Yup, it’s come to this.
Us Yankees-haters are running out of hope as the calendar turns to September. In April and May there was so much for us to be optimistic about. The injuries were coming fast and furious up in the Bronx, plus they still had Aaron Boone at the helm. Surely such a combination would blow up any chance of a 28th title for the Bombers in 2019.
After all, when we’d last seen Boone, he was mismanaging his pitching staff as though he anticipated receiving a Red Sox World Series share, and with one high-priced Yankees star after another taking their turn on the IL this spring, surely Boone would be exposed by the Yanks lack of organizational depth, not to mention their suspect starting pitching.
Not so fast.
We have to give credit where it’s due here, folks. And Boone, in his second year as Yankees skipper, has proven himself to be far more than just a media-savvy (read, self promoting big mouth, who loves seeing himself on camera), players-manager.
In fact, at the risk of throwing too many compliments his way, Boone has shown an impressive ability to balance the competing demands of being the face of his iconic franchise to the ravenous New York media, with rallying his banged up troops around the “next man up” mentality, never allowing excuses to creep into the clubhouse dialogue, even after losing damn near his entire projected Opening Day lineup at one time or another.
I believe I speak on behalf of many a Mets and Red Sox fan, when I say that having to cope with Luke Voigt morphing from an afterthought on a deadline deal no one even noticed last summer, to Johnny Freaking Mize by October was hard enough, but for an encore, we now have to watch this new, bargain basement Murder’s Row emerge. One made up of names like Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela and the inimitable Mike Ford. Yup, sit down Core Four, and step aside Ruth/Gehrig/Lazzeri — the “MGM Grand” is here (thank God John Sterling hasn’t thought of that one yet). It feels like a bunch of quadruple-A spare parts are now leading the Yankees to what appears to be about 108 regular season wins and home field throughout October. Oy vey…
Let’s face it fellow Yankees-haters, those vaunted pinstripes have the potential to breathe life into even the most mundane of marginal major leaguers. Gio Urshela? Put him in a Mets uniform tomorrow and he’s Luis Guillorme. Mike Tauchman? He’s a Juan Lagares knock off. Ford? He’s 2018 Dom Smith. But put these guys in pinstripes in 2019, and they rake; they hit walkoffs; they work deep counts; and they provide all the intangibles championship clubs have to have. In other words, they piss all of us Mets fans the hell off.
And I believe that underdog, “next man up” spirit is one of the reasons Yankee fans are so ecstatic about this year’s crew. This team is bludgeoning the rest of the American League, and doing so with little help from stars like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Voit and Didi Gregorius. And it’s not just the no-names getting it done. Arguably their MVP through August has been D.J. LeMahieu, who signed this spring to be a utility infielder, while perhaps the best shortstop in baseball today, Gleyber Torres, is their starting second baseman.
Don’t even get me started on the fact that all this pinstriped magic is occurring without either their ace, or their perennial All Star setup man, throwing so much as an inning this year. GM Brian Cashman strikes out on finding a starter at the trade deadline? No problem, because in case you hadn’t noticed, Domingo German (Domingo German?) is leading the league in wins. And Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and James Paxton have all shown signs of getting their acts together just as the summer doldrums give way to fall baseball. Give me an effin’ break already, would ya?
What’s a Yankee-hater to do?
Well, how about we root for a return to full health up in the Bronx? We’ve all heard the old expression “that’s a good problem to have.” Well, the only chance us haters may have is if we saddle Boonie with a roster full of problems in the form of too many talented riches to sort through, as he begins to turn his attention to potential October lineups.
And that means we begin with Giancarlo Stanton.
Let’s go, baseball gods, get Stanton back on the field, pronto! And while you’re at it, throw Aaron Hicks back out there, too. And let’s keep Voit and Brett Gardner healthy, and…
You get the idea. We need Aaron Boone to make some bad choices that rob the Yanks of their underdog mojo just as the level of competition moves up a weight class during the month of October.
Because if Stanton and Hicks are in there, then Tauchman isn’t. And probably not Gardner, either, because Judge isn’t budging from his place in right field. Yup, I know, we are arguing for a team on pace to lead the AL in wins to add a former MVP to the mix, along with their leadoff man from a year ago. And hoping that by doing so, thus removing the legendary Mike Tauchman from the Yanks lineup, disaster may strike.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the only sliver of hope out there for a pinstripe collapse seems to be a couple of drops of poison falling into this steaming cauldron of positive team chemistry that Boone has concocted over the season’s first five months. A healthy return from Stanton and Hicks could prove to be that poison.
Here’s hoping Stanton’s rust is exposed as he rushes himself back into the lineup. The big guy’s as human as anyone, and it’s got to eat at him that he’s missing out on the feel-good party going on up in the Bronx, especially since he was treated so shabbily by the fans last fall when the Yanks bowed out to Boston.
So Stanton rushes back, over-swinging at a steady diet of breaking balls in an effort to justify his value and secure his spot in the postseason batting order at the expense of one of the heroic nobodies that have captured the affection of the fans. Those very guys that have provided clutch hit after clutch hit, moved along runners, hit the cutoff man, and demonstrated what winning baseball looks like. Yeah, those glue guys will be the ones sitting while Stanton starts out 2 for 37 trying to get his timing back. And then we sit back and we wait. Wait for those impatient Bronx boo-birds to begin to let their opinions be heard.
Meanwhile, returning Hicks to center puts fan fave and elder statesman Gardie (and his tiresome dugout ceiling rat-a-tat-tat routine) in mothballs at the end of the Yankees bench. You think Hicks may be feeling a little heat from that big contract he signed only minutes before wrenching his back during spring training?
If Hicks becomes an easy out at the top of the order and Stanton a K-machine in the middle, the heavy lifting (and accompanying pressure) will fall to Judge and Sanchez, who have been only so-so contributors to this 2019 juggernaut, at least in comparison to their career bests, not to mention fan expectations. That could spell even more K’s in the middle of the Bombers’ order, with the Indians or A’s heading to town for the beginning of the ALDS.
(Okay, I’m starting to get excited now.)
Then the onus is back on Boonie’s shoulders to sort it all out. Will he have the courage to sit the big paycheck guys if their performance lags, and go with the no-names that have seized the imagination of Yankees fans with their team-first play this year? And figuring out who plays will only be part of Boone’s October dilemma. He’s still going to need to up his game in the strategic decision department, when he no longer has the luxury of fattening up against the Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers and Royals once the postseason commences.
Do Yankees fans really trust Boone’s in-game management prowess to make the right moves when every at-bat matters against the Indians/A’s and then the Astros?
Yes, fellow haters, we need to embrace this contrarian approach and root for a complete return to health by the Yankees roster. Everyone off the IL. A desperate strategy without question, but right now this Bronx Bombers train appears Canyon of Heroes bound, so no stone can be left unturned.
We must band together in the hope that Boone’s penchant for over-managing, coupled with a short-sighted choice of “big name” over “character guy” will come back to haunt him. Because if not, momentum seems to be building for title number 28, and with the overall youth of this club, 2019 could be the beginning of a Yankees run much like the one that tortured me the entire decade of my 30’s — those dark years between 1995 and 2004.
C’mon Boonie — get your boys back and then blow this all sky high for the rest of us. We are counting on you!