Yankees Thoughts: Postseason Preparation

Yankees' division lead is back to seven in loss column with 19 to play

The Yankees have ended their slide and threat of completing the worst game-lead collapse in baseball history. After sweeping a two-game series from the Red Sox, the Yankees have now won four straight and eight of 10.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. With the Blue Jays and Rays meeting for a five-game series over four days, the Yankees needed to go Fenway Park and beat up on the last-place Red Sox. If they didn’t, they would miss out on an opportunity to gain ground each day over either the Blue Jays or Rays, and would in turn lose ground each day on either the Blue or Rays. Thankfully, the Yankees took care of their own business against the lowly Red Sox (something they have had trouble doing in their last few series against them), and officially put the division away.

I originally wrote the blog titled AL East Race Is Over on June 20. At the time, the math said the Yankees would win the AL East with ease win an 11-game lead. By July 8, the math was playing out exactly as expected, and the Yankees’ lead was up to 15 1/2 games. But over the next two months, the Yankees pissed away everything they achieved in the first third of the season and just a week ago, the Rays had the division lead in the loss column down to two games.

Prior to the last series against the Rays, I wrote:

Right now, I’m moderately worried about the Yankees’ completing the single biggest game-lead collapse in baseball history. I’m a 6.7 out of 10 worried. Five days ago, I was a 9.1. If the loss column lead is zero on Sunday afternoon, I will be a 10, and a 10 is stock-up-on-bottled-water-and-batteries-to-go-into-hiding-level bad.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to go off the grid and spend the next seven months until Opening Day 2023 wondering what happened. The Yankees righted the ship with two wins against the Red Sox after winning an all-important series against the Rays and have now won four straight and eight of 10.

2. Do I think the Yankees are back to being the on-pace-for-122-win team they were at one point this year? No. I never thought the 2022 Yankees were close to being built like the 1998 Yankees despite the endless comparisons between the two and their similar records in late April, May and early June. The Yankees still have enormous flaws and an abundance of question marks that are on display each day and were once again in the two games at Fenway Park.

3. In the first game in Boston, the Yankees needed a pair of game-tying solo home runs from Aaron Judge in the sixth and eighth inning to avoid losing a game started by Gerrit Cole going against Nick Pivetta. When they broke a 4-4 tie with three runs in the 10th inning, they nearly gave it all back, allowing two runs to score in the bottom of the 10th to hang on to win 7-6.

In the second game, they couldn’t solve rookie Brayan Bello, who entered the game with a 5.79 ERA, having allowed an astounding 67 baserunners in 37 1/3 innings. The Yankees finally broke through in the fifth when Gleyber Torres hit a two-out single with runners on first and second and the Red Sox thew the ball around the field allowing the two baserunners to score as well as Torres in what Suzyn Waldman described as a “comedy of errors.” Leading 5-2 entering the ninth, Clay Holmes did everything he could to blow yet another game against Red Sox, allowing a run to score and only managing to get out of the inning by an overturned call when J.D. Martinez thankfully missed stepping on first base on a groundout.

4. In the 18 non-extra, non-automatic runner innings at Fenway, the Yankees scored nine runs. Three of those runs came on the “comedy of errors” play. Two of them came on Judge solo home runs. That leaves four non-error-produced or Judge-produced runs. So the theme with the team remains the same that they can’t score unless Judge is carrying the offense or unless they are helped out by the opposing defense.

The offense the Yankees keep running out there isn’t the offense we expect to see in the postseason, but it could be. There’s no guarantee all five of DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo, Matt Carpenter, Andrew Benintendi and Harrison Bader will return or will return to the best of their abilities or return be able to play. (I think just about all of them have to come back and have to come back to the best of their abilities for the Yankees to have a chance at winning a championship.) So for now, you have to think the lineup you see on a daily basis from the Yankees is the one you will get in the postseason, until some of those five names return (if they return).

5. If 2018-19 Torres still existed, the loss of those other five worst hurt less. Torres had a big series in Boston, going 4-for-10 with a double and four RBIs, after going 5-for-14 with two home runs and five RBIs in three games against the Rays.

I keep seeing and hearing that 2018-19 Torres is back. No. Just no. This is a five-game sample size. What about the other five months? What about the last nearly three years? This is what Torres does. He has a strong few games and coaxes fans into thinking 2018-19 Torres has returned and then he follows it up with a month-long slump.

Torres stared the season with an .856 OPS through the first week, and there were Yankees fans thinking he had found his old swing. Did his change of positioning  back to second get him going? Did his approach at the plate change? It was neither as Torres then hit .223/.266/.423 over his next 38 games. The following three weeks, Torres went off with a .355/.412/.726 slash line, hitting five home runs in 17 games. Was this the return of old Gleyber? It wasn’t. Torres spent the summer months going hot then extremely cold and from the beginning of August until the beginning of the September (yes, an an entire month), he had the lowest OPS of all players in Major League Baseball, hitting .172/.193/.241 over 119 plate appearances.

