You’ll usually find the five stages of grief in sports fans after their favorite teams lose a heartbreaking postseason game or series.
That’s exactly the case within Yankees kingdom entering a new week as they sift through the rubble that was Jose Altuve’s series-winning, walk-off, two-run home run in Game 6 of the ALCS on Saturday night to send the Astros to the World Series and the Bronx Bombers back to the Big Apple.
It was an excruciating way to go down, especially after DJ LeMahieu hit a two-run home run in the top of the ninth innings off Houston closer Roberto Osuna to tie the game at four.
Thus, the five stages of grief began. For those who don’t know, they go as follows:
Steps one and two got out of the way pretty quickly as Yankees fans had to pick their jaws off the floor when Aroldis Chapman’s 84-mph slider was put into orbit by Altuve.
And the anger wasn’t far behind, either, naturally.
But as the first few days of the Yankees’ offseason pass, we’re at our third stage: bargaining.
This is when fans try to look on the brighter side of things in an attempt to alleviate their disappointment.
What’s been immediately pointed out was the Yankees’ ability to come this far despite the overwhelming number of injuries this season.
New York’s biggest names — ranging from Severino to Stanton, to Andujar, to Betances — spent considerable time on the injured list as the Yankees lost over 2,000 man games this season.
Then came the fairytale story that was the resurgence of LeMahieu as a legitimate American League MVP candidate, the arrival of Gio Urshela, and key contributions from no-names like Mike Tauchman and journeymen like Cameron Maybin.
Sure. It’s incredibly admirable what the Yankees did this season.
That being said, 2019 will go down as an enormous missed opportunity for a franchise that is now in a pennant drought that every living fan on this planet has yet to experience.
And it comes down on general manager Brian Cashman, who once again refused to upgrade his starting-pitching ranks this season.
I was complimentary of Cashman no more than a month ago when he managed to build enough depth, along with a stellar bullpen, to help the Yankees win their first AL East crown in seven years.
Even with baseball’s unsightly shift to pitch counts and bullpen games, though, the lack of a true ace was glaring in a playoff series against a truly good team.
Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, and James Paxton accounted for just 23.2 of the Yankees’ 54.2 innings pitched during the ALCS.
Some of the blame can be deflected toward manager Aaron Boone and his quick trigger for the bullpen, but his starters often got into trouble quickly, which doesn’t leave much of a choice for the skipper against a loaded lineup like the Astros’.
Meanwhile, the three-headed monster of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke accounted for 31 innings of work in the series, allowing Houston to keep its bullpen far fresher.
If the Yankees had a true ace — because Severino and Paxton are not that, at least for now — Boone wouldn’t have had to over-tax his bullpen. That ultimately led to the Astros finding a way to get to the once-impenetrable arms like Chad Green and Chapman’s.
“The more times you face guys, obviously, as relievers, you get uber-exposed,” Yankees reliever Zack Britton said. “It’s the one thing I always say: That’s why we’re relievers, not starters. You overexpose guys, it’s inevitable that eventually, they’re going to get got a little bit.”
That’s as telling as a quote as you need to hear if you’re Cashman.
An elite arm in the rotation must be his top priority this winter or else we’ll see more of the same from a Yankees team that is predicated on power until it meets a team with top-tier pitching.