Yankees Thoughts: It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like 2021

Losing streak increases to five after three-game sweep in St. Louis

The Yankees were swept by the Cardinals. The Yankees blew leads in two of the games and were shut out in the other started by former Yankee Jordan Montgomery, and everything about his team of late feels a lot like last year.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. On the morning of June 19, the Yankees were 49-16. They had just shut out the Blue Jays the night before and their division lead was at an unbelievable 12 games through 40 percent of the season. As important, their lead for the 1-seed in the American League was nine games. The Yankees had clinched the division title with three-and-a-half months left in the season and were on their way to ensuring Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of a potential ALCS matchup against the Astros would be played at the Yankee Stadium. But that Sunday night on June 19, the Yankees blew a five-run lead, lost 10-9 and haven’t been the same team since.

Since June 19, the Yankees have gone 21-23. During this current run of .477 baseball over more than a quarter of the season, they have lost five of seven to the Astros (never leading once in the seven games), split a series with the Pirates (who are on pace for 96 losses), blew three late leads to the last-place Red Sox, lost a home series to the last-place Reds, got swept in the first half of the Subway Series, lost a home series to Mariners (allowing 17 runs to their anemic offense) and were just swept in St. Louis (blowing leads in two of the three games, while getting shut out in the other). The Yankees are 9-16 in their last 25 games and 6-11 since the All-Star break. Against teams not from Kansas City, those records fall to 6-15 and 3-10.

2. Fortunately, the rest of the AL East has failed to take advantage of the Yankees pissing away 27 percent of their season. That 12-game lead on June 19 is now in single digits, but still strong at 9 1/2 games. The race for the 1-seed? That’s now a 1/2-game lead, and I expect the Astros to overtake the Yankees for the 1-seed later this week. And if they somehow don’t this week, they eventually will given their remaining schedule against the Yankees’ remaining schedule.

3. The last nearly two months have felt just like 2021. The Yankees went into last season as the odds-on favorite to represent the AL in the World Series, and instead they didn’t clinch a postseason berth until the final pitch of their regular season. They finished as the second wild-card team, had to go on the road for a one-game playoff and that one-game playoff was over four batters into the bottom of the first inning. The season was a disgrace, an embarrassment, a disaster.

Brian Cashman vowed to make changes at his end-of-the-season press conference and then made minimal, marginal changes. The Yankees got off to a 7-6 start in 2022 and it felt like a continuation of 2021. But then the Yankees went off in a way they hadn’t in more than two decades, winning 42 of 52 and drawing daily comparisons to the 1998 team that won 114 regular-season games before going 11-2 in the postseason and sweeping the World Series. But since June 19, this team and this season has felt too much like last season’s and it’s hard to stomach.

Are these Yankees the team that went 42-10 from April 22 through June 18, or are they the team that is 29-30 in the season’s other 59 games sandwiched around that improbable run?

4.. There are five players on the current roster to feel good about: Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, Matt Carpenter, Jose Trevino and Nestor Cortes. That’s it. As for the other 21 …

Anthony Rizzo? He has missed the last three games with back problems, the second time he has missed games for back-related issues this season. After playing in 94 percent of his team’s regular-season games over the last nine years, it’s not surprising at 33 he’s dealing with injuries.

Giancarlo Stanton? He last played on July 23.

Gleyber Torres? Back on June 19, he was on a 40-home run pace, had an .838 OPS and had people thinking the Torres of 2018 and 2019 was back. Since then he’s hitting .227/.292/.348 with three home runs in 154 plate appearances.

Josh Donaldson? If the Yankees didn’t owe Donaldson $24 million this season and next season, he would likely no longer be a Yankee. He has hit one home run in the last month, while slugging less than .300 with an OPS under .550. He’s unplayable. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one.

Aaron Hicks? Also unplayable. Hicks went two weeks without getting a hit before picking up three hits on Sunday. His first two hits had exit velocities of 59.3 mph and 27.3 mph with expected batting averages of .220 and .280 respectively. His last home run came at Fenway Park a month ago and his last double came in the game before that one. So no, he hasn’t had an extra-base hit in a month.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa? The homerless shortstop with the .641 OPS … well, that’s all that needs to be said.

