The New York Yankees lost another heartbreaker on Friday night to open up their three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays. This time, the defense couldn't get the job done after the offense finally breathed some life back into the team.
A clutch Harrison Bader three-run homer in the top of the sixth inning tied the game at 4-4, but in the bottom of the seventh left fielder Jake Bauers misplayed a rocket off the bat of Wander Franco (the line drive had a 95% catch probability) and what was ruled a double ended up scoring a run from first.
The Yankees had their chances, but fans know that this group squeezing out four runs is already asking for too much. It's essentially their maximum capacity. Any defensive gaffe almost automatically puts the final nail in the coffin in a situation like this.
That won't stop fans from calling out a new "problem" after every single loss, though. Some complaints are justified. Some are clearly vocalized for scapegoating purposes. It felt like some from Friday night were of the latter category.
Bauers isn't exactly a natural left fielder, but he's played the position dating back to his MLB debut in 2018 (though he's logged most of his games at first base). The lineup thinning due to injuries and the Yankees being forced to play Bauers has nothing to do with the team "neglecting" left field this offseason.
Yankees OF Jake Bauers makes brutal misplay as Rays take series opener
Remember, they weren't done after the Carlos Rodón signing! Just kidding. Jokes aside, this roster's one major flaw didn't need to be addressed with another high-profile move with how everything was set up for 2023.
The outfield was supposed to be Aaron Judge in right, Harrison Bader in center, and a combination of Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera and a veteran who survived spring training with the team roving in left. Not perfect, but also not detrimental (or so we thought). For as much as fans dislike Hicks, nobody was that opposed to having him as the team's fourth outfielder. Everyone knew he was no longer productive, but nobody thought it'd be this bad.
The expectation was for Cabrera to build off of his promising 2022. He wasn't exactly spectacular at the plate, but he showed a desirable mix of power, contact and speed, suggesting he could be a competent lefty bat at the bottom of the order. Unfortunately, the Yankees fell victim to yet another unforeseen slump/regression/backslide.
Giancarlo Stanton was supposed to play "some" outfield. Stanton, Aaron Judge and Harrison Bader getting injured this early took everything off course, which is why we've seen more of Hicks than we'd prefer (as well as Isiah Kiner-Falefa at a pair of positions he's never played). Bauers and Franchy Cordero arrived because of the dire circumstances, not because the Yankees opted to create a left field void.
Did they do the best job at addressing the position? No. But just because everything's gone off the rails doesn't mean this specific miss is an indictment on Brian Cashman's decision making. If any team had 13 players on the IL, you'd start to see some major deficiencies. And if they were planning for a bigger splash at the trade deadline, conventional wisdom suggested they could've weathered the storm for a few months with a below-average platoon in left.
Now, Cashman constructing a roster of oft-injured players? That's something valid to complain about.