Yanks Off the Mat

The 2021 Yankees season should have a surgeon’s general warning attached to it. It’s almost a guarantee every night that the Yankees will play a game that comes down to the wire.
I was shocked to find out that the Yankees are actually 19-12 in one-run games this season. After all, we’ve all watched the Yankees this season right?
I’ve legitimately lost count when it comes to the amount of excruciating and gut-wrenching defeats, especially at the hands of the bullpen, over the last two months.
In the Field of Dreams game on Thursday night, the Yankees suffered another back-breaking loss in the middle of a cornfield to the White Sox.
The dramatics of Giancarlo Stanton’s two-out, ninth-inning go-ahead home run were vanquished within ten minutes when White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson returned the favor in the bottom half of the inning.
After Thursday night, I legitimately wondered how many more of these losses the Yankees could withstand the rest of this season.
After all, they’ve had at least eight-to-ten losses this year when it was totally fair to wonder if the team and its players would be able to recover.
However, there’s one thing that shouldn’t be questioned when it comes to the 2021 Yankees: the team gets off the mat and responds.
Look at this weekend for instance.
The Yankees lost a heartbreaking game to one of the most talented teams in the American League. They had every reason to whine, allow it to linger in the Windy City, and lead to an extended funk, but the team did the exact opposite.
The Yankees survived a bullpen meltdown on Saturday and a near meltdown on Sunday, but won the series against Chicago.
A Yankees team dealing with a ton of injuries and COVID has put together the best record in the AL in the second half of the season.
I have been very critical of Yankees manager Aaron Boone throughout the season, but he deserves a ton of credit for keeping this team together.
I am officially done when it comes to counting the 2021 Yankees out after a bad loss. Despite their flaws, the team has shown a whole lot of resilience.
But can that resilience propel the Yankees into the month of October? The answer in the middle of August is drastically different from what it would have been one month ago. If you’re a Yankees fan, that is a good thing.
It’s time to finish the job.

You can listen to my podcast “New York, New York” on The Ringer Podcast Network every Sunday Night, Wednesday Early Morning & Friday Early Morning on Spotify & Apple Podcasts. 

Half-Full or Empty?

Let’s get this out of the way right now, the Mets had a terrible weekend.
They lost two out of three games to a dismal Pirates team, and if not for a ninth inning comeback on Sunday, it would have been three straight.
The Mets played poorly, their closer Edwin Diaz can’t get anybody out, and the kicker? Jacob deGrom and Francisco Lindor landed on the injured list.
What a way to start the second half!
Right out of the gate, the resiliency that has been a hallmark of the 2021 squad is being put to the test.
I’ve wondered something about this team all year. Are the Mets simply a product of a mediocre division, or are the Mets a much more talented and better team than the record would indicate?
I think it’s a combination of both.
There is no question that the Mets have taken advantage of the mediocrity of the National League East. It’s a division that has been far worse than anyone could have possibly imagined going into the start of the season.
However, it doesn’t mean you apologize for being in first place.
On the flip side, I do believe that the Mets can reach a much higher level of play. Offensively, they’ve come nowhere close to realizing their peak potential.
I’ve been encouraged by the quality at-bats of Michael Conforto and Dom Smith, and expect both to have quality second halves.
I also expect this new ownership group to go the extra mile trying to improve the ball club at the July 31st trade deadline.
Will the Mets add a starter, a bat or both? That remains to be seen, however I would be very surprised if the team decided to stay idle.
The Mets depth will once again be tested in the absence of deGrom and Lindor, and they have allowed some of the other teams in the division to hang around, but there’s still some good news.
The hallmark of the 2021 Mets is resilience. After Saturday’s bullpen meltdown, the Mets rallied offensively in a big way on both Sunday and Monday.
The Mets have a lot of fight in them. It’s commendable, and they’ll need it throughout the second half.

You can listen to my podcast “New York, New York” on the Ringer Podcast Network on Spotify and Apple Podcasts every Sunday Night, Wednesday & Friday early mornings.