So it’s nice that Torres is contributing offensively of late after not for basically the entire season (and the previous two seasons). It’s nice that he has 21 home runs and has somewhat found his power stroke without the juiced baseball. But this is still a player that despite his most recent hot streak (which is just five games), is hitting .244/.294/.429 in 514 plate appearances this season.

I won’t care how bad Torres was in 2020 or 2021 or the majority of 2022 if he shows up this postseason like he did in 2019 when he pounded the Twins (5-for-12 with three doubles, one home run and four RBIs) in the ALDS, or when he (.933 OPS, two home runs and six RBIs) and DJ LeMahieu tried to beat the Astros by themselves in the ALCS. Everyone gets a clean slate come the first pitch of the postseason.

6. That includes Aaron Hicks, though I really don’t see how he can even be on the postseason roster at this point. Despite Boone pulling Hicks from the game against the Ryas last Friday, Hicks is still aBoone favorite and Boone will do everything he can to play Hicks.

Hicks found himself pinch hitting for Jose Trevino on Friday night in the 10th inning, drawing a walk in the process. At the time of the walk, I joked that the walk was enough to get Hicks back in the starting lineup, but it wasn’t really a joke as the following night there was Hicks unbenched yet again and starting in the second game of the series. How did he do? Exactly how you would expect: 0-for-4.

Hicks is now hitting .209/.324/.293 on the season. A slugging percentage that most lower than an on-base percentage is preposterous. He has seven doubles in 408 plate appearances and seven home runs, having last homered on July 9. If you’re surprised, don’t be. This is a player who told The Athletic last month, “If I’m a guy that’s in the lineup, cool. If I’m not, it is what it is.”

I don’t see how Hicks can be on the postseason roster, and the moment Bader, Benintendi or Carpenter return (again, if they do), Hicks shouldn’t see the field again as a Yankee. Not just this season, but future seasons as well. Trade him for whatever you can get, eat whatever money you need, attached a low-level prospect to him or release him. I don’t care. He can’t be a Yankee again in 2023. Seven seasons of him was seven too many.

7. I’m tired of explaining how ridiculous it is that Isiah Kiner-Felafa continues to play over Oswald Peraza when he was supposed to be a stopgap until Peraza was ready, and now Peraza is ready dnd being blocked by the stopgap. If Peraza isn’t going to play (like he hasn’t been) then there’s no point of him being in the majors. Send him down and stop ruining his development.

8. It’s never been more evident for fools and idiots who think Boone doesn’t control the lineup despite repeated public admissions of exactly that by Brian Cashman. How do you think Kiner-Falefa keeps playing over Peraza? How do you think Hicks keeps finding his way off the bench and into the lineup? Why do you think Josh Donaldson continues to be treated like it’s 2015 and he’s the AL MVP? There’s no front office employee of any team in all of baseball dumb enough to make decisions like that. It takes a know-it-all manager and supposed lifer who uses personal relationships and clubhouse loyalty to determine playing time instead of production. Boone has always favored veterans no matter how bad they may be (and Kiner-Faleafa and Hicks and Donaldson are very bad) over rookies or young players.

9. Thanks to the odd days off this postseason (reminiscent of the 2009 playoffs), the schedule works heavily in the Yankees’ favor (like it did in 2009) in terms of their rotation. The Yankees are undoubtedly going to give the ball to Gerrit Cole in Game 1, but after him is anyone’s guess. The Yankees could use Cole in Game 1 and then again in Game 4 on normal rest or in Game 5 with an extra day of rest. The Game 2 starter could also return for Game 5 on three days of rest. The Yankees could get through the ALDS with only three starters, but most likely, they will need four. The four they are clearly hoping to have are Cole, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino and Frankie Montas in some order. Health will determine who’s available and then I’m sure the opponent will determine the order. If Severino comes back and is his early-season self, he has to be used before Montas. You could even say he should be used before Cortes, but then there would be pushback that Cortes has been the Yankees’ best starter all season, which is true. But if the Yankees made decisions based on actual performance, Cortes would be the Game 1 starter, and players like Kiner-Falefa, Donaldson and Hicks wouldn’t be everyday players on the 2022 Yankees.

10. The Yankees’ lead in the loss column is back up to seven over both Blue Jays and Rays. The Yankees have three games left with the Blue Jays and none with the Rays. If the Yankees win one of their remaining three games with the Blue Jays, they clinch the season series and the head-to-head tiebreaker, which will be used to determine the division winner (if needed).

The Yankees have 19 games left. After this weekend against the Brewers, they will play six straight against last-place teams in the Pirates and Red Sox. The division is safe once again. The remaining 19 games and the next 25 days are about preparing for the postseason, and that means getting healthy. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere in October with the current state of the roster.

Now that the division is safe, instead of scoreboard for the next three weeks, I will be rehab game and injury update watching. That’s more important than what the competition is doing.

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