York Yankees Jacoby Ellsbury reacts after popping out
in the eighth inning of the American League wild card
baseball game against the Houston Astros at Yankee
Stadium in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.
NEW YORK — The Yankees
still have not led in a postseason game since Derek Jeter
sprawled in the dirt three years ago, screaming in pain from
a broken ankle.
A season-ending 3-0 loss to
the Houston Astros in the winner-take-all AL wild-card game
on Tuesday night should not have been a surprise. The 2015
Yankees overachieved just by reaching the postseason.
A seven-game lead in the AL
East in late July caused the Yankees to think they could be
a great team. That was forgotten during a slide that ended
with an 85-75 record, a six-game deficit behind Toronto and
a second-place finish.
"The wheels were flying
off as the season went on," general manager Brian
Cashman said outside the quiet clubhouse. "The longer
it went, for some reason, the worse we started to get.
Obviously, we lost some key guys, but also some guys just
did not play the way they are capable of playing."
Manager Joe Girardi started
two rookies in his infield during what turned out to be the
Yankees' fifth straight postseason loss: first baseman Greg
Bird and second baseman Rob Refsynder, who combined for
exactly 200 career at-bats coming in.
"When we left spring
training, it wasn't what I expected," Girardi said.
York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka adjusts his cap
after giving up a hit to the Houston Astros during the
second inning of the American League wild card
baseball game, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in New York.
Following Jeter's retirement
last fall, the Yankees arrived at spring training with
uncertainty, fought through a summer of anxiety and injury
and ended their season in misery, a great distance from
their first World Series title since 2009.
"Maybe we were out of
gas. Maybe we were too banged up," injured first
baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We just kind of hit a wall
at the end of the year."
On a night when Yankee
Stadium had the red-white-and-blue bunting out for its
loudest crowd this season, New York managed just three
singles in six innings against Dallas Keuchel, who looked
like a bearded lumberjack cutting down the Yankees' offense.
New York didn't get any hits off the Astros' bullpen.
Masahiro Tanaka allowed five
hits in five innings, but two were solo homers to Colby
Rasmus and Carlos Gomez. Dellin Betances gave up an RBI
single to Jose Altuve in the seventh.
Coming off six straight
losing seasons, Houston had more spark and spunk in its
first postseason appearance since 2005. By the eighth
inning, fans in the crowd of 50,113 started booing the home
team's lacking batters.
fans watch as New York Yankees' Greg Bird (31) walks
back to the dugout after being called out on strikes
with a man on base during the seventh inning of the
American League wild card baseball game against the
Houston Astros, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in New York.
The Astros won 3-0.
New York reached the playoffs
after a rare two-year absence, but in some ways the
deforestation of the last great era Yankees' progresses
without pause. Among the players swept by Detroit in the
2012 AL Championship Series, only two appeared against the
Astros: center fielder Brett Gardner and designated hitter
Alex Rodriguez. Teixeira hobbled onto the field with
crutches for the pregame introductions, unable to play since
he fouled a pitch off his right shin on Aug, 17.
Instead of being available
out of the bullpen, former ace CC Sabathia checked into an
alcohol rehabilitation clinic Monday.
Brought in last year at a
cost of $153 million as part of the renovation, center
fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was dropped from the starting lineup
following a second-half slump. Gardner, kept in at
Ellsbury's expense, struck out three times against Keuchel.
Rodriguez, who revived in the
first half following his one-year drug suspension, seemed
like he was zapped by Kryptonite around the time of his 40th
birthday in late July.
"It's been an incredibly
fun year overall," he said. Just feel grateful for the
opportunity to come back and re-establish myself."
There is reason for hope
among the younger Yankees. Didi Gregorius settled in as
Jeter's successor at shortstop, getting better each month at
the plate and in the field. Luis Severino, a 21-year-old
right-hander, joined the rotation in August and showed
promise, as did Bird and Refsnyder.
New York's most conspicuous
flaw is its starting rotation: Tanaka, Sabathia, Michael
Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova all ailed at times.
Yankees starters averaged 5.72 innings per outing, according
to STATS, 21st among the 30 major league teams and a reason
Betances and Justin Wilson deteriorated as late-inning
relievers during the second half.
"Physically it's not a
very healthy group in there right now at the end of the
season. Guys are beat up," Girardi said. "But they
never stopped playing. They never stopped playing
David Price, who has helped
led Toronto into the playoffs for the first time since 1993,
is eligible for free agency and would slot in at the top of
the rotation. But the left-hander is 30 and would come at
the high price of a nine-figure contract that likely will
lock the Yankees into his declining years. Zack Greinke,
Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto also are on the
high-cost, quick-fix free-agent market.
Change rarely occurs quickly
in baseball, and rebuilding while maintaining a winning
record is especially tricky. There are more touted prospects
in the farm system now than during the previous dozen years,
but the next title still seems a ways away.
"Obviously we're not
good enough right now," Cashman said, "because
we're not playing. So it's all that matters."
NOTES: The losing streak ties
the Yankees' second-longest in postseason play, according to
STATS. They lost eight in a row from 1921-23, around a Game
2 tie in 1922.