The Tampa Bay Rays entered this weekend series against the New York Yankees with a chance to cut down the AL East lead to a mere three games. That they’d even have a shot at this point in the year would have seemed ridiculous as recently as a couple months ago.
The Yankees are still favorites to win the AL East, but the simple fact this discussion must be had, and that there is the very real possibility of the Rays somehow overtaking them, well, it represents a rather colossal failure for this Yankees squad in the second half of the year. There was a time not that long ago when real discussions were had about the ceiling of this team, in terms of number of wins, and if it could challenge the Mariners for the most in a single regular season. That all seems like ages ago at this point, and most fans would settle for some consistency, especially on the offensive side.
The Yankees have certainly had a lot go wrong for them this summer. But adversity is a part of each season for all 30 teams, and it comes in different levels and at different times for every team over the course of a 162-game season. There are slumps, injuries, bad breaks, and a whole bunch of stuff that can create losing streaks and the like.
A ball club that’s had three separate runs losing eight of ten, six of eight, and most recently five of six in the last 30 days or so will have any number of things to point to and blame. But when we compare to the team chasing the Yankees, it’s clear none of it is enough to excuse the horrific play on the field.
Sure, we can talk about the loss of Matt Carpenter, who was hitting like peak Babe Ruth over 154 at-bats in 2022. There’s DJ LeMahieu’s lingering toe problem that’s affecting his ability to hit for power. There’s Giancarlo Stanton’s prolonged absence from the lineup alongside the injuries to Nestor Cortes and Luis Severino, to name a few.
All of those factors matter significantly, but winning teams, those clubs that want to make the World Series and win it, must overcome these adversities and remain competitive even through the most difficult parts of the season. The Yankees have dealt with setbacks through this last month-plus, but they pale in comparison with what their biggest adversary, the reigning back-to-back AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays, has had to deal with across the 2022 campaign as a whole.
The Rays' biggest star, Wander Franco, has been out since well before the All-Star Break, and in the limited time he had this season, Franco was having a rather subpar year with a mediocre .260/.308/.396 slash line, that was surely bound to creep up had he stayed healthy. Insert a full season of Franco at his normal level and no other changes, and the Rays might be a couple of games back, instead of five at time of writing.
A couple of complementary pieces that were coming off strong 2021 seasons in Mike Zunino and veteran leader Kevin Kiermaier were both underperforming and are currently on the 60-day IL. On the pitching side of things, the Rays already began the year without their at-the-time ace, Tyler Glasnow, who’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery. The best pitching prospect in baseball, Shane Baz, also started the year on the shelf, having gone through surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, and he looked poised to become one of the premier starters in the American League before going down for the year following only six starts. Talented young starter Luis Patiño also missed significant time.
The Yankees can fairly point to a number tough breaks, but their biggest names in Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole have remained healthy through the whole season. The Rays have had no such luck, and still find themselves within five games of the division ahead of Saturday’s game, and in a prime spot for a Wild Card berth.
This is truly a disappointing second half, beyond what even the most pessimistic prognosticators could’ve expected. There’s still time to right the ship and get healthy for October. But the Yankees’ rivals have shown that even if they don’t ever get back to full health, there’s no excuse for the Yankees’ collaps.