If one player currently symbolizes the sad state of the Yankees, it’s Giancarlo Stanton. In a cameo appearance Sunday against the Red Sox, Stanton stepped to the plate to pinch-hit, appearing menacing and powerful. As is often the case, he went down without a fight, weakly waving at the third strike.
Stanton is stuck in a miserable slump, but he’s not alone. There are plenty of boos to go around in New York. The preseason American League favorites and the second choice to win the World Series behind the Dodgers slipped to fourth in the AL East after getting swept by the Red Sox in a three-game weekend series in the Bronx.
On May 10, the Yankees were 18-16 and the Dodgers 18-17. The storyline in this column at the time: It’s a long season and no time to panic. The Dodgers won 13 of the next 15 games to get back on track. A month later, the Yankees remain off the rails.
“A lot of people are sick of watching the Yankees, but they still bet them, and they bet them again Sunday,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and veteran Las Vegas bookmaker. “There’s no way they could get swept by the Red Sox, right?”
The Red Sox found a way to win 6-5 in 10 innings, and the Yankees getting broomed by Boston was embarrassing. The game ended on a groundout by DJ LeMahieu, who was batting .253 a year after he led MLB at .364. The Yankees ranked 27th in the majors in runs per game — only the Mets, Tigers and Pirates were worse — and that’s just the beginning of the list of their offensive failures.
At the 60-game mark, which represented the entire number of regular-season games in 2020, the Yankees (31-29) were 6.5 games behind first-place Tampa Bay (38-23) in the division while also looking up at Boston (37-23) and Toronto (30-27).
Still, BetMGM lists the Yankees as the 375 second choice to win the AL, behind the favored White Sox (3-1) and ahead of the Rays ( 450). The Yankees are the 850 fourth choice to win the World Series, ahead of the Rays (15-1) and Red Sox (20-1).
Do the oddsmakers know some kind of secret? The Yankees’ lofty standing on the odds board is due mostly to the amount of money they have attracted and the liability the books face.
“Overall, the Yankees are perceived as a better team than the Rays by oddsmakers, and that’s reflected by the World Series odds,” MGM Resorts director of trading Jeff Stoneback said. “Also, the public perceives the Yankees as a better team, reflected by twice as many Series tickets written on them as the Rays. If it was a playoff series starting today, the Yankees would be favored against the Rays.”
The Yankees were odds-on favorites to win the East in the preseason and have dipped to the 200 second choice, with the Rays favored at 135. The Red Sox might be the best bet at 350. Tampa Bay’s favored status in the division is based more on reality and its cushion over the Yanks.
“With about 100 games left in the season, it would be tough for the Rays to stay so hot, and the feeling is the Yankees will play to expectations,” Stoneback said.
That feeling is probably deceiving. The Yankees’ season win total was set at 95 — far above the Rays (88) and Red Sox (79) — but it’s now obvious those expectations were too high. The problems start with an offense that was batting .228 and scoring 3.72 runs per game. It’s easy to pinpoint the problems with the team in pinstripes.
“I guess we all overrated the lineup,” said Dave Cokin, a Las Vegas baseball handicapper. “It’s supposed to be a 100-win lineup, but they can’t hit and it’s not phony. The Yankees are just a bad offensive team. Everything is wrong. The Yankees can’t hit, the starting pitching has been a little shaky and their bullpen, which was supposed to be as good as it gets, is not that good.”
Aaron Judge is the only regular in the lineup sniffing a .300 batting average. Judge was leading the team by hitting .295 with 14 home runs and 32 RBIs. In addition to the struggles of LeMahieu and Stanton, shortstop Gleyber Torres had only three homers in 184 at-bats, beleaguered catcher Gary Sanchez was batting .210 and outfielders Clint Frazier and Brett Gardner were below .200.
“The Bombers have played 60 games and may soon be forced to forfeit that nickname, considering they have scored three runs or fewer in 33 games,” said VSiN analyst William Hill, who admits to being a frustrated Yankees fan. “It’s June, it’s no longer a small sample size, and while the Yankees are still within striking distance of a playoff spot, it’s clear this isn’t the title team many hoped or thought it would be.”
