Alex Rodriguez was pretty good in 2004, just not as great as his MVP season the year before.
He hit 36 homers with an .888 OPS and finished 13th in AL MVP voting, yet he never sustained the brilliance that motivated the Yankees to acquire him with seven years years left on what at the time was the largest total contract in North American team sports history, especially when they already had the face of their franchise, Derek Jeter, playing his natural position.
Rodriguez’s age-28/Yankees debut season ended with ignominy, the Yanks blowing a three-games-to-none ALCS lead to the Red Sox. Rodriguez was not the only culprit — for the first seven games of those playoffs against Minnesota and Boston, he was the Yankees’ best hitter — but he became the face of the collapse. Because of the size of this talent and contract and because his acquisition was deemed a finishing piece for a team that had reached the World Series the previous season.
Giancarlo Stanton has been pretty good in 2018, just not as great as his MVP season of last year.
He has 33 homers with an .838 OPS and if the season ended today would probably finish between 10th and 15th in MVP voting. Yet Stanton has not sustained the brilliance that motivated the Yankees to acquire him with 10 years left on the largest total contract in North American team sports history, especially when they already had the face of their franchise, Aaron Judge, playing his natural position.
Stanton’s age-28/Yankees debut season is in jeopardy of ending in ignominy. What was on Aug. 1 a six-game lead for the top wild-card spot over the A’s was down to one after Wednesday’s games. The Yankees’ postseason could come and go Oct. 3 in Oakland. Stanton has not been the only culprit imperiling the team. But even without the polarizing personality of Rodriguez, Stanton should understand that the size of his talent and contract are going to make him the face of the failure if the Yankees do not right themselves.
So the pressure is on the Yankees collectively to find the best of themselves, which was lost around mid-July, and for Stanton to find the best of himself, which has never really arrived in a sustained way. Or else Stanton could learn — as Rodriguez did — how difficult life can be even as a successful player in New York, such are the expectations that envelope the big guy and this franchise.
Look, this is not hopeless. Aroldis Chapman and Judge can get healthy, Luis Severino can rediscover his first-half level and the Yanks can win it all.
Most of the current Yankees did rally from 3-0 down in the first inning of last year’s wild-card game to beat the Twins, from behind two games to none in the Division Series to beat the Indians and from down two games to none in the ALCS before finally falling in seven to the eventual champion Astros. With all that has gone wrong, these Yankees are still on pace to win 99 games.
But that “on pace” element has done much to shield the Yankees from criticism of what is now two months of slogging baseball in which they assured they could not catch the Red Sox and opened themselves to be caught by the A’s. Heck, if they do not capitalize on this nine-game homestand, maybe they are opening themselves to having to hold off the Rays.
In 2011, the Rays were never going to catch the beer-and-fried-chicken Red Sox, but they did. After this homestand, the Yanks have four games in St. Pete, where they are 1-5 against the Rays this year. To miss the playoffs altogether with a 9 1/2-game lead with 16 to go would be as close to 2004 humiliation as possible.
To even have to sweat out those games would be bad form. Which is why the Yankees offense — which has an .820 OPS at home compared to .728 on the road — must get back to 1-through-9 bludgeoning in the Bronx. The Yankees host the Red Sox from Tuesday through Thursday, and a chance exists that Boston could be celebrating an AL East title at Yankee Stadium — which would be a stinging echo to the conclusion of that 2004 ALCS.
Stanton does not want to deal with comparisons to 2004 A-Rod or Boston’s J.D. Martinez. So he must break from a period in which he is hitting .116 with one homer in his last 18 games. He is not the only Yankee struggling — like A-Rod was not the only one struggling the final three games of 2004. But he is a huge contributor to the Yanks’ AL-worst .194 average in September. The bull’s-eye will find the big talent with the huge contract.
Stanton was brought here to be a finishing piece to a champion. How about he be a key to simply getting the Yankees a home wild-card game first?
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