By Deesha Thosar
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Now that they’ve clinched the American League East, what can we make of the Yankees?
They began the 2022 season on fire, jumping to a 49-16 start with a 12-game lead in the division while drawing comparisons to some of the best teams in the sport’s history. It was early, but they looked and played like the 1998 championship Yankees.
Then they steamrollered into the All-Star break with 64 wins, which set a club record for victories before the Midsummer Classic. They became the sixth major-league team since 1947 to win at least 64 of its first 94 games and the first to do so since the 2001 Mariners (66-26).
That first-half effort sent six Yankees to Los Angeles for the All-Star Game, a major-league high. As Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Clay Holmes and Jose Trevino enjoyed the Southern California sunshine, the white-hot Yankees were at the top of everyone’s power rankings. They could go toe-to-toe with any team, it seemed.
Then the injuries came, and without some key spark plugs, New York horrifically plunged.
On July 21, the Astros swept the Yankees in a two-game series at Houston to open the second half, which foreshadowed worse things to come. August was painful and torturous for the Yankees and their fans. Starting Aug. 2, they went 9-20 in 29 games. Their record last month was 10-18.
Besides 6-foot-7 slugging outfielder Aaron Judge, who posted a 1.091 OPS in August, nothing was going right for the Yankees. During that time, manager Aaron Boone slammed a table with his fist after a particularly frustrating loss to the Blue Jays, underlining the team’s 14th loss in 17 games.
Over that stretch, the Yankees were unsuccessful in overcoming injuries. Right-hander Luis Severino missed more than two months due to a lat strain. Giancarlo Stanton was out for a month due to left Achilles tendonitis. Reliever Michael King, who recorded a 2.29 ERA in 34 appearances, underwent season-ending elbow surgery. The mustachioed Matt Carpenter has missed almost two months due to a left foot fracture. Andrew Benintendi, a solid trade-deadline pickup, is coming up on one month missed due to a right wrist injury.
Making matters more confusing for their fan base, Yankees GM Brian Cashman traded starter Jordan Montgomery to St. Louis in exchange for the injured Harrison Bader, who didn’t start to contribute until eight weeks after he was acquired.
The period from the end of July to the beginning of September was — the Yankees hope — the lowest point of their season. It featured the type of adversity that shocked everyone, particularly because of how good the team looked to begin the year. The Yankees felt the heat from every direction: the media constantly asking Boone and his players what happened, the fans booing the abysmal product on the field, a mostly-empty Yankee Stadium at the start of a pennant race, frustration and disjointedness palpable within the clubhouse.
After the Yankees saw their 15.5-game lead in the AL East dwindle to 3.5 games by the middle of September, it was the type of disaster everyone on the staff wanted to bury for good. But it was also the type of hardship that builds a battle-tested character. The way the Yankees’ season began, the way they cartwheeled into the All-Star break, the punches that came their way in the second half were difficult for which to prepare and, ultimately, overcome.
If the Yankees want to show the world that they’re still the team to beat, now that they’ve clinched the AL East, they must hold on to that bitter feeling from August and fight any sense of complacency. They can use that midsummer adversity as their asset in the playoffs — playing with a chip on their shoulder that can only arise through the misfortune they survived. Those difficult times could be the difference between an early postseason exit and, say, finally beating the Astros in the ALCS.
Every team wants to be the last one standing, but this season, the Yankees battled and overcame a collapse that has the chance to make them special come October. They entered Wednesday having won eight of their previous nine games. It’s an all-too-familiar feeling to their hot start to the season.
Their adversity could be their secret sauce, and it will be interesting to see if they can lean on those hard times to potentially play some of the best baseball this sport has seen.
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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