As listlessly as the Yankees entered the postseason, they exited it that way as well: listless and invisible. The Yankees offense was putrid Tuesday night against the Astros, barely putting up a fight and leaving little doubt that the 2015 season was going to end in disappointment.
Hats off go to Astros' ace Dallas Keuchel, who once again dominated the Yankees. After a inconsistent first inning, in which he was clearly running on adrenaline, Keuchel settled in for a calm, cool and dominant effort against New York. He painted the corners perfectly, and made the Yankees chase pitches out of the strike zone all night.
By the time his night ended, Keuchel held a shutout through six innings, allowing only three singles, walking one, and striking out seven on the night. The only real jam that Keuchel faced came in the sixth inning, with Chris Young at second and Carlos Beltran at first with two out, and Alex Rodriguez coming up to hit with Houston only leading 2-0. Rodriguez was his typical clutch self in the playoffs, when he got jammed and skied out to center field for the final out of the inning.
After coming back from a years long steroid suspension to post solid numbers in the regular season, Rodriguez was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in this winner-take-all playoff game. Just another typical A-Rod playoff performance.
While the Astros weren't great offensively, they did just enough. Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez each went deep with solo home runs, and Jose Altuve dropped a RBI single to left to score Jonathan Villar. 3-0 was all Keuchel and the Astros bullpen would need, and that's all they would get.
It was more then enough against a Yankees offense that didn't make anyone sweet. The Yankees aging players looked the part as Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann were held hitless. The kids in Robert Refsnyder and Greg Bird looked overmatched by the moment.
The loss is the final nail in a rather up and down season for New York. The Yankees lost seven of their last eight games, including the wild card game. They had a lead in the division and blew it in August, as they were overmatched and overpowered by the Toronto Blue Jays. While the Yankees will try to spin that getting the wild card was good enough for a team that "wasn't expected" to be in the playoffs, it is a poor excuse for a franchise expected to compete for a World Series year in and year out.
The Yankees enter the off-season with a lot of questions. Here are a few of the challenges that await the Yankees for 2016.
1) The future of CC Sabathia. Sabathia left the team this week to go into rehab for alcoholism. While this is clearly a scary situation for the left-hander, he was not good this year. His future is clearly up in the air. Sabathia has another year left on his $186 million contract.
2) The rest of the rotation had issues. Lets be honest, outside of Nathan Evoldi (yes, Nathan Evoldi), nobody was consistntly good for the Yankees this year. Masahiro Tanaka struggled with injuries and the long ball this season; Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova were both terribly inconsistent all season, and Adam Warren is really a bullpen guy. The only bright spot in this rotation is Luis Severino, who 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 11 starts. He is going to be the face of the rotation, but the Yankees need arms to help him out.
3) Bad contracts will still hold this team down. I don't care if Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixiera had good seasons this year for the Yankees, they are both killing the franchise with their contract obligations. A-Rod is signed through 2018 at $27 million per season, while Teixiera is signed through 2017 at $22 million. Add on top of that Brian McCann is making $17 million per through 2020, and Jacoby Ellsbury, who didn't start the Wild Card game, is making $22 million through 2022. That is a lot of bad contracts.
4) Are the kids for real. Lots of Yankees fans want to say their minor league system has the goods, but do we know that for sure? Yes, Severino is going to be a keeper, but the jury is still out on Bird, Refsnyder and John Ryan Murphy to name a few. The team also has a big time hitter in Aaron Judge waiting in the minors. We have to wait until Spring Training to see if he is going to be a contributor in 2016. If the kids are for real, the Yankees can move from the bad contracts with ease. If some of the kids struggle, the Yankees will be hard pressed to find replacements.
5) Get ready for Dillon Betances as the closer for 2016. Yes, Andrew Miller had a career year, compiling 36 saves and a 2.04 ERA. But will he do that again? Miller was more of a middle inning/set-up reliever earlier in his career. While he has the tools to get it done as the closer in 2016 and beyond, the role is eventually going to be Betances'. It's only a matter of time.
Are the Yankees a playoff team again in 2016? Way, way, way too early to say. Let's see what Brian Cashman is able to do in the off-season. If he can move some pieces, and maybe even shed more payroll the better. The AL East is a good division. Toronto will still be good, even if they do lose a number of their players in the off-season; Boston is going to rebound, and Baltimore was the favorite to win this division before the season began. It will be an uphill climb for New York, as they continue to shed a history of bad contracts.