What are Yankees thinking letting Joe Girardi go?

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When I heard the news that the Yankees decided against bringing Joe Girardi back in 2018, my first reaction was to scoff. Upon about ten minutes of reflection, however, I’m open to the argument — not yet established, but certainly possible — that it’s the right move. The fact that it can go either way says a lot about both Joe Girardi and about the current state of the New York Yankees.

Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing at the outset: Joe Girardi is a better manager than he was ever given credit for. He was often taken for granted and just as often disparaged because people have it in their heads that anyone can manage the Yankees. They’re rich! They’re laden with stars! If you don’t win the World Series with these guys every year you’re a failure and, heck, Girardi missed the playoffs with them four times!

This is nonsense, of course. The Yankees financial advantage is undeniable, but the money deployed by the Yankees front office has been suboptimal for years. Certainly during most of Girardi’s tenure when, just as often as not, he was forced to play past-their-prime veterans as opposed to genuine stars. You try managing a team with the corpses of Brian Roberts, Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay decomposing on your roster and the nearly-as-dead husks of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira expected to lead your offensive attack. Until very recently he had no young blood to make up for those old bones, and it hamstrung the Yankees.

But it never hamstrung them so much that they could not compete. Indeed, the Yankees, while not always great under Girardi, were always respectable and often competitive. Many of these Yankees team were seemingly magicked into competitiveness due to Girardi himself. In large part because he was excellent at managing a bullpen. In large part because he was always able to, somehow, keep things running on an even keel despite the fact that P.R. storms always seemed to rage right outside the clubhouse door. Do you think just anyone could handle the insane drama surrounding the A-Rod era Yankees? I seriously doubt it.

A non-playoff Yankees team actually provided a good example of what Girardi brought to the table.

In mid-2016 the Yankees were a fourth place team, hovering around .500 with seemingly little upside. That trade deadline they sold off the two best relievers in the game in Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, put a couple of famous veterans out to pasture in Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez and called up a bunch of rookies. By all rights they should’ve tanked from then on like most other teams who do that sort of thing do.

Except they didn’t. They remained in fourth place, but they improved that record to a few more games above .500 and were in the thick of the Wild Card race until late in the season. Some of that was because of the better-than-expected performance of those rookies. Some of it was sheer chance. Some of it was just plugging holes and balancing bullpen roles and not having half the roster check out mentally to go fishing once they had a totally plausible excuse to do so in the form of the trade deadline selloff.

In most cases that sort of performance (i.e. doing better than expected given limited resources) is considered to be the work of the manager and the manager is normally praised. Joe Girardi, however, never got that kind of benefit of the doubt. He got mocked for using a binder.

Girardi may have averaged over 90 wins a year with the Yankees and may have won a World Championship, but was never given his due, locally or nationally. And, as the Yankees embark on a search for a new manager, it’s fair to say that it’ll be much easier for them to pick a manager worse than Joe Girardi than to find one his equal, let alone better.

Of course, there’s another side to this too. One that should make people keep their powder dry and to not fire on the Yankees for letting Girardi go, at least until we learn more about what was going on behind the scenes.

While Girardi spent most of his time in New York managing veteran-laden teams, the current New York Yankees squad is something else entirely. For the first time since the mid-90s they’re led by young stars in Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez. Luis Severino and Greg Bird. There are more stars just over the horizon, waiting to be called up. It’s possible, is it not, that while Joe Girardi has done a fine job with the Yankees over the past decade, that he is not the right guy to take this Yankees squad to the next level?

When I ask myself that question, I remember the little dustup with Greg Bird earlier this season, in which Yankees sources were questioning his commitment despite the fact that he was suffering from injuries. Girardi was absent from that story, but where did he fall in the dispute? I remember Gary Sanchez catching hell for his defense and Girardi going with Austin Romine behind the plate in a playoff game despite the fact that Romine is not a good defensive catcher himself (indeed, Romine made a defensive miscue in that game). Many had conflicting views on all of that, but do Bird and Sanchez believe their manager had their backs? Do Judge and Severnio think Girardi is the best guy for the job?

I honestly don’t know the answers to those questions, but they’re good questions which I presume people who cover the Yankees will report on over the winter. Rookies should not be in the business of choosing their own manager, of course, but a ball club has a duty to put a manager in charge who will get the most out of the most important players on the roster. At this juncture, that may or may not be Joe Girardi. In 1996 it proven not to be Buck Showalter in a similar situation, which was no knock on Buck Showalter.

All of which is to say that I can see both sides of this. I can see this as a big mistake by the Yankees because getting rid of an excellent manager is not the sort of thing that usually leads to success. At the same time, there is always the possibility of greater success when the right manager is paired with the right roster.

The Yankees won championships after getting rid of Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Billy Martin, Buck Showalter and Joe Torre. They can easily win one without Joe Girardi too. With the current makeup of the Yankees roster, it’s quite possible that it may be easier for them to do it with someone new.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.