Yankees Thoughts: Turning Point in Season or Simply One Moment?

Yankees end latest losing streak with come-from-behind, walk-off win

The Yankees ended their latest losing streak with a come-from-behind, walk-off win on Wednesday against the Rays. They still lost the three-game series and have lost five straight series, but for one game the Yankees gave their fans a night off from being depressed.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. It’s nice to write these Thoughts coming off a win. It would have been better to write them coming off a series win, something the Yankees haven’t had in three weeks, but I will take what I can get att this point as the Yankees continue to make me sweat my over 91.5-win preseason wager. (They need to go 19-25 to clinch for me.)

I’m happy the Yankees won on Wednesday and I’m happy they scored eight runs (seven if you don’t count the automatic runner in the 10th). I’m happy they finally called up two position players to give the roster and lineup a new look, and I’m happy they finally brought back the organization’s best reliever since Michael King went down and Clay Holmes turned into Jonathan Holder. But the happiness is only as good as the next day’s game, and if the Yankees get embarrassed by the Blue Jays over the next four days the way every team other than the Royals has embarrassed them since the All-Star break, Wednesday’s much-needed come-from-behind win will be forgotten the way every other win since June 19 that has been labeled as “The Possible Turning Point” has been.

No team with a 73-45 record should have as big of a win in mid-August as the Yankees had on Wednesday night over the Rays. The Yankees were a an an early four-run deficit and eventually three outs away from yet another loss and from seeing their once-15 1/2-game division lead falling to just seven games in the loss column. But then Josh Donaldson (one of the faces of everything wrong with the 2022 Yankees) stepped up and had his biggest hit as a Yankee.

2. The “Owed $48 Million Man” hit a walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning off Jalen Beeks to prevent the Yankees from losing a fourth straight game, and for at least one night, brought some good vibes back to the Bronx.

Do I expect Donaldson to now go off and turn around his season and make his situation and contract with the Yankees anything more than the disaster it’s been (which is why they reportedly tried to trade him at the deadline, but no general manager was as dumb as Brian Cashman to take on his money owed)? No, I don’t. I don’t because this isn’t the first time Donaldson has had a game in which he tried to fool fans into thinking he was anything other than washed up only to continue his drastic decline.

On Opening Day (April 8), Donaldson went 2-for-6 with a walk-off single against the Red Sox as the leadoff hitter. He then hit .207/.343/.345 with two home runs over his next 105 plate appearances.

In Chicago against the White Sox on May 12 and May 13, Donaldson went 4-for-10 with a double, two home runs and six RBIs. He then hit .213/.283/.336 with two home runs over his next 138 plate appearances.

From July 6 through July 9, Donaldson went 5-for-13 with three home runs and nine RBIs. He then hit .192/.259/.295 with one home run over his next 85 plate appearances.

In Seattle on August 8, in the middle of a five-game losing streak, Donaldson went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs. He then hit .120/.241/.120 over his next 29 plate appearances before Wednesday.

And then on Wednesday he hit the grand slam. Even with the grand slam, his OPS is at .698 on the season.

So I’m sorry if I don’t think Wednesday night’s moment was anything more than that: a moment. I don’t expect 2015 AL MVP Donaldson to now appear for the Yankees, and I don’t even expect 2021 Donaldson to appear. I expect the version of Donaldson we have seen for nearly the entire season to continue to be the Donaldson we see, and if he continues to play every day like he has all year, he will have occasional moments like he did on Wednesday. Not enough to warrant him being an everyday player for a championship team, but just enough for him to keep playing and to bat in the middle of the order for these Yankees.

3. Welcome back, Estevan Florial, and welcome, Oswaldo Cabrera. It took scoring one run (on an error) over three games and watching the Yankees 15 1/2-game division lead get cut in half for them to finally make some roster changes. Florial is back after four games with the team earlier this year (and after hitting .300/.440/.550 in 11 games last year), and Cabrera made his major-league debut at third base on Wednesday. Aaron Boone said both are going to play, and we’ll see if Fletcher Reede actually means what he says.

4. Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit his first home run of the season and drove in all three Yankees runs in their win on Saturday when the outrage about his play and the calls for Oswald Peraza were as loud as they have ever been (and still remain that loud). Donaldson finally did something at the plate in a big spot for the Yankees on the day one of the Yankees’ top prospects made his major-league debut at Donaldson’s third base. It’s almost as if sending messages and not being complacent can lead to positive results! Who would have known? (Well, clearly the defending-champion Braves who have called up their prospects with less Triple-A time and production than the Yankees’ prospects and have had immense success.)

