Welcome to Everyone’s Having Fun Without Us: An Occasional Postseason Diary. The Sox are done, but baseball isn’t and, on most nights — when we’re not too bitter to watch the Yankees, or too tired for the West Coast games, or when the people we live with don’t tell us “enough with the goddamn baseball, already! This has been going on for six months!” — we’ll be here, providing some quick thoughts about the postseason.
The Yankees Bullpen Ain’t What It Used To Be
For the entire regular season, hitters produced just a 77 OPS+ against the Yankees bullpen. For reference, that’s what David Fletcher of the Angels hit this year. But the thing about David Fletcher is that he’s actually a tiny little forest pixie who can barely lift a bat. David Fletcher is only even on the Angels because he saved Arte Moreno from the forest trolls one day, after Moreno got lost in the realm of the wood fairies. Moreno offered him one wish as thanks for saving his life, and Fletcher said he wanted to play big league baseball, and so the forest maidens sewed a tiny little Angels uniform for Fletcher, and Moreno carried him in his pocket to Angels Stadium. David Fletcher can’t really hit, is what I’m saying, and the Yankees bullpen turned the entire league into David Fletchers.
But that was then. Injuries have seriously depleted the Yankees once unhittable relief corps. Michael King, who struck out 66 hitters in 51 innings, has been out since the end of July. Ron Marinaccio, who produced an absurd 192 ERA+ in 44 innings, is still battling a shin injury. Scott Effross, who’d been just as good as Marinaccio in a more limited sample, went under the knife for Tommy John just as the postseason began.
And the pitchers who remain haven’t been nearly as good as they were in the first half of the season, when it looked like the Yankees would threaten the all-time wins record. Clay Holmes looked like the most unhittable pitcher I’d ever seen in earlier this year, posting ERAs of 0.84, 0.00, and 0.75 in the first three months of the season. But he followed that up with a 7 ERA in July and is battling a shoulder injury that, apparently, will keep him from pitching in back-to-back games. Lou Trivino has been excellent for the Yankees since coming over in a late-season trade, but he had a 4.53 ERA on the year and can’t be thought of as a lock-down late-inning guy just yet. Aroldis Chapman is at home, googling “tattoo removal near me.”
And so, in the middle innings of a low-scoring affair, facing the likely Cy Young-winner and needing to keep the game as close as possible, the Yankees were forced to turn to Clarke Schmidt and Frankie Montas to hold the line. They didn’t:
It’s October, a trip to the World Series is on the line, and the Yankees are suddenly in the midst of an identity crisis. That’s a shame.
Juan Soto And The Trouble With Baseball Greatness
Baseball is pretty much the only sport where an all-time great player in his prime can play the entire game and yet be totally irrelevant to the outcome. I once took a friend from Spain to Fenway, where I spent most of the time patronizingly explaining the game to him. When Manny Ramirez came up to the plate, I explained that he was one of the very best hitters in the world. I said that he had power to all fields. I said that he was a hitting genius who’d been known to deliberately swing and miss at a hittable pitch in order to entice the pitcher to throw it again later in the game. I said that he was one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time, and that we were blessed to watch him play.
Manny then proceeded to strike out looking, and my friend took a sip of his beer, ate a handful of popcorn, and asked me how many points you get for hitting the ball to the dirt behind the outfielders. The Sox ended up losing the game, Manny did nothing, and my friend suddenly had some questions about my baseball acumen.
This doesn’t happen in basketball. LeBron James has been the most important person in every game he’s ever played. Either he is his typical, excellent self and he wills his team to victory, or the other team successfully keeps him in check and wins as a direct result of that effort. Either way, he is the story of the game. In soccer, the entire pitch seems to tilt towards Lionel Messi every time he steps on it. His team spends the entire game trying to get him the ball in space. His opponents spend the entire game trying to bottle him up. Either way, he’s the most important man in the stadium.
Juan Soto may very well end up as one of the greatest players of all-time. But because of the fundamental nature of baseball, he’s been largely irrelevant to the Padres story so far. An ill-timed slump meant that he was not the driving force of their run to the postseason (though “slump” is a relative term when it comes to Soto — even as his power seemed to disappear in Petco, he still put up a 130 OPS+ with the Padres), and he was downright bad in his first seven postseason games this year, hitting zero home runs and, even more shockingly, walking just twice.
To me, this is a huge bummer. Everyone has their own reasons for watching and loving the game. But as for me, above all else I love watching great players do their thing. I love watching excellence, I love seeing someone be better at playing baseball than I will ever be at anything else — writing, parallel parking, marinating a steak. So, even though I’m not necessarily rooting for one team over the other, I punched the air with my fist last evening when Soto came up in the fifth and tied the game with a frozen rope to right.
He finally had his Padres postseason moment. I hope he hits three home runs tomorrow.