Nobody feels sorry for the Yankees, not with bottles ready to pop in the Bronx as early as Wednesday to celebrate the AL East title. But man, has a team this successful ever been this unlucky?
Within minutes of Monday’s 8-0 waxing of the Angels, a win that marked the spotless 2019 debut of Luis Severino, and trimmed the Yankees’ magic number to two (pending the Rays’ late result), Aaron Boone took much longer than usual to arrive at his media briefing.
And when Boone did show up, the perpetually upbeat manager was in a much darker mood, as the team made the shocking announcement that Dellin Betances had suffered a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon, ending his season.
The stunner? Betances actually hurt himself Sunday at Rogers Centre, in his first appearance of the season, hopping off the mound after the second of his two strikeouts. Betances didn’t mention any pain until Tuesday, however, and after the Yankees ran him through a battery of pregame tests, they sent him for an MRI that revealed the tear.
“It’s obviously frustrating, and about as freak as it can be, but we’ll deal with it,” Boone said. “We’ve dealt with a lot of things obviously this year and this is another one.”
Only a handful of Yankees were able to avoid the injured list during this bizarre year, and still the team never veered off course, speeding toward another 100-plus win season without as much as a cold snap. They were forced to use 52 players (so far) as even the backups to the backups got hurt, but the second half of September figured to be a chance to get a few key players back in time for the playoffs.
Betances was one of those key Yankees, and Sunday’s two-K debut had the team positively giddy about his impact on their already formidable bullpen. No team loves its relief corps more than the Yankees, and Betances was going to be another weapon for October.
Instead, Betances couldn’t even make it through an eight-pitch performance without getting hurt again. That’s just a brutally cruel twist of fate for a homegrown Yankee who had spent the entire season rehabbing from a shoulder/lat injury.
So as optimistic as the Yankees have tried to be regarding their roster-wide health crisis, it’s getting tougher to keep the faith. For every positive turn, for every comeback, something else typically slaps them in the face. And as they wait on a few more injured difference-makers, why should anyone believe these will have happy results?
The Yankees can check the box on Severino, who fired four scoreless innings in Tuesday’s debut with four strikeouts, and a fastball that reached 98 mph. But what of Giancarlo Stanton, who is expected to be activated Wednesday and has so much to prove in a short period of time?
Or Edwin Encarnacion, who can’t even swing a bat yet after suffering a left oblique strain last Thursday? Or Gary Sanchez, who has been shut down after aggravating a groin strain?
What makes the Yankees believe those comebacks will be seamless? They hoped for the best from Bentances, thought they got it, then look what happened. Disaster.
“We’ve been one of the best teams in the sport all season and our bullpen has been one of the overwhelming strengths of this club,” Boone said. “That doesn’t change.”
We’ll see about the others. The Yankees really can’t wait any longer to test Stanton against major-league competition. For as much as Stanton supposedly was “getting after it” in Tampa, as Boone described, you can’t simulate the intensity of Yankee Stadium.
When last we saw Stanton working out in the Bronx, he was wearing a large brace on his right knee, and his movement was a bit more deliberate. The Yankees need him capable of playing the outfield, but there’s also a question of what he can deliver at the plate. While Stanton has an MVP resume, he’s only played in nine games this season — a total of 38 plate appearances — and not since June 25.
Encarnacion was riding a stationary bike Tuesday. Sanchez isn’t that far along yet. For as much as the Yankees need more games to get these players ready, the regular season also can’t end fast enough.
They can only hope their luck turns come October.