Not much should be taken from Yanks' slow start
Yankees fans have expectations that, when you take them as a daily diet, essentially add up to the Bronx Bombers finishing 162-0.
The attitude is that the Yankees are supposed to win. Baseball history is awash with this lesson -- although in diminishing amounts as the history becomes more recent.
But any defeat in this context is a cause for a difficult mixture of shock and dismay. So when the Yankees opened with two losses against the Houston Astros, these results were viewed by Yanks loyalists as somewhere between unthinkable and impossible.
The Astros, after all, have defined themselves as Major League Baseball's ultimate rebuilding operation. It is generally held now that the Astros are amassing an impressive amount of talent in their Minor League system. But under the big tent, no, not yet, 2014 isn't going to be their year, either.
It was no doubt a benefit to the collective well-being of the Yankees' massive fan base that the New Yorkers found the victory column Thursday night, 4-2, to salvage the finale of the three-game series in Houston. There will still be some gnashing of teeth about losing a series to the Astros, but the difference between 0-3 and 1-2 at this early juncture seems larger than its reality. Anybody can go 1-2. A bad hop here, a hanging curve there. But 0-3? That's an indication of danger to come, isn't it?
What if the Yankees had been swept by the Astros? What would it have meant?
Nothing. Something. Everything. Take your pick. It is way too early to tell.
The greatest Yankees team of the recent past, the 1998 squad, lost its first three games of the season. And then it won 114 regular-season games. That was a regular-season record, eclipsed two seasons later by the Seattle Mariners. But the '98 Yanks, winning the World Series, established the mark for total victories, regular season plus postseason, with 125.
So that 0-3 start didn't mean anything. That Yankees team started out by losing two at Anaheim, then one at Oakland. In the process, they were outscored, 21-6. Compared to that kind of start, the 2014 Yanks are practically soaring.
The competition may have been tougher at the outset for the 1998 Yankees. The Angels finished second in the American League West, three games out of first. The Athletics were fourth and last, but they were not a walkover opponent at 74-88.
Those Yankees actually lost four of their first five. But there was nothing in those outcomes that had any long-term meaning. By the end of April, the Yanks were 17-6. By the end of May, they were 37-13. By the end of the regular season they were 22 games up on their nearest AL East competitor, the Red Sox.
There is no point in comparing the Yankees of 1998 with the current squad. The 1998 Yanks were better than the vast majority of teams that played baseball anywhere, at any time. This isn't about that.
The 2014 Yankees being beaten in the first series of the season by a team projected to finish last, again, may mean absolutely nothing.
If it means that CC Sabathia is going to give up six earned runs in every start as he did in the opener against Houston, that would mean quite a bit, all of it negative. But Sabathia's entire career argues against that notion.
The beauty of the earliest portions of the baseball season is that if you like the results, you can make as much as you want of them. If you don't like the results, you can dismiss them entirely because they represent -- all together now -- a small sample size.
One old baseball adage that remains useful is that pennants cannot be won in April and May, but they can be lost in April in May. But I don't know that the pennant can be completely lost in a three-game series in Houston at the beginning of April.