These picks don’t seem to be getting any cheaper by the dozen — or easier, either, even with 102 fewer games in this year’s COVID-shortened season and therefore less variability on the final numbers. When the Yankees lost to the Blue Jays on Monday night, it ended their chances of finishing 38-22 and my chances of being right. The Mets, whom I tabbed to go 33-27, lost their 28th game on Friday night.
Hence it’s time for my annual mea culpa, the dissection of why things didn’t go as I anticipated. Last year, I underestimated the local teams. This year, I showed off my versatility by proving too bullish on both.
Here are three reasons why each team fell short of my small-sampled expectations:
1. Next man out
This marks my second time using this jokey riff on “Next man up.” Once more and I’ll get nominated for a Bruce Chandling Award. It is true, though: When the Yankees suffered their trademark wave of injuries, they didn’t respond with their trademark depth. Instead, too many guys who came through last year fell well short of their 2019 production. Oddly, the three most notable falling stocks from the “2019 surprise contributors” bucket all were lefty bats: Mike Ford, Brett Gardner (a surprise last year in that he significantly exceeded statistical expectations) and Mike Tauchman.
2. The Rays, the Rays, the Rays
In Tampa Bay’s many years of serving as a low-payroll thorn in the Yankees’ collective side, the Rays never really dominated the rivalry enough to gain a mental edge; their top single-season showing was 12-7 in 2013. That all changed this year, however, as the Rays outperformed and out-squawked the Yankees to the tune of 8-2. A mere split of these 10 games and I might be living out my final days on a tropical island like Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in “Trading Places.”
3. Scary Gary
Last year, the Yankees’ catchers combined for a .781 OPS, third-best in the American League, as Gary Sanchez led the way with an .816 mark in 374 plate appearances. Two years ago, Sanchez’s worst big-league season to that point (a .740 OPS in 320 plate appearances), the Yankees catchers still produced the third-best OPS in the league, .706. This year, with Sanchez reporting to work Thursday as the owner of a .615 OPS in 166 plate appearances, the Yankees catchers ranked ninth in the league with a .708 OPS; they did that well thanks to Kyle Higashioka (.881) covering for Sanchez (.652 as a catcher) as well as Erik Kratz (.692), the latter a 40-year-old who isn’t regarded as a franchise centerpiece. This is the worst version of Sanchez we’ve seen, albeit small-sampled, and it’s hard not to wonder whether the Yankees should move ahead counting on him.
1. Marcus Stroman’s opt-out
When Noah Syndergaard succumbed to Tommy John surgery during the shutdown, it made Brodie Van Wagenen look even smarter for acquiring the high-end Stroman last year, and I thought the Long Island native would thrive in his walk year just as he tackled other professional challenges. Instead, Stroman, after starting the season injured, opted out shortly after accruing the necessary service time to become a free agent this winter. How much that factored into his timing and decision, only Stroman knows — he cited concerns about COVID and his family, and far be it from anyone to challenge those — but I applaud him for working the system to his advantage much as teams do routinely by manipulating players’ service times. I just wish I had realized he was going to do this.
2. The back half of the rotation
In 2019, Steven Matz (2.2), Rick Porcello (1.2), and Michael Wacha (.1) combined for 3.5 wins above replacement (as per Baseball-Reference.com), which translates to 1.3 in a 60-game season. In 2020, through Wednesday’s games, Porcello (.3), Wacha (-.2) and Matz (-.9) had teamed for -.8 WAR, which translates to -2.2 WAR in a 162-game season. If these guys had simply pitched to their profiles as back-end starters, rather than looking far more like non-starters — both Wacha and Matz lost their spots in the starting rotation at different junctures — then I might be hiding my millions in the desert a la Walter White.
3. Pete Alonso’s sophomore slump
Sure, I anticipated some regression from Alonso’s magnificent rookie season. Not regression to the point where he’d be a below-average hitter, though, and that’s what he is right now. Following Tuesday night’s game, Alonso cited his batting average on balls in play and exit velocity as signs that he has been victimized by bad luck. Eh. As per Baseball Savant, his expected slugging percentage this year, based on exit velocity and other underlying metrics, is .451. His actual slugging percentage? .435. He’ll go into next year facing questions about his long-term on-field profile, as exemplified by Joel Sherman’s survey of talent evaluators concerning Alonso and his surging teammate Dom Smith.
This week’s Pop Quiz question came from Joseph Piro of Jersey City: Name the former Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year who appeared in a season of the reality show “The Surreal Life.”
Out for a long drive? You can’t go wrong listening to The Post’s sports podcasts.
Your Pop Quiz answer is Jose Canseco.
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