Yankees Thoughts: Beating Good Teams with ‘B’ and ‘C’ and Even ‘D’ Lineup

Yankees beat Rays, Angels without one-third of lineup and bullpen

The Yankees went to Tampa and did what they needed to do in winning two of the four games. Then they returned home after a day off and handed the Angels their sixth straight loss. They have done all of this with about one-third of their expected everyday lineup and without one-third of their expected bullpen.

Yes, these Thoughts are late because of Memorial Day Weekend. And because of that, it will cover both the Rays series and the first game of the Angels series.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The Yankees’ goal was to go to Tampa and win two of four. That would take four head-to-head games against the Rays off the schedule and keep the Rays at four games back in the loss column, where they were before the series started. The Yankees accomplished that goal and they did so with lineups that rival 2013 and 2014 in terms of embarrassing, but the series could have and should have been so much more for the Yankees.

Yes, I said I would be happy if the Yankees split the four-game series in Tampa, especially with the state of the Yankees’ lineup and bullpen, but that was before the Yankees won the first two games and before they blew leads in both the third and fourth games of the series. The Yankees had an opportunity to bury the Rays in the AL East over the weekend, and create eight games of separation between them. Instead, a combination of a makeshift, spring training-looking lineup, Gerrit Cole and Aaron Boone settled for a series split.

2. Cole has been the Yankees’ worst starter in 2022. It’s a small sample size of not even two months of starts, but it’s true. He’s still going to get the ball in Game 1 of any postseason series the Yankees play in, but that doesn’t mean he’s the team’s best starter or ace. That’s been Nestor Cortes through the first nearly one-third of the season.

Cole pitched well on Saturday before melting down over a missed third strike call that would have gotten him out of the inning, and let that missed call snowball into a Yankees deficit. The Yankees’ rotation has been so good that Cole doesn’t need to put the team on his back every fifth day and pitch them to wins, but I’m sure he doesn’t like not being the perceived ace of the team. I’m sure he doesn’t like needing 25 pitches in each first inning he pitches, and I’m sure he doesn’t like never seeming to get the job done against the Red Sox, Blue Jays or Rays.

3. I have written and said it many times, but the more close games the Yankees play in, the more games they will lose simply because of Boone. He’s incapable of correctly managing the bullpen in close games, and unwilling to change his approach from going batter-to-batter with his starter or trying to “steal” outs in the late innings. How Ron Marinaccio is in a one-run game at the Trop on Sunday with the bullpen completely rested is so irresponsible and inexcusable it’s hard to believe a supposed baseball lifer like Boone could make such an egregious mistake. Marinaccio is a fine arm. He’s also that last man in the bullpen who the Yankees deemed not good enough to be in the bullpen before Chad Green, Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loaisiga all went on the injured list. He can’t be pitching in a game on Sunday’s magnitude.

4. Every game the Yankees play against the Blue Jays and Rays are of the utmost importance. It’s a three-team race for the AL East, and head-to-head games against your direct competition for the division should be treated as postseason games in the regular season. Theres’ no doubt in my mind Boone was OK with not going all out to win on Sunday, even though it represented a two-game swing in the loss column in the division, and even though the Yankees had a day off scheduled for the following day. “Lose the battle to win the war” has been Boone’s motto as Yankees manager, except he has lost too many battles resulting in one division title in four years and has lost all four wars as well.

5. If Matt Carpenter doesn’t get another plate appearance as a Yankee, his time with them will have been well worth it. The Yankees gave Carpenter a major-league deal out of nowhere after he tore up Triple-A this season with the Rangers, and it’s possible the in-depth hitting evaluation he recently went through actually worked. Carpenter homered in his second game with the Yankees in Friday’s 2-0 win over the Rays and then homered again on Tuesday off Noah Syndergaard. Joe Maddon and the Angels were so worried about Syndergaard facing Carpenter a second time that when his spot in the lineup came up in the third inning, Maddon removed Syndergaard from the game for a left-handed long man. A week ago, Carpenter was in Triple-A wondering if he would ever play in the majors again. On Tuesday, he was hitting a two-run home run off Syndergaard while wearing pinstripes and chasing Syndergaard from a game.

6. Carpenter’s two home runs are now double Aaron Hicks’ season total of one. With each day, game and series that goes by, Hicks remains stuck on one home run and one double on the season. The season is now 30 percent over for the player whose goal was to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases, and Hicks has half of the home runs of Carpenter despite having 129 more plate appearances and one-third of the home runs of Jose Trevino despite having 64 more plate appearances.

