The Yankees can’t survive like this
The Yankees came with character. They showed ample heart. They may be as resilient as they say.
But let’s face it: They need to play better.
Sure, the Yankees made it out of Cleveland alive (always a good thing) thanks to money pitcher Gerrit Cole, sudden power star Harrison Bader and everyday pen staple Wandy Peralta (plus a few others of course).
But through four games in this ALDS vs. the low-revenue, smallish-market, mostly anonymous Cleveland Guardians, they were dead even on the scoreboard at two games apiece, a situation reflected in their play.
The Yankees and Guardians are working two days past the other ALDS qualifiers as they face the Game 5 finale Monday in the Bronx, and depending which side of the rest vs. rust debate you fall, this is either a great thing or a curse. That discussion may never be resolved, but here’s something you know is true: The Yankees have to start bringing their “A” game.
The Guardians are better than everyone gives them credit for. My editor just recently stopped trying to convince me that the playoff schedule is unfair since the Yankees get to play the Guardians while the poor Astros have to play the big bad Mariners.
I’ve written some dumb things in my life (check the story log), but if I want to live and breathe in New York, I resisted writing that we are all being unfair to the Astros. I’ll assume until further notice that that notion wouldn’t be well received anywhere outside of Harris County, Texas.
Anyway, I don’t believe it. The Guardians are not only “gritty,” as Game 4 loser Clarke Schmidt called them in an as appropriate a one-word summation as you can find, they are just plain good. They only hit 127 home runs, exactly half the number of the Yankees, who led the majors in dingers, but that does not define them.
The Guardians are a scrappy bunch. They run the bases well. They play good defense. And they rarely beat themselves.
While they don’t have many name players, they have a roster of very good players who contribute to the whole. They also have arguably the best manager in the game in Terry Francona, who gets as big a cheer in Progressive Field as any of the players, and with good reason.
They also finished the season on a roll, having won 21 of their final 26 games. I get that some of those games came against the Royals and Tigers and White Sox, two bad teams plus one that qualifies as the most underachieving roster in recent baseball memory. But 21-5 against any big-league teams moves me.
The Yankees are impressed, too. But generally speaking they need to step it up. Through 37 innings, the Yankees have outscored the Guardians by a measly two runs.
Normally, this wouldn’t be cause for criticism. But we are grading on a curve here. The Yankees’ payroll is almost exactly $200 million more – the price of a rotation of superstars (plus an All-Star catcher) – and certainly should be enough to get through the early rounds a bit easier than this.
Give the Guardians credit. They dispatched three of their bigger name players the last couple years – Francisco Lindor, Mike Clevinger and Corey Kluber (who incidentally gave up the wild-card walkoff home run to Oscar Gonzalez) – and somehow got even better.
Lindor eventually received a $341 million contract with the Mets. Clevinger is relegated to emergency starting duty with the star-studded San Diego Padres and Kluber had his moment (he threw a no-hitter on his brief stopover with the Yankees) – but the Guardians are putting together quite a surprise season, thanks to the lesser-known players acquired in those deals (including Andres Jimenez, Amed Rosario, Austin Hedges and baby lover Josh Naylor) and a few others equally unknown.
After their crack baseball ops department fulfilled orders to pare down to $60M, no one expected them to contend, much less win their division going away or play the big bad Yankees this tough. It’s mostly good on the Guardians, but the Yankees have more in them, even with half their bullpen in sick bay and a couple of their veterans seemingly playing at half speed.
Cole has been a series saver, throwing into the seventh inning and gathering the Yankees’ two victories. No one can claim he isn’t a big-game pitcher anymore. Just check the stats. He has a 2.80 ERA in the postseason, lower than in the regular season.
Bader has been the main power source on the most powerful lineup in the game, drilling three balls well over the left field wall. He came here with a boot on his foot and couldn’t play the first seven weeks since coming to his hometown team. But now that he’s proving to be a primetime player, hopefully we never again have to hear about how much we miss Jordan Montgomery.
And let’s not forget Peralta, who returned from injury to make the postseason roster, and get outs daily. He certainly has risen to the occasion. Now let’s see some of the other 23 players do the same.