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World Series or bust? With the 2022 Yankees, it’s tough to say

How can you expect something from a team you don’t understand?

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the Yankees, it’s World Series or bust more often than not.

This thinking, of course, sets us fans up for a lifetime of disappointment, seeing as it’s really, really difficult to win a World Series, and that’s not even accounting for the unpredictability of playoff baseball.

But I also don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to hold your favorite team to a high standard. Anecdotally, I’m also a Cincinnati Bengals and Toronto Raptors fan. Despite the 2019 NBA championship for the Raptors and last year’s Super Bowl appearance for the Bengals — it’s been a pretty good run for me lately — I still have to temper my expectations when it comes to either of these teams in the postseason because history just isn’t on my side.

For New York, though, it’s the opposite. I expect the Yankees to win, because for so much of my life, that’s exactly what they did. In my 30 years on this planet, the Yankees have played in the World Series more often (seven times) than they’ve missed the playoffs (six times). Of those seven appearances, they won five of them — granted most of those pennants came when I was young, but the point stands. So, to recap, in the 30 years that I’ve been alive, the Yankees have made the playoffs 24 times and at least reached the ALCS on 12 occasions.

No wonder I expect big things from this team year in, year out.

This Yankees postseason, however, feels different. For the first time, I have no idea what to expect from the Yankees playoff run.

Why I expect them to win the World Series

I know it feels like it was years ago at this point, but this is a team that went 64-28 in the first half. Such dominance can’t, and shouldn’t, be discounted. They had one so-so month (a 13-13 July) and one spectacularly bad month (10-18 August), but outside of that stretch, their worst win percentage in a month was .679 in May. That includes a September in which this team looked to find its groove again en route to a 17-8 record for the month.

In addition to their winning ways, the heart of this lineup can hang with pretty much any team in the league on paper. Okay, maybe not the Dodgers, but you know what I mean. A 1-2-3 punch of Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Giancarlo Stanton is exceptional, and that’s not even accounting for Gleyber Torres, who quietly had a very solid season despite the streakiness, and Matt Carpenter, who looked like the second coming of Babe Ruth before breaking his foot.

And on the other side of the ball, the 1-2-3 punch of Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, and Luis Severino is very good. I know that Cole’s season wasn’t up to his standards and Severino is still working his way back, but I feel extremely comfortable going into the postseason knowing the three of them will each get the ball multiple times in a playoff run.

In other words, the highs were very, very high for this team, and the top of their lineup and rotation is very strong.

Why I expect them to flame out in spectacular fashion

And then there’s what happened in the second half. If I’m going to put that much stock into four months of the season, I can’t discount the other two months of the season where it appeared that the Yankees (outside of Judge, of course) forgot how to play baseball. The Yankees went 23-31 between July and August, and played some of the ugliest baseball I’ve ever seen this team play.

Part of that collapse can be attributed to all of the injuries that have crushed this team. Michael King and Chad Green both went down for the season before the beginning of August. The aforementioned Carpenter broke his foot on a fluke foul ball. In another fluky twist of fate, Andrew Benintendi broke some kind of bone in his wrist (I tried to describe the actual injury here, but failed; I’m a writer, not a doctor). DJ LeMahieu has dealt with a sore toe broken foot torn ligament in his toe that sapped all of his production at the plate. On the other side of the ball, Severino, Cortes, and Clay Holmes all missed time with injuries as well. That’s a ridiculous number of key players suffering ailments, and I didn’t even mention the injuries to Miguel Castro, Scott Effross, Frankie Montas, and Ron Marinaccio, all of whom figured to play big roles throughout the season.

And, finally, there’s the elephant in the room: the roster construction. For as good as the top half of this lineup is, the bottom half is just not particularly good. I know that this is a ridiculous thing to say, and hopefully I’m reverse-jinxing something here, but with the game on the line, I just don’t feel comfortable that anyone batting fifth or lower will come through. I get that injuries happen, and I know that you can’t fully blame Brian Cashman for that part of the equation, but Josh recently detailed the risks inherent in the Yankees’ approach to trading defense for offense, and Andrés recently talked about how the bench could be a liability. Those are two glaring roster construction issues — a lack of depth and a top-heavy offense that goes quiet far too often — that have reared their ugly head.

Schrödinger’s Yankees

Back in August, in the middle of the Yankees’ awful stretch, I wrote about how it was tough to know which version of this team — the first-half world beaters or the second-half disappointments — was for real. Now in the thick of a postseason run, it’s still impossible to know which Yankees team we’re going to get on any given night. Does this team have what it takes to win the World Series? Absolutely. Would I be surprised if they flamed out in spectacular fashion and lost in the ALDS? Not even remotely.

In that same article from August, I called this team the Schrödinger’s Yankees. Now, perhaps more than ever, that summarizes my feelings about the ‘22 squad: This team can win the World Series, and this team can see their postseason aspirations end just as fast as they began. I won’t be surprised by either scenario playing out.

And, for the first time, I don’t really have any expectations for this team. It’s easier that way.