When is it not “early” anymore? Because maybe that’s when the Yankees will start to win games. The season is nearly 10 percent over and the Yankees are five games under .500.
1.The Yankees opened the series with an opener, using the Rays’ revolutionary strategy against the Rays. Trying to be cute and outsmart the Rays like they unsuccessfully did in Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS, the Yankees’ opener strategy backfired. It backfired because they used Nick Nelson as the opener, and Nelson isn’t any good.
This spot made all the sense in the world for Deivi Garcia to start (like Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS), but he was unavailable after having thrown earlier in the week at the alternate site. The Yankees knew this game was on the schedule. They knew they would need a starting pitcher for it, and yet, they had Garcia throw at the alternate site and waste pitches in a meaningless setting rather than at Yankee Stadium against the Rays. Three batters into the game, the Rays had a two-run lead off Nelson and still hadn’t made an out.
2. When Friday’s lineup came out, I figured the front office finally took away Boone’s lineup card privileges. (Once Saturday’s lineup came out, I knew they hadn’t.) For the first time all season, Boone made a somewhat logical lineup:
DJ LeMahieu, 1B
Aaron Judge, RF
Gleyber Torres, SS
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
Gio Urshela, 3B
Aaron Hicks, CF
Gary Sanchez, C
Clint Frazier, LF
Rougned Odor, 2B
3. Aaron Hicks was removed from the 3-hole for the first time in which LeMahieu was also in the lineup. This made me happy, but it also made me question why it was being made. Twelve days earlier, Boone was asked about moving Hicks out of the 3-hole after he went 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the first three games of the season.
“It’s one weekend,” Boone said at the time. “Over the long haul, Aaron Hicks is going to be all right.”
Had the long haul ended after just 44 plate appearances in 2021? Or did Boone finally realize Hicks belongs batting third as much as Boone belongs being Yankees manager?
Hicks carried a dismal .179/.273/.282 batting line into the series and went 0-for-3 in the series opener. Apparently, his one-game timeout as the Yankees 3-hitter and his 0-for-3 performance was enough to get him out of the doghouse. Boone couldn’t stay mad at his favorite player for long. Hicks was back in the 3-hole on Saturday and went 1-for-4. Hicks finished the weekend 1-for-11. His OPS currently sits at .476. Maybe there’s a reason other teams use players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman, Manny Machado and Jose Abreu as their No. 3 hitter.
4. Hicks wasn’t just bad at the plate. On Sunday, he misplayed back-to-back balls in center field, which erased the Yankees’ first lead in four days. Rather than make it clear defensive miscues aren’t acceptable during this miserable stretch of sloppy games, Boone left Hicks in the game. Boone could have won over the fans and showed enough was enough by pulling Hicks and replacing him with Gardner, but that might cause Hicks to not like Boone or not invite him to the card game at the back of the plane on road trips. I would have completely changed my opinion of Boone if he had removed Hicks from the game. Instead of being the manager first and friend second, Boone made it clear no amount of mental lapses on the field are enough to make an example of someone.
5. Boone’s relaxed Southern California personality that has made these Yankees feel comfortable with losing and accepting of underachieving is part of the reason this team is 52-51 since Sept. 15, 2019. Why would Boone change anything about his team? It’s the same roster he said he was “proud of” after they were eliminated by the Rays in 2020 ALDS, their third straight early postseason exit and second ALDS exit with him as manager. Boone has taken his false positivity and ridiculous excuses in his postgame press conferences to another level this season, and this weekend wasn’t any different.
“We’re going to be successful,” Boone said after Friday’s loss as if things will magically fix themselves, while admitting he held a team meeting to address the team about their second three-game losing streak in 13 games. Unfortunately for Boone, he didn’t check the pitching probables for Saturday before holding the team meeting. Tyler Glasnow would be starting for the Rays. The same Glasnow who had shut down the Yankees in Game 5 of the 2020 ALDS and who had allowed one earned run through his first three starts in 2021.
6. Hicks was back in the 3-hole on Saturday as Torres failed his one-game audition for the spot. Frazier was benched again for Gardner and Odor was back to batting ahead of Sanchez and Urshela. Three-time Gold Glove second baseman LeMahieu was once again at first base instead of second base because the Yankees unnecessarily sent down Mike Ford and had to wait 10 days to bring him back up.
Glasnow inevitably shut the Yankees down, allowing one earned run over five innings and the Yankees lost their fourth straight. The Yankees only managed three runs and five hits in the game.
