For a team with 98 wins with two weeks left in the regular season, the Yankees sure have a lot to figure out before the end of September. When will their current injured players return? Who will be on the postseason roster? What will their postseason rotation be? What will their postseason lineup be? Will they be the 1- or 2-seed in the postseason? And most importantly, who will their ALDS opponent be? All of that will be answered between now and September 29, though Yankees fans won’t be made aware of all the answers by then.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees on this off day as usual.
1. Well, that didn’t take long. After writing Yankees Can Have Postseason Home-Field Advantage If They Want It on Friday, the Yankees gave away their two-game lead over the Astros by losing two of three to the 59-win Blue Jays. The two losses in Toronto gave the Yankees a 4-6 record at Rogers Centre for the season against a team on its way to almost 100 losses.
I have written many times about how the Yankees don’t really care to win home-field advantage. To the Yankees, if it happens and they fall into home-field, great, and if they don’t, oh well. That was once again clear on Friday night when they brought Tyler Lyons in before more established relievers and he promptly gave up a walk-off home run to Bo Bichette, and it was clear on Sunday when Nestor Cortes was brought into a 3-3 game and allowed to face the top of the Blue Jays’ order. Bichette singled, Cavan Biggio walked and Randal Grichuk hit a three-run home run, his second of the game. (There’s a reason I had Grichuk starting in the outfield of my 2019 All-Animosity Team. He now has eight home runs and a .990 OPS in 16 games against the Yankees this season as 29 percent of his home run total (28) have come against them.)
So now the Yankees are back to being tied with the Astros and back to being the 2-seed in the American League because the Astros won the season series. The Astros’ schedule is much easier for the final two weeks of the season, so barring the Astros not caring about home-field, get ready for Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of a potential ALCS being in Houston.
2. Sunday isn’t the reason I’m questioning Cortes being a Yankee, I have questioned it all season. Now with September call-ups and the 40-man roster he’s not going anywhere, but he never should have been here to begin with. Cortes came back to the Yankees after being unwanted by the 2018 Orioles. The 47-win Orioles who are one of the worst teams in the history of baseball didn’t want Cortes, and after more than four months of him pitching for the Yankees, we all know why.
Cortes now has a 5.54 ERA on the season, which is the highest its been outside of when it was 13.50 briefly following his Yankees debut (2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3K, 1 HR) and when it was 9.00 following his second Yankees outing (4 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HR). Cortes has given up earned runs in 18 of his 34 appearances, including six straight, and has allowed an astounding 14 home runs in 63 1/3 innings. I have no idea how he’s survived a demotion in more than four months, but I guess good for him? He’s been a New York Yankee, making a major-league salary and traveling in luxury nearly all season, earning service time toward his future pension. Good for him. Bad for Yankees fans.
3. It was beautiful watching Dellin Betances return to the Yankees and strike out the only two batters he faced on eight pitches. It would have been even more beautiful to watch him get to complete an inning of work, but apparently he was on a two-batter or eight-pitch limit, and you have to trust the Yankees in these situations since they have been the model franchise for preventing pitching injuries and keeping their players healthy.
If the Yankees are getting the real Betances for the postseason then they’re getting the best relief pitcher in all of baseball for the last five years. That means everyone gets bumped down in the bullpen pecking order and hopefully means a few less stress tests for Yankees fans in high-leverage situations in October.
I trust Betances more than any other Yankee reliever, and that holds true whether he’s pitched all season or thrown eight pitches.
4. Here is my current Yankees’ Bullpen Trust Rankings (scale of 1-10):
Dellin Betances: 9.6
Aroldis Chapman: 8.2
Adam Ottavino: 7.5
Chad Green: 6.9
Tommy Kahnle: 5.2
Zack Britton: 4.3
I don’t trust Chapman from a runners-on-base standpoint, but I trust him to pitch a scoreless inning. Ottavino’s control issues when he doesn’t know where his slider is going is worrisome for October, but when he’s on, which is most of the time, he’s unhittable. After the worst month of April from a reliever ever, Green has regained my trust heading into the postseason. I want to trust Kahnle as much as Aaron Boone does, but his love for Kahnle against lefties because of his changeup scares me, and I have a bad feeling about Kahnle giving up a home run in a big spot in the postseason. When Britton starts striking batters out again and not putting two on everytime he pitches, we can talk about trusting him again.
