Last night felt terrible, just as the end of any sports season that doesn't end in a championship does. It's hard, in those moments immediately following a loss that means it's all over for a few months, to rationally analyze what we've just season because the feeling of disappointment kind of consumes you. That's okay, and that feeling of disappointment will probably linger into the rest of the playoffs as we all wonder what might have been if the Yankees didn't play under .500 down the stretch and didn't blow their lead in the AL East and didn't have to be subjected to a one-game playoff against a Cy Young contender. However, this season was not a failure. Not by any means.
There is a loud faction of Yankees fans who believe that any season that doesn't end with hoisting the World Series trophy is a failure. Based on the success the Yankees have had in most of our lifetimes, it's easy to see why being used to winning turns into expecting to win. This team spends a lot of money each year and should, theoretically, not be an also-ran in the league. They should be able to compete. Unfortunately, that's just not how it works. Baseball is crazy. The Dodgers now have a higher payroll than the Yankees, so they don't have that claim to fame anymore. Teams are locking up their talent sooner than ever, ensuring that the free agent pool each year looks far worse than it did when all George Steinbrenner needed to do was wait for a player to become too good and too expensive before backing the money truck up to the player's house one offseason to gain his services. It's not the Yankees' playground these days. More and more teams are capable of signing big free agents, and more and more teams are keeping their stars from becoming free agents in the first place.
Winning has not become so expected rather than appreciated by me for me to think that it's World Series or bust. I want the Yankees to win every year for sure, but I know that a scenario in which that happens isn't realistic. Dynasties like the one we saw in the 90s just don't grow on trees. You don't create a Core Four, have them win a bunch of championships, usher them into retirement, and grow a brand new Core Four before repeating the process. If it were that easy every rebuilding team would get in on that method as quickly as possible. Anything can happen once the playoffs begin, as evidenced by the fact that two Wild Card winners played in last year's World Series. Favorites only means so much. Get there and you have a chance, and that's what the Yankees did this season.
The resurgent season of Mark Teixeira was so welcomed before it ended prematurely. I was one of the people who thought that Teixeira would never be the player he was before his wrist injury, but he carried the lineup for much of the season. His power returned in a big way, and he was once again the threat in the middle of the order that we knew him to be. Alex Rodriguez's comeback is one that had to be seen to be believed. Most people thought he'd never put on a Yankee uniform again, much less lead them to the postseason. I, myself, wasn't sure how the fractured relationship between Rodriguez and the front office could be repaired enough for him to rejoin the team, but they had a very nice ceremony honoring his 3,000th hit that seemed like a genuine truce. Rodriguez has said all the right things and done all the right things all season long. Who knows where this team would have been without him, but they almost certainly wouldn't have been worrying about winning a Wild Card game without the season he had.
Brian Cashman proved once again that he is a savvy GM, trading spare parts for Nathan Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius. Eovaldi was one of the team's most consistent pitchers in the second half, and Gregorius straightened himself out in a big way after a rocky start to end up leading position players on the team in fWAR. Justin Wilson was brought in as a relative unknown from Pittsburgh before becoming one of the trusted members of a strong bullpen. Chasen Shreve was so good in the first half that it was almost unbelievable, and his second half of struggles shouldn't totally erase that. Dustin Ackley was brought in at the trade deadline, which impressed absolutely no one, but he proved to be one of the best hitters on the team in September. For all the Fire Cashman talk that gets thrown around, no one should overlook how many times he gets it right. He brought in huge assets this season without trading away any top prospects.
It's hard to say enough about how encouraging the MLB debuts of Luis Severino and Greg Bird were. Cashman refused to let either one go at the deadline, and their performance after being called up showed that to be a very wise decision. Both are so young with so many good years ahead of them. Severino showed the ability to dominate while being one of the youngest players in the league. Bird hit 11 home runs in under 50 games, giving a preview of what he could do at Yankee Stadium over the course of a full year. Their success means hope for the future, and we've been short on that recently. Nothing feels as good as seeing one of the prospects pan out, and we got to watch two of them emerge down the stretch this season. They will likely be critical parts of Yankee teams moving forward, and that's exciting.
The ultimate goal of every team is to win the World Series, and the Yankees didn't do that this year. They barely got to play in the postseason at all, and that is really frustrating. However, this team did more than most thought they could. We posted a preview on Pinstripe Alley before the season began and were called delusional for predicting 85 wins. The Yankees did us two better than we collectively predicted. Most of us would have taken a trip to the postseason if you had guaranteed it to us in March when things looked so uncertain. We got that after a long drought by our standards of not being invited to the postseason at all. This season shouldn't be looked at as a failure by any stretch of the imagination. The Yankees will be back and their future looks as bright as ever. That's what is most important.