The New York Yankees have been maddeningly inconsistent throughout the 2021 season. With high expectations, they have underachieved. Whenever it looks like they might have figured it out, they once again go back to their losing ways. Even if they somehow sneak into the playoffs, they probably won't go far, and there will certainly be changes once the season ends.
Their problems start at the plate where they can't capitalize with runners in scoring position. The Yankees are practically at the bottom of the league when it comes to that category. Home runs - their strength at the plate - have come less frequently than in other years. They also lack contact hitters; too many players look to hit home runs and end up striking out. DJ LeMahieu, their best contact hitter in recent years, resigned for six years and $90 million, but he hasn't matched his play from the previous two seasons. Guys who were seen as key players in previous years such as Gleyber Torres have struggled. Their power hitter Giancarlo Stanton hasn't been the big time player the Yankees envisioned when they inherited his big contract. Only Aaron Judge has been the most successful hitter this year. He is leading the team in home runs, batting average, and RBIs while staying healthy so far.
As for their pitching, it seems like every time this unit takes one step forward, they then proceed to take two steps back. Gerrit Cole for the most part, has shown why he was worth the big contract the Yankees gave him, but he doesn't get much run support. The same can be said for Jordan Montgomery who pitched five starts without any run support from his teammates before last Thursday. Corey Kluber had appeared to be finding his groove after pitching a no-hitter in mid-May, before injuring his shoulder. By the time he gets back, the Yankees will likely be all, but eliminated from making the postseason. Domingo German and Jamesson Taillon have had their moments, but aren't long term answers. Their bullpen, which was viewed as their biggest pitching strength prior to the season, has blown a bunch of games where they appeared to have a comfortable lead. Three of those blown leads have come when they were leading by four or more runs entering the eighth inning.
These problems however extend beyond the diamond. It has been apparent that Aaron Boone hasn't been able to light a spark in this team, and he's made poor decisions in some of their losses. In their last loss to Boston for example, he pulled Domingo German in the eighth inning after giving up his first hit even though he probably could've pitched to one or two more batters. I've always thought that Boone has been unfairly criticized over the years, but if this team keeps underperforming, there's little he could say to convince management to retain him for another year. That's not to say they're not at fault either. Brian Cashman believed that he had a roster that could contend so he ignored areas that turned out to be flaws, whether it was the lack of left handed hitting, athleticism on defense, or a consistent rotation. Their player development has also been subpar if you realize they've developed no one who looks like a foundational player in the last five years outside of Judge. Cashman has done many good things for the franchise, but with this year likely being their 12th year without even sniffing a World Series, he should go.
Overall, this is looking like a lost season for the Yankees. As mentioned earlier, the only positive from this season has been a healthy Judge. While it's still possible for them to turn it around and sneak into the wild card, it seems more unlikely as they keep losing. On the bright side, the Yankees are usually able to find ways to turn it around after a rough season. That doesn't mean that they should make any moves at the trade deadline. If they find out that the players they want such as Trevor Story or Starling Marte are likely staying put, they should wait for free agency because they're not one player away from turning it around. What they should do at the deadline, is try to trade starters for prospects with high potential. Hopefully, this team makes the necessary moves to climb back in contention.
,The Atlanta Hawks were up by three points in the final minutes of game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons caught a pass on the block and had the chance for a wide open dunk, only to pass it to Matisse Thybulle who got fouled. Thybulle, a 44% shooter from the foul line, went one of two and the 76ers would later lose the game and the series. As soon as the series ended, extensive criticism was aimed at Simmons who will be a big question mark for the team's future.
Ben Simmons is a very unique basketball player. At 6′ 11, he can bring the ball up court and run in offense, something that only Giannis Antetokounmpo can also do at that height. Simmons is also a great ball handler and is able to set up teammates in transition. On the defensive end, Simmons' long wingspan has made him a menace. He can defend different positions on the court and it shows in his accolades of back-to-back First Team All Defense selections. The one weakness in his game is his shooting, particularly from three, which is an important skill to have in today's game.
