Yankees Thoughts: Yankees Are Falling Apart

The Yankees lost three games to the Rays, lost first place and lost two more pitches and a position player to injuries

The Yankees had a three-game loss-column lead on the Rays entering this recent three-game series and a chance to create some real separation in the standings and essentially end the division race. Instead, the Yankees lost all three games and now trail the Rays by a 1/2 game. On top of that, the Yankees added Zack Britton to the injured list and Gleyber Torres and James Paxton are expected to join him.

Last season, I wrote the Off Day Dreaming blogs on every off day, but this season there aren’t many off days. There aren’t many games. So instead, I have decided to use the Off Day Dreaming format following each series. Yankees Thoughts will be posted after each series this season.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Three days ago, I wrote about how the Yankees have the deepest team in baseball (which they still do) and talked about how the Yankees could win the division this week (which they can no longer do). At the time the Yankees had DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton on the injured list and they had a 2 1/2-game lead in the AL East. Today, the Yankees have added Zack Britton to the injured list, will most likely add Gleyber Torres and James Paxton, and their 2 1/2-game lead is now a 1/2-game deficit. First, the perfect 2020 home record went, then the home series unbeaten streak went and then the division lead went. The Yankees lost all three game to the Rays to fall to 1-6 on the season against their only competition for the AL East and they did so with a combination of awful managing, poor pitching and a lack of offense. Did I mention awful managing? Because it was possibly the worst managed series by Aaron Boone since he threw away the 2018 ALDS against the Red Sox. The Yankees had a chance to put the Rays away with 35 games left and instead they gave away their division lead.

2. The Yankees lost the first two games of the series and were clinging to a 1/2-game lead in the division, setting up the series finale to be the biggest game the Yankees have played and might play in the regular season. When the lineup was posted, Mike Tauchman was listed as the 3-hitter. About 12 hours earlier on Wednesday night, Tauchman wasn’t allowed to bat in the bottom of the ninth and was pinch hit for by Miguel Andujar. Andujar struck out on three pitches and was sent down to the alternate site after the game. So Andujar was good enough to pinch hit for someone the Yankees feel can bat third in a lineup, but then following the pinch-hit at-bat wasn’t good enough to be on the Yankees. And Tauchman wasn’t good enough to bat for himself in the ninth inning as the tying run, but was good enough the following day to bat third in the starting lineup. The Yankees have used these players as their 3-hitters this season: Tauchman, Torres, Aaron Hicks, Mike Ford, Clint Frazier and Gio Urshela. Three of the six aren’t everyday players on the Yankees when the team is at full strength, but apparently, everyone gets a chance to bat third for the New York Yankees!

3. The Yankees led the series finale 2-0 before James Paxton had his routine meltdown. Paxton blew the lead in the fifth inning and the Rays went ahead 3-2. In the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees answered with an Urshela two-run home run to go back ahead 4-3. Then the top of the sixth happened. Boone removed Paxton (which was the right move) and went to Adam Ottavino (which was also the right move). Two correct moves in a row for Boone! Clearly, Boone had a predetermined plan of Ottavino for the sixth, Chad Green for the seventh and the eighth and Aroldis Chapman for the ninth since Britton had been placed on the injured list. It was a good plan … in theory. Except plans in baseball rarely work out. The game doesn’t let you perfectly map out your relief situation, and the problem with that is Boone doesn’t know how to deviate from the plan once it goes awry. Ottavino allowed a double to lead off the inning and then walked the next batter. First and second and no outs. Bad Ottavino was clearly in the game, but with the three-batter rule and limited “elite” options, he was going to have to figure it out, and I was OK with him figuring it out. Ottavino got a lineout and strikeout to hold the runners and move one out away from getting out of the self-induced jam. Ottavino got the soft contact every pitcher dreams of, but the bloopiest bloop of all time fell in over Tyler Wade’s outstretched glove to score the tying run. It was unfortunate, but just bad luck. What happened next wasn’t bad luck, it was just plan dumb.

4. Due up for the Rays was the left-handed Joey Wendle. Under no circumstances will Boone allow Ottavino to face a left-handed hitter, especially with the go-ahead run on third and the game on the line. But Boone’s plan of Ottavino for the entire inning and then Green had fallen apart and he needed to adjust. Rather than go to the Yankees’ best reliever in Green like the Rays’ Kevin Cash would have done and has done all season against the Yankees, Boone went to Luis “Everyday” Avilan for a left-on-left matchup to try to “steal” the third out of the sixth. Given Boone’s early-season obsession of Avilan, I knew he would eventually have to lose a game for Boone to lose trust in him. That game came on Aug. 8 in the second game of the doubleheader in Tampa when Avilan let both runners he inherited score and the Yankees lost by two. Or so I thought. Evidently, one disaster for Avilan against the Rays wasn’t enough. Avilan allowed a single to Wendle to put the Rays up 5-4. Boone’s attempt to steal an out had blown up in his face and now because of the three-batter minimum, Avilan had to stay in to face the right-handed hitting Mike Zunino. Zunino crushed a three-run home run to put the Rays up 8-4. Game over.

