Thoughts After An Excruciating Season with a New Beginning

It’s the off-day before the postseason begins. I didn’t think the Yankees would get in, but here we are anyway. With that all said, we don’t need any more of a recap of what went down this weekend. If you’re here, you know.

So let’s get right to some scattered thoughts today, shall we? This will kick off our playoff coverage and hopefully be the start of a very fun month here at Views.

1. That’s All Over Now: Now that it’s safely in the rear-view mirror, I think it’s fair to call the 2021 season the most excruciating regular season in modern Yankees’ history. There are other contenders, of course. In 2008, the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993 in the final year of the House that Ruth Built. Nobody in their right mind would call 2013 or 2014 fun, the 2015 team was a nightmare down the stretch (remember those late-season games in Toronto?), and they had a fire sale in 2016. And yet I think we’d all agree that this was the worst of the bunch.

This about sums it up:

I know that everyone is sick of these graphs by now, but just look at those swings. Even from June-July, which looks relatively calm when compared to the end of the season, has plenty of swings. It was an up and down season from the very beginning. There were two points – right after the All-Star Break, when basically the entire team was out with COVID-19, and in early September – when I was actually convinced the Yankees wouldn’t make the playoffs. I almost didn’t want them to, either.

But that didn’t happen, of course. The Yankees finished at 92-70, which is their lowest win total since 2017. (Last year, when they had a lower winning percentage, exempted for obvious reasons.) They’re in the Wild Card now. Disappointing, yes. I thought for sure they’d win the AL East in 2021. In any case, they’re in the dance now.

I bring all of this up because none of that matters now. It’s cliché to say, but it’s true. The playoffs are a new season entirely. We’ve seen the Yankees play red-hot baseball for a month before, and if they do it again, they’ll wash away the pain – and nobody will care at all about how dumb the regular season was. The Yanks are a super talented team on paper, and I doubt many teams want to face them. (Tampa Bay excepted, who I think would actually choose to play the Yankees.) The goal for most of this season was to get into the tournament by any means necessary. They snuck in as the second Wild Card in Game 162, but they accomplished that goal. Now, if they’re up to it, they can erase that whole season.

2. We Finally Got Our Wish: Congratulations to long-suffering fans of the New York Yankees. On the eve of the postseason, their favorite team actually has one of the most dominant pitching staffs in all of Major League Baseball. Rejoice! Here are their rankings in some key categories:

  • fWAR: 22.3 (4th; 2nd in AL)
  • ERA: 3.76 (6th; 3rd)
  • FIP: 3.90 (6th; 3rd)
  • Strikeout Rate: 26.2% (4th; 2nd)
  • Walk Rate: 8.5% (8th; 5th)
  • Batting Average Against: .228 (6th; 4th)
  • Exit Velocity Against: 87.8 mph (4th; 1st)

That right there is what I’d call a top-5 pitching staff overall. And despite a frustrating season, it was both sides of the staff that succeeded: NYY starters rank 6th overall in fWAR and NYY relievers rank 3rd. It was a true top-to-bottom dominant performance all season long. The only stain on the record is home runs – they rank 14th in HR/9 – and there were too many bullpen meltdowns. As I wrote previously, though, the latter is a function of simply playing way, way too many close games. Blown games are bound to happen when every game is a one- or two-run nail biter.

In other words, the Yankees actually have one of the most formidable pitching staffs in the league going into the postseason. Last night’s game was a good indication of that. They are very, very difficult to hit and they likely will be during October, too. That I’ve made it this far without mentioning the fact that they have an ace with a Cy Young-caliber season in Gerrit Cole says it all.

After years of complaints that the Yankees were too offense-heavy, too reliant on the home run, and not elite enough on the bump, the Yankees will enter tomorrow’s postseason dance with a top pitching staff. If they get beyond the one game play-in, the team will prevent runs. The biggest question will be if they score enough runs themselves for it to matter.

