The Yankees started the season with 52 wins in 70 games.

Comparisons were made to the 1998 squad, which at the time set the American League record with 114 wins and reached the World Series with only two playoff losses.

Parade routes were being planned ahead of time for the 2022 team, carriages were being moved in front of teams of horses, and millions of dollars were undoubtedly being bet on the World Series.

It all erupted during the American League Championship Series, during which the Yankees didn’t win a single game, at the hands of the Houston Astros before they could sew the World Series patch onto their beloved pinstripes. With blank stares on their faces in the postgame clubhouse, few Yankees tried to explain how the season had gone from joy to joy in such a short period of time.

“I don’t know,” shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa said. “I think it was just a lot of adversity to overcome, and also injuries. We almost went from blowing the lead. [AL] 8.5-game lead over the East, to win the division. We just weren’t able to carry that momentum into the postseason. It was definitely tough. It’s not a good feeling right now.”

“We battled some injuries, but every team does,” Anthony Rizzo admitted. “We just fell short. We gave up runs, they capitalized. We didn’t play well enough. That’s what October baseball is about.

As time heals their wounds — and, later, when these guys all retire — they may be more willing to say they never stood a chance against the Astros. Luis Severino came the closest, but explained it in a much more diplomatic way. His postgame media scrum after the sweep was filled with many groans and long pauses.

“Right now, they’re better than us,” the pitcher said. “The bottom line is we need to get better if we want to beat these guys.”

The Yankees are right about one thing: If not for the crowded injury list — DJ LeMahieu, Andrew Benintendi, Michael King, Chad Green, Frankie Montas, Matt Carpenter, Ron Marinaccio and Scott Effross would either be holding out during the playoffs. or were too injured to play. Absolutely – this could be a more competitive series. Nestor Cortes pointed to one of those injuries in particular as a turning point in the season, or the moment he felt like things started to shift into the foul zone.

“I want to say, maybe I’m wrong, when Michael King went down,” said Cortes, who had to do it himself. Dropped early Game 4 with injury.. “There were a lot of spots down the road and in the playoffs that would have been his innings. We relied on him a lot. I don’t think it’s completely flipped, but we’ve noticed it.

The two players gave separate, opposing answers about the injuries’ impact on the clubhouse vibe.

“I don’t think it’s had a huge impact on the clubhouse,” Conner-Felefa said. “We have great leaders, they did a great job.”

“Always,” Severino said when asked if injuries could shake up the clubhouse. “Anytime you have someone like DJ who’s not in the lineup from playing every day, we missed Carpenter a little bit, we always need those guys. But that’s not an excuse to say that. Why did we lose?

In such an apparent situation, excuses are not necessary at all. Houston won fair and square (we hope) and used a better roster, better management and a better organizational philosophy to embarrass the Yankees. Now, for the 13th straight offseason, it’s back to the drawing board for the Bombers as their quest for World Series ring No. 28 adds another year.

“Credit to the guys out there,” Keener-Felefa said of the Astros. “Hopefully we have a long offseason to get better.”

But as baseball has shown time and time again, being a good or even better team means nothing if said team doesn’t play well in October. The Astros were both better than the Yankees and were playing great baseball at the right times. Trying to figure out how to get that second part is the billion-dollar question that preoccupies Major League Baseball executives all winter.

“No one expected the Phillies to be where they are,” Severino gave as an illustrative example. “They weren’t the best team before the playoffs. During the playoffs, something changed. We need to find a way to do that.”

Cortes put a final spin on the situation, choosing to focus on some of the positives instead of focusing on the negatives.

“I think we did a good job of sticking together, even through that bad patch. I mean, we finished with the best record in the AL East. You have to give those guys a lot of credit. It has to be given to those who did it.

In the end, though, a season that started at a straight-up moonshine was destroyed in the span of 36 innings.

“It’s been a strange few days,” Severino summed up bluntly and rightly.