Once upon a time I said the best World Series match up I could imagine would be the Houston Astros vs. the Chicago Cubs.
This was before the Cubs ended their 108 year championship drought. It was when the Astros still lingered at the bottom of the AL West. These were two underdog teams, and I wanted to see them go head-to-head. Now, both the Astros and Cubs are in the postseason, but it’s hard to consider them underdogs anymore. The Cubs are once again squaring off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, but this time it appears the Dodgers are an unstoppable force, poised to plow through Chicago’s hopes of a repeat trip to the World Series. And the Astros are now tied 2-2 with the Yankees for the ALCS title.
What makes all this truly remarkable isn’t the idea that the Astros could make half of my dream World Series match up a reality. It’s the performance of the New York Yankees.
The Yankees finished their 2016 season fourth in the AL East, and while their record was over .500, no one saw much hope for a good 2017 season. The big names, for the most part, were gone, and a new crew of unproven talent would be taking the field for the ’17 season. It was never meant to be a winning year, but rather a time for rebuild and restructuring.
Then Aaron Judge blasted 50 home runs in his rookie season.
Gary Sanchez continued the hot start that almost earned him a Rookie of the Year title last season.
The team traded for Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson at the deadline, and fit in the pieces that were missing from their bullpen and infield. They did everything right. And what’s more, for the first time in ages, there was a Yankees team that people really seemed to like. These players weren’t aging superstars with bloated salaries. They weren’t the guys the Yankees were known for: once great players on the decline that the team spent way too much money on. This is a young, talented group, and the excitement over Judge and Sanchez was warranted.
The team that was never supposed to win in 2017 was suddenly in the the Wild Card, paired off against a team who finished last in baseball in 2016, the Minnesota Twins. If that’s not a beautiful baseball story, I don’t know what is. The Yankees, of course, won the Wild Card, then went on to destroy the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. Now, in the midst of the ALCS, they have proven they won’t go down without a fight, and there is a very real chance they could be heading to the World Series in a week.
Which begs the question: are the Yankees really the underdogs I was hoping for?
The Yankees might be one of the most reviled sports franchises in history. Those who love them love them a lot. But those who hate them do so without any logical reason other than the fact they are the Yankees. I am one of the latter. I have no particular reason for hating the Yankees. It just seems like the thing to do. And they certainly aren’t a team who needs to prove themselves in the postseason. The Yanks have 27 World Series titles, the most recent coming in 2009. They have 40 AL pennants. They’ve won the AL East 18 times, and the Wild Card 6 times.
This isn’t the hallmark of an underdog team.
Yet, they were never supposed to get this far in 2017. They were a long shot to beat the reigning AL champions in Cleveland. And they’ve more than proven themselves against the red hot Houston Astros.
Maybe, just maybe, the Yankees are the great underdog story of the season.