3. The Road Ahead: Ugh, what an excruciating roadmap for a pennant. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it will be a heart-thumping postseason if the Yankees go all the way. Not only will they play Boston at Fenway Park in a do-or-die game, they’ll play that game for the right to play Tampa Bay on Thursday night in the Trop. If they can escape that death trap, a repeat of the 2017 and 2019 ALCS may very well be in order. Point is that this is all setting up to be an excruciating October. I want to take a step back and place it into context, though. Let’s look at the Yankee playoff exits in recent memory:

  • 2017: lost in ALCS Game 7 to the Astros
  • 2018: lost in ALDS Game 4 to the Red Sox
  • 2019: lost in ALCS Game 6 to the Astros
  • 2020: lost in ALDS Game 5 to the Rays

It’s honestly tough to imagine a more gut-wrenching set of losses. The 2018 and 2020 losses don’t bother me nearly as much as 2017 and 2019, but they still hurt. What I’m getting at here is that we’re likely going to see some rematches with history. These playoff games won’t just be playoff games – they’ll be rivalry games and they’ll start in Fenway Park. Brutal.

At the same time, though, that’s why we’re fans, right? This is what we want to see. And it also provides a ripe opportunity for revenge. The very best championships are the ones in which you go through a difficult road and eliminate your biggest foes. If they erase the sting of some recent exits, all the better. The Yankees will have an opportunity to exact revenge on some bitter rivals over the next few weeks – or they’ll once again fall short at the hands of one. The stakes are going to be high, and my heart is racing even just thinking about it.

4. Looking Ahead to Tomorrow Night: Okay that’s enough context. There’s a baseball game to be played. There’s really not much to say about this one specifically. We all know the drill. In fact, we saw this matchup a few Fridays ago in Boston, when Yankee starter Gerrit Cole took on presumptive Boston starter Nathan Eovaldi. The Yankees won that game handily, but I wouldn’t bet on the same outcome this time. Derek will work up a nice, in-depth preview of the Wild Card Game that will go into all of the specifics and details. I’ll spare you those now, but I do just want to say that I like this matchup for New York.

The Yankees chose to play Boston in Fenway in the event of a four-team tie yesterday and there is good reason for that. Sure, the Yankees had some logistical concerns I’m sure – does anyone actually want to go to Toronto and deal with the turf and COVID screening? – but I think they also just like the matchup with Boston. They’ve won 6 in a row against the Sox and finished the season 9-10 against them despite that horrific start. I feel pretty confident that the Yankees can get the job done tomorrow.

That Cole is on the mound makes it all the better. The Yankees ace struggled a bit against Boston in 2021 – 24 hits and 12 earned runs in 22 innings – but that’s irrelevant. The Yankees will go into Fenway feeling confident against the opponent with the best pitcher in the tournament on the mound. That the Yankees won’t be facing Boston’s best pitcher in Chris Sale only adds to it. Anything can happen, but I like where the Yankees stand right now from the 30,000 foot view. More specifics to come, of course.

5. Playoff X-Factors: The one-game play-in really changes a lot of this section, since anything can in one game. Let’s make an assumption that the Yankees are going to make a big run, though. I think there are 5 x-factors (not counting the obvious ones in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton) that will play a huge, huge role in getting that done. I’ve listed those below in no particular order.

Aaron Boone

I’m at the point where I want Aaron Boone to manage the Rays next season regardless of what happens in October. I do not think he is a good manager, nor do I even think he’s replacement level. He’s bad. There’s no feel for the game, no urgency, and key players consistently underperform or stop developing under his purview. But he’s what we’ve got right now, so there’s no point in complaining until the games start.

He’s the biggest x-factor, in my opinion, and I don’t think it’s close. Boone was a horrible manager in the 2018 postseason, but was pretty good in both 2019 and 2020. (I do not think the opener situation last year was his fault or decision, so I won’t pin it on him exclusively.) They will need him to be good this year. The Yankees are talented but have underperformed and thus will need to maximize every edge in October play. A lot of that will fall on Boone. The days of “stealing outs”, leaving pitchers in a batter obviously too long, getting cute with matchups, and not using the best lineup should be behind us. Let’s hope he’s up to it.

Gleyber Torres

The Yankees 24-year-old infielder was the subject of much consternation all season, but he’s really turned it around. In 140 plate appearances since August 1, Gleyber is hitting .305/.350/.445 (116 wRC+) with just an 18.6% strikeout rate. There are quibbles – he isn’t walking and there are no homers, just doubles – but that’s a damn fine performance down the stretch right there.

It’s encouraging, too. Leaving aside any long-term concerns about Gleyber for the moment, he’s always been a big-game playoff performer. Our man is a .342/.432/.605 postseason hitter in 21 games. He’s shown up in every single matchup save the 2018 Wild Card Game, and he’s been a key cog in the Yankee playoff machine ever since. It’s why so many fans fell in love with him in the first place. (Remember Game 1 of the 2019 ALCS?) With DJ LeMahieu out, Gleyber will probably be hitting leadoff. I think he’s up to the task, but if he’s not, the Yankees will be in trouble.

