After the crushing loss in game five of the ALDS to the Tampa Bay Rays, it’s time to reflect on the season. It feels like a lifetime ago that Gerrit Cole signed the richest deal for a starting pitcher in MLB history with the Yankees back in December, a deal that put the team that made it to the ALCS last year the overwhelming favorites in the American League. But alas, the Bombers fell short of their ultimate goal, again.
If you told a Yankee fan back in January that their team would lose to the Rays in five games in the ALDS, you would have been mercilessly laughed at. Oh, the naivety.
Nevertheless, the season fell short for several reasons. Bullpen inconsistencies, offense not showing up in big spots, and yet another barrage of injuries that caused the team to fall to 21-21 at one point. But if you are like many Yankee fans that are searching for answers now that their season is over, l feel that the absence of two key players sealed the fate of the Yankees long before they were eliminated.
When the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole, the thought of the 1-2 punch of him and Luis Severino was tantalizing. Two proven ace caliber pitchers were something the Yankees haven’t had since A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia through their most recent championship run in 2009. When it was announced that Severino was to undergo Tommy John surgery back in February, it felt like 2019 all over again before the 2020 season had even started.
At least the team still could take comfort in the fact that the Yanks still had Cole, James Paxton, Tanaka, and Jordan Montgomery coming back from having Tommy John himself, still made for above-average rotation. But losing Severino was the first of many things that went wrong in 2020. When talking about the “core” that the Yankees have now, who comes to mind? Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, and D.J. LeMahieu are at the forefront, but Severino is just as integral to the teams’ success as any of them.
Signed to a four-year $40 million contract through 2022, Sevy was the bonafide ace before Cole came into the picture. He finished third in the AL Cy Young voting in 2017 and finished in the top 10 the following year. After missing a hefty chunk of 2019, 2020 looked to be a redemption year to prove what he is actually capable of. After James Paxton was diagnosed with a flexor strain in his right forearm and his season quickly came to an end, our once elite looking rotation dwindled and subsequently sealed the fate for the team. Don’t believe me? Go watch Severino in the 2018 wild card game against the Athletics and tell me he’s not a difference-maker.
One of the rocks of the “four horseman” of the Yankee bullpen, Tommy Kahnle, was another player lost due to injury that impacted the Yankees greatly. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in early August, losing Tommy Kahnle was the nail in the coffin for a bullpen that struggled in both the regular and postseason. The Yankees desperately missed Kahnle’s devastating changeup.
He was someone who would fill out the crucial sixth-seventh inning range before the team could rely on Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman for the eighth and the ninth. Without him, guys like Jonathan Loaisiga and Jonathan Holder were the best options. Not a knock on either of those pitchers, but Kahnle performed significantly better than both of them since signing with New York in 2017.
Both of these absences are by no means the ONLY reasons why the team fell short this year, but having them both healthy for the entire year would have made a drastic difference. It is a sad day for Yankee fans, but now we move forward. They have their ace for the next decade, Sevy and Kahnle come back next year healthy, hopefully, the MLB season format returns to normal pending the status of the pandemic, and the Yankees can return to the top of the mountain. Right where they are expected to be.