And now comes the biggest mid-April series in Yankees history.
That sounds like hyperbole. But is it? There has been surprisingly little local consideration of this team’s potential self-sabotage, but that figures to change in a hurry. The Yankees will be at full strength when the Blue Jays arrive Monday for a four-game set in the Bronx. That likely won’t be the case when they head to Toronto in May and vaccination status starts determining the lineup card.
The Yankees may have helped convince City Hall to back off. That won’t happen with Canada. The vaccine mandate for travelers crossing the border is not expected to end. Which means there will be nine critical road games against the American League favorites — including three in late September — with a short-handed roster.
The full rundown of unvaccinated Yankees won’t be known until they land on the restricted list while the rest of the club headed to Toronto. But the world has some idea.
Aaron Judge refused to say whether he was vaccinated during spring training, and a recent report indicated he is not. Anthony Rizzo also side-stepped the question in Tampa after playing last season unvaccinated, although his non-answer could be read as an indirect announcement he got the jab this offseason. Either way, there is reason to believe the Yankees may be down two key bats in Toronto before any other surprise scratches reveals themselves. Which is not what you want.
The competitive reality: The Yankees are likely to be at a self-inflicted disadvantage in half of their games with the Blue Jays this season. And that may cost them everything. It could be the difference between a division title and a Wild Card, or a Wild Card and missing the postseason entirely. Which is why this upcoming four-game series is so important, even at this early juncture. A split may not be good enough; the goal has to be three of four — at least.
No one should pity the Yankees. There was a simple way to avoid this issue — getting everyone in the clubhouse to receive a vaccine that has been proven effective and safe through billions of doses worldwide. And even when that failed, they were still willing to commit $200 million to Judge and re-sign Rizzo while knowing the score. There are no excuses.
But this issue does not have to derail the season. Not if the Yankees take care of business and control what they can. They cannot win the AL East this week, but they might be able to lose it. They have to prevent that from happening — and keep praying they don’t see the Blue Jays in October. There may be 153 other games now, but you cannot work around a Game 7 in Toronto.