Yankees Thoughts: Bad Time for Biggest Series of Season

Yankees head to Trop for four games with injury-depleted roster

The Yankees won yet another series, taking two of three from the Orioles, even though it seemed like their season might snowball out of control. And it still might, but for now, there is some stability. “Some” stability.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. After losing Monday’s series opener, the Yankees had lost three straight, four of five, and the last two games they had played against the Orioles going back to the previous Thursday. They would go into Tuesday with Jordan Montgomery starting (who the offense weirdly never gives run support to) and facing Bruce Zimmermann (who the offense never seems to score against). After that it would be JP Sears on Wednesday making his first major-league start followed by a four-game series at the Trop. Things were set up for the Yankees to piss away their hot start and their unexpected division lead in a single week. Fortunately, they were able to overcome blowing a three-run lead on Tuesday to win in 11 innings and hold on in a minuscule two-run effort on Wednesday to provide some stability given their recent play and the litany of injuries ruining the roster.

2. That litany of injuries started out as Chad Green needing Tommy John surgery. Then after allowing runs in five straight appearances, Aroldis Chapman landed on the injured list with an Achilles issue. We may now know why Jonathan Loaisiga has been less ineffective than Chapman this season as he joined Chapman on the IL with a shoulder problem.

The injury bug hasn’t just gone after the bullpen. Joey Gallo, Kyle Higashioka and Josh Donaldson have all ended up on the COVID IL in recent days. DJ LeMahieu was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup with wrist discomfort that required a cortisone shot and also kept him out of Wednesday’s lineup. Giancarlo Stanton was pulled from Tuesday’s game in what was reported as a calf strain, but after undergoing an MRI that came back clean, his diagnosis was changed to ankle inflammation. What? Are we really doing this again with the Yankees and their inability to properly diagnose injuries? I thought they cleaned house with that medical team?

3. In 2019, Stanton played in 18 regular-season games after suffering a biceps strain, that while on the IL turned into a shoulder strain, that while on the IL turned into a calf strain. During 2020 spring training (prior to the pandemic), Stanton suffered a calf injury that would have kept him out for months if the season had started on time. Given the mysterious nature of this current injury that has included a clean MRI and a misdiagnosis, I would not plan on Stanton returning when he’s first available to be activated. Hey, it could happen (like all the crazy, impossible things that happened in those ’90s McDonald’s commercials), but I wouldn’t bet on it. Not given Stanton’s lengthy injury history and his ability to return on time from injuries just like this one.

4. Stanton’s injury combined with other injuries to the roster and the Yankees’ lack of offense has opened the door for Miguel Andujar to once again be an everyday player for the Yankees. After he was Wally Pipp’d by Gio Urshela in 2019, he was forced to learn the outfield, and then was blocked in the organization by Stanton, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier and even Tyler Wade. But now Stanton is hurt, Hicks is unplayable, Tauchman is in Japan, Frazier was released for nothing and Wade is on the Angels. The path has been cleared and an opportunity has presented itself for Andujar to play every day like he last did in 2019.

I often wonder what would have become of Andujar if he wasn’t unnecessarily off of third base on March 31, 2019 and needed to dive back to the bag to avoid being out, tearing his shoulder in the process. That dive cost Andujar his 2019 season and essentially his career to this point.

Prior to that dive, Andujar was coming off a rookie season in which he hit .297/.328/.527 with 27 home runs, 92 RBIs and 47 doubles. If not for 2018 also being the rookie season for Shohei Ohtani, Andujar would have won the American League Rookie of the Year, but instead had to settle with finishing second to the modern-day Babe Ruth. Even during his five-game debut in the majors the season before in 2017 Andujar proved he could hit, going 4-for-7 with two doubles in five games. If not for the money owed to Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury, Andujar should have been the designated hitter in the 2017 playoffs, and maybe the Yankees’ World Series drought wouldn’t be going on 13 years this season.

The problem with Andujar has always been his glove. Position-less has been the most common word to describe him. But now on this Yankees team in which injuries and underperformance have put the roster in a serious predicament, Andujar is going to play and he should. Defense or no defense, the Yankees need his bat in the lineup as he’s off to a 4-for-13 start in four games this season. The Yankees have to be willing to sacrifice defense for offense even if it means experiencing an adventure in the outfield with Andujar to get another major-league quality bat in the lineup. Though it’s not like he can be much worse defensively than both Hicks and Gallo have been this season.

