For the second straight year and third time in the last four years, the Yankees are hosting the American League Wild Card Game. This version of the Yankees is different from the other two.
The 2015 team backed into the playoffs riding the corpses of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. The 2017 squad was the rebuilding team that wasn’t supposed to make the playoffs but shocked everyone and went deep into the postseason. This year, though? Things are different.
Many picked this team to win the division outright. Many picked them as the AL representative in the World Series. Getting within one game of the World Series and adding Giancarlo Stanton does wonders for a team’s expectations. So why are the Yankees playing the Wild Card Game instead of awaiting the winner of said game?
Are they simply “the worst, most frustrating, second-best team of all time?” At times, it has honestly felt like that. For some reason, this season has felt like it’s dragged on forever. Do you remember that guy who bragged about sneaking into expensive seats and then got upset because he was banned for doing so? Do you remember that was actually this year? That felt so long ago compared to where we are now.
This season that didn’t want to end was also incredibly frustrating. Offensive ineptitude constantly reared its ugly head. I dreaded seeing the Yankees load the bases on offense with nobody out. Shane Robinson played 25 games, which is about 30 games too many. We got to re-read the “why Austin Romine should be the starting catcher” story while Romine himself put on repeat performances of “this is why Gary Sanchez exists.”
The funniest part about all of this is that we’re talking about a team that won 100 games. The Yankees ended the season with the third best record in baseball and it just didn’t feel like enough. 100 wins is their best record since 2009 and for some reason only the faults are visible. There are two major contributing factors for that.
First off, and most importantly, are the Boston Red Sox. Last year the Red Sox won the division but looked flat as they were bounced early from the playoffs. It was no surprise why the Yankees were the favorite to win the division. However, signing J.D. Martinez and having Mookie Betts come alive and do Mookie Betts things propelled them to not just the AL East title, but the most wins in their franchise’s history. The Bombers had to chase a team that was playing out of its mind with two MVP candidates.
Boston’s success directly caused the second source of frustration: tomorrow night’s Wild Card Game. The Wild Card Game is everything that baseball is not. It is chaos. Baseball isn’t meant to be decided in one game. In any sport anything can go wrong at any moment, but in baseball especially. It is beautiful and it is horrifying. And nothing will make me feel comfortable tomorrow until that 27th out.
When that 27th out happens if the Athletics have the lead, will the Yankees’ season be a failure?
Having such high expectations entering the season and then getting bounced so early can certainly be considered a failure, but not in these circumstances.
I’ll say it again, the Yankees won 100 games. That’s a huge accomplishment in and of itself. They broke MLB’s single season team home run record along the way. They have two legitimate Rookie of the Year candidates on their team. They’re a young team comprised of homegrown talent that us fans could only dream of in the dark days of 2013-2014.
They accomplished all that with Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird among others missing significant time along the way. They overcame Sanchez’s regression in all aspects of his game. They overcame Bird forgetting how to fly. They overcame Luis Severino going from one of the best pitchers in baseball to one of the worst in a matter of weeks. They overcame all of that and still won 100 games. That’s a failure?
My first post for Pinstripe Alley ever questioned Yankees fans and their “World Series or bust” mentality. I argued that after a couple down seasons it was okay to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
In 2016 a lot of fans accepted the Yankees as “sellers” and “rebuilders” for the first time ever, mainly because of the potential of the return. In less than a year though, that rebuild was over and they went back to being contenders. This team and organization is different than 2015.
World Series aspirations for this version of the Yankees just come naturally. They accomplished a lot, overcame plenty, made the playoffs, and once again for those in the back: they won 100 games. That’s a success. Success leads to expectations. Therein lies the problem.
If they get bounced because of how weird baseball can get especially in the microcosm of a one-game season, it’s not a failed season. Blame the system that allows this. I’ve been advocating for a better playoff-system based on record for a while now, but I won’t pretend to have the specifics of a perfect system. I just know that some change needs to happen.
It also sucks that they didn’t win the division, but they were chasing a team that was outrageously good. My solace is that the Red Sox playing out of their mind got them that far, the Yankees simply being “very good” got them to win 100 games. Imagine if the Yankees untapped that potential in October?
It won’t be easy, but they have the talent up and down the roster to get through the Wild Card game and carry them throughout the playoffs. But they may not be able to because one AL East team was great and the system faulted the Bombers for “just” being very good. Winter for the Yankees could begin Thursday night and that would absolutely be horrible and anger-inducing.
It would absolutely be disappointing if we only get to see the Yankees play one game in October. Disappointment and failure are two separate things, though. No matter what happens tomorrow night, the 2018 season should be considered a success for the Yankees.