Yankees Thoughts: Division Lead Safe … for Now

Yankees' division lead is still intact after a series win over Rays

The Yankees got back on track with a series win over the Rays to finish their homestand at 5-2. With wins in six of their last eight, the Yankees’ division lead is still intact.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The Yankees are safe … for now. They are safe for the moment from completing the worst and most embarrassing game-lead collapse in baseball history. After winning on Saturday and Sunday (and somehow scoring 20 runs in the process), the Yankees have no remaining games left with the Rays. The Rays’ AL East chances are finished. But the Rays are no longer the issue, the Blue Jays are.

The Blue Jays have won eight of 10, including beating the Rays on Monday, and while they are the same five games back in the loss column of the Yankees as the Rays, the Blue Jays still have three games left against the Yankees. The Yankees hold a 9-7 lead in the season series, but a Blue Jays sweep would get the Blue Jays three games closer to the Yankees and clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker, which will be used to determine the division winner.

The Blue Jays and Rays began a five-game series yesterday, and Yankees fans should be pulling for one team winning three of the five. Can’t have a Blue Jays sweep (since they won the first game) or even a 4-1 series from the Blue Jays.

2. Well, the Yankees could afford to have the Blue Jays win four or five from the Rays if the Yankees take care of their own business, but if you trust the Yankees to take care of their business then you haven’t watched this team since June 19 (in which they are 36-40 since).

The Yankees will see the Red Sox for a two-game series at Fenway sandwiched around two days off, and while the Yankees have been the only team to have trouble beating the Red Sox this year, they need to do so over the next two days. The last-place Red Sox have given up on 2022 after regressing to become the team they should have been in 2021, and have been losing nearly every day, and the Yankees can’t let up just because of one good week since mid-June.

3. Saturday’s first inning was bizarre with the Yankees starting the game with seven straight singles. Some were hard-hit line drives, but there were a bunch of ground balls that found holes, as well as a ground ball that hit Corey Kluber and turned into a base hit. I like to think that was Kluber’s way of giving back to Yankees fans after all of his bad starts and missed time in his one season as a Yankee in 2021.

Sunday was also bizarre. Luis Patino typically dominates the Yankees, and he got lit up. Maybe the Yankees had something on Patino, or maybe it was just a bad start. It’s truly hard to believe the Yankees went from being unable to score three runs per game to flipping a switch and now being capable of putting up double-digit totals without DJ LeMahieu, Matt Carpenter and Anthony Rizzo.

4. Gleyber Torres went 5-for-14 against the Rays with two home runs and five RBIs. His OPS is back over .700 at .719 and he has 21 home runs on the year now. I don’t think Torres is “back” to the player he was in 2018 or 2019 based on one three-game series. That player is gone and never coming back. This is what Torres does and has done for the last three seasons. He sucks for an extended period of time, has a few good games to make you think he might have found or unlocked something from his first two years only for him to go back into another extended period of time sucking. Torres always does just enough to momentarily save his lineup spot or to make Aaron Boone think he’s right by batting Torres first, second or third. Torres isn’t good. He hasn’t been in four years. Don’t believe otherwise.

5. New-father Josh Donaldson returned from paternity leave, bat flipped a ball off the right-field wall and jogged himself into a single. It was more of the same from the asshole of the team immediately after missing three games. Donaldson had himself a nice two games against the Rays and has a four-game hit streak (yes, getting excited about a four-game hit streak from a $24 million per year player and former AL MVP is something), but like Torres, don’t buy into it. Donaldson’s season OPS still sits below .700 at .697, and he has been an utter disappointment and outright embarrassment. That’s not going to stop Boone from playing him every day at third base and batting him in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup.

6. Apparently, nothing is going to stop the Yankees from playing Isiah Kiner-Falefa every day. Both Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman said publicly prior to Opening Day that the team didn’t sign a big-name free agent because they had Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe in the minors and wanted to give them a chance. Well, Peraza earned his way to the majors, and all he has done since arriving is play out of position and sit on the bench. The Yankees are now stunting his growth and development in favor of Kiner-Falefa, who they admitted was a pure stopgap until one or both of Peraza/Volpe were ready. I know Kiner-Falefa has no say in the matter, and he’s not the one playing himself over Peraza, but it’s making me despise Kiner-Falefa because of what his presence on the team and in the lineup represents.

7. Remember when the Yankees’ plan was to go into 2022 with the catching tandem of Kyle Higashioka and Ben Rortvedt? If Rortvedt doesn’t get hurt in spring training, the Yankees likely don’t trade for Jose Trevino, and we are stuck watching Higashioka be the near-everyday catcher all season, and Rortvedt being the backup. Rortvedt was up with the Yankees this past week with Trevino on paternity leave, and he didn’t see the field once. Rortvedt was also part of the trade that brought over Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa in what continues to be a disastrous deal for the Yankees.

