When this current iteration of the Yankees is flailing, it can be difficult to diagnose the biggest all-caps “problem” with the roster.
Typically, fans knee-jerk to either pitching depth (because it’s always pitching) or the offense’s propensity to be boom-or-bust. But a boom-or-bust offense is … sort of just how modern baseball works, and the Yanks have more pop and lower variance than many (worse) teams, and this year’s pitching hasn’t been a pain point at all, really.
So, what’s driving the team’s propensity to create a deep valley seemingly seconds after reaching their peak? What’s prompting New York’s complete inability to get out of their own way? As best as we can diagnose it, the organization’s two biggest problems are intentional, woven into the fabric of the way they operate.
By design, the Yankees punt away winnable games before they’ve been lost in order to prepare for the next fight. And by design, New York’s braintrust is far too proud to ever cut bait on a mistake, preferring instead to waste precious roster spots on problems that they believe they’re a day away from fixing.
After the team’s most recent feckless loss after facing a middling deficit, this stat leaked, which laid bare the depressing reality in which we’re operating. Down 4+ runs? The Yankees will lose, and it’s often a choice. That’s a culture issue, and it’s very much defined the Aaron Boone Era.
The Yankees seem ready, willing and able to throw away winnable games. That’s the Aaron Boone Era.
Now, this is not an indictment on the way Monday’s loss to the Blue Jays was handled. Without Chad Green available and after a stressful bullpen-wasting series against the (shudders) Baltimore Orioles, there was very little reason to justify the insertion of a high-leverage reliever down three runs entering the ninth.
But the reason there was no reason to justify such a move is because the Yankees have made surrendering such games an intrinsic part of their culture. In fact, they had probably mentally waved a white flag when the third run crossed in the top of the seventh.
Other fan bases don’t accept this. Yankee fans, after watching this team play from 2018-to-present, have already girded themselves for the inevitable. We nod acceptingly when two or three essential players are benched during a big series. They need their rest, of course. We mark the names down in our scorebook when Brooks Kriske enters in a theoretically tight game, resigned to the fact that three runs is two runs too many, even as the Rays and Red Sox trade haymakers a few hundred miles down the road at Fenway Park.
Oh, and Kriske. Right. Other teams would’ve cut bait on him a long, long time ago. The Yankees see something in his league-average fastball and predictable splitter, though, and see no reason to make any alterations to their preseason 40-man roster projection, despite mounting evidence that he … doesn’t have it.
And so, down three runs against the team chasing them down in the Wild Card standings, the Yankees stubbornly used Kriske to immediately make it four, rendering a comeback moot, according to the data.
We may never know who’s pulling Boone’s strings, but he’s certainly become a figurehead for the Yankees’ ever-rigid plan and willingness to give up the fight at a certain point in order to play for several days down the road.
In several days, though, this near-playoff lock may be on the outside looking in yet again. Good teams fight. Playoff teams fight. The Yankees, after facing a four-run deficit, literally haven’t fought all the way back once in 2021. It’s the foremost symptom of the disease they willingly contracted years ago.