The easiest person to blame for this is Giancarlo Stanton whose ninth inning strikeout with two runners on base in game four was just one of several times in that series when the slugger came up empty in potentially game changing situations. That strikeout will likely be the enduring memory from a solid, but unspectacular season from Stanton, his first with the Yankees. However, the fault cannot be laid entirely at the feet of Stanton. The problem is bigger than that and starts with a team that had five batters with 100 or more strikeouts, two more with between 90-99 whiffs and 180 more team strikeout than the Astros, Red Sox or Indians, the other teams that made it into the final four in the American League.
Because of how the race has shaped up so far, the Yankees would be wise to give Andujar and Torres enough time to prove themselves this season, rather than cede playing time to Walker and Brandon Drury, once the latter gets healthy. Walker is not as bad as he has been so far in 2018. His OPS this year of .463 is .310 points below is career number. Given more time, Walker’s numbers would almost certainly go up. Similarly, when healthy Drury is a proven and useful player. However, if the Yankees are going to make up a 6.5 game deficit, that could continue to grow, and catch up with a very good Red Sox team, they need to do it not with solid, useful players, but with higher ceiling players. Torres and Andujar might both fail to hit over the course of the season, but they both have the potential to become impact players this year. The same cannot be said of Drury and Walker. If the Yankees were not already 6.5 games back, an argument could be made for being risk averse and sticking with the veterans, but that argument is not persuasive anymore.
The Yankees are a good team now and came within a game of the World Series because they, albeit very briefly, stepped off the win now treadmill that had mired them in being a good but never good enough team for all but one of the years from 2001-2015. Jumping back into that position too quickly by trading off prospects for veterans who are no longer very good or losing confidence in young players too quickly would be a big mistake, but it is not hard to see the Yankees going down that road. They spent the offseason raising expectations. If the next month looks like the last two weeks, things could get ugly in the Bronx pretty quickly.
It is also the case that the season could end differently and bring disappointment to Yankee fans. In addition to the questions marks at second, third and the back of the starting rotation, there are many other possible ways 2018 could go wrong for the Yankees. This is true of every team and is pretty much part of the game, but it is useful to think of what those stumbling blocks might be. Luis Severino or Aaron Judge might regress from their breakthrough years in 2017. Gary Sanchez might prove unable to field hold well enough to hold down the catching job full time. Greg Bird and Giancarlo Stanton, who both have struggled to stay healthy throughout their career could lose significant time to injuries. Additionally, other key contributors like Didi Gregorius or Masahiro Tanaka could suffer serious injuries.
Since the trade that brought Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, most of the speculation around the team has focused on second base, third base and the starting pitching. The rest of the lineup seems pretty set and very potent. Nonetheless, there are some mid-level questions that remain. As the season goes on, particularly if a player or two gets hurt and stops hitting.
The Giants' ability to produce impact players from within has been central to their impressive success in recent years. The evolution of the Brandons from solid regulars to stars, and the development of another not very widely heralded prospect, Joe Panik, into a very solid starter are the most recent examples of this. The Giants have also gotten a bit lucky with their farm system. For example, although it is unlikely to look this way at the end of the season, Matt Duffy, a player about whom a year ago all but the most intense Giants fans had heard nothing, is quietly having a better year (.279/.324/.388) than the major star, Pablo Sandoval (.251/.317/.371), who he replaced. In an era that is more competitive, with more teams, and more safeguards against dominance by wealthier teams, the Giants continue ability to produce quality players from within is an extraordinary accomplishment and one that goes a long way towards explaining those three rings.
It is no surprise that a team that has won two of the last three World Series has a good farm system, but the discrepancy between how the system, and indeed the franchise, is perceived, and what it actually is remains significant. Posey and Sandoval are hardly unknown. The former was handily elected NL MVP and has ended both of his full seasons in the big leagues by catching the last strike of the World Series. He is one of the faces of the Giants and is poised to become one of the game's most visible and marketable stars Sandoval, for his part, has a colorful nickname, and was the MVP of the World Series last year. Belt, however, despite an equally colorful nickname remains virtually unknown outside of San Francisco. While Posey is generally known as a star player, Sandoval is still at least as well-known for his weight as for his hitting while Belt is probably still seen as a disappointment to many fans because like many players who derive much of their value from drawing walks, he is under-appreciated.