Let’s not kid ourselves: the New York Yankees look terrible right now. Actually, to be more specific, the New York Yankees offense looks terrible right now. Not Kansas City Royals terrible. Not even Seattle Mariners terrible. No, they look like a team that just came up from AA and have never faced a major league pitcher before. There is no denying this fact – even the most optimistic among us (a disposition that I generally espouse in matters pertaining to the Yankees) will admit that the Yankees offense has been downright disgusting in the playoffs so far.
It is natural – in fact, I would argue that it is an unavoidable and innately human characteristic – to assume that patterns that we see in the world will continue, that what has been true yesterday and the day before and the day before that, will continue to be true tomorrow and so on. Given this disposition that we all share, we may be tempted to, given the aforementioned terrible-ness of the Yankees offense, assume that the Yankees will continue to strike out, choke, and lose games as they did this weekend, and promptly get eliminated from the playoffs before you can even say “A-Rod sucks”.
There are two core problems with that assumption, though:
1. The Yankees, at the end of the regular season, despite facing constant pressure from the Orioles, criticism/anger from the fans, and back-breaking injuries, managed to never surrender their division and continuously remained resilient in the face of adversity.
2. You can’t predict baseball.
With regards to point number one: on September 3rd, the Orioles won and the Yankees lost, leaving the former only one game back from the latter. For the next month exactly, the Orioles never fell below 1.5 games back of the Yankees (except on the last day of the season). But they also never gained sole possession of first place. The Yankees, despite key injuries to Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, never once gave up the division lead.
Now a lot of that was just good luck. The Yankees had many opportunities to widen their lead and failed, and a plethora of factors that are out of their control could have caused them to surrender their lead. But when we remove all the noise and randomness, we see a team that had cold streaks, but never let those cold streaks last so long as to cripple their chances at the playoffs.
This Yankees team was and is nowhere near perfect, but they always bounced back when fans thought that they were done. This team, despite being the constant favorite to win, despite being the highest-paid team in baseball and one of the most talented, defied expectations by winning the division because it seemed like they were on the brink of falling apart so many times.
That brings me to my second point: you can’t – in spite of the multitudes of numbers and data, in spite of the confidently angry statements made by hundreds of thousands of fans regarding the Yankees’ chances, in spite of how terrible the Yankees have looked – you cannot predict baseball.
Here’s one example of this point: the Yankees could easily – I say easily - be up 2-0 in this series. Move Cano’s line drive off of Fister two inches to the left in Game 1, and the Yankees win. With a correct call by the ump yesterday and a good throw by Cano on the double play ball in the 8th, the Yankees may have very well won Game 2. These are things that you cannot predict, that no one could possibly have predicted. Yet they happened, the Yankees lost the first two games.
But maybe the tides will turn in the rest of the series. Maybe the Yankees get some fortunate calls from the umps. Maybe the bats wake up. Maybe Verlander gets shelled. Maybe line drives and ground balls find holes instead of gloves. As seemingly improbable as all these things are, not only are they possible, but it’s almost impossible to tell just how possible they are.
In baseball, and unlike the rest of the world, the past very often says nothing about the future. A player can hit .545 in the last 10 games of the regular season, then set a postseason hitless streak record. A team can have the best offense in baseball, then completely fall apart in the playoffs. A 40-year-old mediocre DH can be a postseason hero. These things have happened this postseason, and they seemed unlikely to happen at the time. So given that seemingly unlikely things happen constantly in baseball, why think that they can’t happen again?
Maybe the Yankees lose the rest of the games in the same way they lost the first two. Maybe they lose in a worse way. These things are possible, and wouldn’t be surprising. But nor should it be surprising if they score 10 runs tomorrow, led by huge performances by A-Rod, Swisher, Cano, and Granderson. Why? Because the Yankees have been in this situation before, when momentum is not on their side, when fans are disgusted in them and the future looks grim – and they pulled through.
Why else? Because you can’t predict baseball. And don’t you forget it.