I have always been an Andujar fan. I have always appreciated his offense. Defense grows on trees. A bat like Andujar’s doesn’t.

5. Injury hasn’t been the only thing to ruin what I called the greatest bullpen ever. Performance has done as much damage to the bullpen as injuries have. Both Chapman and Loaisiga were painful to watch before landing on the IL, and the high walk rate for Miguel Castro has finally caught up to him. The only true trustworthy reliever remaining is Clay Holmes (since Aaron Boone only uses Clarke Schmidt once a month) now that Michael King has turned back into pre-2022 Michael King.

King couldn’t protect a one-run lead on Wednesday after Boone decided to go batter-to-batter with Montgomery and it resulted in a leadoff home run in the seventh inning. King gave up three runs of his own, producing a stinker in his second straight outing and in three of his last six. Thankfully, the bottom of the Yankees lineup erased King’s horrendous performance and the Yankees went on to win in 11 innings in what will forever be known as the Jose Trevino Game, as the light-hitting (and I mean light) catcher went 3-for-4 with a home, a game-tying single in the seventh, an important two-out walk in the ninth that Aaron Hicks did nothing with and the game-winning, walk-off single in the 11th.

6. It should come as no surprise that Hicks did nothing to win the game on Tuesday, and nearly cost the Yankees the game on Wednesday. He has to go. He has to. I have been saying this for years, and now it seems like the Yankees might finally be moving in that direction. I don’t think it will ever happen, but it should. Between Hicks’ inability to hit (he has one double and one home run with a .582 OPS), defend (his routes and first steps on balls combined with his lack of urgency to get to the ball or get it in is disturbing) or run the bases (getting picked off at second in a one-run game on Sunday was completely unacceptable), he provides zero value to the Yankees.

When Hicks was unnecessarily given his regrettable seven-year contract extension, the general consensus was that the money owed would be small enough that the Yankees could cut ties if he failed to stay healthy or produce. Well, there’s been no one less healthy who still has an everyday job in baseball than Hicks since he signed that extension in February 2019, and the last time he was a productive hitter was when the baseball was juiced. That was a surgically-repaired elbow and wrist ago for the now 32-year-old Hicks.

7. Tuesday was the worst game of what has been an MVP season for Aaron Judge, as he went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and hit into two double plays. Judge was the Yankees offense in the first game of the series on Monday (two home runs) and the Yankees lost. Then he was Aaron Hicks Jr. on Tuesday and the Yankees managed to score seven runs (six without counting the automatic runner run in the 11th) and win. It’s good to know it doesn’t always have to be the Aaron Judge Show for the Yankees to score. I don’t mind if it that show if he’s going to do it for the entire season and the entire postseason.

8. At some point, the other eight bats in the lineup are going to have do something. The Yankees’ success this season has been a combination of Judge and the starting pitching. That can’t continue. Unless the rotation is going to stay this good and this healthy for the next five-plus months and unless Judge is going to have one of the single-best offensive seasons in the history of baseball, others will need to contribute.

And by others, I really only mean a select few in LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo and Donaldson and Stanton when they return. I don’t expect anything out of Torres, Gallo, Hicks, Kiner-Falefa or the catchers on a daily basis. That’s too many everyday spots to not expect anything out of. Either a few of those names will start producing, or Andujar will step up with his opportunity or within the next two months the Yankees will have to trade for players who can.

9. It’s a bad time for the Yankees to be playing the biggest series of the season to date against the Rays. There’s a good chance Hicks could be leading off this weekend, Torres could be batting fifth and Kiner-Falefa could be one of the most important bats in the lineup.

The Yankees lead the Rays by four games in the loss column, and if they have a bad weekend at the Trop, their hot start could be erased by the end of play in Sunday. It’s not out of the question either. The Boone Yankees have been thoroughly embarrassed by the Rays over the last four years.

10. The Yankees can’t go to the Trop and get run out of the building this weekend. They need to go there and win two of the four games. It will take four head-to-head games off the schedule between the two and will keep the distance between the two in the loss column the same: at four games. They will likely put out a spring training-esque lineup each of the next four days, hoping to scratch across a few runs and praying their starting pitching continues this magnificent run.

The Yankees are going a place they never win in the Trop to play the team they seem to never beat since Boone took over at the worst possible time given the state of their roster. It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing they can do about it. As Joe Torre used to say when injury situations like these would occur: “No one is going to feel sorry for the Yankees.” Certainly not the Rays.

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