A little over a week ago I wrote a post extolling the virtues of Edwin Encarnacion, fresh off a thrilling ALDS victory over the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees were rolling, Edwin was a big part of that, and their prospective ALCS opponents were locked in what would be a five-game series, seemingly giving the AL East champions the advantage of rest.
I’m writing this late Thursday night - or early Friday morning for you East Coasters - as the Yankees are faced with the win-or-go-home Game Five against the Astros. Edwin had been a key cog in the offensive rout of the Twins in the ALDS with two big doubles in the three games, but so far against Houston he’s been awful quiet, with just one hit, three times as many strikeouts as walks, and was a symbol of the Yankees’ ineptitude with the stick, going down when Gerrit Cole was on the ropes in Game Three, and hitless in a pivotal Game Four loss.
Encarnacion certainly isn’t the only Yankee to have a bad series. Gio Urshela is nonexistent, Didi Gregorius has been an afterthought, and aside from a home run in Game Three, Gary Sanchez has been MIA. All of those guys have been solidly in the bottom half of the lineup though, whereas EE was the cleanup man in the first two games of the series before being bumped to the fifth spot. Lineup configuration may not matter that much statistically, but it certainly affects the optics of your performance.
All of this comes on the heels of a great ALDS, where Encarnacion looked as locked in as ever. What made his performance against the Twins even more remarkable was that he had no rehab games coming off an IL stint - simulated games in the days off before the series started were the only tuneup he got.
In his very first taste of game action, Eddie ripped a double in ALDS Game One, and from there played a key role in the Yankees’ sweep of the Twins. In those three first-round games EE was third on the team in Championship Win Probability Added, meaning he wasn’t just good, he was good when it counted.
Now it’s a new round, and Encarnacion has been ice cold. If a player goes dark in a four-game stretch in July, nobody really worries about it - even if the team goes 1-3 in the same stretch. That’s baseball, Suzyn.
The playoffs, of course, are a different beast. If EE’s entire performance was reversed, with a cold ALDS and clutch ALCS, the former would be written off as him shaking rust, and the latter him rising to the occasion (and the series would likely look different in terms of wins and losses). If nothing else, the case of Edwin Encarnacion serves as an object lesson in the fickle nature of success, and a narrative worth watching if the Yankees pull off a miracle.