The words were jarring, and Tampa Bay’s Brandon Lowe made sure to repeat them, calling the Yankees a “last-place team,” both in an on-field interview following a heated game between the two AL East rivals headed in two different directions, and again in the clubhouse in another postgame interview.
Lowe, in his sixth season with the Rays, has never seen the Yankees miss the playoffs and neither has anyone else since 2016.
But the Yankees haven’t finished in the cellar since 1990, when they ended up seventh in what was then a seven-team division.
It was the second of four-straight losing seasons in The Bronx — and the worst of the bunch, as the Yankees lost 95 games, the most by the franchise since 1912.
This year’s team, despite a recent nine-game losing streak, isn’t in danger of dropping that many games, but finishing at the bottom of the five-team AL East this year is a real possibility. And it would be even more stunning than that 1990 season because of the lofty expectations general manager Brian Cashman noted in his press conference last Wednesday.
Instead of preparing for the playoffs, the Yankees, who enter Tuesday five games under .500, will be spending the last month of the regular season attempting to diagnose what went wrong.
“We’re not gonna get used to this,” a defiant DJ LeMahieu said of the Yankees’ season last week.
So, how do they avoid a similar fate in 2024?
The process has already begun, with the arrivals of Everson Pereira and Oswald Peraza.
Neither has provided the spark the team had hoped for, but by the time of their promotion from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last week, the Yankees were already cooked.
Still, they could fill-in parts of the bigger picture.
As of now, the Yankees don’t have an answer for left field in 2024, which has been the case for most of the last two years.
Perhaps Pereira can play himself into being considered for that role over the final weeks of 2023, but he’ll need to do more than going 3-for-26 with a double, a walk and 11 strikeouts in his first seven games.
Aaron Boone has repeatedly said Pereira’s at-bats have been better than his production, but scouts remain skeptical.
And after Boone and the Yankees touted Peraza’s defensive prowess at shortstop, he’s been learning third base on the fly since he was recalled from SWB.
That’s because Anthony Volpe is entrenched at short, and the Yankees say he has exceeded their expectations with his glove.
With Gleyber Torres at second base and Anthony Rizzo out indefinitely following his lingering concussion symptoms, LeMahieu has been filling in at first base.
Combine that with Josh Donaldson’s presence on the 60-day IL with a calf strain, and third base is the best spot for Peraza to gain major league experience.
More youth could be on the way.
Jasson Dominguez has continued his hot hitting after being bumped up to SWB from Double-A Somerset, and catcher Austin Wells has a promising .828 OPS in his first 31 games at Triple-A.
Both have to be put on the 40-man roster following the season and the Yankees have players they can easily trim from that list, including Franchy Cordero and Billy McKinney.
Perhaps most encouraging is Volpe’s season-long improvement, which has seen him produce his best month of the season, with an .813 OPS in August through Monday night.
So far, the 22-year-old has withstood the rigors of his first major league season and continued to adjust at the plate and cut down on his strikeouts.
When next year is all that’s left, appreciating the talent that could be taking root isn’t a bad way to get to the finish line.
Today’s back page
🏈 SERBY: Dalvin Cook is here to end Jets’ long Super Bowl drought: ‘It’s very realistic’
⚾ HEYMAN: Max Scherzer’s Citi return is a sobering Mets reminder
🏈 Daniel Jones’ ‘swagger has grown’ as leader Giants need: Saquon Barkley
⚾ Luis Severino continues late-season surge to lead Yankees’ win over Tigers
⚾ Mets’ bullpen spoils strong Tylor Megill start in loss to Rangers
Thor no more
Noah Syndergaard’s start for the Mets on Sept. 2, 2019 didn’t seem like that big a deal. He shook off what had been the worst start of his career in his previous outing against the Cubs to shut down a good Nationals team with seven scoreless innings in Washington.
After allowing a leadoff single to Trea Turner in the first inning, Syndergaard retired 16 straight. He also struck out 10 batters for the third time of the season and the 17th time in his career.
It turned out to be the last time Syndergaard would hit that number, and after being designated for assignment by the Guardians on Sunday, it seems even more likely he’ll never get there again.
Cleveland’s move is the latest setback for Syndergaard, who turns 31 on Tuesday.
While Syndergaard should be in his prime, he’s instead looking to pitch for his fifth team in less than two seasons since leaving the Mets as a free agent.
Part of a young pitching rotation that was expected to also include Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz and Matt Harvey, Syndergaard’s career has been a disappointment.
Syndergaard was initially derailed in March 2020, when he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed that season before making just two appearances at the end of ’21.
That proved to be the end of Syndergaard’s time in Queens — and as an elite pitcher.
Although Syndergaard returned from the elbow surgery, his velocity did not.
He went on to sign a one-year, $21 million deal to go to the Angels prior to ’22 but was traded at the deadline to the Phillies, where he pitched relatively well in the postseason, allowing three runs in 8 ⅓ postseason innings.
This past offseason, Syndergaard signed with the Dodgers and after putting up a 7.16 ERA in 12 starts, was eventually shipped to Cleveland.
Through all the post-Mets moves, the ex-flamethrower has been unable to regain the power that he built his game on.
Early in his career, Syndergaard’s velocity on his four-seam fastball was in the high 90s, averaging a high of 99.6 mph in 2017, according to Fangraphs.
That number dipped below 98 mph in each of the next two seasons.
When Syndergaard returned from Tommy John surgery, his four-seamer averaged just 94.4 mph in ’21 and 94.5 a year ago — before bottoming out at 92.3 this season.
In spring training with the Dodgers, Syndergaard was still talking about getting back to throwing 100 mph.
It didn’t happen. In his final start with Cleveland on Sunday, Syndergaard’s four-seamer averaged just 91.7 mph.
New faces, new results?
The squad new USA Basketball president Grant Hill assembled to play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup has some local flavor. Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart of the Knicks and Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson from the Nets are all on the roster for Steve Kerr’s team, which is hoping to have a better showing than the last World Cup, when the U.S. finished in seventh place.
Part of the problem is that many NBA players choose to avoid participating in tournaments in consecutive offseasons, which left the 2019 World Cup without the likes of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, who helped Team USA win the gold medal in the 2020 Summer Olympics — which took place in 2021.
This year’s World Cup team is also without stars such as Durant, Booker and Jayson Tatum, which has left Kerr relying on some of the next tier of players.
So far, that hasn’t been a problem.
The U.S. has won its first two games of the tournament in the Philippines, beating New Zealand in their opening game and then Greece on Monday — both in lopsided fashion, thanks not only to the New York quartet, but a handful of emerging stars such as Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton and Austin Reaves.
Game 3 is Wednesday at 4:40 a.m. against former Nets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jordan.