5. It’s not Avilan’s fault he blew the game. He isn’t very good. He didn’t offer himself a contract with the Yankees and he doesn’t continue to put himself into games for them. Avilan has been on six teams in five years. There’s a reason for that and the reason isn’t because he’s really good at getting out of jams and pitching in high-leverage situations. Green had pitched once and thrown 33 pitches over the last eight days. He could have gotten the last out of the sixth and pitched the seventh and the eighth. But even if Boone didn’t want him to get seven outs, he could have used Green to finish the sixth and then seen what the Yankees’ offense did in the bottom of the sixth (they scored a run). Rather than worry about the next inning or the day next day or the next game, how about worrying about the situation at hand? And guess what? There is no next day or next game right now after a Mets player and staff member tested positive for coronavirus, so it will be at least another few days until Green throws a pitch in a game. The Yankees continue to give their players excessive rest and scheduled off days and keep enforcing their load management strategy when it clearly doesn’t work. After setting the all-time record by putting 30 players on the injured list last season, the Yankees might break that record this season in only 60 games. Every game should be treated with the utmost importance because it’s only a 60-game season and because the next day’s game is always in jeopardy of being postponed by the coronavirus.

6. The problem is the Yankees don’t feel any game is of the utmost importance. They were going to implement their extra rest methods this season even before the postseason field was expanded to eight teams. Now with more than half of the AL going to the playoffs, the Yankees simply don’t care if they win the division or have home-field advantage or play the most possible games in Yankee Stadium in October. They just want to get in, the same way they have just wanted to get in for the last decade, and they have endured the same fate every time they have “just gotten in” over that time: by losing. Boone said as much this week at the Stadium. The Yankees aren’t going to go all out to win the AL East. If they do, great. If they don’t, no big deal. It will be a big deal when they have to travel in October or play more games in a series in Tampa, Oakland or Houston.

7. The Yankees’ current injured list includes:

Zack Britton (hamstring)
Kyle Higashioka (oblique)
Aaron Judge (apparently his entire lower body?)
DJ LeMahieu (thumb)
Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring)

I would be shocked if Torres (hamstring) and Paxton (elbow) aren’t added to the injured list. Luis Severino (elbow) and Tommy Kahnle (elbow) are out for the season. If the 2020 season had started on time, Paxton would have missed the beginning of the season with a completely different injury (back), and Judge (rib/lung) and Stanton (calf) would have missed the first half of the season with completley different injuries than they currently have. And Aaron Hicks (elbow) also would have missed the first half of the season if it had started on time. Excessive rest and load management is working well!

8. The Boone, Avilan and Luis Cessa fans on social media who are pretty vocal whenever any of the three does something positive (it’s rare) were very quiet during and after the series finale. It must have been a scheduled day off for those fans. I don’t think the Yankees are going to move on from Booone after this season when his contract expires. The Hal Steinbrenner Yankees don’t like to upset the apple cart and as long as ownership is making money and turning a profit, they don’t care if the team wins championships or if every member of the team is good at their job. Boone will likely get a three-year contract, the way Girardi did when his initital three-year contract was up. (Girardi got a three-year contract then another three-year contract and then a four-year contract.) Boone was hired because of his communication skills and ability to manage a clubhouse with an even-keeled personality. At least that’s what everoyne says. He clearly wasnt hired for his experience since he didn’t have any before becoming Yankees manager and let’s hope he wasn’t hired for his bullpen management or lineup construction, otherwise that evaluation process needs to be revamped entirely. Boone’s so-called communication speciality though now appears as questionable as his calls to the bullpen after telling lies about Judge’s removal from a game last week and after removing Gerrit Cole was from his start this week.

9. The only glimmer of hope for Boone not returning in 2021 is that Cashman asks the opinions of his players before extending Boone a new contract, because Cole, who will be a Yankee for nearly the next decade, clearly has a problem with Boone. Or at least he does right now. After Boone ended Cole’s winning streak in Tampa a couple weeks ago, he removed him with one out remaining in the seventh this week. Boone motioned to the bullpen before he reached Cole on the mound and then Cole let him have it with his glove covering his mouth, continued to vent in the dugout and then kept going with the media after the game. “I’m just going to keep it at less is more right now,” Cole said after the game, not wanting to say something he might regret about his manager. “I wanted to finish the game. I think the body of work over the course of today and over the course of the last start speaks for itself.” Cole was right. He has earned the right to get out of jams and pitch until he feels his start is over. Personally, I would haven’t even sent him back out for the seventh at 99 pitches because I believe every pitcher’s arm only has a certain number of pitches in it before it breaks down, and there’s no reason to extend Cole in the fifth start into a decade with the team. But once Boone sent him back out there, he should have let him finish the inning. “[Boone] made the move before he even got out there, so it didn’t really matter whatever I said to him on the mound,” Cole said. “Whatever I said to him in my glove, we’ll just leave it at that.” I wish I knew what Cole said to him in his glove because it’s probably similar to many things I have said about him over the last nearly three seasons.

10. The next day, Boone was asked again about Cole and said, “He’s an ace in the sport, and I love the fact that he wants the ball. Sometimes that spills over with some emotion when there’s a lot on the line, so I really don’t have an issue with it.” I like how Boone thinks him having an issue with it would even matter. Boone does a job thousands of people can do. Cole does a job only he and Jacob deGrom can do. No one cares if Boone has an issue with Cole’s reaction or remarks and the Yankees’ front office certainly doesn’t. I wonder who they would side with. The Yankees owe Cole more per start than they own Boone per year and Cole is the the franchise’s most important piece to winning a championship. Boone can’t win championships for the Yankees, he can only lose them, and so far he’s proving he will do that. I’m sure the two are actually fine, but maybe they’re not? Maybe Cole won’t be inviting his fellow Greenwich neighbor Boone over to play catch anytime soon and maybe he will have an opinion if Cashman asks him about Boone at the end of the season.


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