Off Day Dreaming: Yankees Only Have to Worry About Home-Field Advantage and Health

There’s less than six weeks left in the Yankees’ season. On Tuesday, the Yankees will begin their third-to-last road trip and last trip to the West Coast of the season.

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

1. The division has been long over. It’s been over for nearly two months now. But if anyone out there is still worried …

The Yankees are 83-43. If they play .500 for the rest of the regular season and go 18-18 in their final 36 games, they will finish with a 101-61 record. The Rays would have to go 28-9 to tie them and the Red Sox would have to go 34-2. The question isn’t if the Yankees win the division, it’s when, and the sooner the better to rest their position players and line up their rotation accordingly.

2. At least the last two weeks of the season are going to be meaningless from a division standpoint, but they are going to mean everything from a home-field advantage standpoint. It’s going to be difficult to come out of the American League playoffs this season, but it’s going to be nearly impossible if the Yankees aren’t the No. 1 seed and don’t have home-field advantage throughout.

The most likely scenario in the AL playoffs is a Yankees-Astros ALCS. They are going to be the 1- and 2-seeds and they are the two best teams in the league. Two years ago in the ALCS, the Astros went 4-0 at home and the Yankees went 3-0 at home. The Astros outscored the Yankees 15-3 in Houston and the Yankees outscored the Astros 19-5 in New York. This season the Astros are 43-15 at home and the Yankees are 49-20 at home, the best two home records in the AL. Home-field advantage matters, especially in this postseason, and the Yankees can’t take their foot off the gas once they clinch the division. The goal is to win the World Series, and having home-field advantage will greatly increase their chances of accomplishing that goal.

3. CC Sabathia wasn’t good again on Sunday in his return from his second injured-list stint. He gave up four earned runs on four hits and three walks in three innings, including a three-run home run. He was on a limited pitch count and was pulled after 67 pitches.

Why is Sabathia on a pitch count? He’s retiring at the end of the season and has roughly six regular-season starts left in his career. There’s absolutely no way he can be given a postseason start unless the Yankees didn’t learn their lesson from last season and want to relive that misery. So Sabathia’s six-or-so remaining regular-season starts are the last of his career. There’s no need to protect his arm for October or for 2020. He’s done after Game 162. There’s no need for him to save pitches for retirement or leave anything in the tank. When it’s his turn to start, let him pitch until he wants to come out of the game. Let him eat innings, so I don’t have to watch Nestor Cortes or Luis Cessa anymore.

4. When it comes to the postseason rotation, Sabathia isn’t the only one who can’t get a start. J.A. Happ can’t either. That means the Yankees’ postseason starting pitcher option are currently: Masahiro Tanaka, Domingo German, James Paxton or an opener.

I haven’t updated the Yankees’ Postseason Rotation Power Rankings since July 23 because they remain the same. Tanaka in Game 1, German in Game 2, Paxton in Game 3 and an opener in Game 4. The only way that will change is if Luis Severino comes back.

5. I’m getting more and more excited that Severino is going to return. I realize any setback now means his season is over with only five-plus weeks left in the regular season, but he threw off a mound over the weekend and said he felt great and is now very, very close to pitching in rehab games. Because of the end to the minor-league regular season in a couple weeks, it’s likely Severino will pitch a couple of games in the minors and then really build up his pitch count with the Yankees.

If Severino were to come back as his old self, to me, he would be the Game 1 starter in the postseason. But I could see the Yankees starting Tanaka in that game no matter what, given his postseason success (1.50 ERA in five starts) and having Severino pitch the second game. Either way, Severino is seeming more and more like an actual option this October, which will make me feel a lot better about the Yankees’ rotation and chances in the postseason.

6. The return of Dellin Betances is as important as the return of Severino. Aroldis Chapman is going to pitch the ninth inning no matter what, but I have trust issues with Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino, and I don’t have any trust in Zack Britton. Betances was the best reliever in baseball for the last five years before this season-ruining injury, and I expect him to be the same Betances once he returns. That pushes everyone down in the bullpen pecking order and takes some of the high-leverage situations away from those who have trouble navigating them.

The Yankees are 40 games over .500, going to win the division with at least two weeks left in the season and could win the World Series right now, as currently constructed, and they’re close to having their best starting pitcher and best reliever back for the first time this season. I wish I could bottle this emotion to feel this way every day.

7. Luke Voit is nearing a return, Giancarlo Stanton is rehabbing his way back from yet another lengthy injured-list stint and at some point, Edwin Encarnacion could return as well. The Yankees aren’t going to have any roster issues with September 1 less than two weeks away, but they’re most likely going to have some problems come October. Let’s say the Yankees were at full strength for the postseason, who would be on the postseason roster?

Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine are two roster spots. Voit, Encarnacion, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius and Gio Urshela are another six. Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner and Stanton bring the total to 12. Severino, Tanaka, German and Paxton make it 16. Chapman, Betances, Ottavino, Britton, Kahnle and Green equal 22.

That leaves three spots for Mike Tauchman, Cameron Maybin, pinch runner Terrance Gore, CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ, not to mention the possibilities of Clint Frazier, Jonathan Loaisiga or Deivi Garcia. (I’m assuming Luis Cessa and Nestor Cortes have no chance at making the roster.)

8. The actual postseason roster isn’t as much an issue as to who will be in the starting lineup. Either LeMahieu, Voit or Encarnacion will play first. Either LeMahieu or Torres will play second. Either LeMahieu or Urshela will play third. Either Torres or Gregorius will play short. One of the two odd men out could be the designated hitter, but then that would mean Stanton plays left field and Gardner is on the bench.

The Yankees are going to have a real lineup issue in October if everyone is healthy and there’s no consensus lineup to make everyone happy. On top of that, because there are too many good, worthy players for not enough spots, whichever lineup they go with is going to need to work because there will be equal or possibly even better players not in the lineup making everyone wonder what could have been if it doesn’t work out.

For this to happen, the Yankees would have to be completely healthy for the first time this season, which isn’t something I would count on. But because they haven’t been healthy all season, I could easily see the postseason being the first time they are finally at full strength to make things complicated.

9. I’m happy to see the Yankees have a “thing” again with Judge pretending to be Gardner hitting his bat against the dugout roof when he reached base via a hit yesterday. It seems like that motion is going to be the 2019 version of the 2017 “thumbs down” which the Yankees used through the end of the season.

What started out as Gardner’s frustration over striking out might be his way of rallying the team now, which is why he was confused over his ejection on Saturday. If Gardner is going to use the bat banging as a way to get a rally started, I’m all for it, but if he’s going to do it following called third strikes, it’s embarrassing.

10. In the last Off Day Dreaming on the Yankees’ last off day back on August 1, I wrote that my expected record for the Yankees in August is 17-13. They are currently 15-4 and would have to go only 2-9 for the rest of the month to achieve my expected record (by expected record, I mean a record I would be content with them having).

Between this off day and the next off day on Thursday, Aug. 29, the Yankees will play nine games on their West Coast trip against the A’s, Dodgers and Mariners. The Yankees have a 3 1/2-game lead over the Astros for home-field advantage in the AL and a one-game lead over the Dodgers for home-field advantage in the World Series. Home-field advantage and health. Those are the only two things the Yankees have to worry about now.


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