Optimism dimmed and glory eluded the Yankees in ’21 as they were swiftly eliminated from the postseason with a loss in the Wild Card game to hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
An optimism based on the fact that most fans agree, the Yankees, with their current talent, are in a championship window and that they have a core of players who are at or near the peak of their careers — and I’m thinking of Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, and Giancarlo Stanton, players with elite abilities who can change a game single-handedly.
The Yankees, however, struggled in spite of the personal accolades Judge received, and indeed, he won the Fielding Bible Award for his work in right field and a second Silver Slugger award. Both well deserved, but not enough to lift the team on his shoulders and carry them to a World Series.
After all, it’s winning that matters and the Yankees didn’t do enough of it in ’21. With a 92-70 record, landing 8 games back of the division winning Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees underperformed in spite of the wild card appearance.
As a fan watching the Yankees daily, it was no secret that the Yankees were underperforming. The inconsistency with which they played, the seemingly endless losing streaks balanced by bursts of winning that were dazzling, kept fans guessing what the identity of the 2021 Yankee team was.
Among the individual underperformers were Gleyber Torres, who struggled at the plate and in the field, eventually being moved to second base in the hopes that he would improve defensively.
DJ LeMahieu was likewise a disappointment in ’21, but with the bat, hitting .264, a daily grind (painful to watch at times) at the plate, not with the ease with which fans saw him hit .364 in 2020 and take home a Silver Slugger award. It was only after the season that fans learned he had been dealing with a hernia during the season that likely impacted his production.
Aroldis Chapman, Luke Voit and Gary Sanchez are other players who underperformed and who are now the target of fans’ offseason speculations that they may be traded.
Sure, injuries, such as Aaron Hicks’ season-ending wrist injury, Luke Voit’s oblique strain and knee injury, which left the Yankees vulnerable at first base, and Corey Kluber’s shoulder injury, which kept him out from June 5th-August 30th, negatively impacted the season.
It wasn’t until the Yankees acquired Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo at the trade deadline that there was some hope that the first base and outfield issues had been addressed.
However, even with the addition of Gallo and Rizzo, the Yankees were unable to mount a successful run at the postseason.
There were some sparks of optimism, however, as the season wound down. Luis Severino returned to pitch on September 20, 2021 and fans were once again cheering the 27 year old as glimpses of his once great talent were apparent. Nestor Cortes, Jr. emerged as a surprise success story in ’21.
I look forward to the 2021-2022 offseason as I have not looked forward to one since Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were available free agents.
The Yankees have identified their biggest areas of concern for 2022 as shortshop, first base, and starting pitching and the free agent class is teeming with elite talent, especially at shortstop, where Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Javier Baez lead the class.
The ’22 Yankee team has no identity at all as it will coalesce as the offseason acquisitions play out.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but look back to a time when the Yankees fans looked forward to Opening Day every year featuring two of the game’s greatest players, and also two stalwarts of the game, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Fans of the day were practically guaranteed that Ruth and Gehrig would bring a championship to the Yankees, and thus the expectation for generations of Yankees teams was born. Winning, as George Steinbrenner would famously say, after breathing, is the most important thing.
As fans look toward the 2022 season with hope, what they are hoping for is that the team will return to that glory represented by Ruth and Gehrig, that they will capture the elusive 28th title. Yankee fans expect titles and a .568 winning percentage is not acceptable.
Ultimately, what fans want is World Series baseball in the Bronx in ’22. It’s the same thing they wanted in ’21 and ’20 and, well, you get the idea.
So sit back Yankee fans and let the hot stove warm you while you dream of rings and championship things and let Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman work his magic.