Aroldis Chapman

Where to even begin with Aroldis Chapman. The Yankee closer is one of the best in baseball, and there honestly aren’t many relievers I’d want to close out games for New York. He’s that good. But wow has he been hit hard over the last two postseasons in the big moment. He’s served up huge backbreaking and season-ending homers in elimination games in 2019 and 2020. That obviously cannot happen again this year if the Yankees are serious about making a run.

Nestor Cortes, Jr.

I’m not sure how the rotation will shake out moving forward, but I’d imagine Corey Kluber would start a prospective Game 1 in Tampa Bay. Jordan Montgomery and Jameson Taillon would mix in there, but I’d also expect to see Nestor Cortes at some point. The dude has been a lights-out feel-good story all season, but the bright lights of the playoffs shine differently. If the funky-delivering fan favorite can keep up his regular season success, he’ll offer a much different look for New York – one that they haven’t had in postseasons past. That could very well work to their favor.

Clay Holmes

Last but certainly not least is Clay Holmes. The mid-season acquisition has been dominant in New York. We all know it. He’s a flame-throwing sinker baller who kills all the worms. Without Zack Britton, he’ll definitely be asked to step into some key high-leverage moments. He’s not Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, or Jonathan Loaisiga, sure. Those guys will get the biggest moments. But Holmes being effective can take the load off the true back end relievers and make the Yankees that much more difficult of an opponent. I have faith in him, but his performance will be a true bell weather for the success of the Yankee pen.

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20 Comments

  1. Frank Horak

    In the immortal words of Pastor Chris from the vaccine commercials, “we have come to conquer”

  2. Bart

    I’m a simple fan. No double plays against us if anyone makes it to first and I like our chances.

  3. JG (Brendan Ryan)

    We got this

    Believe in Bronxie

    Weird, stressful, often miserable season but we made it in and you never know

    All hail Judge and Giancarlo

  4. MikeD

    I still don’t feel like the Yankees are in the postseason. The one-game, wild card play-in game is so random, particularly when all the teams in the postseason are good. There are no pushovers. The 106-win Dodgers, for example, are not going to feel all that comfortable having their season come down to facing the 90-win Cardinals. No one would be surprised if the Cards won that game. No one should be surprised who wins the Yankees-Red Sox wild card game.

    I put myself, perhaps in the minority, that I would have preferred the Yankees face Chris Sale, the Red Sox supposed ace, compared to Eovaldi. Evo been a significant problem for the Yankees right-handed hitters for several years, with the exception of the last game. I wouldn’t bet on that indicating they’ve solved him. As for Sale, at first glance, his numbers look solid — 5-1, 3.16 ERA. A little context shows he’s benefited by schedule and a bit of luck. First, the Red Sox manipulated his appearances, down to who he debuted against–the Orioles. At another point, they seem to purposely ensured he didn’t face the Yankees in a key series. That was a bit telling. In prior years, they Yankees would rarely miss peak Sale because Cora ensured he lined up against them. Certainly the smart thing to do, so the flip side here may also indicate they did the smart thing. He’s averaged just a tick under 5 innings per appearance, and in his nine starts he’s faced almost exclusively weak offenses. He amazingly was gifted with the Orioles in three games, or one third of his starts. He also faced the Mets, the Rangers, the Twins and the Nats. He’s faced exactly one good team since his return, the Rays, and he got them back-to-back. He did fine in the first appearance, but after the Rays had a look, they manhandled him in his second start, with 11 runners and five runs in 3.2 innings. Some bad defense kept the earned runs down, but the Rays knew the second time around that this version of Chris Sale is not the old version, at least yet.

    In Sale’s last three starts, he only pitched 12.2 innings, giving up seven earned runs for an ERA of basically 5.00. I watched him in a few starts, including yesterday against the Nats. He K’d all seven outs, but he only made it to seven outs, getting booted after 2.1 innings when he put seven runners on via hits and walks. What struck me is he really didn’t have faith in his fastball, and that word is probably getting around the more games he starts.

    Maybe Sale can give the Red Sox a couple quality innings in relief on Tuesday. Obviously, I hope not. I still though would have been quite comfortable if he was the starter. I don’t see this version of Chris Sale going more than one time through the Yankees order before Judge, Stanton and company made him pay.

