At least we have our old standby, the cold comfort that got us through so many Octobers past: The Yankees aren’t going to win the World Series either.
After New York went quietly, 8-3, on Thursday night, a second straight home loss to Houston that put them down three games to one in the American League Championship Series, the Yankees stand on the precipice of the wrong kind of history. As national baseball writer Josh Sherman declared, “either assemble a three-game winning streak — the final two in Houston — or they end their first decade since the 1910s without ever reaching a World Series.”
“Our guys are studs,” manager Aaron Boone said in the wee hours of Friday morning, “and I think they embrace the challenge.”
If New York’s 103-win season is to avoid going up in the smoke of whining about Houston pitch-tipping and the annual gross behavior by a few of its fans, it likely starts with solving Justin Verlander. Verlander didn’t beat the Yankees in Game 2 on Sunday, allowing just an Aaron Judge two-run homer in 6 2/3 innings, but he did enough to let his teammates hang around and do the job in 11 innings.
It was Verlander’s 85th appearance (including postseason) for the Astros, who are 59-26 in those 85 games. That’s a .694 winning percentage, better than even Houston’s gaudy .651 overall since the morning of Aug. 31, 2017, a stretch in which Verlander has arguably been the best starting pitcher in the game.
He could’ve spent that stretch in Yankee pinstripes, but New York never seriously pursued Verlander in the run-up to the 2017 waiver trade deadline because, in Buster Olney’s words, “they didn’t have the payroll flexibility to spend.” More specifically, the Yankees were in the process of resetting their luxury tax penalties by staying under the lowest threshold, which they finally did in 2018.
At least they’ll have that to lean on should Verlander finish their World Series dreams for the second time in three years.
Which brings us to all that matters here: Us.
First, the Globe‘s Peter Abraham smartly writes about Washington’s National League pennant in the context of their un-Sox approach to this year’s trade deadline, adding bullpen help to what appeared a mediocre team. Now, viewing the ALCS through the always-exciting lens of baseball’s soft salary cap, the one we’ll spend the winter squinting through. Hub of the universe, indeed!
The world changes so quickly beneath our feet. The baseball was juiced all season, and now it’s not. The Phillies went new age when they hired Gabe Kapler two winters ago, and now want to replace him with gray-haired Dusty Baker, Joe Girardi, or Buck Showalter. Kapler, meanwhile, is among a slew of fresh faces in the running to replace 25-year MLB vet Bruce Bochy in San Francisco. Sunrise, sunset.
All while we hurry up and wait for the Red Sox, who a year ago Friday finished off Houston, who 15 years ago Friday kept on running to New York halfway through their iconic slapdown of the Yankees, to tear it all up under the guise of fiscal necessity. The same necessity that had Sox CEO Sam Kennedy talking about cost of living and inflation in the run-up to Boston’s increase of ticket prices for the majority of the Fenway slate next season.
There’s almost no news on Boston’s search for a new team architect, either. Kennedy recently told the Globe‘s Dan Shaughnessy that “we are doing our homework on external candidates” and that there’s no urgency to act quickly. J.D. Martinez has offered no concrete decision on whether he’ll opt out of the final three years of his contract, likely waiting until just after the World Series to announce that he will.
Free agency begins five days after the Series, at least in theory. Fifteen days later is the limit for players to accept any one-year qualifying offers, which this year will be $17.8 million — down $100,000 from a year ago, on account of the stage of free agency in the sport. (It certainly seems like Rick Porcello, needing a new employer after an awful season, could be tempted to stick around at that price.) December 2 is the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, which is still the majority of the roster. The week after that brings the Winter Meetings in San Diego, where even the contractually contracting Red Sox figure to be in the mix some how, some way. Even if it’s just the rumor mill of Mookie Betts trade offers.
It’s not as though things have never seemed this grim, even during this golden era of John Henry ownership. Lest we forget it was as recently as the winter of 2012-13 when the Sox boss was denying a report about “quietly shopping” the team.
John Lackey would never be beloved by fans and had to go … until he helped bring home that 2013 World Series.
Hanley Ramirez was a complete bust barely worth a bag of balls, then desperately lamented when he was cut.
David Price was irredeemable, then a hero of last October, then toxic again.
Does this one feel different? Sure. No one’s racing to be the new GM. The farm cupboard is largely barren. The payroll “needs” to come down more than 10 percent. Great — beloved players probably won’t be back.
They all feel different in the moment. The only solace at this moment, as we wait for the shoes to drop, is that all the prior calamity still led us to here. It’s a moment when it truly feels like there’s so much to lose, and where it feels about to be lost.
At least we’re not arguing with robots.