The ultimate success of a baseball season is seldom established in a short stretch of games. In fact, that’s the beauty of baseball. A brief winning streak won’t catapult a weaker club into the postseason. Likewise, a few weeks of poor play won’t prevent the strongest squads from qualifying for the playoffs. The six-month grind of an MLB season ensures that long-term consistency will inevitably be rewarded.
There are, however, always exceptions to the general rule. While the New York Yankees still have more than two months left to right the ship and save their season, the next week could very well determine the course of their 2021 campaign. The Yanks have to play three more games against the Boston Red Sox this weekend, then they head south to face the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. After last night’s loss, the Yankees are eight games back of Boston. They are seven games back of Tampa.
Figuring Out Fenway
The Yankees’ last trip to Beantown was an unmitigated disaster. It was the second straight time that the Sox swept the Yankees, and it may have been the nadir of the team’s disappointing first half. Hopefully last night’s loss isn’t an indication that this team still hasn’t figured out how to win at Fenway. Including tonight’s matchup, the Yankees will play six more games in Boston before the 2021 season is over. With the Sox still sitting comfortably ahead of the Yankees in the standings, all of those games will be crucial. Winning at least two of the next three will go a long way toward keeping the Yankees’ playoff chances alive.
Taking it to Tampa
It’s no secret that the Rays have been the Yankees’ kryptonite since 2020. Last season, Tampa won the regular season series 8-2. Then, in October, the Rays eliminated the Yankees from the postseason by winning a dramatic Game 5 in the ALDS.
Not much has changed in 2021. The Yankees have gone 5-8 against the Rays this season, and have been outscored 64-37 in those 13 contests. Barring a postseason rematch, next week’s series will be the final 2021 meeting between the two clubs.
It’s very difficult to catch up to a team in the standings without facing them head-to-head. That means that the Yankees need to make the most out of these final three games. Taking two in Tampa would get the Yankees to 7-9 against the Rays. A sweep would allow the Yanks to finish .500 against their division rivals.
Playing with House Money
As we all know, the Yankees are playing this critical stretch of games without many of their best players. With Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, Jonathan Loaisiga, and others sidelined with COVID-19, the Yanks’ lineup is the thinnest it has been all year. Loaisiga appears to be the closest to returning, but it is very possible that the Yankees will be without some key cogs for at least a week.
The good news, though, is that the replacement squad has been playing inspired baseball. While they may be shorthanded, the Yankees have won five games in a row. Guys like Greg Allen, Ryan LaMarre, and Estevan Florial are playing with house money. Not much is expected of them, but they’re playing a fun, scrappy brand of baseball. Perhaps their energy is exactly the sort of jolt that the Yankees need to start turning things around. If the backups can play well for a few more games, then we might look back on their contribution as the turning point of the 2021 season.