The Yankees have won 18 of their last 26 games, are 13-6 since the All-Star break and 6-1 since the trade deadline. They are as close to the top of the AL East as they have been in months and one game back in the loss column for the second wild card. Yes, Yankees baseball is fun again.
1. The three best things to happen to the 2021 Yankees have all happened in the last week: the trade for Joey Gallo, the trade for Anthony Rizzo and the emergence of Luis Gil. That’s how bad the first four months of the season were outside of Corey Kluber’s no-hitter in Texas, which was now nearly three months ago.
Gallo’s go-ahead, three-run, seventh-inning home run on Thursday night to beat the Mariners was the exact home run I envisioned the 6-foot-5 on-base machine hitting when the Yankees acquired him. Gallo hit the ball a mile into the air and it just kept carrying and carrying before landing in the first few rows of the short porch for the most Yankee Stadium home run you might ever see. The Yankees play half of their games in a stadium that’s 314 feet to the right-field foul pole, and yet, it took them 101 games into a 162-game season to add a major-league-caliber left-handed bat.
They didn’t add just the one major-league-caliber bat, and had they done so, their division dreams would be over and they would be buried for the second wild card. That’s because Rizzo single-handedly carried the Yankees to a sweep in Miami, and without his presence in the lineup, the Yankees get swept. It was Rizzo who played a part in all seven of the Yankees’ runs in the first two games in Miami (scored five and drove in two), reaching base in eight of nine plate appearances. And it was Rizzo who hit the game-tying single in the series finale in Miami to spark the Yankees’ late comeback. If the Yankees only trade for Gallo or only trade for Rizzo, they’re not where they are right now, which is in the best position they have been in since the first pitch of the season on April 1.
With a rotation that’s decimated by injury (Kluber, Luis Severino and now Scumbag Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt in the minors), COVID (Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery) and underperformance (Deivi Garcia in Triple-A), the Yankees were forced to start new addition Andrew Heaney against the Orioles and he took the Yankees’ only loss in the series, allowing four home runs in four innings of work (and they will inexplicably start Heaney again on Saturday against the Mariners). During all of this Nestor Cortes has somehow emerged as arguably the Yankees’ best starter (along with Jameson Taillon, who was atrocious in the first half of the season), and because of the lack of starting pitching, on Friday against the Mariners, the Yankees are going to use Wandy Peralta as an opener. Peralta (and his 5.19 ERA in 22 games as a Yankee) hasn’t pitched since July 8 because of the All-Star break and his time on the COVID list. When he takes the ball on Friday in what is essentially a must-win game, he won’t have pitched in 29 days. Thankfully, Luis Gil (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) was given a chance to showcase his ability on Wednesday, otherwise Nick Nelson or Brooks Kriske might be opening a game this weekend as well.
2. It’s bad enough the Yankees chose to keep Nelson and Kriske on the 40-man roster over Garrett Whitlock (1.21 ERA in 52 innings for Red Sox) and let Whitlock get away, but to know that someone like Stephen Ridings has been in the minors this season while Nelson was allowed to pitch in 10 games and Kriske in seven games is the most irresponsible things the Yankees have done since hiring Aaron Boone. Ridings was amazing in his major league debut, striking out the side in relief on Wednesday night, with a triple-digit fastball and silly breaking ball. At 6-foot-8 (making him the tallest Yankee on a team that has Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gallo), he’s the exact height as Dellin Betances and has what appears to be the same repertoire as Betances. The Yankees have possibly had Betances 2.0 in the minors all season, and yet they let Nelson appear in double-digit games, including two as the opener, and let Kriske throw 50-footers en route to an extra-inning loss in Boston. I don’t get it.
3. Just like I don’t get why Greg Allen is no longer on the Yankees’ 26-man roster, the same why I didn’t get it when Estevan Florial was removed from it. Do the Yankees really need Jonathan Davis? Are they that worried about making room on the 40-man? I can find at least seven names I would be willing to remove from the 40-man right now, and I could easily part with another five.