    I’m not writing Sale off as a top pitcher. He’ll have 2022 to show he’s back. He’s obviously working through his new elbow, and command is the last to return. His nice surface stats this year though do not tell the whole story.

  5. dasit

    it will be interesting to see if boone can top game 3 of the 2018 alcs which was the single worst managerial performance of my lifetime

  6. Macho Man "Randy Levine"

    Yankees Playoff Revenge Tour:
    Pirates (1960 WS)
    Cardinals (1964 WS)
    Reds (1976 WS)
    Royals (1980 ALCS)
    Dodgers (1981 WS)
    Diamondbacks (2001 WS)
    Marlins (2003 WS)
    Red Sox (2004 ALCS, 2018 ALDS)
    Angels (2005 ALDS)
    Tigers (2006 ALDS, 2011 ALDS, 2012 ALCS)
    Rangers (2010 ALCS)
    Astros (2015 WC, 2017 ALCS, 2019 ALCS)
    Rays (2020 ALDS)

    Some potential for revenge this year. Note, however, that beating Boston tomorrow night DOES NOT make up for either of the two Red Sox series losses listed above.

    • Let’s not forget Mariners (1995 ALDS)

    • Pants

      NOTHING will avenge the 2004 loss unless the Yankees can somehow come back from a 3-0 game deficit in a future LCS. With that being said, it’ll still feel amaaaaazing if the Yanks can celebrate at Fenway tomorrow.

  7. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    1. That looks a lot like my latest EKG chart, Bobby, but I didn’t mind the season because it showed us who is with us and who just jumps on and off the bandwagon whenever the wind changes directions. It’s not a postseason berth yet, though. There’s a big misconception that just getting into the WC game means you made the postseason. No it doesn’t. You have to win the WC game and get into the LDS to say you’re in the postseason. But I think we have a good chance to win tomorrow and get in.

    2. And the pitching is what gives us the best chance to win the WS in decades, Bobby. You saw yesterday how they can win games 1-0 and don’t need the HR. This bullpen is the best pen we’ve had since the late 90’s pen of Mariano, Nelson, Stanton, Lloyd, Mendoza. The pen is fully capable of pitching the entire ballgame and shutting down the opponent if Boone deploys them correctly. That’s my biggest worry is 6 ERA Cole and Boone not having a short leash on him. I want the leash so short it chokes the spider tack out of his lifeless body. Then go to Sevy. Don’t mess around with German or Abreu. Sevy to King to Holmes to Loisaga to Green to Chappy should be all you need with Joeley or Peralta getting a big lefty if needed.

    3. We won’t beat Tampa, Bobby. They’re just a better organization from top to bottom. They’re what the Yankees used to be in the late 90’s under George and they do it on a shoestring budget. They invented the defensive shifts, the opener and now the 4 outfielder alignment and the Yankees with all these resources either just copy them or don’t know how to adjust. I think we’ll get past the Sox and then lose to Tampa in 4. We can’t win in the Trop even with 75% Yankees fans. Imagine how good the Rays would be with the Yankees resources and a fan base who gave a damn. They care so little Tampa is going to play half their games in Montreal who didn’t give a damn about the Expos.

    4. I don’t like Cole starting. I’d either go with Kluber or a bullpen game. Cole just isn’t the same pitcher without the sticky stuff. Maybe they’ll rub up the balls with mud next year and he can turn it around but for this year I don’t trust him. The only good thing about him starting is it puts Gary on the bench. Boone needs to have Sevy warmed up and ready to go starting in the first inning.

    5. My xfactors are Andrew Velazquez, Tyler Wade, Bronxie, Nestor Cortes and Rougned Odor. The Yankees are only in this WC game because of them. You saw yesterday Rougned got the single to get it started and then Wade used his legs to score the run. Velazquez came in for Gio defensively and with DJ out we’ll need his glove and possibly his bat. Nestor should be a starter if we get to the LDS but he’ll probably go to the pen.

    If Boone is your xfactor you’re screwed, Bobby. He has no feel for the game and if Cole struggles early he’ll defer to his “ace” and leave him in while the game is lost. We’ve only gone backwards with him after Girardi had a much worse club in Game 7 of the ALCS in 2017 and if the Astros weren’t cheating we probably win the ring. Boone hasn’t even gotten us back to that point with this core. They wanted a laid back dude after intense Girardi but the product is sloppy and disorganized.

