Slumping Yankees’ most fearsome opponent remains themselves

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 27: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees at bat against the Boston Red Sox during the third inning at Fenway Park on June 27, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 27: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees at bat against the Boston Red Sox during the third inning at Fenway Park on June 27, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

There is no rhyme nor reason to the 2021 New York Yankees.

Going into the second half, the Yankees were 46-43 and seemed close to buried in the AL playoff picture.

They then proceeded to go 30-9 and looked not just like a lock for a playoff spot, but seemed like a shouting-distance contender for the AL East title.

A 39-game sample is not insignificant. It was easy to believe that, finally, a team that was the favorite to represent the American League entering the season was reaching their potential going into September.

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Since then, the Yankees have given back so much in such little time.

A dreadful 2-9 stretch coinciding with two series against teams long since removed from playoff contention has dashed any sense of having finally turned a corner.

The Yankees’ fiercest enemy? Their own success.

That sums up the Yankees’ season beautifully. When they win, they look as if they may never lose again. When their game-breakers like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are mashing baseballs harder than any duo in the major leagues, how can an observer not begin to believe in the possibility of this team achieving something great?

They excelled while starters like Gio Urshela, Gleyber Torres, Corey Kluber, and Gary Sanchez all missed time — not to mention the COVID outbreak in early August (thanks, Florida) that sidelined Judge, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rizzo, and Jordan Montgomery for a couple of weeks.

None of these issues slowed them down, as they dominated teams with a refreshing new brand of baseball that was a massive departure form their “three true outcomes” strategy that frustrated fans to no end during their mediocre first half of the season.

Feel-good stories like Andrew Velazquez coincided with the rejuvenation of Tyler Wade, while young phenom Luis Gil arrived on the scene with electric stuff and tremendous results. How could they look back from there?

After two losses ended a four-game set in Oakland with a split, the Yankees had a nice little landing spot to begin a new winning streak: three games in Anaheim, followed by the dreadful Baltimore Orioles in the Bronx. They were only two days removed from a 13-game win streak and had reinforcements like Urshela and Torres coming back.

Instead, the Yankees completely reverted to the version of themselves that had been so maddening for the first half of the season. What the last week or so has shown is that the Yankees’ opponent on any given night is irrelevant. When they play well, they can and do beat anyone. When they are in a funk, as they are right now, they can make even the 2021 Orioles look like a perfectly competent team.

Ironically, the Yankees, as a team, get results in a way that mirrors their “closer” Aroldis Chapman. When Chapman is on, he is nearly impossible to beat. The quality of the batter does not matter, but only whether or not Chapman is locating his pitches. When he does not have that command, it is nearly impossible for him to nail down a save, no matter who comes up to face him at the plate.

The Rays went 18-1 against the Orioles this season. As most playoff contenders do, they buried a team they were significantly more talented than. The Yankees are now a comparatively weak 9-7 against Baltimore after dropping a series at home against them last weekend. This leaves the Yankees nearing 10 games back of Tampa. It is easy to see where the disparity between the two teams lies.

It is hard to fathom how a team can be as streaky as the New York Yankees have been this year. Now, two of the players who have found some consistency among this inconsistent bunch, Gerrit Cole and Jonathan Loaisiga, are out indefinitely. Fortunately (?) for the Yankees, it does not seem to matter who is active and who is not; they will either win or they won’t, and no one will really know what makes them click.