Like many of you, I am surprised and elated at how well the Yankees have played over the last several weeks. No one saw this coming.
Personally, I envisioned the team heading in the opposite direction and towards a disappointing season due to underperformance by the players.
Instead, the Yanks are well above .500, still several games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East and but narrowing the gap significantly on the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics for a Wild Card berth in the playoffs.
In my opinion, two profound turning points primarily explain the team’s astonishing metamorphosis and turnaround.
The debacle at Fenway Park we would rather forget
First, following a thrilling comeback victory on Saturday, July 24 against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Domingo German took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in the game played the next day. At the time, the Yanks were seemingly comfortably ahead by four runs.
Unexpectedly, all hell broke loose. In the bottom of the eighth inning, German gave up a leadoff double to Alex Verdugo. Normally dependable relievers Jonathan Loaisiga and Zack Britton then proceeded to give up big hits in succession and, before we knew it, the Boys in Pinstripes had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and lost the game 5-4. It was a crushing loss.
For Yankee fans, this was the kind of punch in the stomach where you lose your breath for several seconds. Dan Martin of the New York Post summed it up well when he wrote, “Even for the Yankees, this one was a beauty.” The players were understandably mortified and downright angry about what happened, as they should be.
The loss put the Bombers at rock bottom; no, below rock bottom. The horrendous collapse meant that the Boys from the Bronx lost three of four in their series with the Red Sox (a series they should have easily won 3-1) and put the team nine games behind Boston for first place in the AL East.
This deeply-felt painful loss, followed by blistering comments by the press (even by New York standards), had a profound psychological effect on the Yanks and pushed the players’ self-confidence and morale to the brink of no return.
Yet, against all odds, the players rallied and began to turn things around. Demonstrating a high level of resilience few of us knew they were capable of, the Yankees sucked it up, rebounded, and all of sudden began playing extraordinary well and winning games.
The addition of Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo
Second, immediately following the gut-wrenching loss to the Red Sox, GM Brian Cashman acquired Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo before the July 30 trade deadline. Both players wasted no time elevating the team’s level of play and helping to produce victories on the diamond.
The addition of these two lefty bats to a lineup we all knew was overwhelmingly right-handed, and the surprising play of minor league replacements, energized the Yanks. Cashman’s savvy moves showed the players that the organization really does care about them and the team’s success.
All of a sudden, everyone began mashing and slashing, hustling, stealing bases, throwing runners out, and making spectacular plays in the field. Fans began to ask, “Wow, who are these guys?” The Yanks are now a new team, and they have been playing consistently at a high level.
Can the Yankees bottle the magic?
At this point, one can’t help but ask, is the current success an aberration, or can the Bombers continue to play well until reaching the finish line this season?
Of course, the COVID cases among the Yanks are definitely something to worry about. The virus has forced the removal of a number of essential players for substantial amounts of time. Also, injuries and stints on the IL, Gleybor Torres being the latest fallen soldier, can be obstacles to winning.
Against the odds, though, manager Aaron Boone has somehow effectively juggled the lineup and pitching staff to minimize the absence of the virus-infected players. Also, the Yankee minor-league pups have stepped up and performed admirably, especially filling holes in the pitching staff. Luis Gil, for example, has been terrific as a fill-in starter, so much so that he may have pitched his way into the starting rotation.
The successful effort to bring left-handed batters in the lineup has made the Yanks a more formidable opponent. In addition to hitting well, the presence of left-handed hitters is wreaking havoc with opposing pitching staffs and will likely continue to do so for the remainder of the season. The recent Bombers series against a solid Seattle Mariners team highlighted the substantial advantage of having lineup diversity.
This is a structural roster change, and its positive contributions should continue for the remainder of the season.
Also, we can see that the team is now playing with a lot more confidence, aggressiveness, and swagger. Yes, there still is the problem of not hitting with runners in scoring position. But this appears to be less of an issue compared to earlier in the season.
The team’s overall psychology has changed, and there is no returning to that fateful, nightmarish loss to the Red Sox on July 25. The “take no prisoners” mindset is here to stay.
Bomber fans, say hello to the new New York Yankees and goodbye to the old team. They now have their mojo back. Given the remarkable level of play we have seen thus far, it may very well be the Yanks’ year to reach the World Series. And wouldn’t that be nice?
The work is far from done, but the flipped script appears to be sustainable.