The Yankees officially passed the midway point of their season over a week ago with some troubling trends emegering as the team headed into the All-Star break. In less than two weeks the Yankees watched on three time as their bullpen allowed six or more runs in the final inning of the game. Each one of those defeats set the team farther back in their quest for a playoff spot. Will this team allow the late game meltdowns to define their season or do they have enough to make them a blip on the radar.
Around 5 pm on Sunday, July 4th it would have been easy to convince most Yankees fans that their season was essentially over. The bullpen had just imploded failing to protect a one run lead or even keep the game close by allowing six runs with All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman on the mound in game one of a double-header against the New York Mets. It was the Yankees seventh loss in eight games, dropping the team to a 41-41 record on the season.
Just a few nights before many Yankees fans had gone to bed before the end of a rain delayed game in the Bronx that dragged late into the evening. Those fans could be excused for grabbing some rest as the Yankees had put up seven runs in the first inning and maintained a comfortable lead late into the game. In what has become a trend with this team, no lead is safe and many were stunned to wake up the next day and see tweets such as this one from Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch.
Those seven runs in the first inning knocked both the Angels best pitcher and hitter, Shohei Ohtani out of the game giving the Yankees what seemed like an even clearly path to victory. Very late in the New York evening the team to surrendered seven runs in the ninth inning to steal defeat from the jaws of victory and begin a troubling trend.
With the Mets next coming into Yankees Stadium the Yankees seemed to catch a break as they missed Jacob DeGrom's turn in the rotation. An opening game loss put more pressure on the team to perform in the first game of a holiday double header on July 4th. The loss in that game dampened the mood of fans and if you had told any Yankees fan heading into the final game of the Mets series that the Yankees would win five of their next seven games, they almost certainly would have signed up immediately for the chance of heading into the All-Star break on a high note.
Winning five of their next seven games is exactly what the Yankees did but no all losses feel the same. The Yankees dislike of the current Houston Astros core group of players dates all the way back to the 2015 American League Wild Card game when Houston bounced the Yankees out. Things only escaltated from there as Houston has stayed a step ahead of the Yankees, knocking them out of the playoffs in 2017 and 2019 and always finding a way to advance at least one round farther than the team from the Bronx.
It would be one thing if the Astros were just a better team but the core offensive group of players on the Astros were all implicated in a cheating scandal that rocked the sport and resulting in manager AJ Hinch, former bench coach Alex Cora and General Manager Jeff Luhnow to all be suspended for a year. The illegal use of video to relay the opposing teams signs to the hitter was viewed as a step too far by everyone in the sport. The team was additionally docked draft picks but to the disappointment of many observers, none of the players involved received as much as a fine, much less a suspension for their actions.
With that as the backdrop the Yankees entered Houston off a series win in Seattle and behind Nestor Cortes and Gerrit Cole shut out the dynamic Houston offense for two straight games. Cole in particular threw a 128 pitch complete game shutout in game two as the Yankees won a tight 1-0 victory.
Game three of the series seemed to favor the Astros as they started Framber Valdez who emerged during the pandemic shortened season as one of the Astros best starting pitchers. Still the Yankees grabbed and early lead behind recent addition Tim Locastro’s first home run as a Yankee and then stretched it out to 7-2 when Gary Sánchez homed for the 15th time this season heading into the last inning.
With a five run lead and a fresh but slightly depleted bullpen the Yankees managed only one out in the ninth inning as they watched the Jose Altuve cap a six run comeback with a walk-off home run to end it.
In the span of 12 days the Yankees experienced three crushing late inning defeats. It is a trend that is quickly coming to define the Yankees season as fans debate on a weekly basis what loss is the most gut wrenching of the season. Overall the team won five of their last eight games heading into the All-Star break with some outstanding individual performances along the way. The Yankees start the second half playing the Red Sox who are tied for the best record in the American League and have beat the Yankees in all six meetings this year. If they are going to make a run at either the American League East title or the Wild Card the Yankees must be the team that won their last two series against good teams before the break and not the team that has found ways to lose winnable games.
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