On Sunday, the Yankees’ starting first baseman was Chris Gittens, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Who and why? Regular first baseman Luke Voit, who led MLB with 22 homers last year, has been injured and limited to 12 games. Torres has totaled only six homers since the start of the 2020 season after blasting 38 in 2019.
“If you look at the last couple seasons, Torres is just a middle-of-the-road guy, and that’s about it,” Cokin said. “Unless he gets going, I don’t think the team gets going.”
The Stanton situation is sticky business. In December 2017, the Yankees acquired him from Miami and committed $265 million to a high-risk, high-reward slugger who’s signed through 2027. It was a questionable call by general manager Brian Cashman then, and it looks bad now. When he’s hot, Stanton is awesome. When he’s not, he’s a strikeout machine.
The lineup features too many right-handed bats. Cashman whiffed on opportunities to land left-handed power hitters Bryce Harper and Shohei Ohtani. Gerrit Cole has played his part as the ace of the pitching staff. But aside from signing Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract in December 2019, Cashman has made few big splashes.
These are not the Yankees of the George Steinbrenner era, and they have not won a World Series since 2009, the year before Steinbrenner’s death.
The San Diego Padres, never known as big-market spenders, have been more aggressive in recent years than Cashman and the Yankees. Harper and Manny Machado each wanted to sign with the Yankees, yet Harper went to Philadelphia and Machado to San Diego.
“Machado, Harper and Trevor Bauer all hit the free-agent market, and all went somewhere other than the team that was once known and hated for getting every player, whether they needed them or not,” Hill said. “Ohtani is captivating baseball and is just a few healthy months away from winning the MVP in one of the most incredible displays of talent we’ve ever seen. He is doing it in an Angels uniform. Aside from signing Cole, the Yankees have become extremely frugal and careful, both in free agency and in the trade market.”
Baseball is a spend-to-win business. The overrated Cashman will be under pressure to fix the roster flaws this summer and try to reload for the second half.
“The Yankees are going to have to do something, but it’s not just a one-player fix,” Cokin said.
Is it time to change the manager? Aaron Boone is a player-friendly clubhouse boss, much more laid back than predecessor Joe Girardi, whom Cashman fired in 2017.
“I think you have to start talking about (Boone), though maybe give it another month and see if things turn around,” Cokin said. “I watch a lot of games, and even some of the bad teams have fun out there. The Yankees seem to be flat and don’t have much fun. I thought the division would be a really good two-team race with the Rays and Yankees, and it’s now looking like it could be the Rays and Red Sox.”
Boston has been in a rebuilding phase since dealing star outfielder Mookie Betts to the Dodgers in February 2020, but the rebuild is ahead of schedule.
“If the Red Sox remain in it, they could make a play for a guy like Max Scherzer and roll the dice with him,” Magliulo said.
Scherzer, set to hit free agency in the offseason, is a valuable trade chip for the Nationals. He was 5-4 through 12 starts with 104 strikeouts in 77 innings to go with a 0.82 WHIP and 2.22 ERA. Scherzer still is a stud, so why would Cashman let him go to Boston? Scherzer is the type of pitcher who could change the odds for the Yankees or Red Sox this summer.
The Nationals had a 42-41 record at the end of June in 2019, when Scherzer helped lead them on a second-half surge en route to the World Series title.
Magliulo recalled the 1978 season, when the Yankees were 14 games behind the Red Sox after the All-Star break in July. The Yankees caught fire and eventually went to Boston and beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the AL East title. Bucky Dent’s go-ahead three-run homer in the seventh inning is one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.
The moral of the story is never give up on a team too soon, especially the Yankees.
While public perception of these Yankees, who closed as betting favorites in 56 of their first 60 games, might finally be deteriorating, oddsmakers will resist major adjustments.
“As a bookmaker, you have to bear in mind they are the Yankees and they have resources,” Magliulo said. “There is plenty of time to turn it around. You can’t overreact just yet.”