Heck of a thing, this Yankees late-summer meltdown.
Their best historical comparison might be found … across town?
Yes, the Yankees made some undesired history back in 2004 when they blew a 3-0 American League Championship Series lead to the Red Sox, whose “Idiots” label now seems quaint in light of that franchise’s current infestation of anti-vaxxers. Yet that calamity can go in one bucket, the lightning bolt of an October face-plant, whereas a regular-season dumpster fire tends to be more drawn out and gruesome. You see it coming from 10 miles out and you can’t stop it.
Like the 2007 Mets.
These Yankees, at their peak on Aug. 27, after notching their 13th straight victory, held an American League playoff spot by a 6 1/2-game margin over the A’s. After going 2-9 in their next 11 contests, they bought a 1 1/2-game edge over the Blue Jays into Thursday night’s tilt against those same Jays at Yankee Stadium.
The ’07 Mets, at their peak on Sept. 12, paced the Phillies by seven games atop the National League East. They completed their schedule with a 5-12 swan dive to finish one game behind the Phillies in their division as well as the Rockies and Padres in the NL wild-card chase.
If you’re scoring at home, the Yankees would have to play better from their 2-9 stretch, a .182 winning percentage, to climb to 5-12, .294, in their first 17 games since the end of their winning streak.
So how concerned should the Yankees and their fans be that they’re emulating ancestors of the club with whom they’ll open a weekend series Friday night at Citi Field? Let’s point out striking similarities and potential distinguishing differences that could keep the Yankees out of such ignominy.
Striking similarity: The collapse of the pitching. The Yankees placed starter Jameson Taillon on the injured list Thursday with a partial tear of a tendon in his right ankle, another big blow to a pitching staff that already saw Gerrit Cole depart early Tuesday night with a left hamstring problem. Furthermore, top reliever Jonathan Loaisiga rests amid a shutdown after straining his right shoulder.
Those Mets absolutely fried their arms by season’s end, their ERA increasing each month until the 5.14 high (low) point in September. Orlando Hernandez, injury-prone, could handle only short relief assignments by the end, while guys like Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Game 162 starter Tom Glavine had little left to give.
Distinguishing difference: That would be Mr. Cole, who played catch on Thursday and could return to the starting rotation early next week. If he can return and earn his ace’s salary, he could prove the stopper that his elite ’07 Mets equivalent, Pedro Martinez, could not at age 35.
Striking similarity: A dogged pursuer. The Phillies went on a 13-4 tear to jump over the Mets in ’07. The Blue Jays entered Thursday on a 13-5 run.
Distinguishing difference: The Phils benefited from an easy late-September schedule in which they faced no playoff teams. Whereas the Jays must play the AL East-leading Rays six more times and the Yankees, still a playoff club for now, three times in the final week.
Striking similarity: Prime offensive players. The Mets employed Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes and David Wright. The Yankees have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
Distinguishing difference: Actually, Beltran, Delgado and Wright all hit the ball great that September. They just couldn’t outrun the avalanche that befell their pitching staff. Can Judge and Stanton, who have slowed down after carrying the team during its winning streak, honor their Big Apple predecessors? If they can’t, they might join them in infamy.