27 September 2020

The 2020 Yankees: So Streaky, Even Facing the Twins May Not Save Them...

People sometimes talk about a team being "consistently inconsistent," meaning that they never seem to string together a winning (or losing) streak of more than a few games.

The 2020 Yankees are, I think, better described as "inconsistently consistent," i.e. that they seem consistent for a while, and just when you think you know who they are, they do a 180.  

Here is a schematic of their season results:

Green markers, above the reference line, are Wins, and red ones are Losses, with the margin of victory (or defeat) indicated by the size. The bar is capped at 10 runs, so the Yankees' 20-6 win against the Jays looks just like their 13-2 win the next night and their 12-1 win earlier this week.  

You can see the problem.
  • They won 8 of their first 9.
  • Then they lost 5 of the next 7. 
  • Then they won six in a row.  
  • Then they lost seven in a row.  
  • Then they won 4 out of 5. 
  • Then they lost 7 of 8.  
  • Then they rattled off 10 straight wins(!), which included sweeping Toronto, outscoring them 43-15 in a 3-game set, and setting a new record with 19 homers in a series. 
  • And now they've lost five of their last six, despite having most of the team back and ostensibly healthy.  

Somehow, despite finally enjoying the presence of Gleyber Torres, and Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton, and Urshela and LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks - all players who have spent some time on the injured list this season, some more on it than off - the Yankees still have not been able to stave off either the Blue Jays or the Marlins.

The Jays, despite being four games over .500, have actually been outscored a little this season (292-303). Similarly, the Marlins are two games over .500 but have actually been outscored a LOT this season (254-293). Two teams that not only shouldn't come close to making the playoffs in a "normal" year, but probably shouldn't even have winning records this year, have both clinched a playoff berth at the Yankees' expense in two consecutive nights.  It was hard to watch.

I dunno what any of this means, but I find it interesting, and a little disconcerting heading into the playoffs. How can a team that can't even beat the Marlins, let alone the Tampa Bay Rays, an actual good team, win a championship? 

I mean, obviously the Dodgers would have to be the favorite, but the Dodgers have notoriously choked in several postseasons since their last World Series win in 1988, and especially with the bizarre way the playoffs are set up this year, you would have to think it's anybody's game.  

As things stand now, the Yankees could face the Twins in the first round*, which under normal circumstances would be a guaranteed win. For one thing, the Twins have not won a playoff game since 2004, which was three presidents ago. It was so long that Destiny's Child was still together. So long that the iPhone was still almost three years away. So long ago that Hilary Duff was the most searched name on AOL. Also, AOL was still important.   

*Sorry, I wrote most of this before the final couple of games of the season, and it now looks like the Yankees will have to face the Indians in the first round.  So, take the rest of this post for what you will.  Maybe the Twins will somehow beat the Astros and the Yankees can face them in the ALDS or something.  

Second, in case you hadn't heard, the Yankees have owned the Twins for the better part of the last two decades. The Yankees are an astonishing 119-39* against Minnesota since 2002, including 16-2 in the playoffs, spanning five different series and a Wild Card game. They have won more than 75% of their games against the Twins, which is the best record any team has against anybody over that span, and might be the best record any team has ever had against another team over so long a time. To be fair, the Yankees and Twins have not played each other this year because of the weird COVID rules, so it's hard to know how they match up in 2020. But still.  Winning more than 3 out of every four contests for 18 years???

 How dominant is that? Here are two comparisons:

1. The 1936-53 Yankees vs. Browns 

Back in the so-called Golden Age of Baseball (really just the Golden Age of New York, specifically New York Yankee, Baseball), the St. Louis Browns were a perennial doormat in the Junior Circuit. During their last 18 years in St. Louis, they won barely 40% of their games overall, and that includes three winning seasons, so you can surely imagine how awful they usually were in the other ones. They were so terrible that the owners thought they could make more money in Baltimore, which had not had a franchise since 1902. They lost 100+ games five times and 90+ games six other times. 

Sure, they went to a World Series in 1944, but that was still during WWII, when a lot of the best players were wearing olive and khaki uniforms instead of pinstripes or gray flannels. That team only won 89 games in the regular season, and had only two players with double digit homers, one who hit .300, and one with 100 RBIs.  

Other than Vern Stephens at shortstop, the lineup was pretty forgettable, as was the pitching staff.  About half of the players were out of MLB by 1945 or '46, pushed out by the players returning from military service. Many had never been in MLB before the War, or had only come out of retirement when younger, healthier and better players were conscripted to fight the Nazis. 

In 1945, the Browns were so desperate they tried a one-armed outfielder named Pete Gray.  Later, with Bill Veeck at the helm, they hired a midget for one game, as a promotional stunt, to try to boost attendance. They once played a game with the fans giving managerial advice via placards that were handed out at the gate, and they brought 45-year old Satchel Paige out of retirement.  All of that happened in 1951.  Within about a month.  They were bad. 

Small in stature...but also in attendance. And winning percentage. 

Meanwhile, in that same 18-year span (1936-1953) the Yankees won 13 AL pennants and a dozen World Series. They developed eleven future Hall of Famers, not to mention many other stars.  They had a winning record every year, and finished lower than third just once, in 1945, when the likes of Tuck Stainback  and Mike Garback manned CF and catcher instead of Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra, who were in the service.  But otherwise, they were a perennial juggernaut, and a regular winner.  

Imagine almost two decades in which the same team won, on average, two out of every three World Series. That's baseball (Suzyn) in the "Golden Age". 

Anyway, those Yankee teams faced the lowly Browns 22 or 23 times per season - there were only eight teams in the AL at the time - and regularly trounced them, amassing a 272-124 (68.7%) record against them in that time. And even that winning percentage is well shy of how dominant the Yankees of the 21st century have been against Minnesota - which has actually had some pretty good teams - since 2002. 

B. The 1998 & 1927 Yankees vs. The Field

Or, to look at it another way, the 1998 Yankees, widely considered one of the greatest baseball teams of all time, went 114-48 in the regular season and 11-2 in the playoffs, winning the first of three straight championships. If there is another claimant to the title of Greatest MLB Team ever, it is perhaps the Yankees' 1927 Murderers Row squad, who went 111-44 in the regular season and then swept the Pirates, 4-0, in the World Series. And even those teams "only" won 71.4% and 72.8% of their games, respectively, including their postseason heroics.

The Twins are at the bottom of the pile, obviously.

The Yankees' winning percentage against the Twins since 2002 (75.3%) would equate to a 122-Win regular season team, which no team in history has come close to achieving. So the 2002-2019 Yankees have actually been better against the Twins than either the 1927 Yankees or the 1998 Yankees were against, well, everybody.  

Of course, this Yankees team is neither those.  The 1927 team famously used only 25 players on its roster the entire season.  Literally nobody got hurt, ever, whereas these 2020 Yankees can't seem to stay of the injured list for more than a week.  The 1998 Yankees lost more than three in a row only once all season (they had a 4-game streak in August), and only lost three in a row three times all year.  

But this 2020 team' propensity for being maddeningly unlike, well, itself from one week to the next could spell doom for them in the playoffs.  They'll likely be on the road against the Twins for that 3-game series, were they have only a 11-18 record (compared to 21-8 at home).  Moreover, the Twins are 23-6 at home this season, so this could be the year the curse of Tom Kelly (??) is finally broken.  

Or, the fact that the Yankees have been pretty terrible this week might indicate that they're ready to go on a tear, and sweep through the early rounds of the playoffs.  It's anybody's guess.  That's why they play the games.  


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