Mets and Red Sox fans, I’ve gotten a sneak peek of an epic collapse over the last few weeks, and, retrospectively, I wish I had empathized with you. Watching the Yankees implode over their last 49 games has been frustrating. It has been confusing. It has been draining.
How could such a dominant team, which held a 10-game lead atop the American League East on July 18, suddenly stop winning? Excluding a brief 7-of-8 hot streak in the middle of August, the Yankees are 15-26 since holding the best record in all of baseball.
Until Sunday’s offensive onslaught against Baltimore, the Yankees really hadn’t hit the ball well in recent memory. The likes of Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez are hitting a combined .176 with just six homers since the midsummer classic, Nick Swisher hasn’t recorded a hit in 27 at-bats and until exploding for three hits and five RBI off the bench on Sunday, Curtis Granderson held a .200 batting average with an absurd 69 strikeouts since the All-Star break. Making matters worse, Mark Teixeira is out for up to two more weeks.
The offense simply has stopped producing at the high level that led the club to a 57-34 record in the middle of July.
But the pitching has also faltered. Since the All Star break, Hiroki Kuroda is the only starter with an ERA below 3.75. But even he has struggled lately, allowing 11 earned runs in 22.1 innings over his last three starts.
And then you have CC Sabathia, whose title of “ace” is really just nominal this year. Injuries have impaired him, but Sabathia needs to carry the pitching staff and he has failed miserably. Most recently, he surrendered three home runs after the offense built an early 2-0 lead against the Orioles. The Yankees ended up losing 5-4.
Don’t even get me started on the inconsistency of Phil Hughes or how much Yankee fans overrated Ivan Nova — you sabermatricians out there know what I’m talking about regarding Nova.
Yes, Baltimore and Tampa Bay are hot, and they, too, could falter. Nick Markakis is hurt now, Zach Britton pitched terribly on Sunday and Mark Reynolds simply cannot keep hitting home runs every day. As for the Rays, can their starting pitchers really sustain their dominance?
Maybe the Yankees can flip the switch, hit some home runs and have more quality starts out of the pitching staff. But even if they fend off Baltimore and Tampa, this Yankee team, more than any other in recent memory, is not built to win in the playoffs. They rely way too heavily on home runs. It’s not that Joe Girardi refuses to play small ball — it’s that his team physically cannot bunt or steal. Other than Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, no one consistently makes enough contact to even call for a hit-and-run.
And from a pitching standpoint, hopefully Andy Pettitte will return to his pre-injury form, Sabathia will find his command and Kuroda will regain his form. But at this point, all we Yankee fans can do is hope.
I get it. It’s always easier to be pessimistic when it’s your team. But I haven’t felt like this since the Red Sox completed the most incredible comeback in baseball history.
At least that transpired quickly.
As a lifelong New York Mets fan, I want nothing more than to watch the Yankees fail miserably, collapse terribly and spend October as far away from the baseball diamond and my television screen as possible.
But as a New York Mets fan, I know they’ll be just fine. Pessimism runs in my blood.
Take a look at this past weekend. Right when the Yankee faithful were beginning to panic and the multitude of fair-weather Bombers fans had begun to jump ship, the Yankees managed to keep the surging Birds at bay with a series spilt. New York left Baltimore with a 13-3 thrashing and a small sigh of relief.
Despite not gaining any ground atop the AL East standings, the Yankees seemed to slow the landslide that had been picking up speed since the end of July.
And now the Yankees will head to Fenway Park for a three-game series against the last-place Red Sox. A series that in years past would have been fiercely competitive and full of high stakes for the postseason is now an opportunity for the Yankees to gain the steam they’ll be needing for a strong run to the end. And they’ll play one more series with the Sox, this time at Yankee Stadium, to close out the regular season – giving them a solid chance at a strong finish.
Yes, the Yankees’ starting rotation has been brutal. But Andy Pettitte is close to returning and could be just the savior New York needs to lead them into the promised land of the postseason. Pettitte is 40 and coming off an injury, but by his very nature, is game-smart and highly competitive. He is like Johan Santana post-surgery but pre-no-hitter. He will find a way to get batters out. At 40, this could be his last shot at one more ring, and you can count on him to not take it lightly.
So far as the Orioles go, you have to wonder if their season thus far has been some kind of strange, but exciting fluke. They’ve been surprisingly impressive and fun to watch, and are just the kind of team and story baseball fans outside of the AL East should be rooting for to make the postseason.
But you have to wonder if their luck is bound to run out, and if the emptying process has already begun. Thanks to a wild pitch, Nick Markasis is now out for the season — perhaps the most helpful thing CC Sabathia has done for the Yankees all year. The Orioles are left with with a huge rift in their lineup — Markasis’ .298 average led the team, and his 13 home runs and 54 RBIs provided an undeniably large boost.
Like the Yankees, Baltimore has two series remaining against the Red Sox, but they will finish up against the Rays — a break that, after watching the chaos and potential weight of Day 162 of last season, is slightly worrisome.
But in the end, through the eyes of a jaded Mets fan, it all comes down to that strange sense of superstition that is unique to baseball, its players, owners and fans.
The Yankees, more than any other team, will make it into the postseason because that’s usually what they do. The baseball gods look down upon them favorably. And if any dare to change their minds, they will be faced with a power far greater than their own — the wrath of the Boss, George Steinbrenner.