Off Day Dreaming: If Healthy, Yankees Will Have Hard Postseason Personnel Decisions

The Yankees have the best record in baseball despite not playing a single game at full strength this season

The Yankees started their nine-game West Coast trip by getting swept by the A’s. They turned an 0-3 start into a 5-1 finish by taking two out of three from the Dodgers (and could have taken all three if not for an egregious umpiring decision) and sweeping the Mariners. The Yankees return home with the best record in baseball despite not having played a single game at full strength this season.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees on this off day as usual.

1. As much as I want the Yankees to win home-field advantage for the American League playoffs (and a potential World Series), and as much as I think they need to have home-field advantage to beat the Astros in a potential ALCS matchup, I don’t think they’re going to win home-field advantage. It’s not because they’re not good enough, it’s because their remaining schedule and the Astros’ remaining schedule suggest they won’t.

One-third of the Yankees’ remaining 27 games will be against teams fighting for a wild-card berth (Oakland, Boston and Tampa Bay), while the Astros’ only remaining games against any team with a real postseason chance is a four-game series against the A’s. Unfortunately, if the Yankees and Astros meet in the ALCS, the Yankees are going to have to win at least one game in Houston — something they were unable to do in the 2017 ALCS — and one game against either Justin Verlander (Game 1), Gerrit Cole (Games 2 and 6) or Zack Greinke (Game 7). If the Yankees are going to beat any of those three in the postseason, they’re most likely going to have to win the way they did in Los Angeles: with the home run.

2. The Yankees took two out of three from the Dodgers by hitting home runs against Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw. With the nearly impossible task of stringing together multiple base hits against elite pitching, the Yankees were able to use their home run prowess to defeat the NL All-Star Game starter and ERA leader on Friday and the best pitcher of his generation on Sunday. It’s part of the formula the Yankees are going to need to win in October: home runs + five innings from the starter + 12 outs from the bullpen.

I had a lot of Dodgers fans and in-laws in Los Angeles tell me how impressed they were by the Yankees since they don’t get to watch them much. The majority of those fans and in-laws also felt like the Yankees would beat the Dodgers if the two teams were to meet in the World Series. While that made me happy, it doesn’t mean anything other than to know Dodgers fans are petrified of having to play the Yankees and possibly lose a third straight World Series.

3. After dominating the Dodgers in the series opener and then beating the Mariners in Seattle without his best stuff, James Paxton has now recorded a win in six straight starts, finishing August a perfect 6-0 (after the Yankees lost all five of his starts in July) with this line: 35.1 IP, 24 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 14 BB, 39 K, 5 HR, 3.57 ERA, 1.076 WHIP.

In my yet-to-be-updated Postseason Rotation Power Rankings from July 23, I gave Paxton the Game 3 start in the ALDS with Masahiro Tanaka getting Game 1 and Domingo German getting Game 2. I think I’m ready to give Paxton at least Game 2.

But the reason I haven’t updated the rankings yet is because I have been waiting on more and more information on Luis Severino.

4. Severino is going to make his first rehab start of the season on Sunday in Triple-A. As long as he stays healthy and keeps progressing, we’ll likely see Severino pitching for the Yankees in mid-September, giving him a little more than two weeks of the regular season to get ready for October.

If Severino does stay healthy and returns as his usual self, it changes everything about the Postseason Rotation Power Rankings. He could be anywhere as high as the Game 1 starter to a long reliever to a middle reliever in the postseason. I want him back as a starter, but Severino in any role is better than no Severino at all.

5. It wasn’t even two weeks ago when Aaron Judge’s 2-spot in the order was being questioned. Over the last 11 games, Judge is hitting .383/.408/.872 with five doubles, six home runs and 10 RBIs, quieting all of his critics who wondered where his power and pull power went. It’s good to have one of the best players in the world back to being one of the best players in the world. It’s even better that he’s back entering the final month of the season.

6. Maybe Gary Sanchez was playing through an injury for a while which eventually led to his late-July/early-August injured-list stint. In 17 games since returning from IL, Sanchez has six home runs and 11 RBIs and a .917 OPS, hitting his 100th career home run and 30th home run in the process. I’m sure Sanchez will always provide us with frustrating moments and painful-to-watch slumps, but he’ll also always provide us with streaks like the one he’s currently on, and for that, he’s irreplaceable.

7. There was an article on the other day citing a storyline to watch for each team over the last month of the season. The Yankees’ storyline was getting J.A. Happ back on track and the article said he might not get a postseason start as of now and would be pitching out of the bullpen in October. Clearly, the author rarely watches the Yankees.

No, J.A. Happ won’t be getting a postseason start, and there’s a better chance of David Cone pitching out of the bullpen in the postseason than there is Happ. It would take an abundance of injuries for Happ to even be on the postseason roster at this point. Some very worthy players who have helped the Yankees to the best record in baseball aren’t going to be on the postseason roster, let alone Happ, who has done very little to help the 2019 Yankees get to where they are and has done more harm than good. Happ has a month and say five-or-so starts of five innings and three earned runs or more left in his season.

8. This week the Yankees said they would “probably” call up Clint Frazier on September 1. “Probably”? If Frazier isn’t on the Yankees on September 1 then this whole thing will be taken to another level of ridiculous and the Yankees will no longer be able to hide behind the idea that he’s working on his defense in Triple-A or that he doesn’t fit on the current roster.

9. If the Yankees ever get completely healthy and get Severino, Dellin Betances, Luke Voit, Edwin Encarnacion, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks all back, there’s going to be a lot of debate about the postseason roster, the postseason lineup and the postseason rotation. It’s likely that if everyone is healthy, Gio Urshela could be on the bench in the postseason as well as Brett Gardner and either Luke Voit or Edwin Encarnacion. If the Yankees don’t win the World Series, there’s going to be a lot of room for second-guessing the lineup, rotation and roster decisions which were made.

10. In the Off Day Dreaming on August 1, I said my expected record for the Yankees for August (by expected record, I mean a record I would be content with them having) is 17-13. Well, as of today, they are 20-8, so at worst, they are going to finish the month three games better than my expected record.

My expected record for the Yankees in September is 15-10. If they win of the two remaining games in August against Oakland, and meet my expected record expectations for September, they would finish the season 104-58, four games better than their 2018 record.

Now this October just needs to go better than October 2018.


My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!