The popular narrative is that the Yankees lost the ALDS the second J.A. Happ was brought in for the 2nd inning of Game 2. And sure, he pitched poorly giving up 4 runs in less than 3 innings. But the real issue is that the Yankees had to rely on him in a pivotal moment in the playoffs, which stems back to decisions made earlier in the season.
Every year trade deadline season is filled with rumors and for the past few seasons, minimal activity for the Yankees. They’re reportedly in on talks with every team about every player, but the last big midseason trade they made was for Sonny Gray.
This season was no different, with plenty of rumors about Mike Clevinger and Lance Lynn. Clevinger eventually was dealt to the Padres for a ridiculous trade package of more players than I realized could be traded at one time while Lynn stayed put. According to Erik Boland of Newsday, Brian Cashman felt the asking prices were too high, reportedly involving Deivi Garcia or Clint Frazier.
The problem is, the Yankees clearly needed another starting pitcher to be a championship caliber team. They lost their #2 and #3 starters to injury early in the season with Luis Severino needing Tommy John surgery and James Paxton having arm issues after offseason back surgery. No team is built to withstand the loss of two top pitchers, just look at what happened to the Padres in the playoffs. Without their top 2 starters they had to bullpen basically every game.
The difference between what happened to the Padres and what happened to the Yankees is that the Yankees had all season to address these issues. At first, there was time to see if internal options were viable, and it was clear early on that J.A. Happ was still J.A. Happ (despite a midseason resurgence) and that Jordan Montgomery, who miraculously pitched brilliantly in Game 4, was not going to be more than a back of the rotation arm this season.
The other issue was Tommy Kahnle needing Tommy John surgery and Adam Ottavino losing effectiveness. That left the team with only 3 reliable bullpen options in Chapman, Britton, and Green to paper over the issues left by the rotation. If the Yankees had their bullpen of fire breathing dragons like in previous years, the issues with the rotation could have been mitigated. It was clear in July that the Yankees needed another bullpen arm and starter, it was clear in August, and it was made clear to us all once again in October.
By doing nothing, the Yankees relied on mediocre lefties in Happ and Montgomery for extraordinarily important innings in October against a team that crushes lefties. The Rays are not a good offensive team, yet they had an OPS of .795 against lefties this season. For reference, Rafael Devers’ OPS this year was .793. Imagine how things could have been different with big boy Lance Lynn in Game 2 against a lineup that struggles against high fastballs. I bet the series looks a whole lot different in that scenario.
The inability to adjust the roster during the season led to putting players in bad spots and watching the predictable bad outcome. While I think Brian Cashman is a great GM and absolutely should continue in his role, this ultimately falls on him and the baseball ops people. This season was all about adjusting and adapting to adverse circumstances. The Yankees didn’t and that’s why we’re all sitting here pretending like the ALCS doesn’t exist.