The saying “it’s a long season” is universal in baseball, a staple of the lingo often meant to boost morale when times are tough. Whether a team or player buys into the idea is a different story, though.
Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo didn’t during his early years with the Cubs, who finished in last place from 2012-2014. Chicago turned things around in 2015 and won its first championship in 108 years in 2016, but the Cubs averaged just over 66 wins during Rizzo’s first three seasons in The Windy City.
“No, I didn’t believe it,” Rizzo told the Daily News of the timeless expression at the start of his career, “because I was realistic about where we were as a team.”
Yankees closer Clay Holmes echoed similar sentiments when discussing the bulk of his stay in Pittsburgh. The Pirates won 69 games in 2019, 19 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and 61 in 2021, which is when they traded Holmes to New York.
“If it’s a bad team, you look around and there’s no reinforcements,” Holmes told The News of those Buccos rosters. “We’re not playing good. It’s just like, this is kind of who we are. The phrase ‘it’s a long season’ is not so comforting.”
See, the Bombers employ several guys who have played for truly awful teams and endured 162 games of consistent losing. They know what it’s like to be bad. Really bad.
It’s that perspective that tells them the last-place Yankees, 21-18 entering Friday, aren’t as sorry as the standings suggest.
With the team coming off a sweep of the lowly Athletics and a one-sided loss to the first-place Rays, there’s no denying the Yankees haven’t met expectations. But that understanding factors into what sets them apart from the legitimately terrible, according to players who spoke to The News.
Outfielder/designated hitter Willie Calhoun, for example, said some of the Rangers teams he played for from 2017-2022 would have been “ecstatic” and “jumping for joy” if they had the same record as these Yankees at this point in the season. Texas finished last in 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022. The Rangers finished below .500 in 2017 and 2019.
“It’s different here because this is considered bad and we’re still over .500. The Rangers, at this point, we would be 15 under .500. The sense of urgency to win here is a lot more important. And I’m not saying it’s not important [in Texas],” Calhoun said, but he knows what the Yankees have done is deemed “unacceptable.”
Calhoun noted that those Rangers teams were young, and players were generally focused on remaining in the big leagues. Utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a teammate of Calhoun’s in Texas and New York, said that “everybody kind of just started going for their own numbers and their own accolades” once the Rangers found themselves stuck in the basement, but that’s not the case in the Bronx.
Holmes also mentioned varying standards, as simply finishing the season with a winning record was a “goal” in Pittsburgh thanks to a stretch of 20 straight losing campaigns that just barely overlapped with the start of his pro career in 2012.
“Here, the team’s built to win, and built to win now,” Holmes said. “We know that, and we expect to win every night. And that’s the way it should be.
“Just a winning season has never been a goal here.”
Speaking of how the Yankees are built, Holmes also acknowledged that the Yankees don’t have the same financial restrictions as the Pirates, which could theoretically help them patch holes before the trade deadline. The Yanks are also missing a handful of stars thanks to injuries. Aaron Judge returned Tuesday night, but Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino and Carlos Rodon, among others, remain on the shelf.
That doesn’t justify how the Yankees have played. But it’s a reason why the team believes better days are ahead.
“Not everyone’s healthy right now, but in general, it’s a very talented roster,” said infielder DJ LeMahieu, whose Rockies teams averaged 69.4 wins from 2012-2015. “I don’t think there’s really much comparison to the roster we had in Colorado.”
Added Kiner-Falefa: “On the bad teams, we were full strength when we were going through that [in Texas]. Right now, we’re not at full strength, but we got to deal with it, and it is what it is, and there’s no excuses in this league for injuries. It happens to everybody.”
Kiner-Falefa and Rizzo also noted that the Yankees have faced a tough schedule while playing shorthanded. The Giants, whom the Yankees opened the season against, have a losing record in the loaded National League West, and the A’s aren’t exactly trying to field a competitive product. But Rizzo said that every other team the Yankees have played has “realistic expectations of being in the playoffs,” and he pointed out that the Yankees play in a strong division.
The Yankees are aware that some have a pessimistic outlook for the team, but that’s not the case within their clubhouse. Rizzo said the season is too young to start panicking, and he still expects the Yankees to reach October. That wasn’t the case initially with the Cubs.
“We have a really good group,” the first baseman said. “We have a lot of guys hurt, which is no excuse. But we will fight and claw and end up where we need to be, as far as making the postseason and putting ourselves in position to make a run.”
Added LeMahieu: “I can’t wait for those guys to get back and get on a roll.”
Whether they’re proven right or wrong remains to be seen, but other Yankees feel the same way. Some even find themselves trusting one of the sport’s age-old truisms as the team hopes for a prolonged hot streak.
“Here, there’s some sense that you can trust the phrase, ‘It’s a long season,’” Holmes said, “because you know that we have better players and can play better than we’re doing right now.”
Source: Berkshire mont