8. Back on August 9, I wrote Yankees Have Finally Given Up on Aaron Hicks. At the time, Hicks hadn’t had an extra-base hit in a month and was 3-for-38 over the previous two weeks. The Yankees had traded for Andrew Benintendi and Harrison Bader and made it clear Hicks was no longer an everyday player for the team despite having three more years left on his contract (and a fourth year that will be bought out for $1 million).

After Hicks went 0-for-3 and grounded out into yet another play with the bases loaded on August 15, he didn’t start another game for six days, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout in that one. Then he didn’t start for a week and then another three days after that start. When Benintendi injured his wrist on a swing on September 2, it forced Hicks into more playing time. Following his unbenching, Hicks went 2-for-21 with strikeouts and no walks. No walks from the guy his supporters (or former supporters since I can’t imagine there are any left) will tell you he does well.

On Friday night against the Rays, Hicks went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts. In the top of the fourth, Hicks misplayed a ball off his glove, and then stood and stared at the wall while two Rays runs scored and the ball sat on the ground. The very next batter hit a line drive at Hicks, and Hicks twisted and turned his way into letting the ball go over his head. After the inning ended, Boone removed Hicks from the game for Estevan Florial. The same Florial that Boone told the media was called up to play, and yet he was sitting once again for Hicks.

After the game, Boone tried to explain that Hicks wasn’t pulled for the misplay, acting once again as though every media member and Yankees fan is an absolute moron, incapable of having their own thought. Boone said he “just needed to get Hicks out of there.” What a coincidence Boone happened to pull a healthy Hicks from a game at the same time he had struck out twice, misplayed two balls in the outfield and had the left-field bleachers treating him like he was Manny Ramirez.

Hicks said the opposite. He said he was benched, completely negating the most ridiculous lie Boone has ever told as Yankees manager.

I wish I could say Hicks won’t be on the postseason roster this October or off the Yankees completely in 2023, but I can’t. Hicks is owed more than $30 million, and Steinbrenner would rather try to salvage even a penny of that money than release Hicks and open up the roster spot to someone deserving of being a major leaguer and a New York Yankee.

Hicks has now been demoted and benched from his everyday role for the second time in a month. This coming after Higashioka became the backup catcher, Joey Gallo was traded, the Yankees called up Peraza because of Kiner-Falefa’s play and pray daily LeMahieu comes back as his normal self so that they can play him over Torres or Donaldson (the duo the Yankees tried to trade at the deadline). All of those players were supposed to be everyday players for the 2022 Yankees. Nearly half the expected lineup for the 2022 Yankees in spring training is gone, traded, benched or actively being replaced. That’s some impressive roster construction and management from Cashman.

9. Last week, I wrote two blogs titled Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson Can’t Be Automatic Outs and Giancarlo Stanton Needs to Start Hitting. Donaldson had a good few games and so did Giancarlo Stanton after finally being able to provide more than one plate appearance per game. Stanton homered in back-to-back games against the Rays (though one came against a position player, and if I’m not going to count it for Hicks and Higashioka from earlier in the season then I’m not going to count it for Stanton). But overall, Stanton looked better at the plate and was actually making contact with middle-middle fastballs rather than missing them completely or fouling them back to the screen. When Stanton’s timing is down, he tends to go off on a home run barrage (until the inevitable next time his timing is off and he looks like he’s blindfolded at the plate), and syncing up this potential hot streak with a trip to Fenway Park is exactly what the Yankees need to get closer to clinching the division.

10. I don’t think the Yankees are suddenly some juggernaut or contender because they won a couple of games against the Rays and beat up on the Twins. Winning six of their last eight isn’t impressive, it was a necessity after they couldn’t beat the Angels or A’s or Cardinals or Red Sox or Pirates or Reds and after they nearly pissed away a 15 1/2-game lead.

After the Yankees had accumulated that 15 1/2-game lead, they were managed and played as if they had clinched a postseason berth, giving even more unnecessary rest than usual to everyday players and managing the rotation and bullpen as if every pitcher on the roster was returning from from Tommy John surgery.

The Yankees have had to mange and play with urgency these past few weeks because of everything they undid over the last nearly three months. They can’t stop with that urgency until the AL East magic number is 0, and it’s currently at 17 with 21 to play. Once the division is clinched, the Yankees can manage, play and act like they won the division. Until then, The Yankees need to manage and play as if they haven’t accomplished anything yet because they haven’t.

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