This year, New York has experienced quite an unusual baseball season.
Yoenis Cespedes as well as the New York Mets are N.L. East champs, and the New York Yankees are set to make the playoffs too, but for the first time without a Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte or Posada since 1981.
As 2015 began, both teams and their fanbases expected things to go very differently. The Mets were only looking to stay competitive and set themselves up for greater success in 2016 and beyond. In fact, a Wild Card berth seemed to be a reach for them. The plan was to simply rely on their young pitching staff and hope for the best.
For probably the first time in history, the Yankees’ expectations were not that much higher. Lackluster offseason moves and a heavy reliance on injury-prone aging veterans seemed to point to a third-straight playoff-less season. However, with solid prospects in the farm system and newly acquired youngsters like Nathan Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius, there was hope for the future. Just not for the present.
There’s no need to explain what has happened since then, but I will anyway. The Mets started out hot, were then ravaged by injuries, and completely fell apart in July. It took the near trade of Wilmer Flores and the actual completed trades for Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Cespedes to jumpstart their lineup and retake the division lead from the Washington Nationals. To really put the icing on the cake, captain David Wright, diagnosed with career-threatening spinal stenosis in May, returned in late August and the team never looked back.
Focusing on the Yankees, their season has been as episodic as C.S.I.: Any Of Them. At one point, with under-grown mustaches and a fully healthy team, the Yankees looked like world-beaters. Then, with the smoothest upper-lips in the game, they crashed back to earth and lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Miller to lengthy injuries in the process.
Not to be outdone, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Carlos Beltran each spent weeks on the DL as well. Mark Teixeira, at one point receiving legitimate MVP consideration, fouled a ball off of his shin on August 17th and fractured his leg, ending his season. Most recently, fireballer Nathan Eovaldi was shut down for the remainder of the regular season with elbow inflammation.
Adding insult to literal injury, the Yankees lineup has been one of the most frustratingly inconsistent groups of hitters in recent memory. Though second in runs and third in home runs, the team has continually gone through extreme hot and cold streaks, winning and losing games solely due to their offensive output. Not to mention Stephen Drew, who is still a thing.
Their starting pitching, though depleted by injuries, has been reliable all year, but the once lockdown bullpen has faltered of late. Top relievers Miller, Dellin Betances and Chasen Shreve have battled serious fatigue, and manager Joe Girardi has had to rely upon his B-squad (or worse) to get through the middle of absolutely destructive lineups in the late innings of close games. To the surprise of no one, that’s rarely gone well.
Despite all of that apparent terribleness, the Yankees sit comfortably atop the A.L. Wild Card standings and can clinch their first playoff berth since 2012 as early as tomorrow. They currently would host the free-falling, anemic road team in the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium in the play-in game. The team is about to pop champagne and embark on a not-so-impossible journey to their 28th World Series championship.
Of course, the Yankees and their fans have been understandably blinded by the Toronto Blue Jays and their overtaking of the A.L. East lead from New York in August. Their deadline deals for Troy Tulowitzki and David Price catapulted them to the top, as they’ve played historically hot baseball since August 1st (35-14).
To me, it appears that the Yankees losing the division lead to the Jays but not falling too far back made it seem as if it was still their division to win, when it was clearly Toronto’s. So now that they’ve fallen short and will have to “settle” for the Wild Card, it feels as if they’ve lost something and fans are disappointed and upset, when really, they should be as excited and hopeful as ever.
Not only are the Yankees making the playoffs for the first time in two years, but all of the positives the team has had are really, really positive. Forty-year-old Alex Rodriguez has 32 home runs and 84 RBI with a team-high .355 OBP. Brian McCann has put up Berra-esque numbers behind the plate. Gregorius, thought to be a defense-first shortstop with minimal ability at the plate, has hit .285 since the beginning of June. And after a terrible April, Beltran is hitting .294 since May with 18 home runs and 32 doubles.
When healthy and rested, the players previously mentioned have had terrific years as well. Miller has been as great of a closer in the regular season as Mariano Rivera ever was, and Betances has probably struck out the side a few times since I started writing this piece. Tanaka has been fantastic, Pineda sports a respectable 3.99 ERA in 25 starts, and even Sabathia has turned it around with a 3.03 ERA in his last eight starts.
Their farm system has seen tremendous growth, with top prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird not only making their Major League debuts, but being key producers in the Yankees’ second-half. Bird has served as a perfect replacement for Teixeira in the lineup, hitting for power and playing above-average defense at first base. Severino has served as the Yankees’ equivalent to a glitzy acquisition at the deadline, pitching to a 3.10 ERA in 49.1 innings.
Overall, the Yankees have been undoubtedly inconsistent and have driven fans insane this year. Yet when they are at their best, they can beat the creme de la creme of the American League. They’ll have a chance to do exactly that this October, and that is more than any Yankee fan could have expected last spring.