Here is something about which the people who run the Yankees, starting with Hal Steinbrenner and running right through his front office, have not convinced their fans since Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, when the Yankees got mopped into the offseason:
They haven’t come close to convincing Yankee fans that this year is going to be better than last year.
It’s kind of a thing.
The Astros have now ended four Yankee seasons out of the last eight. They shut them out in the Wild Card game of 2015, on a night when the Yankees got just three hits. The Astros beat them in seven games in the 2017 ALCS, when the Yankees scored just one run in Houston over the last two games after leading that series 3-2. And, by the way, if stealing signs is why the Yankees finally couldn’t hit the street from the curb, please explain to me how.
There was the ALCS of 2019, when Jose Altuve walked the thing off against Aroldis Chapman in Game 6. And then came last year’s sweep. And now here is how the Yankees have changed since last Oct. 23, that last Astros win that felt as inevitable as the tide:
Because of free agency, they essentially traded a decent starter in Jameson Taillon for a far better starter (even one with his own injury history) in Carlos Rodon. But ask yourself something: Which Yankee fan out there thinks that having Rodon instead of Taillon last October would have gotten their team past the Houston Astros?
Does the combination of Gerrit Cole and Rodon, that particular right-left combination, give the Yankees a formidable 1-2 punch? It does. Who knows, maybe it will be more formidable than Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, even though Cole gives up way too many home runs. There is also and absolutely the chance that Cole, Rodon, Luis Severino (another wing and a prayer) and Nestor Cortes give the Yankees their most formidable starting rotation in 20 years, something that could give them an edge over the Astros in that particular department, now that Verlander has gone from Minute Maid Park to Citi Field.
But guess what? The Astros still have Framber Valdez, Luis Garica, Cristian Javier, whom the Yankees couldn’t hit last season and might not still be able to hit when and if the money goes back on the table with these two teams this coming October.
Did Hal Steinbrenner step up to the plate, and big-time, by coming up with the money to pay Aaron Judge? You know he sure did, mostly because he had no choice (and we don’t need to revisit the fact that Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman could have saved the owner a ton of money by signing Judge before the season instead of low-balling him the way they did). Still: The Yankees didn’t add another bat by keeping Judge. They just held on to the biggest stick in the game last season. Now they hope that he doesn’t start heading back to the injury list this season, where he spent an awful lot of time before staying on the field enough to hit 62.
Even if he does stay on the field, however, and has another big year, take a look at the Astros’ core of players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Jeremy Pena, one of the break-out stars of the last postseason and a kid who doesn’t make the Astros miss Carlos Correa even a little bit. Of those five guys, only Altuve is older than 30. If you want to call up the numbers, go ahead, if you want to remind yourself how good that group really is.
The Yankees start off with Capt. Judge, you bet, and that is one great place to start. But who knows what they get out of Anthony Rizzo this season, after he missed more than 30 games last season. Who knows what they get out of DJ LeMahieu, who’s about to turn 35, and who missed 37 games himself last season.
Giancarlo Stanton? He has missed 256 games in the past four seasons. He missed 50 games last season. Is he a wonder to behold, including in October, when he is healthy? He is. Except he never stays healthy for very long. There isn’t a Yankee fan I know who doesn’t love Harrison Bader’s speed, and local-kid back story, and the way he did step up in the playoffs. But even he missed a ton of games last season with plantar fasciitis.
You better believe the Yankees need Bader in center field, and they need him to be a real player for them this season, or last year’s trade deadline — Bader, Frankie Montas — becomes even more of a bust than it already is just because of Montas’ bum shoulder. Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks? Maybe they will shock the world and look like legit players again. More and more, that seems like another front-office fever dream.
We hear a lot about the kids. I can’t wait to see what Oswaldo Cabrera, Oswald Peraza and even the golden child, Anthony Volpe, might do. Maybe Cashman and the others in the front office will see them become core players that Yankee fans were told Gary Sanchez and Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier were supposed to be.
We’ll see about all that.
This is what a great Yankee fan I know, one I quote here from time to time, said in an email about his team the other day:
“You can’t blame us for our lack of trust. We are being fed more and more the party line that Yankee executives are taken aback by their fans’ frustrations with a team that still wins a lot of baseball games year after year after year. And probably will win a lot of games this year too. But the idea that Yankee fans have to have a championship every year is a cop out.
“What Yankee fans would like to see just once for the first time in a long time is their team’s decision makers, led by a general manager who was just awarded a new four-year deal, field a team equal to that of the Astros. It’s still hard to see it happening this year.”
He’s right. Now we wait to see if the 2023 Yankees can prove him wrong. You know what happened last season after 64-28. Counting the end of the regular season and then the postseason, the team’s record was 38-41. You look at what the Yankees have really done since they did get swept by the Astros, what they’ve done to get better, you come up with one name:
The Astros lost Verlander from their rotation, but added another bat in Jose Abreu, who only hit 15 home runs last year, but also had 40 doubles and a .300 batting average. Maybe the Astros don’t win again. But the Astros have nothing to prove. The Yankees do. Again. Now more than ever. Sometimes it feels like they’re the Knicks of the ‘90s and the Astros, way too often, are Michael Jordan.
METS MORE INTERESTING THAN YANKS, NBA ALL-STAR GAME A JOKE & AARON COMES IN FROM THE DARK …
There is no question that the Yankees are always interesting, just because they’re the Yankees, and they never fall out of things the way our other teams do, some of them more frequently than others.
The falling-out-of-things part.
But the Mets are more interesting going into the season.
Doesn’t mean they’ll win more games.
The Yankees went further in the postseason than the Mets did in 2022.
But the Mets as a group — starting with the owner and the manager — are more compelling right now.
They just are.
We know what Judge can do, the whole world just saw.
But the young guy at first for the Mets, Pete Alonso, has hit more home runs than Judge or anybody else in baseball over his first four seasons in the big leagues.
The Mets have Francisco Lindor, as gifted an all-around talent as the Mets have ever had, playing the game fast, with both flair and personality.
They have Verlander and Scherzer.
They have the trumpet guy, Edwin Diaz, as closer, who nearly averaged two strikeouts per inning last season and dominated for one season the way Mo Rivera did for a lot of them.
They have the batting champion, Jeff McNeil, at second.
This is as much a two-team city again as it has been in a long time.
There’s just one demanding more of our attention.
Not the one it used to be, at least for now.
For all of the angst around here about Jalen Brunson not making the All-Star team, how do you think Trae Young felt being snubbed while averaging 27 and 10 for the Hawks?
The Hawks, by the way, should jump on the chance to hire Quin Snyder to be their next coach.
The guys in the flag-football Pro Bowl played harder than the NBA All-Stars did last weekend.
There currently is no more of a joke event, presented as a Big Event, in sports than the NBA All-Star Game.
No wonder television didn’t want the pre-game show to ever end.
My friend Barry Stanton makes a good point about Lamar Jackson, for all of his talent:
He isn’t plug-in-and-play.
There has to be a total commitment to a Lamar-centric offense based on him running.
Or he’s not going to be worth the money he’s asking.
Speaking of money, if my math is correct, Daniel Jones is looking for $3 million dollars for every touchdown pass (15 in all) he threw last season.
Rangers-Royals and Padres-Mariners were both played at right around two-and-a-half hours on Friday, in case you were wondering about the new pitch clock.
I keep asking this question about Aaron Rodgers coming out of that darkness retreat:
If he saw his shadow, did that mean six more weeks of winter?
Having said that?
The Jets still have to go after him.
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