Marwin Gonzalez? The backup shortstop last got a hit on July 6. He’s 0-for-20 since.

Andrew Benintendi? The Yankees traded four prospects for Joey Gallo last year. Then they traded three prospects for Benintendi to be his replacement and moved Gallo as well. All they did was get the same player so far. Benintendi is 4-for-30 as a Yankee.

Kyle Higashioka? His OPS is finally above .600 (.603). Congratulations?

Gerrit Cole? In his last three starts, he allowed six first-inning runs to the Mariners, allowed five runs to the Royals and blew a three-run lead to the Orioles.

Luis Severino? He’s on the 60-day injured list.

Jameson Taillon? He has a 6.25 ERA and 5.49 FIP over his last eight starts.

Domingo German? He has a 5.07 ERA, 5.77 FIP and has allowed 28 baserunners in 17 1/3 innings.

Clay Holmes? He has allowed 21 baserunners and nine earned runs in his last 8 2/3 innings and has been so bad the Yankees are thinking of giving Aroldis Chapman his old job back.

Aroldis Chapman? His five straight scoreless appearance streak is going to fool the Yankees into thinking he’s fixed after having allowed 18 walks in 25 1/3 innings this season.

Jonathan Loaisiga? He hasn’t looked right since August of last year.

Wandy Peralta? Fifteen baserunners allowed in his last 8 1/3 innings.

Albert Abreu? The Yankees traded him in the offseason to the Rangers. The Rangers traded him to the Royals. The Royals designated him for assignment. The Yankees gladly took him back and in his last three appearances he came into a 6-6 game and allowed two runs then faced three batters and retied one and then came into a one-run deficit and made it a two-run deficit.

Lucas Luetge? He has allowed 45 percent of inherited runners to score, including both in his last appearance against Seattle.

As for new Yankees pitchers Frankie Montas, Scott Effross and Lou Trivino, well, Montas allowed six earned runs in three innings in his Yankees debut, Effross allowed a three-run home run to Paul DeJong and his .531 OPS on Sunday, and in the same game, Trivino walked in a run.

So like I said, it’s Judge, LeMahieu, Carpenter, Trevino, Cortes, and that’s all to currently feel good about.

5. The Yankees’ trade deadline acquisitions have collectively made the worst first impression possible. Benintendi is 4-for-30, Montas got rocked in his first Yankees start, Effross gave up that three-run home run and Trivino walked in that run. On top of the lack of contribution from those four, the Yankees are choosing to not have the best possible 26-man roster. After recently sending down Clarke Schmidt, on Saturday night, they also sent down Ron Marinaccio, who has been the Yankees’ best reliever of late and had filled in well for the injured Michael King. Schmidt and Marinaccio not being on the major-league roster is irresponsible, and a clear product of roster manipulation. Because the two have remaining options, they don’t have to pass through waivers like other lesser relieves would have to. So rather than designate Abreu or Luetge for assignment, the Yankees are inexplicably choosing to roster a less talented team.

6. This isn’t an uncommon practice under Cashman. It’s very common. As is trading for young, controllable starting pitchers that don’t work out with the Yankees. No, one start after having not pitched in 12 days isn’t enough for me to say Montas won’t work out as a Yankee, but it should surprise no one if it doesn’t. Here is the list of young, controllable starters Cashman has traded for just like Montas:

Jeff Weaver
Javier Vazquez
Michael Pineda
Nathan Eovaldi
Sonny Gray
James Paxton
Jameson Taillon

Cashman traded away the left-handed Ted Lilly in the deal for Weaver, who was a complete bust as a Yankee, while Lilly went on to pitch in the majors until the age of 37. Jordan Montgomery wasn’t traded for Montas, but the addition of Montas led to the trade of Montgomery, so he kind of was. And I can easily see the left-handed Montgomery becoming Lilly 2.0 in a lefty that goes on to have a long, successful career as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and it’s not hard to envision Montas pitching in New York like those other seven names.

