By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
On Friday, Craig Carton mused over the surreal American League landscape that would have been created if there was a sweep at Fenway Park over the weekend.
Well, there sure was a sweep, but not as planned or proposed.
The Red Sox just shoved the Yankees into the Atlantic. And it’s quite fitting that it would be Boston, which has completely flipped the script on its eternal tormentors ever since the epic comeback in the 2004 ALCS. The Red Sox certainly don’t fear the Bronx Bombers anymore. The “call them my daddy” days of Pedro Martinez and years of hexes are buried next to the Bambino.
But fret not, Yankees fans. Maybe this series didn’t play out like you wanted — it was Boston’s first four-game sweep of the Yanks in 26 years, and featured blown leads of 5-1, 5-2, and 4-0 — but this season has been a booming success.
The Yankees pulled off the impossible baseball exacta of unloading three All-Stars and their salaries, and somehow got better at the same time. But the idea that they would turn this wholesale youth movement into an enchanted World Series run was pure fiction.
You can’t detonate the best bullpen in baseball, jettison two of the top five relievers in the sport, and not expect to blow a few late-inning leads. Likewise, you can’t dive into a youth movement and not expect to blow a few late-inning leads.
The problem is the Yankees got so good so quickly they gave you inflated expectations. The whole year was distorted by Gary Sanchez, who went all Roy Hobbs the moment he was called up to the majors.
With yet another towering blast on Sunday night, Sanchez became the second fastest to 16 career homers since 1900, doing so in just 158 at-bats (just behind Wally Berger, who needed 148).
The Yankees weren’t just the team of the future; they suddenly were infected with pennant fever. We all got swept up in their staggering momentum. We’re just not ready to realize how unrealistic it was.
Thus, the public and the pundits are looking for scapegoats for the four-game abyss in Boston. Most are tossing darts at their Joe Girardi posters, blaming him for the biblical destruction Hanley Ramirez put on them, ignoring that Ramirez has been putting up Playstation numbers all month.
Not only was the Red Sox slugger 9-of-16, with four homers and nine RBI in the series, he’s batting .400, with 11 homers and 28 RBI since Aug. 30, spanning 18 games. That means it would take more than Girardi’s beloved binder to solve the Ramirez equation.
Even in the somber darkness of the last four days, there was a neat, cinematic symmetry to Sunday night. Sanchez, again, hit a Ruthian shot that sailed over the Green Monster, thumping into a sign well above the wall. Then we had the old man on the mound. CC Sabathia was not long ago left for dead, for baseball carrion. Not only had he lost his fastball, he had lost his soul. Yet there he was, somehow back on the front-end of the rotation when most figured he would toil in the crucible of his demons. Sabathia is the perfect emblem of a team that refused to quit, but just ran out of steam. It was a perfect frame of the future and the past passing each other on the same diamond.
The Yankees are an impossible eight games behind the Sox in the AL East, and are now a formidable four games from the final wild-card spot. Adding to the playoff hurdle, they must leapfrog four clubs to get there. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Yanks have a 0.1 percent chance to win the division, and a 3.6 percent chance to make the postseason. The coffin is all but closed.
We all know they won’t win the World Series, or even play in it. And while sneaking into the playoffs would be a seismic deed for a formerly dead team, this season was a wonder without the playoff ornament hanging from the Bombers’ corporate tree.
No reasonable fan thinks of the 2015 Yanks as a playoff team. Despite their cosmetic wild card appearance, they scored just as many playoff runs last year as the Padres, Brewers, Braves, and Twins. While last year’s Bombers were considered overachievers, this team not only stretched its arc but has also given fans exponentially more hope for the future.
The one thing that their deadline splurge didn’t fix was the starting rotation, which still essentially has Masahiro Tanaka — the only starter with a sub-4.00 ERA — and a conga line of variables.
But not only do the Yankees have far more prospects, and a far more fertile farm system, they now have serious trade chips if they care to pursue a front-line starter, like Chris Sale or similar.
If you still need the illusion of playoff baseball to keep your hand near the remote, then cling to that 3.6-percent chance.
But you should not have needed the Yankees to swirl down the Fenway drain to know they weren’t World Series contenders this year. And you don’t need yet another Yankeeography to know that the future is endlessly brighter today than it was two months ago.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel