If you watched the early weeks of the MLB season, it seemed pretty obvious that the New York Yankees were suffering from two things: the toll of injuries to star players and the weight of the baseball world on their shoulders. As we approach May, they are no longer “suffering” from either, even if the former remains ever-present.
At 12-2 over their past 14 games — the Majors’ best mark in that span — the Yankees are now playing as loose and relaxed as I’ve seen them in two years. The 2018 season may have yielded 100 regular-season wins, but it never felt like last year’s club was truly ready to contend for a championship. Moreover, the makeup of their roster almost had them set up to fail, a group of power-hitting youngsters exposed by the bright lights and dominant pitching of October. But if you flash back a year prior, that was a Yankees club that no one expected much from that still ended up within one game of a World Series appearance.
It’s stating the obvious to tell you that the media and fans alike expect greatness year in and year out from certain franchises, and in the case of the Yankees, why wouldn’t they? After all, the Bombers have not had a losing season since 1992 (!) and it doesn’t look like the streak is going to be snapped any time soon. But once their top players started dropping like flies, the narrative changed back to late 2016/early 2017 — this is a team that can stay out of the limelight because they have the built-in excuse of an All-Star team sitting on the disabled list (yes, I said disabled list, because I’m a purist). And rather than wallow in self-pity, the Yanks are rallying around that narrative and looking mighty strong in the process. Even their fans, with nothing tangible nor valid to complain about the past two-and-a-half decades, are getting into this self-pitying routine of “woe is me” seeing the Yankees’ top guns fall by the wayside.
Granted, this past week is not a great indicator of things per se. It’s easy to praise the likes of Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchmann, Mike Ford, Thairo Estrada, and Tyler Wade. It’s even easier to praise the likes of Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, and Domingo German and realize that in spite of all the injuries, the Yankees can still flex their muscles (quite literally in Voit’s case), wallet, and overall depth. But alas, will the baseball-watching world give them due credit for going 6-1 (albeit on the road) against the Angels and Giants, two of the absolute sad-sack teams of Major League Baseball? Maybe not, but don’t dismiss what is happening here. The Yankees are playing loose and relaxed and showing everyone just how deep and dangerous they really are. You can also bring into focus the distorted economics of baseball here and recall that LeMahieu and Zack Britton basically took more money from the Yankees to fill secondary roles than most teams could have offered them for starring roles.
If you shift your focus elsewhere in the division, you might see a team crumbling under very similar circumstances. The Boston Red Sox, 108-54 a year ago with a World Series title as the capper, look awful out of the gate this year as they struggle to recapture that magic (or maybe they’re just lying in the weeds and waiting until the Bruins and Celtics get their glory before re-emerging into the limelight?). Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Mookie Betts, and Steve Pearce are just a few of the names having sub-par seasons by their standards, suddenly eclipsed by the Tauchmanns, Fords, and Urshelas of the baseball world.
This isn’t necessarily a lesson in sports psychology, but feel free to take it as one. These last few weeks across the sports landscape have been rather jarring for fans and media types who just can’t help themselves when it comes to drinking the cool-aid. Bracket busted by the Tampa Bay Lightning? You’re not alone (well, I didn’t fall for it, though). Thought Duke was going to win it all, did you? (Actually, I did). Sometimes, the more you win, the more you fail in the end. Didn’t we learn anything from the Patriots “only” winning 11 games this year? Or the “dysfunctional” Celtics going a “mere” 49-33 in the regular season before starting this postseason 5-0? It’s very easy to lose sight of the fact that as much as we want to see fresh faces and underdog stories, sports are run by blue bloods. The Yankees and Cardinals are the gold standards of their respective leagues (feel free to argue with me on either, I have solid evidence). The Patriots are the gold standard of sports right now. The Warriors aren’t far behind, even though the NBA is relatively easy to dominate by comparison. And as a whole, the city of Boston is going to continue to prove you wrong and feed off of your negativity. Some things do not change.
So let the Yankees be a good example of expectations and what they can do to a team in sports. Expectations can also shatter a sports fan’s hopes. Right now, the Yankees are as dangerous as ever, because they are developing a personality that these injuries otherwise would not have afforded them. So you may find yourself swooning over the “miracle Padres” or “little-engine-that-could Twins” at year’s end, but you’ll soon be brought back to reality.