    Gleyber is back to his old self after they finally moved him to 2nd base. Ever since he’s moved back to 2nd he’s started hitting and that’s not a coincidence. The weight of playing SS was too heavy for him to bear. That’s why not many people can do it since Jete and the one guy that could, Didi, was thrown in the trash.

    Chappy will be fine. Nestor should be #4 starter but they’ll put him in the pen and not use him. Holmes was a gem of a find and proof that you don’t need to spend $40 million on two relievers.

  8. Matthew Wiederman

    Imo sevy should be a bigger X factor than Holmes because he can come in for a big spot, maybe even 2 innings, and he also can give you a starter appearance and go through the order once to help with the struggling rotation a day before a cole start (we assume cole gives you 6 innings, at least, always. He’s the ace and he is one of the best in baseball, it’s expected. ) If sevy can be sevy, the rotation gets a boost especially in a 7 game series. We can talk about German too but severino has shown absolutely brilliant stuff and was ace level, plus he’s our homegrown boy and he fires up a crowd like no other pitcher iron the roster now (insert sevy scream after a big strikeout)

    • James M Dunn

      Exactly, Sevy is a true X-factor and a weapon out of the Bullpen. If we can go Cole/Sevy/Losiaga/Chapman against Boston.(Green as well if needed). That matches up with anyone they can bring. A key is working Eovaldi and make him throw strikes, wear him down like we used to with long at bats

  9. This is a good overview but, at the end of the day, the Wild Card game will come down to one basic-will Cole outpitch Eovaldi?

    We will no doubt know lots about that after 1 inning.

    As for Boone’s managing-it’s almost impossible to believe that a 3rd generation major leaguer, with a lifetime in the game, could truly be this bad. Some of yesterday’s pitching changes just defied logic (why take out Holmes for the HR tendencies of Green with a lefty at the plate?) but they got away with it, fortunately, even though Green hung at least 3 breaking pitches during his appearance.

    If Stanton starts hitting again (Judge isn’t crushing it but has been far more consistent) this team can beat anyone; if not it’s going to be a slog and their infield defense, with Odor likely playing 3rd, isn’t very good. Still, in a short series, anything can happen.

    • Tim

      Umm, this season, here are Clay Holmes’s platoon splits:

      vs. righties: .176 / .222 / .470
      vs. lefties: .272 / .420 / .808

      If Clay Holmes pitches to a power hitting lefty in this post-season with the game on the line, THAT is a fireable offense by Aaron Boone. And I LOVE Clay Holmes.

      For the record, Chad Green has effectively no platoon split this season. Since the Yankees do not deploy a true LOOGY (Joely Rodriguez would be the closest thing to one on the roster, and he isn’t getting those opportunities in the playoffs), look for Green and Loaisiga (and Chapman, of course) to get those key at bats against Schwarber, Devers, Meadows, Choi, and Lowe.

      • Your analysis is mostly based on the Holmes that pitched for the Pirates, haven’t you noticed he’s been much better with the Yankees or did that escape you?

        As for Green, he’s given up an unworldly number of HRs late in games this year, mostly with his crappy breaking ball. He got away with at least 3 of them yesterday or did that escape you as well?

    • MikeD

      Boone’s managing is so frustrating that I hope he’s gone even if the Yankees get hot and win #28 this year. We’ve seen enough of his managing to know he has no feel for the bullpen, and no sense of urgency. He’d probably rest Giancarlo Stanton in game 7 of the World Series because he was due for a day off.

      Ultimately, how far the Yankees go this post-season will start with how well Cole pitches on Tuesday, and how much Judge and Stanton hit. The latter, Stanton, has actually hit better than Judge in the postseason as Judge has mostly been absent the last two postseasons. A hot Judge and Stanton, at the same time, would be a welcome site in October. It could be enough to carry them through to a championship, but only one of them hitting won’t be enough as we saw last year with Stanton’s strong October. Hopefully Gallo and Rizzo join in, and Gleyber generally has been solid in the postseason. Gary? Uggh. Since July 21, he’s only gone deep six times, hitting .176/.255/.338, turning what appeared to be a decent bounce-back season at the plate into one of mediocrity. A 99 OPS+ and 0.7 rWAR should not be enough for him to keep his job in 2022. He could get randomly hot though. He seems to be all or nothing. Let’s hope for “All” starting tomorrow. He has had many big games against the Red Sox.

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