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Which version of the Yankees is for real?

This one’s a little meta, folks. Sorry about that.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

This team is so freakin’ good.

As of writing this (5:00 p.m. on Saturday), the Yankees have a 71-42 record. They have a 10 game lead in the AL East and are just 1.5 games back of the best record in the entire American League. They have the fourth-best winning percentage in all of baseball, and if the season ended today they would have a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Aaron Judge is on pace to challenge the all-time home run record, and Gerrit Cole is on pace to break the Yankees’ single-season strikeout total.

It’s safe to assume that they’re well on their way to a 28th World Series title.

Wait, one second. Let me try that opening again.

This team is so freakin’ bad.

After a hot start, the Yankees are 15-21 since July 1st. Since the All-Star break, they are 7-14. The front office didn’t do enough at the deadline to address the holes in the roster. Two lineup mainstays, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Aaron Hicks, have sub-100 wRC+ (in fact, IKF’s 77 wRC+ is ninth-worst in the league), and a third, Josh Donaldson, is just barely above league average. Since the All-Star break, it appears as though the team has reverted back to their 2021 selves, routinely making back-breaking errors on the base paths and playing less than stellar defense. Their ace has a tendency to not look like an ace, and the majority of their pitching staff has crashed back down to earth.

It’s safe to assume that they have not done enough to build a World Series-caliber team.

Being a baseball writer is hard. The work itself isn’t hard — in fact, it’s quite fun to watch your favorite team play your favorite sport and spend a few hours writing about — but it’s really hard to come up with a cohesive story and stick to it.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about from my own portfolio. After a particularly bland start to the season, I lamented the loss of the trademark personality of the Yankees of yesteryear. Then, the Yankees caught fire and put up historic stretch after historic stretch, and I wrote about the palpable vibe change that we all felt. In fact, they got so hot that I had to admit that I had been wrong about this team. Now, just under two months removed from publishing that last piece, the vibes are not so immaculate again and the team keeps inventing creative ways to lose games.

So, to recap, just four months into a six-month season, I’ve had to flip-flop the narrative I’ve wanted to create about this team three times. First, they were a bad team with bad vibes. Then, they were a good team with good vibes. A few weeks later, they were potentially the best team ever, at least according to their win-pace. And now, 113 games into the season, they’re back to being a bad team with bad vibes. There’s still about a month-and-a-half left in the season. How many more times will this narrative flip-flop?

Before pitching this article, I was dangerously close to pitching one about perception, and how both the optimist’s viewpoint — the Yankees have a massive lead in the AL East and have positioned themselves well for the playoffs — and the pessimist’s viewpoint — the Yankees have reverted back to their old selves and we should prepare for more of the same from this team in the playoffs — are equally justifiable, given how this season has played out so far. Thinking about it, that’s where I came up with the introduction to this piece, I suppose.

But then I got to thinking about the stories we tell ourselves and the way we, as baseball writers, narrativize each season, and the thing I kept coming back to was the idea of memory. Or, rather, selective memory.

So far this season, a big focus of my energy has been on memory and the way it can both help and hinder fandom. I’ve talked about how the ghosts of the past are intricately linked to being a Yankees fan, and I’ve talked about how the perpetual remembrance of the good ol’ days that is so ingrained in our fandom can deprive us of seeing the specialness of the here and now.

I think I still fall on the side of the latter — romanticization can be a dangerous thing, folks — but I’ve recently come to realize that the only way to tell a cohesive story about any given season is by, ironically, letting the season play out as it will and going from there. Sure, we can try to make sense of the here and now, but the articles we write will never tell the whole story. That's why so many of our stories can be “hot take-y” — because one week Gleyber Torres might need to have his playing time decreased, and the next he might be making me look like an idiot, and then a short while later he might look lost at the plate again. Okay, I didn’t write that last article, but the point still stands: how do you write a cohesive story when the story isn’t over yet?

Baseball is unique in that our seasons are so long. Like baseball, both the NBA and NHL have regular seasons that span six months, but somehow MLB manages to fit nearly double the amount of games in the same time span. We can debate the merits of a 162-game season another time (the only correct answer is death to the 162-game season, by the way), but covering so many games makes it extremely difficult to come up with a cohesive narrative about the season in real-time. In fact, it’s damn near impossible to do so.

The last time I talked about memory, I firmly believed that, while it was an exceptional tool that helped inform fandom, a focus on the past ultimately ruins the present moment. Now, a few weeks removed from publishing that article, I’m beginning to realize that the only way for me to effectively do my job is by reflecting on the season after it has concluded. Or, in other terms, the only way for me to come up with the cohesive storyline that I’m looking for is by reflecting on it when it’s over. I can track the story as it develops, sure, but until the final out of the season is made, most of it will ultimately be guesswork.

And there I go, flip-flopping again. Maybe this just says more about me than I’d like to think.

So, which Yankees team is real? The first half world beaters, or the second half bores? Both? Neither? Only time will tell, I suppose. Until the season’s over, neither take is “correct,” for lack of a better word — they can be both versions at once. Schrödinger’s Yankees.