Yankees manager Aaron Boone: “The league has closed the gap on us, We’ve got to get better in every aspect.”
Yes, Boone was partially correct with his comment that they’ve “got to get better in every aspect,” after the Yankees 2021 season came to another abrupt halt Tuesday night at Fenway Park with a loss to the rival Red Sox in the AL Wild-Card game. Then again, did we all know this Yankees 2021 team that pulled off 92 wins was not very good?
A season of streaks and not building momentum, except for the historic 13-straight wins that had everyone once again jumping on their bandwagon, the Yankees continued to play stressful games and keep themselves in a hole as they had to play until the final day of the regular season just to make the playoffs as the second AL Wild Card.
The roster was built with a reliance on the home run ball, and, for a fifth consecutive post season, that worked against them as the lineup constantly went after pitches out of the strike zone. The positive development was a bullpen that picked up momentum as the season wore on.
The Yankees drama of game #162 got them into the wild card game, though the Rays were the dominant AL East team, in a division that shaped up to be the best in baseball as the Red Sox and Blue Jays proved.
And now the process of change and a busy offseason begins, as Boone was referring to the Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays that have closed the gap. The Yankees are the team that needs to “close the gap.” The Rays are better than the Yankees as are the Astros, White Sox, and a few others in the league.
A day after the Yankees packed their bags for the winter, I asked baseball insiders their analysis of a Yankees season that did not live up to expectations. The wild card game followed the Yankees 2021 script of inconsistency, that featured a lack of hitting and scoring runs.
It was not supposed to end this way with their ace, Gerrit Cole, on the mound with a huge contract that was supposed to guarantee the Yankees another World Series championship. Was Cole still bothered with a bad hamstring that chased him off the mound in the third inning following a Kyle Schwarber solo home run, while recording just six outs?
“That is the worst feeling in the world,” Cole said. “We’ve got to get through it to get that championship.”
Cole was brought here to win the biggest game of the season, he did not. Aaron Judge is not supposed to get easily nailed at home plate in the sixth inning and that was questioned because it was a bad send by third base coach Phil Nevin. That play epitomized the Yankees season as they tied for the major league lead (KC Royals was the other team) with 22 outs at home this season.
Was that the fault of Judge or third base coach Phil Nevin? You can certainly debate Nevin’s part but you can look at coaching and question the strategy because the Red Sox led baseball with 43 outfield assists.
“We just didn’t get the job done, all season long,” Judge said. ‘We’ve got to keep working. Individually and as a team, there’s a lot of things that we need to continue to work on and continue to improve to push us to the next level. So I guess it’s back to the drawing board.”
On the play at the plate, Judge said, “You’ve got to take chances. That didn’t win or lose this game for us. There’s so many different things I can go through. I was trying to score there, and I just didn’t get the job done, getting my hand in there in time for the slide.”
As one high ranking baseball executive said to me Wednesday about the Yankees, “Disappointment rather than a failure. They haven’t won a World Series in 12 years.”
That’s a long time since the last World Series championship, now the third longest drought in baseball for a team.
But, all the money does not buy a championship. Go back to the Steinbrenner era for a moment. A Yankees season and team with a top payroll in the game was never a success without bringing home a World Series championship.
Is it the fault of Boone, coaches, scouting, or analytics? Is this failure a fault of General Manager Brian Cashman, who constructed this roster? What is known, the Yankees need changes and the Red Sox eliminated them again.
The Rays are well balanced and the Blue Jays young and athletic, two teams the Yankees have to contend with in years to come.
Though, this loss Tuesday night was one game and can’t be compared to a Yankees epic seven-game collapse to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS, the first time a team overcame an 0-3 deficit and advanced to the World Series.
Had the Yankees taken care of business and played over .500 baseball in their division, if they did not let the Orioles beat them, the worst team in the American League, perhaps they would’ve assured a wild card game in the Bronx. Perhaps those two other long outs off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton Tuesday night would have accounted for home runs at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees led the league in walks and failed to get one against Red Sox pitching. They led the league hitting into double plays, two more stopped their anemic offense Tuesday night. Their pitching finished first inducing double play ground balls and made two more against the Red Sox.
Overall, though, this was a Yankees lineup that had no balance. It was a roster of expectations that failed.
So again, and the question of who takes the fall and blame? I won’t fault the manager, and like many others, Boone is restricted. Baseball is now a game of analytics and prevents the manager from having a final word on the lineup. The future of Boone is in doubt as much as he wants to stay in the Bronx.
To close that gap, the Yankees need an overhaul. Perhaps it’s time for GM Brian Cashman to step aside. It begins with the front office and construction of a 26-man roster that will take you to the top. The past few years have been a failure.
The Yankee GM will probably survive this one also, and it would be a Yankees nightmare for Hal Steinbrenner to relieve Cashman and move forward with a viable replacement. It is difficult to find a credible GM and all you have to do is ask the cross-town Mets.
A roster overhaul, I am sure that will come. The Yankees need to make changes and that means possibly trading catcher Gary Sanchez and saying goodbye to the long tenured Brett Gardner. What do they do about Anthony Rizzo, who is a free agent. Luke Voit is certain to be dealt and there’s lots more to be done. Again, an overhaul is needed.
The message was loud and clear Tuesday night. The changes need to come.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso