A grueling six-month season that produced 95 wins is considered pretty successful in a lot of people’s minds, especially when the end reward is a division championship and entrance to the postseason. My Mets, for example, would be thrilled with that result, considering their dismal fourth-place finish and generally horrid outlook.
Over in the Bronx, though, anything short of a World Series is a failure. It’s a reputation which my cross-river Queens brethren find quite elitist and even a reflection of fair-weather fandom. (Yes, we’re bitter and not that successful. I still have the Giants to fall back on.) After all, once the Bombers start struggling even a little bit, the “boo” birds come out in full force at Yankee Stadium.
That said, I have a great deal of sympathy for the Yankees’ plight right now. Part of it is a peculiarity with me, but if the Mets are out of contention, I secretly desire success for our cross-town rivals. But the other part has to do with how far they have fallen in just a couple of weeks.
A 95-win season, and one in which they dominated throughout, should have led directly to some postseason success. Sure, they took their licks along the way—a season-ending injury for Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in baseball history, principal among them. The rotation had a number of question marks as well, but with the Red Sox struggling so much, the Yankees just had to overcome the upstart Orioles and Rays to take the division.
For all the Orioles did to compete with the Yankees, there was always a significant talent disparity, only natural with the Yankees’ expensive collection of stars. Still, Baltimore made things entertaining and had a legitimate shot at an upset if not for a couple of dominating performances from C.C. Sabathia. One could also credit that to the Baltimore pitching staff, but now that the Yankees find themselves in a significant hole against the Tigers, one has to point to their lack of hitting as the main culprit.
This season was certainly different from when New York regained its place atop the baseball universe in 2009. There was a changing of the guard, quietly, when Robinson Cano became the focal point of the offense. Mark Teixeira struggled mightily from the beginning of the season before picking things up, while Alex Rodriguez suffered through an injury-riddled year that really showed the wear and tear of a 20-year career in baseball.
Rodriguez, of course, had been the scapegoat of numerous failed postseason runs in the Bronx prior to 2009. Merited or not, his postseason struggles became enhanced because of the incredible numbers he compiled just months before during the regular season. Oh, and there’s also his monstrous salary, at $29 million this season, with five more seasons left.
It’s not as if he had a great regular season; while he still put up power numbers, the success was bridged by injuries and struggles. Nevertheless, his dismal performance in the postseason became the storyline once again.
There is some comical schadenfreude going on with A-Rod’s trials. His abysmal at-bats have been compounded by his knack to get up in crucial situations. Bases loaded with one out? Don’t worry, A-Rod can and did find a way to screw that up with a three-pitch strikeout. Down to their last out? Rodriguez will surely screw it up, let’s pinch hit him for Raul Ibanez (who miraculously tied the game with a homer).
His struggles, though significant, belie the comprehensive struggles of the Yankee lineup. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher—all mainstays in the heart of their batting order—have struggled tremendously in the postseason. The pitching has been fine, but even Yankee fans deserve a little better than an utter offensive collapse.
As if things weren’t bad enough already, Derek Jeter’s broken ankle at the beginning of the ALCS put the final nail in the coffin on the season. Their captain, leadoff hitter, shortstop, and most constant contributor was suddenly gone. Watching the Yankees without Jeter is borderline painful. With each at-bat, I’m expecting a pathetic strikeout or feeble groundout. Jeter seemed to be the only guy not swinging for the fences on every pitch.
But, as the Yankees do every year, they will go home for the winter (barring a miraculous turnaround) and come back with some expensive new players in the middle of the lineup. But problems like a declining Rodriguez and a rehabbing Jeter and Rivera remain. With a veteran group like the one GM Brian Cashman has constructed, there’s a small window to win another championship. It hasn’t closed yet but a lot has to go right for ultimate triumph. Unfortunately for the boys in pinstripes, just about everything that could go wrong this season did.