The New York Yankees have been known as the Bronx Bombers, Murderer’s Row, and the Evil Empire over the course of their storied franchise. Last year that was never more evident with the all-star lineup they trotted out, batters 1-9. They’ve been known to slug their way to victories and smash home run records. At the start of this year, the players themselves claimed they’d shatter last year’s record and blow everyone away with their power. That was Plan A.
Then an injury or two happened. So they moved on to Plan B, still intending to mash. Then another injury or two happened, so they moved on to Plan C. Then another and another and another. Plan D, E, F ensued…
I lost count, but I think they are now on Plan Z. For the better part of a couple weeks, the Yankees have become the RailRiders. To the average fan, the lineup has become unrecognizable, the Yankees are saving baseballs left and right for players’ first MLB hits, and the stolen base has become our greatest strength. Against the Angels, they were nine for nine in steals, and on Thursday had five or more stolen bases for the first time since 2013.
The Yankees are no longer the Bombers. They are a scrappy, no-name team that, quite frankly, is over-performing. They are not supposed to be a team who just won six straight (snapped on Thursday), nor are the players on the team supposed to be here. They are simply the replacements to a championship caliber lineup. But don’t tell them that, because they’re playing like they belong, and my old school baseball heart has enjoyed watching it. They are playing like they wholeheartedly believe in what has become the unfortunate but necessary motto for this team: Next Man Up.
Plan Z: Next man up. When you’re on Plan Z, naturally you’re thinking the worst. Although this has certainly been the worst case scenario for the Yankees thus far regarding the injuries, perhaps it’s the best case scenario for the future of this season. Perhaps it’ll teach them how to play a game many fans have complained they forgot how to play over the last couple years: Baseball.
Aaron Boone and the Yankees had the fortune of putting out a crazy good lineup last year that won them 100 games due to pure talent and impressive power, proving to be a great deodorant for glaring holes that eventually cost them in the playoffs. They didn’t know how to manufacture runs or play small ball. The analytics of the game took over and stolen bases, bunts, hit and runs or moving guys over didn’t exist anymore. It was basically home run or bust.
Now, before our very eyes, the Yankees have had to improvise and do a 180 in how to approach each game. Boone has had to legit manage and not just follow a book of numbers given to him by the nerds. They are forcing themselves to play in a way Cashman and Yankee brass deliberately tried to avoid in how they built this team. They are playing old school baseball in a new school league.
And I believe it’s a blessing in disguise for this team. Of course, only if they keep winning. Come check my mood if they lose the next 10. But right now, these injuries are proving to be, dare I say, a good thing for the Yankees.
Plan Z is in full force and it involves solid pitching, solid defense and solid at bats. Move a runner over, get a little hit, steal a couple bases. It’s not exciting and some of these games have been flat out snore fests, but it’s their game. And they are owning it. If they can stay afloat, stay above .500 and… stay healthy (the replacements), they can eventually pass the baton over to a fresh, powerful and potent lineup in the second half of the season, primed to slug their way to October.
Think about it. If this Yankee team as presently constituted can keep their head above water, we could literally see a brand new team come August, a fresh team for the dog days — the days proven to be the toughest for teams. It’ll be like the start of the season for so many of them, guys ready to mash and not grow tired because they don’t have a whole first half under their belt. They’ll be ready for the late summer stretch and will be in mid season form heading into the playoffs. For us fans a brand new season could be coming, like March all over again, and it’s exciting to think about.
This is a glass half full look, of course, and the key to all of this is this current Yankee team continuing to play above expectations as injured players trickle back onto the roster. The pitching needs to be solid and our bullpen needs to improve or the glass could become empty very quickly. As Yogi once said, “It gets late early,” and that could be the case for the Yanks if this team doesn’t stick to what they do best: play ball. Like really just play ball. Have fun. Play hard. Stick to the motto and don’t try to be something you’re not. Let Luke Voit mash. You just slash.
If this team sticks to the 26th plan it’s put forth this season, it could be the greatest story ever drawn up for this franchise. Beating the unprecedented odds of having an entire starting lineup land on the injured list. A team falling from grace only to rise again to victory. The best underdog story with the most lovable underdog guys. A 30 for 30 in the making.
Probably titled, Plan Z: Next Man Up.