position.

10. Don’t think the Orioles weren’t watching. The Yankees were an Oswaldo Cabrera two-run home run away from being swept in four games in Baltimore last month and over the next three days at the Stadium, the Yankees will try to avoid letting the Orioles overtake them in the division.

The Yankees are going to miss Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Corbin Burnes with Bradish now hurt and Rodriguez and Burnes having pitched on Saturday and Sunday. This is the most important series of the season to date and one of the four most important series of the season overall. If the Yankees play this week like they did over the weekend, the Orioles will be in first place.