(Luis Severino confers with Gary Sanchez on Wednesday night)
Coming into this season, the Yankees were championing the “Baby Bombers,” a collection of homegrown talent that they hoped would rival what they built two decades ago on the way to five championships.
Incredibly, their future appears more in doubt than ever before, as the Yankees have benched first baseman Greg Bird and, after a disastrous first inning in an 8-2 loss to Oakland on Wednesday, catcher Gary Sanchez might join him.
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has been Bird’s biggest booster since he came up to the Major Leagues in 2015, but through a spate of injuries and not being the consistent hitter they hoped he would be, he recently acknowledged the fans’ frustration with waiting on Bird and that this season has been a disappointment.
After missing the start of the season with a foot injury, Bird took a while to get going, and at every point it looked like he got in a rhythm, he would go right back into a slump.
In 76 games this season, Bird is hitting .197 (he rarely has been over .200), with 11 home runs and 35 RBI.
One other thing that has been apparent is, due to all the leg injuries he has suffered, Bird has no mobility on defense, with anything three feet to his left or right an adventure.
Insert Luke Voit, whom the Yankees acquired from St. Louis for reliever Chasen Shreve in late July.
Voit’s first big chance came when the Yankees were in Baltimore two weeks ago and he hit a pair of home runs in an extra-inning win on Friday, August 24, followed by a home run two nights later.
This earned Voit more starts, and by the time Detroit came in this past weekend, he has become the starting first baseman.
Voit homered in three straight games, Sunday against the Tigers, then in Oakland, a two-run shot in the second inning on Monday, followed by a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning on Tuesday night in a 5-1 Yankees win.
One problem though is that, since Sunday, he is 5-for-17, and his average has dropped from .326 after Saturday’s game to .297 through Wednesday night.
Voit has proven to be an all-or-nothing type of hitter, in that he can get you a home run now and then, but otherwise strikes out a ton, such as on Sunday, when he struck out with the bases loaded and the Yankees down 8-4 in the eighth, and then with two on in the ninth in an eventual 11-7 Yankees loss.
The amazing thing is that he still is an upgrade from Bird, and there are no signs of the Yankees taking Voit off of first base.
So, while the Yankees hit their breaking point with Bird quicker than would have been thought, why have they not seen the light on Gary Sanchez at catcher?
This season has been a tough one for Sanchez, as he has not gotten going at all on offense, hitting just .186 with 15 home runs and 45 RBI.
In addition to that, he went on the disabled list with a groin injury in early July, and then after just a few games back, including a disastrous effort in Tampa Bay on July 23, he went back on the disabled list the next day and didn’t return until this past Saturday.
Austin Romine, who once was a prized Yankee prospect who has settled into his role as a solid backup catcher, came into his own this season in Sanchez’s place, as he has gotten a lot out of a pitching staff in flux, while also getting it done at the plate, hitting .251 with 9 home runs and 38 RBI.
On Wednesday night, in his fifth game back from the DL, Sanchez had what can only be descibed as a meltdown in the first inning on Wednesday.
Luis Severino was on the mound on Wednesday night, and it’s interesting to note that he was the starter when Sanchez had a brutal night in Tampa Bay in late July.
Oakland jumped out to a 4-0 lead, as Severino and Sanchez combined for two wild pitches and two passed balls, and when they returned to the dugout, they had nothing to say to each other.
That was a step up from what happened that night in Tampa, as they engaged in a shouting match.
Frankly, Sanchez wasn’t talking to anyone else either, not even Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, who should have gone over to try and say something soothing after a disastrous inning.
That inning is a seminal moment in this season for numerous reasons, as it brought out many flaws, such as that Severino has a long line of disappointing outings since the All-Star Break, that Sanchez can’t catch, and that there is an obvious tension within the team.
Oakland kept it going and they knocked Severino out in the third inning, when they jumped out to a 6-0 lead. He went just 2 2/3 innings, allowing 6 runs (5 earned) on 6 hits and a walk, with 3 strikeouts. His record is now 17-7 on the season.
The Yankees couldn’t get anything going against Oakland starter Mike Fiers until Sanchez hit a too-little, too-late, two-run homer in the seventh inning that made it 8-2 Oakland, which was the final.
It is hard for a team to come to the conclusion that players they drafted and developed through their minor league system are not who they thought they were, and they might have to move on from them.
That is especially true for a team like the Yankees, which is always in win-now mode, along with a next-man up mentality that they can win with anybody.
With that in mind, if the Yankees want to right the ship, Romine should be back behind the plate Friday night in Seattle, with Sanchez joining Bird on the bench.