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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: December 3, 2022 5:45 pm PDT
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BY KEVIN KERNAN

Let’s start with some indisputable facts. Always a good beginning.

The Yankees are sitting at home after being knocked out once again in the ALCS by the Astros, who begin World Series play against the Phillies Friday in Houston at Minute Maid Park.

Knocked out is the proper term, too. The Yankees were swept in four games, the last two losses coming at Yankee Stadium.

In the series against the Astros the Yankees struck out 50 times over the four games, the Astros struck out 25 times. The Astros managed 30 hits, the Yankees 21. As a team, the Astros hit .238 to the Yankees .162. Houston hit 76 points higher than the Yankees in the series.

The depth of the Houston pitching staff can be summed up in one sentence. The Yankees $324 million ace Gerrit Cole was out-classed by young Cristian Javier – essentially a spot starter for the Astros – in Game 3, a 5-0 Houston win at Yankee Stadium.

There is much more to get to but that is essence of the series.

The Yankee apologists are coming out strong in the media, no surprise. They especially love to defend Brian Cashman, that’s fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it’s clear the Astros have built a much better winning baseball product than Cashman; and now they even have Reggie Jackson on their side.

His father loved to rock the boat, Hal doesn’t like to make any waves – but he does like to count his money.

Some apologists are even defending Aaron Boone, which is ludicrous. Dusty Baker ran circles around Boone, who had his closer Clay Holmes, and a vital starting pitcher in Luis Severino, come out and question his communication skills –  and remember, Aaron Boone was hired in large part by Cashman for his communication skills. All that is on Cashman.

Rob Thomson, who spent about 28 years in the Yankees organization, and went through a five-hour interview with Cashman & Co. back in 2017 when Thomson was the bench coach for Joe Girardi, did not get the Yankee managerial job at that time.

Boone did. Thomson is managing the Phillies in the World Series after replacing Girardi with the Phillies.

Funny how it all worked out.

To recap: Cashman hired Joe Girardi after Joe Torre. He then hired Aaron Boone after Girardi’s Yankees lost to the Astros in seven games in the ALCS in 2017. He did not hire Rob Thomson. Evidently, none of Thomson’s managerial and leadership skills were picked up by Cashman in their Yankee interview or his decades in the organization.

This is Brian Cashman’s team top to bottom and in 2018 Aaron Boone’s Yankees were beaten in the ALDS by the Red Sox, in 2019 it was an ALCS loss to the Astros, 2020 an ALDS loss to the Rays, in 2021 a wild card loss to the Red Sox and this year being swept away by the Astros in the ALCS.

That is Aaron Boone’s putrid postseason resume.

This is Cashman’s coaching staff, his analytical staff, his manager, his players, his mental skills coach, his left fielder in Giancarlo Stanton who can’t play the field, his third baseman in Josh Donaldson, who can’t hit much anymore heading into a season in which he will turn 37 and be paid nearly $22 million, his pitching staff, his ace, his shortstop in Isiah Kiner-Falefa. In fact, the Yankees used three different shortstops the last three games of the series in Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera and IKF and they also used three different leadoff hitters in the four games of the ALCS. No consistency, no chance.

Harrison Bader (twice), Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres led off. Cashman’s big deadline pitching acquisition in Frankie Montas, then there was the long-term contract to Aaron Hicks, yet no long term contract for Aaron Judge until an 11th hour offer. There are also Cashman’s additions to see what sticks against the wall in the likes of Joey Gallo, Clint Frazier and so many more players; simply put, his flawed roster.

Once again, the Houston Astros had Brian Cashman's number in 2022. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The Yankees always seem to run out of gas in the second half of the season ­– and in the postseason –because of injuries and age catching up with one-dimensional players.

Funny how that happens, too.

This also was Cashman’s hitting coach in Dillon (Hit Strikes Hard) Lawson, we took care of that situation in the column last week here at BallNine after Game 3. By the way, another former Yankee is heading to the World Series too in Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long, one of the best in the game, and along with Thomson is enjoying his time working for Dave Dombrowski – who happened to build the 2018 World Series champion Red Sox team that dispatched Cashman’s Yankees.

Long is going to be a managerial candidate after this World Series ends.

Again, these are just the facts and let Hal Steinbrenner do what he wants to do as owner of the Yankees. His father loved to rock the boat, Hal doesn’t like to make any waves – but he does like to count his money – so he told the Associated Press on Wednesday in Tampa that Boone is not going anywhere and added, “I believe he is a very good manager.’’

Great. You can be sure Cashman will return too.

Fly Over Hal is not about to make any significant changes.

Some more info for the record, Josh Donaldson hit .172 this postseason with 16 Ks and he was expected by Cashman to do so much more after replacing Gio Urshela who was a leader in the Yankees clubhouse and was sent to the Twins in the Gary Sanchez dump. By now you have all seen the tape from spring training where a confident Cashman says, “We appreciate what Gio has done for us, but he is not Josh Donaldson.’’

No he’s not.

One other point on the Yankees’ terrible hitting approach throughout the postseason and this is directly from a scout who was assigned to the Yankees, an experienced, successful scout with a most successful team. Of the Yankees approach, he told BallNine: “It’s the most ignorant hitting approach any team could have. It was truly amazing what they did at the plate. It’s like their goal isn’t even to win baseball games.’’

He’s onto something.

The Yankees are so infatuated with exit velo and bat speed. Yes, those are important ingredients but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do to get a base hit because the other guys are good too and you are trying to win the game, you are not trying to win the Exit Velo ALCS.

