After an up-and-down, six-month regular season, the postseason is here.
1. I took the last few weeks of the regular season off from writing these Thoughts. Once it was obvious the Yankees were going to win the division, the games became meaningless. Yes, I still watched as Aaron Judge chased Roger Maris, and while it was exciting and enjoyable to watch Judge make history, the 62nd home run and the record are for him. They are an individual accomplishment that will help him achieve even more generational wealth than expected this offseason. I’m here for championships, not individual player accomplishments. I’m glad Judge hit 62 home runs, and I’m glad he will be the AL MVP (in what should be a unanimous vote), but what happens in terms of the team’s performance is all that matters to me.
2. I watch, write, talk and read about the Yankees in anticipation of the postseason. Everything done between the start of the offseason and Game 162 is to prepare for the postseason, and now we are here. It’s been about three weeks since the Yankees played a meaningful game, and now as a team and as a fans, everyone has to flip a switch. It’s not something these Yankees are that familiar with aside from 2019 when they won the division by seven games, but were still alive for the 1-seed against the Astros much later in the season than they were this year. In 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021, the Yankees had a reason to play just about all the way until the final game of the season.
3. The lineup. I have been losing sleep over this every season under Aaron Boone, and more than ever over the last two-plus weeks. If DJ LeMahieu is healthy and on the roster, this is the lineup the Yankees should use:
Aaron Judge, RF
Matt Carpenter, DH
Giancarlo Stanton, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
DJ LeMahieu, 3B
Oswaldo Cabrera, 2B
Oswald Peraza, SS
Harrison Bader, CF
Jose Trevino, C
In that lineup, I have Stanton in left field, but you could make him the designated hitter and put Carpenter in left field, or put Carpenter at third, LeMahieu and second and Cabrera in left.
4. The problem is the Yankees once again won’t let Stanton play the outfield, which screws up their lineup flexibility. On Monday, Aaron Boone said Stanton hasn’t taken fly balls in the outfield, he has only been moving around the outfield without a glove on. What? Like he’s walking around the outfield like a groundskeeper?
Here is the likely process needed for Stanton to return to the outfield:
Days 1-3: Envision the outfield
Day 4: Write the word “outfield” 500 times
Day 5: Walk around the outfield
Days 6-7: Power walk around the outfield
Days 8-9: Jog around the outfield
Days 10-11: Jog around the outfield with a glove on
Days 12-14: Take fly balls in the outfield
If Stanton is moving around the outfield without a glove on, then he must be getting closer to actually playing the outfield.
Back to that lineup … I understand there’s about as good of a chance at that being the starting lineup as there is of me being in the Yankees’ starting lineup on Tuesday night, but that’s the Yankees’ best possible lineup.
5. Here is the lineup I fully expect to see:
Aaron Judge, RF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Gleyber Torres, 2B
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
Oswaldo Cabrera, LF
Harrison Bader, CF
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, SS
Jose Trevino, C
That’s a really bad lineup. In no way should Torres, Donaldson or Kiner-Falefa play over the trio of Carpenter, LeMahieu and Peraza, but they are going to. I don’t even expect Peraza to be on the postseason roster. Yes, the Yankees are going to leave their best shortstop off of the postseason roster.
That lineup (the one I expect to see) gives the Guardians more of a chance to win the series, and should decrease the odds and likelihood the Yankees advance. That’s how much of a difference in trios that makes. And if LeMahieu can’t go, then pick one of Donaldson or Torres to play.
6. I have spent a lot of time trying to point out just how bad Kiner-Falefa is at baseball for the last six-plus months, and the Yankees just kept on playing him no matter how bad he was or how good Peraza was. I don’t expect that to change now. Aaron Boone is one of the dumbest people in the sport and since he owns the lineup (as he and Brian Cashman have adamantly said for now five years) he isn’t going to change it now. The Yankees let their stopgap prevent their future from playing, and now they are willing to hinder their postseason chances to continue to play him.
7. There are three elements of the Yankees to be worried about this postseason: Boone, the offense and the bullpen. Boone has been exceedingly bad as in-game tactician in his managerial career and his ineptitude is magnified in the postseason. The offense has had a habit of pulling an annual disappearing act in the postseason every year this core has been together. The bullpen is a flat-out mess without any truly trustworthy options to the point that Jameson Taillon (who has never thrown one pitch in relief in his career) might be the team’s best possible reliever.
For now, everyone has a clean slate, including Boone. Throw out what any person or element of the team did for 162 games this year. Boone’s slate will likely begin to get muddied one the lineup is announced for Game 1 of the ALDS, but for everyone else, their slate will be clean until 7:37 p.m. on Tuesday night when Game 1 begins.
8. When Game 1 begins, it will be Gerrit Cole throwing the first pitch. It should have been Nestor Cortes as he went out and earned it. But the Yankees don’t reward performance, they reward owed money and reputation. It’s why Cole is starting Game 1, it’s why Aaron Hicks is still a Yankee, it’s why Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa started all season and will start in the playoffs, and it’s why Aroldis Chapman continued to be a Yankee this season despite being an impending free agent all the way until he decided he was above the team. (I’m shock a class act and all-around great person like Chapman could do such a thing as skip a mandatory team workout.) So Cole and his 2022 struggles and home run issues and all will get the ball to begin the Yankees’ quest for the team’s first championship in 13 years and second in 22 years.
It’s nice that Cole set the Yankees’ single-season strikeout record, but again, like Judge, that’s an individual accomplishment, and doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me are championships, and Cole is extremely important to the Yankees trying to do so. After watching the Guardians score three runs in 23-plus innings against the Rays in the wild-card series, there’s absolutely no reason Cole shouldn’t experience dominant success against the Guardians on Tuesday. Anything short of a dominant performance will be an enormous letdown, and anything close to his disastrous performance in last year’s one-game playoff will be inexcusable and unacceptable.
9. I generally don’t trust Cole, but against this Guardians team, it’s hard not to trust him. Cole’s glaring weakness is allowing home runs and the Guardians were 29th in the majors in hitting home runs. The one player the Yankees can let beat them is Jose Ramirez, who the Rays did let beat them in Game 1 of their series. He’s the one true threat in the Guardians lineup and one of the very best players in the game. Letting him beat you at any point in this series would be unbelievably foolish and regrettable. If Ramirez doesn’t beat the Yankees, it’s hard to envision the Guardians beating the Yankees.
Outside of getting to play the Twins in ALDS, this is as good a matchup as the Yankees could ask for. The Guardians’ best two starters aren’t able to pitch until Games 2 and 3 of the series, they have a very weak offense and their entire rotation doesn’t have the type of velocity seen around the rest of the league: the type the Yankees struggle with.
10. The Yankees were able to avoid the Rays, who always give them problems. They were able to avoid the Mariners, who have Luis Castillo who has become the right-handed Cliff Lee against the Yankees. They were able to avoid the Blue Jays, who can be the most dangerous team in the sport when going right. They have an easier ALDS matchup than the 1-seed Astros do, and every way I look at this ALDS I can’t help but the think the Yankees won’t be in the ALCS.
If next week, I’m not writing about Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman and being fearful of Justin Verlander in the postseason for the sixth time in 17 years, or questioning how the Yankees let Castillo go to the Mariners, while settling for Frankie Montas, then it’s a big problem. The Yankees have to reach the ALCS. If they don’t, it’s an embarrassment and many people should no longer be with the team, including the general manager and manager.
For now, everyone has a clean slate. Again, until the Game 1 lineup is announced.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!