For Yankees, false sense of crisis comes too quickly
Rewind to April 21, more than three weeks into the season. The Yankees had not yet lost a series and were building a reputation as a depleted team that was navigating the schedule admirably. They were solid, with upside.
Then they went cold, albeit briefly. As significant injuries mounted, series losses to the Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, and Texas Rangers plunged the Yankees to last place in the American League East.
On Wednesday afternoon, when the Yanks were tied 1-1 in a series against the Cleveland Guardians, GM Brian Cashman held his annual team-in-crisis media session. Hours later, Jose Trevino walked it off, and the Yanks won the series.
Looking back on the arc of the young season for this team, it’s striking to note that the existential crisis came after just three series losses: Toronto, Minnesota and Texas. That’s it. Even for someone who has been covering New York baseball for 15 years now, the speed of this narrative change stunned me.
When Cashman dropped the phrase “long season” on Wednesday, he was of course resorting to one of the game’s most frequently used clichés. But some phrases become clichés because they are true. For anyone to claim ultimate knowledge about a banged-up 17-15 Yankees team on May 4 is beyond premature.
That’s not to say that some unpleasant truths haven't already become clear. It is fair to be worried about the investment in Carlos Rodon, because of his long injury history. It is fair to worry about Clay Holmes’ inconsistency.
It is fair to say that the bottom of the lineup sacrifices on offense a decent portion of the run prevention it creates on defense (though it’s aesthetically pleasing to watch such an athletic group of fielders, quite a contrast to the Yankees of 2020 and early 2021). It’s fair to wonder why well over $100 million is on the Injured List several years after Cashman modernized the training staff. We could go on.
It helps that the Yankees have the right manager for a moment of perceived disaster. I don’t always agree with Aaron Boone’s faith in players like Holmes, and have told him so. But to step into his presence is to feel a reprieve from the Twitter and talk radio cycle of angst.
On Tuesday, the day after losing a game by using Holmes in a situation that, in my view and the view of many others, called for Michael King, Boone spent the day as a punching bag on every toxic outlet.
On the field at 4 p.m. as the Yankees took batting practice, Boone calmly explained his decisions from the night before, expressed deep faith in Holmes and other players, and did not grow defensive upon light pushback. His smile and relaxed body language hypnotized you into forgetting that there was any external toxicity surrounding the team.
Boone has this same effect on the players. I’ve covered managers who wear out their team by becoming tight after tough losses of brief cold streaks. Here, with a fan base that the organization sees as angrier than ever and players who can’t be convinced to stop lurking and searching their names on social media, this skill is highly valuable.
As Cashman noted on Wednesday, the team also has infrastructure in place to help weather the injuries. Former MLB pitcher Matt Daley’s pro scouting department and David Grabiner’s analytics staff have done well in previous seasons unearthing “next men up” to help survive these situations, from Luke Voit to Gio Urshela to Mike Tauchman to Matt Carpenter to Holmes, an All-Star last year.
For all the Yankees’ current deficiencies, reliever Ian Hamilton and outfielder Willie Calhoun have made meaningful contributions lately. Franchy Cordero keyed a few wins last month. Depth like this is a primary reason why the team has not posted a losing record for 30 years, by far the longest streak in the game.
That streak will end one of these seasons. All things must pass, and who knows, this might be the year.
But to claim a feel for the big picture after three series losses, followed by a series win? I, for one, am far from smart enough to draw conclusions from this sample.