The 2022 season will stick in the memories of Yankees fans for years to come. Yesterday, we recapped the five highlights of the year. Today being Halloween, it felt appropriate to take a walk down the dark and shrouded paths in our minds and remember the five moments that will haunt our memories all winter.
5. Midsummer reality check from the Astros
Coming off consecutive series wins against the Rays, Blue Jays, and Rays, the Yankees were flying through the first half. The team sat at 51-18 with designs on challenging the Mariners 116-win record set in 2001, however they faced the first real litmus test of their season welcoming the Astros to the Stadium for four games. Fans and players alike welcomed the challenge as a way to illuminate the true talent of their potentially historic squad.
Though they walked off the first game of the series, the next two contests represented a wake-up call for a Yankees team that had been cruising from one win to the next up to that point. In the second game of the series, Justin Verlander humbled the Yankees lineup to the tune of one run on four hits. The next day, Cristian Javier struck out 13 in seven innings, and he Hector Neris, and Ryan Pressly combined to no-hit the Yankees for the first time in 19 years.
These two games seemed to rattle the Yankees awake from their unconscious start to the season. Victories no longer came to the team at such a dizzying rate, almost as if the team had to learn how to win again. And always, there was that nagging reminder that the Yankees would have to go through these Astros to make it to the World Series.
4. Gerrit Cole’s meltdowns
When you’re billed as one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, as Gerrit Cole is, there’s the expectation that you will pitch at that level. That was not the case for the Yankees ace in 2022, as he finished with a 3.50 ERA that was only 11 percent better than league average, an MLB-leading 33 home runs surrendered, and finished as just the 23rd-most valuable pitcher with 3.3 fWAR. And as we’ve covered ad nauseam over the past few months, much of this underperformance arose from his issues with the big inning.
Cole had five starts where he gave up at least four runs in a single inning. He struggled immensely with making mid-inning adjustments that could stem the tide and stop the bleeding, instead attempting to bully his way out of frames which often led to multiple home runs being served up. Acknowledging all of this, the Yankees could not have asked for much more from Cole in the postseason, but it’s still important to recognize the bad with the good.
3. Bullpen caves in at worst possible time
Heading into the postseason, the Yankees bullpen was depleted relative to its peak, but it was still seen as one of the strengths of the team. Then in the final week of the regular season, disaster struck. The team lost Scott Effross and Ron Marinaccio in quick-fire fashion to Tommy John surgery and a leg fracture respectively. Then came news that Aroldis Chapman had quit on the team, opting to remain in Miami rather than fight to earn a spot on the postseason roster. The loss of these players on top of the absences of Michael King, Chad Green, and Zack Britton was too much to overcome, as inexperienced players were asked to step into huge spots and got exposed.
2. Second half collapse
Seemingly initiated by the curse of the trade deadline (Curse of the Gumballo as I like to call it), the Yankees followed up their historic first half with a prolonged second-half slide that threatened to wipe out a 15.5-game lead in the division. Sending Joey Gallo and Jordan Montgomery away at the deadline felt like it put a hex on the team for those of us who may be of a superstitious persuasion. From August 2nd onward, they finished the season 29-29, a stretch that included a sweep by the Cardinals, a putrid 3-14 streak, and a 1-6 record during a West Coast road trip that should have included easy series wins over the A’s and Angels. They did finish the season 20-9 to comfortably win the AL East, but many of the issues that precipitated such a poor second half would go on to plague the team in the postseason.
1. Swept by the Astros in the ALCS
Facing the Astros in the ALCS for the third time since 2017 was always going to be a stern test, but I don’t think anyone saw the Yankees getting so outclassed en route to being swept in four games. They didn’t exactly put themselves in a prime position to win by scoring four runs across the first three games of the series, and even when they did score in Game 4, poor pitching and sloppy defense were there undoing. And as if fate had one final twist of the dagger for Yankees fans, the final play of the ALCS saw Aaron Judge softly ground out — emblematic of his immensely disappointing postseason performance — in what could be his final at-bat in pinstripes.