Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 4, 2021

A Season On The Brink In The Bronx

Unfortunately for the franchise that calls the Bronx home, there is still another week on the schedule before Major League Baseball recesses for the All-Star break.  More than any team in the majors, the Yankees could use that annual three-day pause, with its literal time away from the stresses of the longest season for everyone except the handful of players and coaches headed to Denver for the Midsummer Classic, and its figurative reset of the calendar and accompanying chance for a fresh start in the campaign’s so-called “second half.”  For New York’s season appears to be in freefall, with recent words from players, the manager, the GM, and even the owner doing nothing to slow the descent.

In terms of games played, the actual midpoint of each season always comes several days before the All-Star break.  This year, the Yankees passed the fifty percent threshold Sunday afternoon, when closer Aroldis Chapman blew yet another save in the first game of a doubleheader against the crosstown rival Mets.  The 5-4 lead that suddenly turned into a 10-5 loss in New York’s 82nd game left the team at exactly .500 for the season, 41-41.  It’s been five years since the Yankees were at or below .500 this late on the calendar, and before that 2016 season was over general manager Brian Cashman became a seller at the trade deadline, shipping players to various teams to reduce payroll and build up New York’s minor league system.  The trades included stars who wound up playing key roles in the runs to that fall’s World Series of both Cleveland and the eventual champion Chicago Cubs.    

The Yankees finished fourth in the AL East that year, just six games over .500, but Cashman was hailed as a genius for acquiring highly rated prospects like Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier.  The praise grew even louder when the deal in which closer Chapman was sent to Chicago turned into a three-month rental, with the fireballing left-hander coming back to the Bronx as a free agent shortly after the Cubs finished celebrating their championship.

Five years later, good luck finding a Yankee fan willing to use “genius” and “Cashman” in the same sentence.  No doubt any number of old tweets that were part of the chorus back then have been hastily deleted, replaced by angry demands that the GM be shown the door, and that field boss Aaron Boone accompany him out into the street.  Dreams that the likes of Torres and Frazier would join with homegrown stars Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge to form the core of a team contending for multiple championships have withered.  Now the consensus is that the two acquisitions have been badly mishandled by the Yankees – Torres by being asked to play shortstop rather than his natural position at second base, and Frazier by frequent hostility from management and, until this year, constant shuttling between the big club and the minors.  Of the two players originally drafted by New York, Sanchez has been confounding, displaying occasional spurts of magnificent power hitting but suffering through frequent slumps, even while often struggling to corral pitches while squatting behind the plate, catching baseballs being a fairly vital job requirement for one playing the position of catcher.  Only Judge has largely lived up to expectations, including this year when he has put up some of the best numbers of his career and, so far at least, remained healthy.

Yet just three months ago, when the team broke camp in Tampa at the end of March, the Yankees were widely viewed as the favorite in the AL East, and a certain contender to represent the American League in the World Series.  Yes, the starting rotation was suspect once one moved past Gerrit Cole, but the bullpen was solid and really, who would care if on any given day New York’s opponent was scoring five or six runs, as long as the powerhouse offense was answering with eight or nine of its own?  Now at the season’s midpoint, the first half of that scenario has largely proven true, but the rejoinder at the plate has fallen woefully short.  New York’s lineup ranks near the bottom of the league in a range of statistics.  Most damningly, the team leads in some very unsavory stats, like hitting into double plays and running into outs on the bases. 

The season has proceeded in spurts, a string of dispiriting losses followed by a short winning streak.  But the latest iteration of that pattern is far more alarming.  Ten days ago the Yankees took a record of seven wins in nine games to Fenway Park, where archrival Boston promptly swept New York in a three-game weekend series.  That was followed by losing two of three to the Angels, and now two in a row to the Mets. 

But larger concerns are hidden in those numbers.  After arguably being the best closer in the majors through May, Chapman has pitched horribly for a month.  His ERA in his last nine appearances is 22.24.  His last two outings, against the Angels last Wednesday and the Mets Sunday afternoon, were particularly ugly, with L.A. scoring seven in the 9th to steal a game made interminably long by two rain delays midweek, and the Metropolitans plating six in the final frame of Sunday’s opening tilt.  And Cole, the mainstay of the rotation, has now had multiple bad starts, with his worst coming Sunday.  Giving up six hits and three walks while recording just ten outs, the ace of the staff had his shortest outing since he was with the Pirates in 2016.

In the last week, Judge has called a players-only meeting, Boone has said the season is on the line, Cashman has declared that right now the team sucks, and Steinbrenner has, well, the owner has said he’s behind the manager and the GM, and the players are at fault.  All words that have done nothing to stem the nosedive. 

The season is far from over.  Two years ago at just about this time the Nationals were 41-41, and we all know how that turned out.  Of course, Washington got to that position by climbing out of an earlier 19-31 hole, while the Yankees have bumbled their way into mediocrity.  Still, at the halfway point of the longest season, anything is possible.  But much will be told very soon.  Immediately before and after the All-Star break, the Yankees play fourteen of sixteen against the Red Sox, Rays, and Astros.  Come out of that stretch strong, and anything is possible.  Continue to flounder, and if Steinbrenner wants to keep fans in the stands, even he may finally realize that the chants from the cheap seats have merit, and it’s time for new leadership in the Bronx.


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