5. Luis Severino is going to start on Tuesday and if he looks like his usual self like Betances did, he has to start either Game 1 or 2 of the postseason. I know there’s been a push over the last month-plus by James Paxton to be the Yankees’ Game 1 starter, and he might continue to earn that honor over his last few starts, but Severino belongs starting one of the games.
Masahiro Tanaka has been my Game 1 starter all season, based on his five-start postseason career, and the fact Paxton sucked for most of the year, Severino hasn’t pitched, the Yankees are unsure of what to do with Domingo German and because CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ shouldn’t be anywhere near the mound in October. I would still be happy with Tanaka getting the ball to open the postseason for the Yankees, but with the return of Severino and the run Paxton has been on since the beginning of August, I don’t think Tanaka is the go-to guy anymore, especially if recency bias is going to determine the postseason rotation.
But that’s fine. Give the ball to Tanaka for Game 3 on the road. I trust him on the road more than anyone, and he proved himself on the road in the 2017 ALCS in Houston and the 2018 ALDS in Boston. No matter what the rotation is going to be, it’s looking a lot better than it was at the trade deadline, as long as Sabathia and Happ aren’t a part of it.
6. The groin injury sufferd by Gary Sanchez is both unfortunate and ill-timed. It seems he might miss the rest of the regular season and essentially play his rehab games in the ALDS. Either that, or Austin Romine or Kyle Higashioka will start in the postseason, and the Yankees will be without their biggest lineup advantage. Sanchez was hurt on a stolen-base attempt, injuring his groin, which seems to get injured once a month. Sanchez had five career stolen-base attempts prior to this one, and Aaron Boone took responsibility for allowing Sanchez to go. Either Boone is protecting his player and Sanchez is dumb for trying such an unnecessary thing, or Boone is dumb for thinking it was clever to allow his catcher to attempt to steal a base with two weeks left in the season. I don’t know who’s truly at fault here, but either one or both of them are idiots.
7. As for the injury to Edwin Encarnacion, I’m not sure what to expect. The Yankees have said it’s minor, but anything the Yankees say is minor usually turns into major, and without many regular-season games left and Encarnacion’s age, it’s hard to know when and if Encarnacion will return.
His absence solves the lineup problem when Giancarlo Stanton returns and doesn’t force someone who deserves to play to the bench, but I would rather have Encarncion healthy and available and force that decision to be made. It seems like whenever the Yankees are just about to activate an injured player, another player is hurt. In this case, with the return of Betances, Severino and Jordan Montgomery, the Yankees lost Sanchez and Encarnacion. Had they lost Gleyber Torres after an awkward play at shortstop over the weekend, it would have been a disaster, but expected. That’s the way this ridiculous season has gone.
8. The Yankees’ magic number is down to 3. Any combination of Yankees wins and Rays losses totaling three and the Yankees are division champions. That could happen as early as Wednesday. If it were to happen after play on Wednesday, the Yankees would have 16 days and nine regular-season games until Game 1 of the ALDS to get everyone healthy, feeling comfortable at the plate and to line up their rotation. It will also mean a whole lot of Cortes, Tyler Lyons and Breyvic Valera and the other 40-man call-ups. Get ready for three- and four-inning games from the regulars.
9. The team I most want the Yankees to play in the ALDS is the Rays. After them, it’s the Indians then the Twins then the A’s. It’s looking more and more like it’s going to be another Yankees-Twins ALDS the way it was in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2019, which all led to ALCS appearances for the Yankees.
I pray that the Yankees somehow fall into home-field over the final two weeks because it will mean facing a lesser opponent which will have had to burn their best starter to get to the Yankees, along with having to travel from wherever the wild-card game is to New York with only one calendar day in between. It also means being able to host the ALCS. To me, it means everything.
10. My expected record for the Yankees in September is 15-10. They are currently 9-5, which means they have to finish at least 6-5 to meet expectations. That shouldn’t be hard given their schedule during a normal time of the season, but will be hard since there’s no way of knowing how they are going to handle the final two weeks once they clinch the division.
The Yankees have 98 wins and only need to win two of their remaining games to match last season’s 100 wins. I think they easily pass the 2009 Yankees’ 103-59 record and possibly even get to 105 wins. But if the postseason doesn’t end with a win, it won’t matter.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!