By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Remember, if you can, a long, long time ago. Ages ago. December 2017, to be exact.
That was the time that the New York Yankees made the acquisition that figured to shift the balance of power in the AL East and the American League at large for the forthcoming decade. That acquisition came by the name of Giancarlo Stanton, and he arrived in the Bronx with much fanfare. A power-hitting savior had arrived.
Up in Boston, fans and media alike crushed Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski for only having “tepid” interest in Stanton. How could this be? Did Dombrowski not see the awful power struggles of the 2017 Red Sox? How could he only have lukewarm interest in a generational power hitter?
Well, turns out, perhaps Dombrowski knew something that the rest of us didn’t.
That’s at least one conclusion to draw after Stanton stunk up the joint — and then some — in his first playoff series for the Yankees. That it came against the Red Sox — and against J.D. Martinez, the power hitter whom the Red Sox ended up actually adding to the roster over the winter — only shines a brighter spotlight on it.
Overall, the numbers for Stanton in the four-game series were ugly:
0 home runs
12 runners left on base
Slashing .222/.222/.222 is not exactly what the Yankees had in mind when they acquired Stanton (along with his massive contract). And it wasn’t what they hoped for after he hit a home run in this year’s AL Wild Card Game, his first-ever postseason action.
That home run, though, came in the eighth inning, with the Yankees already leading 6-2. When things were a bit more tense in the ALDS, Stanton wilted.
In the first inning of Game 1, Stanton strode to the plate with a runner on base. He struck out. He came to bat in the fourth, again with a runner on base. He again struck out, this time on three pitches. When he came to bat in the sixth, his team trailed 5-0. He was able to single.
But the next time he came up, it was a critical situation. The Red Sox were clinging to a 5-2 lead as their bullpen faltered. Back-to-back singles, a wild pitch, and a walk set the scene for Stanton: bases loaded, nobody out, tying run at first, go-ahead run at the plate. Facing Matt Barnes, Stanton had the chance to change Game 1 with one swing of the bat.
Instead, he struck out, swinging over a low breaking ball.
Stanton got one more at-bat in Game 1. It came in the ninth inning. Aaron Judge had led off the ninth with a powerful solo homer to tighten that Boston lead to one run. Again, it was the same opportunity for Stanton. This time facing Craig Kimbrel … Stanton struck out. Looking. On three pitches.
It was Stanton’s fourth strikeout of the night.
He was only moderately better in Game 2, when he went 1-for-5 with one strikeout in the Yankees’ 6-2 victory. He managed to strike out just once, and he smoked a line-drive single to left field for his lone hit of the night. When the Yankees’ lead was just two runs in the seventh, though, Stanton stepped to the plate with two runners on base and nobody out. It was a primo RBI opportunity.
He grounded out.
(Gary Sanchez followed up that Stanton dud with a mammoth three-run home run to put the game out of reach for Boston.)
In the ninth inning, Stanton grounded into a 5-3 double play.
During Game 3’s 16-1 blowout win by the Red Sox, Stanton did hit a leadoff single in the second inning, when the Red Sox led just 1-0. That was a positive contribution. In his next plate appearance, he singled again, this time with the Yankees trailing 10-0. He’d finish the night 2-for-4.
And then came Game 4, with the Yankees facing elimination at home. It was the first true must-win game of Stanton’s career.
He went 0-for-4.
He had an RBI opportunity in the fourth, with a runner on second and one out. He grounded out to second base.
But by far the worst plate appearance of the night and the series for Stanton came in the ninth inning. Kimbrel was an absolute wreck on the mound for Boston. The closer walked Aaron Judge on four pitches, allowed a single to Gregorius on a 1-2 pitch that split the plate. Kimbrel was wild and had no feel for his fastball or his breaking ball. The Yankee Stadium crowd sensed this and began going absolutely bonkers. The closer was on the ropes.
With Stanton coming to the plate, either a walk to load the bases or a homer to tie the game seemed not only likely but downright inevitable.
But Kimbrel threw a first-pitch curveball to Stanton. Called strike one.
Stanton then flailed at a breaking ball in the dirt, against a pitcher whose control was off the rails. Strike two.
Stanton took a high heater — 98 mph — up around the letters for ball one, but he then helplessly whiffed at a breaking ball well off the plate that was breaking away from him.
It was, through and through, an awful at-bat by Stanton.
It was a big out, too. The Yankees ended up scoring twice in the inning, stranding the tying and winning runs on base.
For his work in the series, Stanton landed himself on the back page of the New York Post:
And also the back page of the New York Daily News:
Not exactly the situation that Stanton, the Yankees, or Yankee fans had in mind. (The sports editors probably don’t hate the content, though.)
And because they’ll be compared for the length of their tenures in their respective cities, it’s worth looking at how J.D. Martinez performed for the Red Sox in this series:
1 home run
Martinez didn’t necessarily light it up with a historic performance, but he was more than solid. He belted a three-run home run in the first inning of Game 1, helping to set a tone for the game and the series. Later in that game, he advanced a runner to third on a deep fly ball to right. The runner would end up crossing the plate to score Boston’s fourth run of the night.
Martinez reached base three times in the Red Sox’ 16-1 romp in Game 3, and he drove in the team’s second run of the game. And in Game 4, he broke a scoreless tie in the third with a deep sacrifice fly to left-center field.
Obviously from Stanton’s perspective, what Martinez did for Boston doesn’t really matter. But for those of us who watch, analyze, and criticize the moves these teams make, the stark contrast of the performances was impossible to miss.
And for Stanton and the Yankees, the postseason was a bit of a continuation of a troubling trend. According to Fangraphs, Stanton batted .197 with 21 strikeouts and just 13 hits in high-leverage situations this year. He was better in high-leverage situations by Baseball-Reference’s standard, hitting .239. But he still struck out 40 times, compared to 28 hits.
Per Fangraphs, 33 of Stanton’s 38 home runs (87 percent) came in either low-leverage situations (22) or medium-leverage situations (11). Just five of his homers — and six of his extra-base hits — came in high-leverage situations.
For a player making $25 million, that’s not exactly going to cut it.
How this affects Stanton going forward is impossible to predict. But what seems like a safe bet is that this will be a long winter for Stanton, the organization, and the fan base, a major change of pace from last year’s celebratory Winter of Giancarlo.