You are trying to put the ball in play, but again, the Yankees had the wrong approach, an approach fully endorsed by Cashman, and it cost them dearly.

That approach may work against mediocre pitching, but not against Astros pitching. The Astros have won all seven postseason games they have played so far in October.

The Yankees must diversify their offense, especially next year when it should be easier to score runs in different ways because of the ending of the shift and the rule changes that will make it so much easier to steal bases, bigger bases, less throws to first, a pitch clock so it should be easier to get a read on pitchers as well.

This all hit me post ALCS when I spent a wonderful day last week touring the incredible WWII Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington, North Carolina. That ship didn’t just have one or two sets of guns it had the Main Battery nine 16-inch guns, 20 5-inch 38 caliber guns, 60 40 mm guns, 20 mm guns, varied 36 to 53 caliber.

In baseball, an offense cannot just be home run or nothing.

Kevin Kernan aboard the Battleship North Carolina.

You take the home runs you can like the Astros did when Gerrit Cole throws a meatball fastball to the No. 9 hitter Chas McCormick with McCormick trying to shoot the ball into the short right-field seats or when an injured Nestor Cortes rolls up a meatball to young Jeremy Peña because Nasty Nestor is pitching with a groin injury (pitching injuries are a staple with the Yankees), but you have to be able to drive the ball in the gap or get a few singles to drive in runs as the Astros did in the two-run seventh inning of Game 4 when the Astros came from behind for the 6-5 final win over the Yankees.

The offense must be flexible. There must be different kind of weapons. The Yankees cannot continue to be Mash or Crash.

This from another longtime scout and former player on the game in general and not just the Yankees: “The on-field product will continue to suffer if the powers that be keep monetizing only the home run. ‘Pull the ball in the air’ is killing the game.’’

It’s certainly killing the Yankees. Nothing against Dillon Lawson or Brian Cashman, but I would urge both men to check out the fantastic Dante Bichette hitting video that is out there where Bichette explains to a young hitter what hitting is all about.

It’s brilliant. You can Hit Strikes Hard all you want, but you need to be a hitter too. Again, you must have different weapons. Hitting is not a one size fits all approach. This is a simple two-and-a-half-minute video that breaks down hitting. Don’t make the game hard, Yankees. Make it easy.

Here are a couple key quotes from Bichette.

“This is what great hitters do … It ain’t all about bat speed,’’ Bichette said as he demonstrates going up the middle on a tough pitch. “You roll over (on that pitch) and you’re out. You hit a nice little soft line drive to left-centerfield. It ain’t all about exit speed, it’s about line drives … It ain’t about loft.’’

Bichette goes on to demonstrate what loft is, catching the ball out front.

“The further you catch it out front the higher it goes, here’s the problem with catching the ball out front, it takes longer to get out there, you have to make up your mind sooner, you are going to swing at bad pitches, you are going to get fooled on breaking balls,’’ Bichette says. “If you try to play with loft, you are not going to be a good hitter, you might hit for power, but you are not going to be a good hitter.’’

As a team you might wind up hitting .162 with 50 strikeouts and get swept in four games, exactly what happened to the Yankees against the Astros.

You may be repeating the same mistakes year after year, the definition of baseball insanity. Despite having an enormous payroll, you might have only one World Series win since 2001 like the Yankees and their 2009 World Series win over the Phillies. By the way, Thomson and Long were on that Yankees staff.

The Yankees could have had their second title over that span this year, again against the Phillies, if they had gotten past the Astros, but the Astros have a better plan, a better front office, a better manager and better players – and a much better pitching staff than the Yankees. The Astros did more than Hit Strikes Hard on offense. The Astros have replaced key players and have overcome key injuries, they find a way to succeed. They have a variety of weapons. All their guns are not the same size. They are a team, they have been built as a team by the front office and they put their trust in a manager in Dusty Baker who is an exceptional communicator, who is his own man and is a manager the players would run through a wall for in any series.

The irony here with this World Series is that Bryce Harper wanted to be a Yankee but Hal Steinbrenner did not step up to the plate when he needed a big hitter in free agency. He put his faith in Cashman doing it a different way. Harper went to Philadelphia … the Yankees went to Houston and lost, seemingly year after year.

Just another mistake in long brick road of Yankee mistakes through the years when you are living in the past on 27 World Championships instead of creating your own legacy.

These stumbling Yankees tried to grow strength after falling behind 3-0 to the Astros by looking at a video from the most embarrassing time in the organization’s past, the collapse of the 2004 Yankees and the Red Sox winning the final four games of the ALCS. That alone tells you how messed up this Yankees organization is and how the Nerds running the show don’t understand what competition is all about -and what human nature is all about.

Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees walks off the field after being removed during the sixth inning in game two of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 20, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

You know what that speaks of most of all, that speaks of arrogance. That speaks of not giving respect to former players who put their heart and soul into that series and I was there to watch it all fall apart for the Yankees.

Players are not robots, they cannot be expected to just do things all the same way. By the time the video was shown this series was lost anyway; there was no way this Cashman team was going to come back from down 3-0 to the Astros and I wrote exactly that last Saturday night.

The Yankees have so much soul-searching to do and it has to start at the top with Hal Steinbrenner and then with his Chief of All Decisions Brian Cashman. Managers and players are not puppets, they are not robots and they cannot be programmed.

The game is a living, breathing entity, played by human beings who possess different talents and weapons who must come together for success.

Learn that lesson first and maybe – just maybe – the Hal Steinbrenner/Brian Cashman/Aaron Boone Yankees may someday win Championship No. 28.

Maybe.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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