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Perspectives: The Final Stretch

By Paul Semendinger

September 24, 2021

***

So here we are.

Nine games to play.

Nine games against the Yankees’ inter-division rivals. Six of the nine games will come against the teams the Yankees are directly battling for the two wild card spots – the Red Sox and the Blue Jays. (The Tampa Bay Rays have already clinched a playoff spot. It would take an epic disaster for them to not win the division.)

In the last week, or so, the A’s have fallen back a bit. They have pretty much taken themselves out of the Wild Card chase. The Mariners are still hanging in, but I don’t think they’re seen as a real threat. As such, it seems pretty clear that of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays, two will be the Wild Card teams. The other team of this trio will be left on the outside looking in.

The Yankees have played well enough, the other teams have played poorly enough, or both, to make the last nine games of the 2021 season interesting, important, and possible franchise changing.

Give the Yankees credit, the entire organization gets the credit, for building a team that has kept the fanbase interested, involved, and I dare say, for many (if not all) excited about the prospect of post-season play. In essence, every game the Yankees play from here on out is a post-season game. These are the playoffs.

We should be watching meaningful games right to the end.

What could be better than that?

Let’s Go Yankees!!!

***

There are many fans who are frustrated that the Yankees are even in this spot. Many feel the Yankees should have been better, much better, than this. I’m in that camp. But what was, was. Now the focus will be on what comes next – what transpires in the final nine games, beginning tonight against the Red Sox.

The Red Sox are in the driver’s seat heading into these final games. First, they are two games ahead of the Yankees in the loss column. They’re playing the Yankees at home, then they go on the road to play the Orioles and the Nationals, two bad teams, to finish the season. Their fate is in their hands.

The Blue Jays lost last night and now sit one game behind the Yankees. They also have an easier schedule than the Yankees. Besides battling the Bombers, the Jays get the Minnesota Twins and the Orioles. But now they have to play catch-up.

In the end, no matter how frustrating this team was (and is), they have kept themselves in the race, somehow, until the very end.

The Yankees also control their own destiny. As long as they win, they’ll be in the postseason.

They’re in it – and in the post season, anything can happen.

I am glad that the Yankees are in it. I’m glad we have nine games of exciting baseball to look forward to.

I’m glad we have the hopes of a long post season run.

*** Good, Not Great.

There is a feeling I have had for a while that this is the Yankees’ mission statement.

The Yankees need to be good. They want to continually give their fans the hope that they might be great.

To be great takes a lot more than being good. In the MLB today, to reach the playoffs, teams don’t even have to be great. They just need to be good.

If the Yankees win out the rest of the way, they’ll end with 95 wins. That is real good.

It’s more likely that they’ll end with 90 or 91 wins. That’s pretty good. It’s certainly not great.

I think the fans expected and hoped for much better than a 91-win team.

But I wonder if the Yankees felt they had to design a team that’s just good enough, good – not great, to battle for the second wild card spot with the hopes that once they get there (assuming they do) that anything can happen.

Is this the new Yankees philosophy?

***

If the Yankees win it all, somehow, however unlikely, the narrative will be that they stayed together, that Aaron Boone is a managerial genius, that the work he does in the clubhouse and behind the scenes kept the team from folding, that he kept them focused, and that he was just the right leader for this club.

That worries me.

If the Yankees win it all, or make a good deep run, I believe that the franchise will be less likely to make a managerial change, one I think is necessary after seeing the way this team has played the last four years. Should a great run come, Aaron Boone will be able to command a new four or even five year contract.

I worry that if the Yankees make a deep run that they’ll overlook many of the necessary changes they need to make as they look back on all of this with rose colored glasses filled with champagne from the victory celebrations and the confetti from the parade down the Canyon of Heroes.

I want the Yankees to win out.

I want a glorious October.

But I am afraid that if that happens that the long-term future of the team will be compromised because things will look better than they are. I hope, when it’s all said and done, that the Yankees look critically at the entire picture and make good decisions as they look forward and plan for the future.

***

Truth be told, I think the Yankees will be the odd team out.

I don’t want that.

But I think, push comes to shove, that the Red Sox and the Blue Jays have schedules that are so much easier than what the Yankees have. When the Yankees played the Orioles, that was their chance to stake claim to the playoffs. They failed in that. The fact that the Yankees are in this tight race comes down to the fact that when they were given the easy schedule, they failed to capitalize.

I don’t see the Red Sox or Blue Jays making that same mistake.

I’ll be rooting, a lot, for the Orioles over the next week or so!

***

If the Yankees miss out on the playoffs, I think that they will have to make big changes – changes that have been necessary for a while. If they hire the right manager (and let him manage), and bring in a few key players, get some more athleticism, and lineup balance, the team could be a powerhouse, still, for many years. The owner must be willing to spend when necessary, but failing to make the post season might be the tonic necessary to make those things happen.

I still have faith and confidence that given the freedom to do what is necessary that Brian Cashman can build a championship team.

***

Nine games to play.

Nine games that will determine the fate of the 2021 Yankees and will probably also determine the Yankees’ approach for the next four to five years as well.

These might be the biggest nine games the Yankees will play in quite some time.

It should be fun!

Let’s Go Yankees!

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