The first half of the season is over and the Yankees have already clinched the division. I forgot what it felt like to win the division so early in the season and it feels even better than I remember it feeling.
The Yankees are off until Friday when they will begin the second half. They have 74 games remaining and will play their next 38 games with only two off days in between. Thankfully, they won’t be chasing any team for the rest of the season.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees on this off day as usual.
1. The first “half” is over and the Yankees are 57-31. Last year, through 88 games, they were 58-30, so they are one game worse than they were last year. But because the Red Sox aren’t having the most improbable, fluky season in the history of baseball, the Yankees aren’t 2 1/2 games back in the division like they were in 2018. Instead, they have an eight-game lead over the Rays in the loss column and a 10-game lead over the Red Sox in the loss column.
Despite losing their last two games of the first half to the Rays, the Yankees did what I wanted them to do: win at least two games in Tampa. If the Yankees play .500 baseball against the Rays and Red Sox the rest of the way, they won’t lose any ground and will take a huge portion of games off the schedule.
However, it would be nice if the Yankees didn’t play like they have already won the division. Yes, I believe they already have, but that doesn’t mean they should be giving as many players days off as possible in the first week in July. This isn’t the last week of September. The lineup Sunday at the Trop was ridiculous. The Yankees had three days off surrounding the London trip and have four days off this week. Yet, they still gave their All-Star position players Sunday off because they will play a few innings on Tuesday. Sure enough, the Yankees lost by one run. The unnecessary rest will never end.
2. Masahiro Tanaka said he was surprised to be an All-Star and there can’t be a baseball fan who wasn’t surprised. Tanaka has a 3.86 ERA, 7.7 strikeouts per nine and 2.1 walks per nine. There’s nothing he’s doing that’s All-Star caliber, unless you count having one disastrous inning per start, which he’s been the best at. This is the second-worst season of Tanaka’s six-year career and somehow he’s an All-Star. I love that he’s part of the game, whether he pitches or not, because it means more Yankees are on the American League roster, I just have no idea how or why he was picked.
3. I had two friends text me on Saturday night when Aaron Hicks hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning asking me if he would receive “Ladies and gentlemen” immunity for the home run. The answer was no. The immunity standards haven’t fallen like the All-Star selection standards have. With such a big lead in the division race, Hicks is going to have to do something in the postseason to be immunity-worthy and given his history against teams like the Astros, Indians, Red Sox and the postseason as a whole, it would be nice if he did anything in the postseason.
I don’t know what it’s going to take for Hicks to removed from the top or middle of the order, but I have no idea how for a second straight season he continues to bat ahead of better and more established bats. How is Gary Sanchez batting behind him and how is Gleyber Torres hitting four and five spots behind him? Like I said last week, everything between now and Game 162 is to get ready for the postseason or not, and even without Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup, it’s time for Hicks to find a home at the bottom of the order because that’s what where he better be hitting come Game 1 of the ALDS.
4. What’s left to say about Luis Cessa that I haven’t already said in nearly every Off Day Dreaming blog this season? I don’t care that he’s the last man in the bullpen or the 25th man on the roster. His most recent appearance, on July 4, led to him nearly blowing a five-run lead in the 10th inning. All he had to do was get three outs before giving up five runs and he came dangerously close to not doing so after he allowed two hits and two walks in the inning. If Cessa can’t be trusted to get three outs before giving up five runs, there’s no place for him on this team, or any major league team for that matter. We are way past the time to give someone else a chance to be the last man in the bullpen, I’m just not sure if it will ever happen. Considering he has a 5.93 ERA since April 30, there might be nothing he can do to pitch himself off the roster and out of the organization.
5. Every time I watch Charlie Morton pitch, I can’t help but think that the Yankees could have and should have had signed him. The Rays gave Morton a two-year, $30 million deal. The Yankees gave J.A. Happ $4 million more and a vesting option for 2021. Morton is 10-2 with a 2.32 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 112 2/3 innings. Happ is lucky if he gets through five innings each start.
Morton is the kind of power pitch the Yankees always go after and with the way he pitched in Houston and pitched against the Yankees in Houston, his 35 years of age shouldn’t have mattered to the Yankees in free agency since Happ’s 36 years of age clearly didn’t.
Morton beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS and I have a bad feeling they could be seeing him in Game 1 of the 2019 ALDS, and then again in Game 5, if the series were to go that far.
6. Dallas Keuchel has now made four starts for the Braves after two mediocre starts, he’s pitched seven innings and and 7 1/3 innings in back-to-back starts, allowing two earned runs in both. The Yankees could have had him for only money and now they will instead have to further dismantle their farm system to acquire starting pitching this month.
7. We are just under three weeks until the trade deadline and I have been under the impression all along the Yankees will trade for either Marcus Stroman or Madison Bumgarner. The Blue Jays showed last year at the deadline they could care less about trading with the Yankees and within the division with the Happ deal, so I don’t see there being an issue with Stroman, except that he’s currently injured. Prior to the injury, I thought Stroman was the unanimous choice for the Yankees to land, but now it seems and feels like Bumgarner. If both were healthy, I would prefer Bumgarner, not because I think he’s still the same pitcher he was five years ago like some do, but because I think a postseason run with the Yankees could revitalize his career the same way it did for Justin Verlander in 2017. Bumgarner hasn’t pitched in a postseason game since 2016, is on a last-place team this season, was on a 73-win team last season and a 64-win team in 2017. It’s impossible to know if that’s contributed to his career downswing after four straight All-Star Game appearance from 2013-16, but how could it not? Reaching the majors at 19, throwing 1,750 regular-season innings and another 102 1/3 postseason innings is what’s mainly responsible for diminished numbers, as it would be with any pitcher, though pitching in meaningless games for three straight seasons has to be part of it as well.
The Yankees won’t be getting 2016 Stroman or 2016 Bumgarner if they trade for them, but both 2019 versions are still better than most of the starting options they have now.
8. I did some math and the least amount of games the Yankees will win this season is 96, and that’s a very low number. The Yankees would have to go 39-35 in the second half to win 96 games, and that’s with a lot of games remaining against the Orioles and Blue Jays.
If the Yankees were to win 96 games and play only .527 baseball for the rest of the season, the Rays would have to go 44-27 and the Red Sox would have to go 47-25 just to tie them. So despite everyone getting upset with me last week for calling the division over after the London games, the division is over.
9. Aside from the Yankees’ already big division lead and their rather easy August schedule, the 10 games remaining between the Rays and Red Sox might be the Yankees’ greatest advantage to winning the AL East. At the same time the Rays and Red Sox play a four-game series at the end of September, the Yankees will be playing the Blue Jays, who are on pace to lose more than 100 games and will be a week away from the offseason and vacation.
10. My expected record for the Yankees for July is 13-12, and they are off to a 3-3 start, so they are right on pace. Again, that might not seem like a good record given the way the team has played through the first 88 games, but August is when they can get fat again with 13 games against the Orioles, Blue Jays and Mariners.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!