Trevino had another awesome night at the plate on Tuesday, going 3-for-4 with two runs and a two-run home run. His OPS is up to .717 on the season, which is higher than Isiah Kiner-Falefa (.603), Joey Gallo (.601) and Hicks (.559). He also picked off a runner on a throw down to first. He is what the Yankees continue to think Kyle Higashioka is, when in reality, Higashioka isn’t a major-league player.

7. Miguel Andujar is a major-league player, but he’s likely to get screwed again once Stanton and Donaldson are healthy. I think it would be a mistake to send Andujar down again and not play him. He’s hitting .281 in nine games and his contact approach at the plate is something the Yankees greatly need.

There’s too many holes in the lineup and too much dead wood on the roster getting playing time because of money owed and not because of recent performance. Andujar is more deserving a roster spot than Gallo or Hicks or Tim Locastro. Andujar’s outfield defense is much improved, and even if it were as bad as it once was, I don’t care. The Yankees’ defense is strong enough at the other positions that they can afford an adventure in left field in exchange for Andujar’s bat.

Let Andujar play, and see what he can do for the first time since the end of 2018. Otherwise, the Yankees will eventually lose Andujar to another team who will play him every day, while the Yankees continue to give endless chances to Gallo and Hicks or roster Locastro.

8. I’m not ready to apologize to Gleyber Torres for asking for him to be traded and no longer a Yankee prior to and even during this season. Torres’ power has returned as he has matched his home run total of 2021 of nine in less than one-third of the plate appearances. His OPS+ and wRC+ are better than league average, even though he’s only hitting .250/.287/.474. He’s on the right track and his career is in a much better place than it was a year ago, but his defense is still not trustworthy and Baseball IQ on the bases remains a disaster. On Tuesday, Torres thought he hit his 10th home run of the season and went into his homer jog after hitting first base, only to realize the ball hit the wall. He then picked it up and went for what would have been a stand-up triple if he had been running hard out of the box, but was thrown out after oversliding the base. After picking up another hit in his next at-bat, he was thrown out trying to steal second. Two of the Yankees’ first seven outs on Tuesday were made by Torres … on the bases.

I’m not about to retract my blog ‘When Will Yankees Say Goodbye to Gleyber Torres?’ yet. Not after seven weeks following what we saw from him in 2020 and 2021. I want to like and appreciate Torres again, and we’re getting close to that, but I’m going to need a little more time.

9. The Yankees’ ability to not just stay afloat, but beat good teams without DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson, and without one-third of their Opening Day bullpen is impressive.

This was the Yankees’ lineup on Thursday against the Rays:

Aaron Judge, CF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Gleyber Torres, 2B
Miguel Andujar, LF
Joey Gallo, RF
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, SS
Jose Trevino, C
Matt Carpenter, DH
Marwin Gonzalez, 3B

If you told me on May 26, Torres would be batting third, Andujar at cleanup, Kiner-Falefa up from ninth to sixth, Trevino above to people, Carpenter on the Yankees and Gonzalez starting at third, I would have assumed the Yankees were battling the Orioles for last place in the division. I would have also assumed I would need some new hobby or activity to get me through the summer. Instead, it’s June 1 and the Yankees have the best record in baseball, a five-game loss column lead on the Blue Jays and a six-game loss column lead on the Rays with the Red Sox closer to having the No. 1 pick in 2023 draft (six games) than they are to the Yankees (12 games).

10. The Yankees are in a great place. A great, unexpected place. But they’re not safe. Unfortunately, they don’t play in the AL Central or NL East where they would be just be counting down the days until the postseason with a bye to the division series. They still have to worry about the Blue Jays (who have won six straight), and the Rays (who have followed up their series-salvaging wins over the Yankees on Saturday and Sunday with back-to-back losses to the Rangers). They will likely have to worry about them all season long.

The Yankees are the best team in the American League and the best team in baseball, but these are the things (in order) that will prevent them from reaching the World Series:

1. Health
2. Aaron Boone
3. Their offense
4. Rays/Blue Jay
5. Astros

The Yankees are going to the postseason, though that’s not an accomplishment when 40 percent of the league makes the playoffs. An accomplishment would be winning the AL East, having the best record in the league and getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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