Allen is who the Yankees still think Brett Gardner is, but watching the two play, it’s like thinking Tyler Wade is Corey Seager. The fact that Gardner has been able to maintain his roster spot throughout this dismal season, while Allen and Estevan Florial have both gotten sent down to accommodate Gardner’s presence is an embarrassment. The Yankees forced Alex Rodriguez into retirement in early August 2016 following a Hall of Fame career and being the sole reason the organization is currently looking at only a 12-year championship drought and not a 21-year drought. Gardner doesn’t belong on this team. He never did. And ever since he became the elder statesman among position players on the team and the longest-tenured Yankee, the team hasn’t done or won anything. His clubhouse leadership hasn’t brought the Yankees anything other than an outfield logjam, and detrimental roster moves to keep him around. If the Yankees are to reach the playoffs, it’s easy to see Gardner being in the lineup, starting in center field and batting ninth.
4. To reach the playoffs, the Yankees are going to have to keep winning series, and to win the division, they are going to have to continue winning at their current rate and play about .700 baseball for two more months.
Are the Yankees good? They are now 13-6 since the All-Star break and 6-1 since the trade deadline. Or are they just playing bad teams? They have gone 3-4 against the Red Sox, 2-1 against the Rays and 2-0 against the Phillies, but are a much-needed 6-1 against the Marlins, Orioles and Mariners. Whichever it is, it doesn’t matter. The Yankees are winning, and that’s all that matters.
5. I need the Yankees to get to 96 wins for my preseason over 95.5 wins wager and because I think 96 wins would win them the AL East and avoid them playing in the one-game playoff. The Yankees are 59-49 and 10 games above .500 for the first time in 2021. (It only took 108 games.) They would have to go 37-17 to finish with 96 wins. It’s improbable, but not impossible.
There is a path to 96 wins and the division title, but it includes winning pretty much every series the rest of the season with essentially no margin for error.
6. Here is how the Yankees can get there:
White Sox: 2-1
Red Sox: 4-2
Blue Jays: 4-3
7. Not crazy. Also, not likely. That’s a lot of wins and not a lot of losses. That’s what happens when you piss away nearly 100 games, and the first four months of a six-month season.
You can swap out wins and losses among the teams however you like, except the remaining games against the Red Sox and Rays. Those have to happen. The Yankees have to go at least 4-2 against the Red Sox and at least 2-1 against the Rays, otherwise this path, which is already obstructed by leaves, debris and litter with several seemingly immovable boulders blocking the way will be become even more unlikely.
8. We’re now seeing the Red Sox team I expected to see in 2021. A team with an awful starting rotation, a shaky bullpen and three, maybe four real hitters. They have lost seven of nine, have fallen out of first place in the AL East and are barely hanging on to a wild-card berth with the Yankees, A’s and Blue Jays rapidly ascending. Given the Red Sox’ remaining schedule, their lack of talent and the tracks of the regression going right through Fenway Park, it’s not hard to see a complete second-half collapse from the Red Sox leaving them where they belong: outside the playoffs.
The Rays are a much harder sell on blowing their division lead. They have the easiest remaining schedule in the AL East and even though their lineup strikes out more than any other in the game, their pitching is too good and too deep to see them experiencing an extend losing streak or a bad two-month run. I want it to happen. I pray it happens. It’s just difficult to envision.
The focus is on the Red Sox and Rays since those are the teams ahead of the Yankees, but anyone who isn’t closely watching the Blue Jays is foolish. The Blue Jays have won eight of 10, have possibly the best rotation in the East with Hyun Jin Ryu, Jose Berrios, Robbie Ray and Alek Manoah and their lineup features George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Marcus Semien and Teoscar Hernandez. I’m very, very worried about the Blue Jays.
9. I’m mostly worried about the Yankees though. While, they have been winning, aside from a couple laughers against the 31-games-under-.500 Orioles, the offense is still a mess. Anthony Rizzo single-handedly led the team to a sweep in Miami, and without him, they get swept in Miami, and Anthony Gallo’s three-run Yankee Stadium led the team to a comeback win on Thursday night over the Mariners. (It was the exact home run I have been waiting for Gallo to hit: a ball that carries just enough to barely reach the short porch in right field.) The two trade deadline additions have done their part. The rest of the everyday players, who have been with the team all season, leading the Yankees to a 53-48 record, which forced the team to acquire Rizzo and Gallo? They continue to do close to nothing.
10 That can’t continue. It’s gone on for four months and a week and 108 games. The games against the nothing-to-play-for Orioles and other AL basement dwellers are going to dry up and the non-Rizzo and Gallo Yankees are going to need to hit consistently in a way they haven’t in two years. If they don’t, the nearly improbable path to a division title will be the same path to the wild card.
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