We’ll have plenty of time in the next couple of baseball-free days to talk about the Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers and Brewers and all of the playoff baseball they still have ahead of them For now, let’s take one last look at the Yankees before they fade totally into the dark until the offseason begins.
At the outset, yeah, I’ll defend the headline here. I would not normally say that a 100-win season that ends with a playoff loss to a 108-win team that looks close to unbeatable is a “disappointment.” But, as the Yankees and their fans will tell you if you ask — and even if you don’t ask — the team’s expectations are high. Very high. The whole “anything less than a championship is failure” stuff puts it too strongly, but the fact remains that the 2018 Yankees did have their eye on finishing far closer to a championship than bowing out in Game 4 of the ALDS.
So what went wrong? Three things, primarily, one of which they can’t do anything about, one of which they can’t do a ton about and one of which they can address this winter, even if addressing it will be hard.
The Bats Went Cold
The bats went cold at the worst time. As you certainly know by now the Yankees hit a major league record 267 home runs in 2018, but hit none in their two ALDS games in Yankee Stadium. There’s a narrative out there that the Yankees are “too home run dependent” and that doesn’t work in the postseason, but that’s a crock. If you watched what the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers have done this postseason and especially last, you know well that homers in the postseason are a really great way to score runs. Actually, they’re a great way to score runs all the the time. The Red Sox pitched the Yankees wonderfully, the Yankees big bats got cold and that just happens sometimes.
I presume there will be some who will suggest that, this offseason, the Yankees should seek to diversify their offense or add table setters or something, but don’t listen to them too much. Home runs are good and the Yankees will hit a lot next year too. If they add offense they should add good hitters, full stop, not someone seen as an antidote to what ailed them in the ALDS.
Aaron Boone was out of his depth
We’ve talked a lot about this already, but Yankees manager Aaron Boone showed that he was not ready for primetime this postseason. He blew any chance the Yankees had at winning Game 3 by leaving Luis Severino in too long and then, when he got into a jam, replacing him with the worst possible option in Lance Lynn. It was likewise clear last night that CC Sabathia was not going to get the job done and he should’ve been out earlier too. When Boone replaced Joe Girardi last offseason, the book was that, while Girardi was a decent tactical manager who was particularly good at running the Yankees’ excellent bullpen, he did not communicate well with the Yankees young stars. That may be true, but they sure as hell could’ve used someone who knew how to run a bullpen during the ALDS.
There is no better teacher than experience and, with an offseason to talk about it with the team’s brain trust and analysts, it’s quite possible that Boone will realize the mistakes he made and learn from them. He’d better, because no team can afford to punt games like Boone punted Games 3 and 4.
The starting pitching has to be improved
Boone sticking with his starters too long was a huge problem, but it was made even worse by the fact that his starters were not all that great. At least not all that great for a 100-win team. J.A. Happ didn’t make it out of the third inning in Game 1, Severino had no business making it out of the third inning in Game 3 and Sabathia, well, he gave it his all but his all is not as much as it used to be. Masahiro Tanaka pitched well in Game 2, but he had a rough couple of outings to end the regular season. He’s a guy who can certainly be a part of a championship rotation, but I’m not sure he can be the best part of a championship rotation.
All of the talk this offseason will be about the big position player free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but the Yankees biggest need is to pick up some solid starting pitching, somehow. Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton are free agents if the Yankees want to go that route. Other pitchers could be available in trade. I have no idea what their plans are yet — and they may not either — but if they’re gonna go into battle with a manager who likes to lean on his starting pitchers as much as Boone does, Brian Cashman will need to get him some better starting pitchers on which to lean.
The day after a bad postseason loss is not the best day to assess a ballclub. The Yankees and their fans are unhappy and everything seems bleak. What’s more, when you take a step back and look at this Yankees team, you realize that they are set to contend for a good long time given their talent, much of which is relatively cost-controlled. Aaron Judge Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius will be back. Gary Sanchez too, hopefully having figured out what went wrong for so much of 2018. The emergence of Luke Voit and Miguel Andujar were pleasant surprises and they can, hopefully, build on their successful season. Severino, Tanaka and the best parts of their strong bullpen will also take the field on Opening Day of 2019. It’s already a playoff-caliber team, and that’s without changing a thing.
But if this postseason has shown anything, it has shown that being very good is not good enough. It has shown that, in the current American League, being a record-setting, power-hitting 100-game-winning team is not enough to beat the Boston Red Sox or the Houston Astros. The Yankees’ expectations may always be outrageously high but these days the competition is outrageously good.
This offseason, the Yankees will have to find a way to get better.