The 2015 baseball season has come to a sudden end for the New York Yankees. The result was a dull, flat, and uninspired performance by the so-called Bronx Bombers as they lost, 3-0, to the youthful team from Texas, the Houston Astros.
As the New York Post back cover implies – the once proud, the once mighty, and the once feared Yanks have gone from Heroes to Zeroes. In a blink of an eye, about the same amount of time it takes Brett Gardner to swing and miss a third strike, the season concluded. What went wrong?
The last few days have been excruciating for the Yankee faithful. First the team disappeared in Baltimore by getting swept by the O’s in the regular season’s last weekend. Then came C.C.’s announcement that he would forgo the playoffs as he felt that he had to immediately check himself into an alcohol rehab center.
Yet, not only did the Yankees still make the playoffs, they also won one more game than did the Astros over the course of the long season, which gave the Yankees the home field ‘advantage’ for the one and done playoff between the two wild card teams.
So the stage was set. Yanks vs the Astros at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. As Yankee starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka readied himself for the game’s first pitch, the stadium was alive with the high buzz of the energized fans in attendance who were there ready to cheer the locals home. It may be trite, and even a cliché, but there’s no better way to describe the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium as ‘electric’ as the game began.
Tanaka looked good in the first inning. His plan was to not show the Astros his often unhittable sinker until he had the batters in an unfavorable pitch count. He attacked high and hard. He fanned Jose Altuve by getting him to swing at two high hard offerings – both of which were out the strike zone, before getting the diminutive second baseman to chase a sinker that was low, outside, and certainly well off the plate. George Springer had a similar result as Tanaka employed the same policy. Correa skied out to centerfield.
In the bottom of the first Gardy struck out, and then Chris Young walked. Beltran forced the runner at second, and Alex Rodriguez fanned. The Yankees were facing Astro lefty Dallas Keuchel, the likely Cy Young winner for the American League. The Yankees may not have looked overmatched in the first inning, but this was hardly an auspicious beginning.
And in the top of the second – after just one pitch – the tenor of the game changed completely, and all the excitement was sucked out of the stadium.
On the first pitch of the second inning, Tanaka threw a low and inside fast ball to Colby Rasmus. The expectation was that Rasmus would take the pitch, a likely strike, and be immediately behind in the count. In most cases, this is a hot-zone for left-handed power hitters. But Rasmus didn’t take the pitch. Instead he swung. Rasmus didn’t miss. He cranked it deep into the right field seats. One zip Astros, and even though we didn’t know it at the time – the game was over right there.
Keuchel, even pitching on short rest would prove to be too much for the Yankees.
Yankee Manager Joe Girardi had benched CF Jacoby Ellsbury who had struggled since early July after returning from the Disabled List. Chris Young had effectively hit left-handed pitching all year, but this move put Gardner in the lead-off spot. Now Gardner had batted .351 in the month of June and had been named to the American League All-Star team.
His batting average in July – .247, in August – .209, in September – .207, and he batted .143 in October. In the last 3 months of the season, Gardner had stolen just 5 bases. Maybe this was a result of not getting on base enough or on instructions not to run, as the Yankees would play for the home run. Either way, installing Gardy in the lead-off for this game was a gamble that seemed ill-chosen from the jump.
But playing for the big home run has been in the Yankees DNA since the Babe Ruth era. Ellsbury didn’t run much either. Nor did he get on base. Jacoby had stolen at least 35 bases in a season 5 different times in his career. In the last three months of this season, Jacoby Ellsbury had attempted only 11 steals, succeeding 7 times.
That’s less than once a week.
To me this was a major failing for the Yankees. The fact that Girardi had completely abandoned small ball, or trying to manufacture runs rather than waiting for home runs was a deadly decision.
Now the Yankees did have plenty of players to hit home runs – A-Rod, Beltran, Teixeira (while he was healthy) and McCann. Beltran had the highest batting average among the regulars and it was just .276. Not one regular could even manage to hit .280.
This was easy pickings for the crafty Dallas Keuchel. He managed the Yankees all three times he faced them this year. Maybe ‘dominated’ would be a better choice than ‘managed’. In 22 innings in three starts – June 25th, August 25th, and October 6th (last night’s playoff game) he allowed the Yankees zero runs. That’s right, ZERO runs.
No one should be the least bit surprised that the Yankees off-season begins today.
So what should the Yankees do? Well they still have a number of huge contracts on their books – Sabathia, Rodriguez, Teixeira, Ellsbury, Beltran, Tanaka, and McCann. So they may have to just wait a while for those monstrous contracts to come off the books.
But to be brutally honest, and to face the reality – the Yankees need to tailor their game away from JUST the home run. They have a strong need for a right hand power bat. So expect the newspapers to be delivering Yoenis Cespedes to the Yankees in another monster of a long-term contract. They also need to get younger and faster.
Here is who I’d be targeting instead. Now I don’t know if these players have enough service time to be eligible for free agency right now – but maybe by 2017 or 2018 they will.
CF A.J. Pollack – BA .315, HRs – 20. SBs – 39 – SALARY IN 2015 $519,500
OF Charlie Blackmon – BA .287, HRs – 17, SBs – 43 – SALARY IN 2015 $517. 500
LF Starling Marte – BA .287, HRs – 19, SBs – 30 – SALARY IN 2015 $1,333,333
OF David Peralta – BA .312, HRs 17, SBs – 9 – SALARY IN 2015 $512,000
Yes, besides those guys, there is one future free agent looming that I would like to see the Yankees get – and that would be RF Bryce Harper. For the moment, I can only call that a long-range dream. For Harper it is a dream too as he would command a 300,000,000 contract to become a Bronx Bomber.
But closer to reality – I think the Yankees should strongly consider replacing Mgr. Joe Girardi. He’s unimaginative, he doesn’t think out-of-the-box like Joe Maddon for example, and worst of all, the Yankees brand has become stodgy and dull and predictable. Like Girardi himself.
The Yankees have no energy, no joy, and except for the home runs – they exhibit no excitement. Which is a perfect match for both Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman. It is no wonder that some refer to the Yankees as The Borg, who were an implacable foe for the Starship Enterprise and the Federation back in the days of Star Trek.
Girardi had no alternative because the starting pitching was so spotty, that is, when they weren’t on the DL – but he abused his bull pen. Betances was worn out by September, and Andrew Miller spent a month on the DL.
During the game last night, ESPN color man John Kruk called the Yankee offense ugly. And they were. He was right and there’s no term that can better describe what we watched and witnessed.
And that readers is the recipe on how to go from heroes to zeroes.