The Broken Yankees

After the Yankees were humiliated by the Detroit Tigers right before Memorial Day, the entire team stressed the urgency of their most recent home stand.
Four games with the Tampa Bay Rays and three games with the Boston Red Sox.
To say the Yankees failed miserably doesn’t even do justice to what we watched last week at Yankee Stadium.
The performance of the team goes beyond the 2-5 performance over the seven games.
It’s obvious to anyone watching the first two months of the year that there is a simple truth regarding the Yankees: they are broken.
It’s funny to think about the 2021 Yankees being the Vegas frontrunner to win the American League.
Vegas assumed, like I did, that this would be a Yankee team that would be able to score a whole lot of runs and hit the ball out of the park pretty consistently.
But two-plus months into the year, the Yankees are dead last in the American League in runs scored.
Look up and down the lineup, and aside from Aaron Judge, where is the production?
There are plenty of guys underperforming. Who in their wildest dreams could have imagined DJ LeMahieu’s start to this year.?
The Machine has turned into the ground-ball machine and has been a shell of the player he was in 2019 and 2020.
He is not alone though, because the overall construction of the Yankee lineup is flawed. They are too right-handed and too reliant on the home run, which they are not hitting.
This lineup loves to do two things especially well: strikeout and hit into double plays.
They have also been an insanely sloppy team. They lead baseball in getting thrown out on the base paths. They play terrible defense and make way too many mental mistakes.
The sloppy play falls at the feet of manager Aaron Boone. Boone is a likable guy, but sadly his team has reflected his personality, and not in a good way.
The Yankees continue to make the same mental mistakes over and over again, and there is a major lack of accountability from their leader. Boone’s nice-guy act and constant cliche’s postgame have become a tired act.
Meanwhile, the difference in the Boston Red Sox from a year ago was on full display over the weekend.
The biggest reason for the Sox turnaround is Alex Cora returning to manage the team. He’s given them instant credibility, and they are back to playing a winning-brand of baseball since his arrival.
I see the impact that Cora has had on the Red Sox, and it’s the opposite with Boone and the Yankees.
With Boone in the final year of his contract, his seat could not be any hotter going into the summer months.
But the scrutiny shouldn’t stop with Boone. Longtime general manager Brian Cashman must take responsibility for the flaws with this team and the way it has been built.
The Yankees had a championship window starting in 2017 after a feel-good regular season and a surprise trip to Game 7 of the ALCS. Four years later, the Yankees seem further away from a championship.
Sure, there’s a lot of baseball left, and yes things can change.
But the Yankees are in a stage of development where they should be “World Series or Bust” mode.
This was supposed to be a down year for the American League, the Yankees time to capitalize. They’ve done nothing but fizzle and disappoint.
If it’s more of the same over the next four months, wholesale changes up and down the organization are needed.
For now, we’ll see if Cashman, Boone and the Yankees can put the pieces back together.

You can listen to my podcast New York, New York every Sunday, Tuesday & Thursday night on The Ringer Podcast Network on Spotify & Apple Podcasts.

Using House Money

The last two decades haven’t exactly been a whole lot of fun if you are a fan of the New York Knicks.
Plenty of dysfunction combined with a whole lot of losing put the franchise in a predicament going into the 2020-2021 season, where the bar was set perhaps at an all-time low.
The Knicks season win total in Vegas for a 70-plus game season was in the low 20’s and expectations were minimal.
Well, a lot has changed in a year.
The Knicks hired Tom Thibodeau last summer, and in many ways he’s the true architect of this remarkable franchise turnaround.
Coach Thibs established a culture, and his players bought. It became obvious very early in the season that this team was not going to be the Same Old Knicks.
The Knicks compete nightly. The players have taken on the personality of their hardworking head coach.
Team MVP Julius Randle put together an All-Star season and the best of his professional career. RJ Barrett made a gigantic leap from a solid rookie season to an even better second year.
The professionalism of Derrick Rose combined with the shot-making ability of Immanuel Quickley and Alec Burks has provided much needed competence in the back court.
The fact that you can pinpoint the growth and development of multiple players on the roster throughout the season speaks volumes to the job the coaching staff has done.
The Knicks defense has been the calling card of this team all season, but look at the improvements regarding ball movement and three-point shooting.
The improved offensive play has been the catalyst to their incredible surge over the final 20 games of the season.
The Knicks finished 10 games over .500 and will host a playoff series. Who in their right mind could have imagined that before the start of the season?
Up first in round one this weekend is the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks bring two specific challenges to the table: the shooting skills of guard Trey Young and the size of Clint Capela and John Collins.
Atlanta has been a red-hot team in the second half of the season and played much better under interim head coach Nate McMillian.
The Knicks must be able to neutralize Young and control the pace in order to win this series. It’s a manageable ask.
Of the potential first-round opponents, Atlanta is by far and away the most winnable series for the Knicks.
Vegas says it’s basically a pick‘em series.
I’ll take the playoff-tested head coach and the team with home-court advantage to keep the feel-good ride going.
My money is on, yes, the Knicks in six.

You can listen to my NEW Podcast on all things NY Sports “New York, New York” on The Ringer. Download and subscribe on Spotify, Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.

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