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SI:AM | What’s Wrong With the Yankees?

Sports Illustrated logo Sports Illustrated 8/12/2022 Dan Gartland

They’re sliding while the Mets look unstoppable.

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. It pains me to say it but I’m not feeling good about the Yankees.

In today’s SI:AM:

🍄 Psychedelics in sports

🌽 Verducci on the Field of Dreams game

☘️ A league-wide honor for Bill Russell

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A reversal of fortunes in New York

The month of August hasn’t been good for the Yankees so far.

They’re 2–7 this month and 7–13 since the All-Star break. Since beating the Red Sox on July 8 to improve to 61–23 (five more wins than any other team in baseball), they’re 10–18. Their 71 wins are the fourth most in the majors, now behind the Dodgers, Mets and Astros. They’re still leading the AL East by 10 games and are one of the leading World Series contenders, but they aren’t on pace for the historic season it looked like they would have a month ago.

So what’s the problem? The first explanation is injuries. They don’t have a ton of injured players but the ones who are sidelined are significant. Giancarlo Stanton has been out since July 23 as he deals with Achilles tendinitis. Setup man Michael King, who had been one of the team’s most reliable relievers, broke his elbow while throwing a pitch the day after Stanton got hurt and will miss the rest of the season. Starter Luis Severino went on the IL with a lat strain on July 13 and didn’t expect to miss much time, but when he was transferred to the 60-day IL (keeping him out until mid-September), he told reporters he “was not happy.” The latest blow came this week when the surprisingly resurgent Matt Carpenter (.305 batting average, 15 homers, 37 RBIs) fouled a ball off of his foot and fractured it. He’ll be out 6–8 weeks.

Another issue is guys going through cold streaks. That July 8 turning point I mentioned above coincides perfectly with closer Clay Holmes’s struggles. After picking up his 16th save of the season on July 7, Holmes’s ERA stood at a measly 0.47. But he blew the save in his next opportunity on July 9 in Boston and then allowed four runs in the ninth inning without recording an out on July 12 against the Reds. He pitched a scoreless inning on Tuesday but has still allowed six runs over his last four outings.

Holmes’s struggles are especially painful because the Yankees have other formerly reliable relievers who are having down years. Aroldis Chapman’s ERA is 4.26, the worst of his career, which is why he’s only been given nine save opportunities all year. Jonathan Loáisiga, the Yankees’ best reliever last year, has a 6.57 ERA and has struggled with his control. He’s walked 14 batters in 24⅔ innings.

The Yankees made a few moves at the trade deadline to address these issues, adding outfielder Andrew Benintendi, starter Frankie Montas and relievers Lou Trivino and Scott Efross. Trivino has allowed just one hit in his five appearances with New York, but the other guys have struggled. Benintendi is batting .175 with a .595 OPS through 13 games, Efross has allowed three runs in four innings of work and Montas allowed six runs over three innings in his only start thus far.

Meanwhile, across town, the Mets are playing like the Yankees did earlier this season. Since the beginning of July, they’re 26–10. They already had one of the best offenses in the National League (second in runs per game behind the Dodgers) but they went out at the deadline and add three three quality hitters—Tyler Naquin, Daniel Vogelbach and Darin Ruf—all of whom have gotten off to hot starts with their new team. Max Scherzer is healthy again and they finally got Jacob deGrom back from injury. The Mets’ current run of success might not be a hot streak—it might be that they’re just that good.

Just how hot are the Mets? The playoff odds at Fangraphs currently have them as the World Series favorites, with an 18.5% chance of winning the championship, ahead of the Dodgers at 18.1%. (The Astros are third at 15.9% and the Yankees are fourth at 9.8%.) Baseball Reference’s odds are still high on the Yankees, though, giving them an MLB-best 26.2% chance of winning the World Series. I still think the World Series goes through Los Angeles, but there’s an awfully good chance that we see another Subway Series.

The best of Sports Illustrated

Illustration by Brian Stauffer © Provided by Sports Illustrated Illustration by Brian Stauffer

Aaron Rodgers isn’t the only athlete speaking out about the benefits of psychedelics, Julie Kliegman writes in today’s Daily Cover:

As psychedelics start to gain traction within athlete- and former-athlete communities, they may be primed for more widespread use across sports—if they’re not being used already. Asked whether he knows of athletes in the NFL or in other professional leagues who use psychedelics to treat their mental health, Rodgers says: “Of course.”

If you watched the Field of Dreams game last night, you saw Tom Verducci reporting from the dugout for Fox. He also wrote about why the game should be an annual fixture for MLB. … Sure, the players and coaches are the ones who make college football interesting, but Pat Forde also has a list of the 25 most interesting college football figures who wear suits to work. … Ross Dellenger spoke with a few people around college sports to help explain why the Big Ten’s impending breakup with ESPN is so weird. … Our NBA experts gave their best, worst and most surprising moves of the offseason.

