|Those who forget the past...|
Exiting the month of May - which traditionally was cruel to Yankee powerhouses of the early 2000s - here is what I know:
1. The AL East is a putrid cesspool of antique collections of mediocrity - plus a young one, Tampa Bay. Unless the Blue Jays are for real - ha to that! - and bolt from this lumbering, toothless pack, the 2014 Division champion could win less than 90 games.
The weakness of our rivals stands as our greatest strength.
2. Despite the checkbook additions of Beltran, McCann, Ellsbury and Tanaka, the Yankees are behind last year's pace. This is troubling, to say the least.
Last year, on May 31, the team stood at 31-23, eight games above .500 and one behind Boston, in second. Today, we are 28-25, and displaying an exceptional ability to follow a rousing victory with a clunker. (This is what happens when the rotation is in tatters.)
Last year's May 31 lineup: Gardner, Youkilis, Cano, Teixeira, Wells, Nix, Adams, Ichiro, Stewart. The pitcher was CC Sabathia. Back then, we didn't know that Youk and Tex were doomed, that Wells would turn into Andruw Jones, and that the bottom of the order would haunt us the way Dick Cheney does the GOP. By June, our woes would culminate in the line-up at right, a photo sent to me by a fan, who brilliantly recognized a sign of the Yankee Apocalypse. The snake-bitten Yankees of the late 1980s had nothing on last year's team.
So last night, losing to Eduardo Nunez and the terrible Twinkies, here was our order: Gardner, Jeter, Ellsbury, Tex, McCann, Roberts, Suzuki, Solarte, Murphy. Does anybody else feel seasick? We've already suffered two waves of injuries, but when you're as ancient the Yankees are, a next wave is always imminent. The first six names on that batting order are famous for breakability. The last three are rolls of the dice. Last year, Wells and Hafner sparkled in April and May. By July, they were a horror show. And let's not discuss the rotation. Glag. Don't get me started.
3. Last year, we received crapola from our farm system. Preston Claiborne pretty much covered it. The rest were used parts: Adams, Nuno, Almonte, Romine, Murphy (for his cup of coffee.) This year, we are seeing actual live human beings - Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Chase Whitley and John Ryan Murphy could be long-term Yankees, if they're not peddled for another Alfonso Soriano.
One glaring trouble, though: Throughout the minors, our "top" prospects - Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin - have pretty much floundered. (Sanchez has been serviceable at Trenton, but the others are nearing a career free-fall.) We've had a few breakouts, such as Pete O'Brien, the DH-C who leads all of baseball in HRs (but doesn't walk enough to help us this year,) But yesterday, minors guru Keith Law listed his Top 25 prospects in baseball - with an Honorable Mention tier - and the Yankees placed nobody - nada, not one name - on it. He didn't even feel compelled to throw us a bone.
Yankee fans have a tendency to focus microscopically on our prospects - growing overly elated or depressed about their developments. (When Law ignores our players, some scream anti-Yankee bias.) But we too seldom compare our kids with those of other teams. Last year, it was an easy comparison: Our system was a joke. This year, it has improved. But we still lag behind other organizations, including - gulp - Boston. We don't have - say - a guy like Mookie Betts, a Redsock 2B who has torn apart the Eastern League (and is now being moved to CF.) If we did, we'd be shouting his name from the Empire State Building. We are developing young players. But are we keeping up with the Joneses? Not sure, yet.
Of course, if you read the self-congratulatory words of the Yankees brass, you'll hear that all the problems have been fixed and - implicitly - that all their jobs should be secure. Wasn't the head of the Veterans Administration saying similar things not long ago?
Last year, at this time, we had high hopes for the team.
Today - for all the pluses of Tanaka and the kids - I'm not sure the Yankiverse sleeps well.
But hey, last night, the YES team focused on the bright side: Toronto was losing, so they wouldn't gain ground! Yep. They really said that. Ahhh, the month of May. Sad to see it go.