While Simmons can hide these problems in the regular season, they make him vulnerable in the playoffs. Come postseason time, teams will look to attack a player's weakness, and this was never more evident than in this year's playoffs. In the first round, the 76ers dispatched the Washington Wizards in five games, but in Washington's game 4 victory, they were able to expose Simmons' free throw problems by hacking him down the stretch. Although Philadelphia won the series, Simmons had lost his aggressiveness. Against the tougher Atlanta Hawks in the semifinals, Simmons would only score a combined 19 points in the final three games. His passed up dunk in game 7 perfectly represents his reluctance to attack the basket in fear of shooting free throws.
Although coach Doc Rivers noted that the team has a plan to improve Simmons' shooting, it might be too little too late. A 76ers fan and close friend of mine in Philadelphia recently gave me his perspective on the situation: he believes that time is up. As good a regular season player as Simmons is, he is very easy to out-coach during the playoffs. When asked about trade possibilities, he believes it's worth trading Simmons because for one, they could acquire a talented perimeter player such as CJ McCollum or Damien Lillard. In addition, they can get rid of Simmons' big contract to add other pieces around Joel Embiid. Simmons may be a highly talented player, but his shooting struggles are too much to overcome in order to win a championship.
If game 7 turns out to be Simmons' last game as a 76er it would symbolize a complicated tenure for Simmons. While his unique play style put the 76ers in a position to succeed, it also resulted in many playoff disappointments. Don't be surprised if that game turned out to be his final one.
At 26 years old, he's had all the accomplishments an NBA player can dream of. Giannis Antetokounmpo has gone from selling CDs as a kid on the streets in his hometown Athens, Greece, to winning a championship. He's a representation of the American Dream that goes beyond the sport of basketball. On Tuesday night, he and his team overcame previous playoff disappointments by defeating the Phoenix Suns in four straight games after losing the first two.
Leading up to the Finals against the Phoenix Suns, people didn't even know if Giannis would play. He suffered what appeared to be a painful knee injury in game four of the Conference Finals against the Hawks and it looked like he would miss the beginning of the series. However, Giannis suited up for game one and played pretty well during the first two games, but the Bucks faced an 0-2 deficit. When the series shifted to Milwaukee they tied up the series sealed after Giannis delivered one of the best blocks in finals history to preserve the Bucks lead at the end of game four. The Bucks then proceeded to steal home court advantage in game five by fighting off a late Suns rally, and in game six, it was clear Giannis wasn't going to let this series head back to Phoenix right from the jump. On offense, he scored at will every time, whether it was layups, dunks, his new-found turnaround and even free throws. On defense he intimidated every shooter on the Suns, and would end up blocking five shots. His final stat line: 50 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks.
Loyalty played a big part in Giannis' journey toward a championship. Many people wondered why Giannis wanted to continue playing in a city that didn't have the celebrity lifestyle compared to New York City or Los Angeles. Yet he believed he owed a championship to the Bucks as well as the city of Milwaukee for taking a chance on him when he was just 18 years old. After every loss, he would take criticism and improve his game. Early in the finals when he was asked if the fans are are affecting his free throw shooting, Giannis acknowledged that was the case and vowed to improve his focus on making the free throw. This became a strength toward the end of the series, as Giannis went 17-19 in game six. Most players would've tried to avoid such a question concerning a flaw in their game. Finally, he fully established himself as a closer during this playoffs. With home court advantage on their side against Phoenix, Giannis delivered one of the greatest closeout performances of all time. His 50 points are tied for the most ever in a closeout game.
If there's anything that can be taken away from Giannis' playoff run, it's that you don't have to play in a marquee city to win a championship. You can play in a small market in the midwest and still be successful. Giannis proved that you don't have to chase super teams in order to win a championship. Guys like Kevin Durant and James Harden chose to create super teams in hopes of winning a championship and while the results have been mixed, Giannis won the hard way. He had a pretty good roster of Kris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Brook Lopez, but not the roster compared to the Nets. You can say injuries prevented other teams from advancing but that is part of the game. The attention Phoenix paid to Giannis helped him to get the best out of his teammates in the Finals. Whether it was Middleton's 40 point outing in game four, Holiday's clutch steal in game five, or even Bobby Portis' 16 points in the closer, you could see the Giannis effect during those last four games.
If Giannis wasn't already one of the greatest stories in all of sports, he certainly is now, To win a championship after years of falling short with the same team is super impressive given the fact that most players would've left had they been in Giannis' situation. Even if he never wins another ring, this year's championship will always be remembered for what Giannis accomplished.