Around the sports world

Deshaun Watson is reportedly willing to accept an eight-game suspension to avoid a year-long ban. … As the Watson case drags on, the Browns are reportedly weighing a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. … The NBA is permanently retiring Bill Russell’s No. 6. … The Ravens have now won a record 21 straight preseason games. … Tom Brady has been absent from Bucs practice but it’s apparently not a cause for concern. … Barcelona has officially activated the “fourth lever”, raising more money to try to register its key players for tomorrow’s La Liga opener. … Tyson Fury, who announced a comeback attempt on Tuesday, now says he’s actually staying retired. … The Harry Caray hologram during the “Field of Dreams” game got really lousy reviews. … Titans rookie quarterback Malik Willis had an impressive preseason debut.

SIQ

The 1994 MLB strike began on this day 28 years ago, but a few weeks later, the Twins traded Dave Winfield to Cleveland in exchange for a player to be named later. After the rest of the season was canceled, what did Minnesota end up receiving in return for Winfield?

  • A dinner
  • $1
  • Tickets to a Browns game
  • A bucket of baseballs

Yesterday’s SIQ: When the Giants lost at home to the Phillies Aug. 11, 1951, the gap between them and the first-place Dodgers was the biggest it was all season. How many games did New York trail by?

  • 9 games
  • 11 games
  • 13 games
  • 15 games

Answer: 13 games. The Giants had started the week trailing the Dodgers by 9½ games but after Brooklyn swept New York in a three-game series at the Polo Grounds, the lead swelled to 12½ games. The 4–0 shutout loss to the Phillies, while the Dodgers split a doubleheader across town, seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.

“Knocked completely out of sight as a pennant contender by the Dodgers earlier in the week, the Giants yesterday found themselves in danger of being evicted from their long-time tenancy of second place in the National League standings,” the game story in The New York Times began.

The loss brought the Phillies to within one game of second place, but the Giants immediately turned their season around. They started a 16-game winning streak and went 36–7 over the course of the rest of the regular season, while the Dodgers went 25–22 down the stretch, setting up the famous three-game playoff that ended with Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World.”

From the Vault: Aug. 10, 1970

Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated © Provided by Sports Illustrated Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated

Mike Marshall’s 1974 stat line is probably the most unbelievable collection of pitching numbers I’ve ever seen. He appeared in 106 games (all as a reliever), pitching 208⅓ innings while recording a 2.42 ERA as he became the first relief pitcher to win the Cy Young. (Neil Leifer also captured a great photo of Marshall looking impossibly cool in the dugout.)

Marshall had set a big league record for games pitched the year before when he was with the Expos, appearing in 92 games. (He finished second in Cy voting, earning one fewer first-place vote than Tom Seaver.) Montreal traded him to the Dodgers that winter for All-Star center fielder Willie Davis and Los Angeles made the most of the acquisition.

The Dodgers had a great pitching staff that year, with Andy Messersmith and Don Sutton also earning first-place Cy Young votes. But, even if they were pitching a good game, they often found themselves yielding to Marshall, as Ron Fimrite wrote:

[Marshall] can work so often and with no appreciable diminution of skill that a manager can rest a Messersmith or remove a slightly shaky [Al] Downing with no fear of the consequences. Because of Marshall, Alston carries only nine pitchers on his roster, although he ordinarily prefers 10. He could just as well limit himself to five—four starters and that "pretty good man out there in the bullpen."

“If he wasn’t winning, I might complain about not pitching,” said fellow reliever Charles Hough of Marshall. “What can you do when you’re playing behind the best there is?”

Marshall’s durability was outrageous. No other pitcher who made 80% of their appearances as a reliever has thrown more than 185 innings in a season. And only five pitchers—most recently Pedro Feliciano in 2010—have appeared in at least 90 games. (Marshall and Kent Tekulve each did it three times.)

So how did his arm not fall off? If you ask Marshall, it was because of his understanding of the human body. During his MLB career, he worked toward earning a doctorate in kinesiology from Michigan State. In fact, he considered retiring before the 1974 season to focus on his studies full-time.

“Mike believes in long-distance running, not sprints, in weight work and in a lot of muscle stretching,” Messersmith told Fimrite. “He knows more about what goes into the pitching motion than anybody in the world. He has lectured to me a lot about the functions of the body.”

(He even took Messersmith to a cadaver lab during a road trip to teach him about the human arm.)

Marshall’s tendency to approach things more academically than his teammates earned him a reputation for being standoffish.

Autograph seekers might incline more toward the bad-dude conclusion. Once, refusing autographs to a group of youngsters, Marshall explained that he would willingly sign if the boys could show him that their autograph books also contained the signatures of their teachers and others who “were really meaningful in their lives.” The kids were understandably stunned by such a preposterous notion, and since none could produce the requisite signatures, Marshall strolled pedagogically past them.

But when Fimrite caught up with Marshall again in 1979, after he had recovered from a string of injuries (not involving his arm) and reported that “Marshall, once the brooding intellectual of the bullpen, has undergone a dramatic personality transformation.” In other ways, he was more like his usual self, appearing in 90 games for the Twins that year.

Check out more of SI’s archives and historic images at vault.si.com.

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