7. I have only rooted against the Yankees once in my life: Game 162 of the 2011 season. A Yankees loss and Orioles win meant the Red Sox would be eliminated from the playoffs and complete the worst September collapse in baseball history, so when the Yankees blew a seven-run lead in that game and Evan Longoria eventually hit a walk-off home run I was ecstatic. Saturday night against the Cardinals was the second time I have rooted against the Yankees.

It’s not that I’m a big Montgomery fan, it’s more about what Saturday represented. Here was an ex-Yankee making his non-Yankees debut against the Yankees, pitching against Domingo German who should have been released by the organization in 2019. The addition of Montas was supposed to be the end of German in the Yankees’ rotation, but then the trade of Montgomery kept German in the rotation. Despite being a scumbag as a person and an awful pitcher, German has maintained his roster spot and has been given endless chances to prove himself at the major-league level. I don’t root for him in any start, so of course I was going to root against him on Saturday night, and with Montgomery starting it meant rooting against the Yankees. So when Montgomery threw five shutout innings and the Yankees lost 1-0 I didn’t care. The Yankees made their bed by acting like they have an abundance of available, major-league-caliber starting pitching in trading away Montgomery and by continuing to start German, so screw them. Add in Montas’ disastrous start on Sunday and Luis Castillo outpitching Cole in the Bronx last week for his second win in the Bronx in a month, and the early returns on the trade deadline have been a disaster. You get what you trade for, and the Yankees chose not to trade for the best available starting pitcher at the deadline, the best available reliever or the best available outfielder, and they have gotten what they traded for.

8. And the returns are likely to get worse. Once Harrison Bader is healthy he’s going to play and he’s going to start in center field. That means Judge moves to right field. That makes Stanton the full-time designated hitter. That makes Carpenter a bench player. And with the Yankees undying loyalty to Donaldson at third, that means LeMahieu or Torres comes out of the lineup. And if it’s LeMahieu, I would actually root against the Yankees in the playoffs. I understand the idea of run prevention, but the Yankees are taking it too far if they plan on playing Bader, Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa in the same lineup.

The Montgomery-Bader trade was nonsensical when it was made, and has a chance to grow into something much worse if Montgomery continues to be a reliable No. 3-4 starter and Bader’s presence eventually screws up the Yankees’ best possible lineup.

9. Judge has been playing center field full time and the acquisition of Bader means the Yankees don’t feel comfortable with Hicks at the backup. A guy who’s under contract for next season, the season after that, and the season after that and then can be bought out the season after that. It’s either the Yankees don’t believe in Hicks or they are worried Stanton’s season is over. The former is fixable. The latter is an enormous problem because unless LeMahieu and Judge are going to carry the offense for an entire postseason, the Yankees desperately need a healthy Stanton back in the lineup.

10. Even after all this losing for the last seven weeks, the Yankees are still going to win the AL East. But without the 1-seed in the AL, it will be nearly impossible to win the AL unless the Astros somehow get knocked off in their ALDS matchup. It would be difficult enough to beat the Astros with home-field advantage, not having it sets the Yankees up for a similar outcome to 2017 and 2019.

Things could get worse before they get better. The Yankees now head to Seattle to play a desperate Mariners team battling for a postseason berth and will face their three best starters in Logan Gilbert, Castillo and Robbie Ray. After that it’s a series at Fenway Park against the Red Sox, who are trying to save their season. Then it’s home against the Rays and Blue Jays, who are fighting for playoff positioning and who likely still believe they can catch the Yankees, and the second half of the Subway Series.

The Yankees can’t afford to continue to put out ‘B’ and ‘C’ lineups, give starters extra rest, test out relievers in big spots and manage like they have everything clinched. They have nothing clinched. I don’t expect them to change their ways and begin to play and manage with urgency, and that’s why it’s getting harder by the day to see this season ending in anything other than disappointment.

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