“Hitting’s a tough game,” Boone said in defense of his team’s offense, completely disregarding the Rays had no problem scoring 32 runs in the first five games against the Yankees this season. (They have now score 36 in six games.)
Jordan Montgomery only allowed two hits over six innings, but both of them went over the fence. Four earned runs in six innings for Montgomery. That’s a 6.00 ERA. That’s not good. Well, unless Boone is the one grading you.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Boone said about Montgomery who seems to always allow a crooked number. “Obviously, two mistakes that cost him with the long ball.” Just two mistakes, no big deal. Just two home runs that cost the team the game. Other than that, he was good.
7. Gary Sanchez took a foul ball off his throwing hand on Saturday because for some reason Sanchez continues to not protect his throwing hand behind his back. Boone and the training staff evaluated Sanchez and allowed him to stay in the game. He finished the inning and then hit in the bottom half of the inning. Then while catching warmup pitches the next inning, Boone replaced him with Kyle Higashioka. Letting Sanchez stay in the game and then bat only to then take him out was so irresponsible, but exactly the way the Yankees have handled injuries the last few years, while setting all kinds of injured-list-placement records.
“I’ll play Higgy tomorrow into the off day,” Boone said after the game. Oh yeah, like Boone wasn’t going to start Higashioka with Gerrit Cole before Sanchez got hit on the hand. All the foul ball off Sanchez’s hand did was make it easier for Boone to explain why Sanchez wasn’t catching Cole again.
The 6-3 loss on Saturday wasn’t the only loss Boone would be handed that day. Bryan Hoch of Yankees.com and MLB.com (and Keefe To The City Podcast alum) handed Boone another “L” in the postgame press conference during this exchange:
Hoch: “Tampa Bay has really had the upper hand in this rivalry, not just this year, but the last few years.”
Boone: “Last year.”
Hoch: “5-17 that’s dating back to September 2019.”
It’s now 5-18 after Sunday’s game. Five wins in 23 games against the Rays.
8. Jay Bruce announced he would be retiring after Sunday’s game. Clearly, Bruce realized he wasn’t going to play much, if ever again, as a Yankee and once Luke Voit returns, he would be gone. Rather than be forced into retirement, Bruce dumped the Yankees before they could dump him. He retires having made $103 million in his career. I think he’ll be OK without the Yankees and baseball. Boone couldn’t let him bat instead of Odor in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and no one on and the Yankees down by two? Is there really any difference between Odor and Bruce? Both are left-handed. Both are no longer major leaguers. The only difference is one is retiring because he can no longer do what he once did on the field, and the other is being paid $27 million by the Rangers to not play for them because he can no longer do what he once did on the field. There was no reason Bruce couldn’t have received one last at-bat.
9. With Bruce announcing his retirement to open up a roster spot and with Cole starting, I thought Sunday would be the day the Yankees turn the season around. It didn’t happen. Cole was good, but got no help from Hicks in center field or the offense and took his first loss of the season. After Hicks’ first blunder, Cole gave a look of displeasure. After Frazier airmailed the cutoff man later in the same inning to allow a runner to move into scoring position, Cole gave a look like he might join Bruce in retirement after the game.
It was the sixth time Cole has faced the Rays as a Yankee. His line: 34 IP, 32 H, 16 R, 15 ER, 10 BB, 54 K, 8 HR, 3.97 ERA, 1.235 WHIP. Good, but not great. The Yankees got him to be great, especially against their direct competition in the division.
If the Yankees couldn’t end their losing streak with Cole on the mound, when will they? They have already wasted two of his four starts this season (Opening Day and Sunday) and now he won’t pitch until Friday. The Yankees will play three games between now and the next time Cole pitches.
“Bad series,” Boone said. “Just gotta get better. Period.”
Maybe the Yankees need another team meeting since Friday night’s worked so well. The Yankees are 0-2 with five runs and eight hits since Boone “addressed” them.
10. If you thought things were bad after Wednesday’s loss to the Blue Jays, welcome to a new low. The Yankees are 5-10, have lost five straight, are 1-5 against the Rays, 3-9 against the Rays and Blue Jays, have the worst record in the American League and the second-worst record in the majors. The scary part is this might not even be the low point of the season.
The Yankees’ next two games on Tuesday and Wednesday are against the Braves and they will face Charlie Morton, who dominates them, and Ian Anderson, who embarrassed them in his major league debut last season. If you think things are bad right now, buckle up for the next two days. Most likely, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. If it gets better.
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