I hope Florial and Cabrera both flourish in their opportunities. I want the Yankees to roster likable players, and Florial and Cabrera having success in the majors means less of Aaron Hicks, Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa. (I don’t actually think it will mean less Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa since the Yankees clearly think they are good, everyday-worthy, winning players. But it should mean less of them if this duo plays well.)

If Peraza keeps hitting in Triple-A, he should get a chance too. Just because the Yankees traded for Kiner-Falefa as a 2022 stopgap to bridge them to Peraza or Anthony Volpe doesn’t mean they have to wait until 2023 to turn to either. Kiner-Falefa has done enough (or rather not enough) for the Yankees to already have reason to be playing either of them now in the majors. If Kiner-Falefa continues to be an atrocious at-bat with an untrustworthy glove, give someone else an everyday chance.

5. It was nice to see Gleyber Torres finally do something as well on Wednesday, as he hit a two-run home run to get the Yankees on the board. But then in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and one out and the Yankees trailing by one run, Torres came to bat, swung at the first pitch and grounded into an inning-ending double play. Aaron Judge had walked on four straight pitches right before Torres came to bat and it’s likely what happened in Judge’s at-bat never crossed Torres’ mind. It was an ill-advised swing from a player who continues to boast arguably the lowest Baseball IQ I have seen from any player since Nick Swisher.

6. Boone did everything he could to try to extend the Yankees’ losing streak on Wednesday. After Lucas Luetge allowed a run in the sixth, he sent him back out there for the seventh. Luetge was allowed to put two more runners on in the seventh (after putting on two in the sixth) before Boone turned to “Roster Manipulation Ron” Marinaccio to get out of the jam. If Boone was willing to go to Marinaccio in the seventh, why didn’t he just start the inning clean? Why do I find myself writing a sentence similar to that in every one of these Thoughts blogs?

7. Thankfully, Marinaccio was recalled and available on Wednesday. It’s comical that Marinaccio entered in what was the highest leverage situation in the game to that point. Good enough to be used as the most important reliever last night, but not good enough to be a Yankees the previous 10 days. Well, that’s not true. He has always been good enough to be a Yankee, he was just used as a pawn in the Yankees’ roster manipulation strategy. The Yankees lost seven of nine will Marinaccio was wasting away in Triple-A, losing games because of meltdowns from Albert Abreu, Scott Effross, Lou Trivino and Holmes. The Yankees likely have a couple more wins if Marinaccio is on the Yankees over that nine-day period, as well as if Clarke Schmidt were too (who is still wasting away in Triple-A).

8. In the bottom of the ninth, Boone sent up Hicks as pinch hitter for Kiner-Falefa. Boone operated under the idea that Hicks had a better chance of ending the game with one swing than Kiner-Falefa, but that concept is meaningless since I too had a better chance of ending the game with one swing that Kiner-Falefa. Hicks has also homered in 1.6 percent of his plate appearances this season, so let’s not act like Matt Stairs was coming off the bench in that situation. Hicks struck out.

9. Then in the 10th, Boone brought in Aroldis Chapman. I was fine with that decision. What I wasn’t fine with was staying with Chapman with the bases loaded and one out and Francisco Mejia up. Mejia is a .225/.248/.384 hitter against righties and a .386/.397/.561 hitter against lefties. Even down 0-2, Mejia was able to hit a go-ahead, three-run double off Chapman.

As I said on the Keefe To The City Podcast earlier this week, Chapman could pitch 30 straight perfect innings and I will never trust him. The narrative of Chapman of late had been that he had resolved his issues and was his old self, and deserving of being the No. 1 arm in the Yankees’ bullpen. Then he went out on Wednesday night, got two outs and allowed two walks and a double, nearly ruining the game and handing the Yankees another loss before the walk-off in the bottom half of Chapman’s disastrous inning.

10. All Wednesday’s win should have done was make Yankees fans feel good in the exact moment of the walk-off grand slam. That’s it. Be happy until the moment Donaldson crossed the plate and then get back to reality. Because all the Yankees did was win one game. They still have a long way to go to getting back to being even remotely close to the team they were from mid-April to mid-June and to proving their postseason isn’t going to last only a handful of days.

Wednesday was one game and it was one win. Maybe it’s the start of something for the first time in two months. No win since June 19 has been the start of anything, but maybe this win will be different. I pray it is.

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