One has long disdained here the rush to judgment that obsesses that American sub-species lovingly known as “the baseball fan.” The indictment covers the idiotic pre-season predictions of the not-so-very-learned jock media, an annual exercise in pure nonsense from which they never learn. It even more harshly calls to task the birdbrains of Talk Radio who become apoplectic when the illustrious home team gets shelled in the home-opener. But, then, there’s little or no hope for that crowd.
Having said that, there is undeniably something compelling about the way this season has begun. There will be no dissing the fact that a mere three weeks of play is a paltry sample, there being 23 more to go, and that’s just to the end of the regular season. But it does seem striking that with barely a tenth of the 2016 season in the books, so much that had been anticipated about so many teams seems already to be well on the way to being realized.
Can any such instincts be trusted in April? No! Is it ever not ridiculous to proclaim the eighth game of the season to be “make or break,” as was seriously suggested of the Red Sox a couple weeks ago? No. Never! Is the 13th game of the season too early to begin speculation on when the manager should be fired, given that while said pigeon has ignominious last-place finishes on his resume he also has a world championship? You gotta be kidding me.
Still, there’s no denying hopelessly addled captives of Red Sox Nation have good reason to be unnerved by what they’ve seen so far. For that matter, if you’re a certified devotee of those wild-card-defending Yankees, you are understandably chilled by the spectacle evolving thus far out of the Bronx. With any luck, these two lovebirds will be battling for last-place in the AL East when they meet for the first time the end of this week.
Remember when it was widely proclaimed to be “all about the Red Sox and Yankees?” When their every meeting was must fare on ESPN or Fox, when schedules were altered so they could be featured on Sunday Night Baseball, when the potential for mayhem hovered over every series and was amazingly fulfilled more often than not. You thought it would never end. Well it has, Bunky. It has come to a crushing close. How the mighty have fallen.
Of the two, the Red Sox look the far more likely to shake whatever has been ailing them early on, although Dave Dombrowski is going to have to justify his not entirely deserved reputation for trade-mart magic if they’re to get their mish-mash of a starting pitching rotation whipped into pennant-chasing form this season.
It says here that Dombrowski has a lot to prove and may find his honeymoon in Boston a bit brief. When faced in Detroit with similar challenges (it was relief pitching that killed him there) and similar opportunities, he failed to deliver. Any journeyman front-office slug can look like Branch Rickey when the goofy owner with a bottomless pit of a fortune proclaims his checkbook wide-open, allowing the seduction of a couple of pitchers for roughly $50 million a year over six or seven years. Just ask Brian Cashman. Dombrowski better start praying that Messrs. Price and Kimbrel get their ERAs back below 7.00 fast, patience being in rather shorter supply here than in historically less presumptuous Detroit.
On all that stuff Dombrowski has relatively favorable odds working in his behalf. Doubtless poor Cashman would trade places with him in a heart beat. Grinding head down with disabled list swelling and no relief on the horizon, the Yankees look like a potential train-wreck yearning to happen rumbling into only the fourth week of the new season. It’s not a pretty sight, unless of course you come from Bahsten.
At 7-10 (as of this writing) the Yankees may actually have an edge (for the moment) on Houston’s uppity Astros, the trendy choice of many savants to go all the way. But all that is classic April illusion. When all’s said and done come October, the Astros will be still playing ball while the Yankees will be departed to the golf links, having finally and officially bottomed out, finishing last. Variously predicted several years now, it’s about to happen. Please hold your applause.
In the 3-8 tailspin in which they’re currently enmeshed (as of this writing) they’ve looked, overall, ghastly. Their starting pitching is a mess. Only Masahiro Tanaka, who’ll never be what they showered $125 million upon expecting him to be, looks faintly legitimate. In desperation, they’re in danger of over-extending the promising Luis Severino and about to make the same mistake with James Kaprielian, less than a year out of college and their only other legitimate prospect. If you think Boston’s pitching reeks, you missed Michael Pineda’s latest endeavor wherein he served four homers to the league’s lightest hitting team in as many pathetic innings of wretched work. The most recent efforts of comrades Eovaldi and Sabathia were little better.
But what’s likely to be the most crushing irony for the Yankees concerns their foremost asset – their late-inning relief corps, looking every bit as magnificent as advertised, and about to add the unhittable Aroldis Chapman to the spell-binding Betances-Miller tandem. Alas, it is also in the process of being neutralized by an issue even graver than their starting pitching woes: their aged, plodding, lead-footed, one dimensional, too left-handed, and utterly uninspired offense.
While in the aforementioned tailspin, the Yankees have hit .101 with runners in scoring position. The middle of their lineup – to this point generally consisting in order of Brothers Beltran, Teixeira, A-Rod, McCann, and Headley – may be the most sedentary array of station to station rally killers this side of the chronically flabby and last-place Chicago Cubs of the early 1950s.
The good news is that, with the exception of McCann, they don’t get on base very much. And now A-Rod, hitting .179 since last August, is down with one of those mysterious oblique injuries that tend to sideline even young and healthy players indefinitely. When Ellsbury isn’t stealing home and Gardner isn’t hitting walk-offs, these Yankees are in terrible trouble. Nor is there much they can do about it.
And so, the most brilliant relief-pitching in MLB history (for the sake of discussion) is about to be wasted. Nothing will neutralize superb relief pitching more profoundly than the absence of late-inning leads to save.
Look for the Yankees to be active at the trade deadline seeking to shed one of their indisputably superb firemen for red-hot prospects. That market is sure to be brisk. Such a move will be the best chance they’ll have of squeezing much of value from an otherwise bitter season, after which they’ll get closer to shedding all that abominable payroll that has for a half dozen seasons now choked this franchise. For a lesson on how not to do it anymore, you need only look to the Bronx.
Try to contain your glee, dear Nation. Schadenfreude can be so petty.
Moreover, a season bereft of gleefully nasty Sox-Yanks tensions is always the poorer. Maybe the two old pals will end up fighting over who doesn’t finish last. That would be fun, if highly doubtful. The Red Sox aren’t about to be that bad in what has stunningly become baseball’s weakest division and, therefore, one in which winning will not require that much wherewithal.
Upon review, this seems a depressing diatribe, certainly more than was intended. Have no intentions of writing off an entire baseball season, not in April anyway. But it just may be that you’ll have to look elsewhere for your baseball kicks this season.
As for me, I’m signing on with the loveable Chicago Cubs. The gathering juggernaut co-piloted by the highly agreeable Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon is about to redeem more than a century of glorious ineptitude, bordering on the poetic.
Hope there is still room on the bandwagon. Half of Baseball Nation is already aboard.