Yankees Thoughts: Sacrifice Defense for Offense in Postseason

Yankees' lineup last two games is likely to be postseason lineup as of now

The Yankees swept a two-game series from the worst team from the worst division in baseball and needing an unbelievable comeback to do so. The Yankees have won three straight and their magic number to win the division is down to 8 with 14 games left.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. I would like to thank the Pirates for being the Pirates and gifting the Yankees a miraculous 9-8 walk-off win on Tuesday and then allowing for an easy 14-2 blowout win on Wednesday. The Yankees now sit a comfortable seven games ahead of the Blue Jays in the loss column with 14 to play. Even if the Blue Jays were to sweep the three remaining games they have from the Yankees, the Yankees would still have a four-game lead in the loss column with 11 to play. I proclaimed the division over back on June 20, and it has been (minus the scare of a couple weekends ago) and is.

2. I think about the postseason every day. Not every day of the season, I mean every day of my life. I think about how the Yankees can put themselves in the best possible situation to win the World Series. I use the regular season to assess how prepared the Yankees are for the postseason and take little joy in regular-season success. What happens in the regular season is all preparation for the postseason.

That’s why I was happy the Yankees won on Tuesday night, but wasn’t celebrating it like the YES broadcast booth was thinking the Yankees had just clinched a postseason series win. What I took away from the 9-8 comeback win (which ended with the Yankees’ second ultimate grand slam of the season) was that Nestor Cortes was good, Harrison Bader was healthy and the last five at-bats of the game were great. That’s it. If you take anything else away from that game, you’re a simple person because it would mean you are disregarding the Yankees blowing two different leads to a team on pace for 102 losses, and it means you are choosing to look past Ron Marinaccio, Lou Trivino, Jonathan Loaisiga and Clay Holmes combining to allow seven earned runs on five hits and four walks in three innings to a team counting down the minutes until their miserable season ends. When the Pirates are all on end-of-the-season vacations in three weeks, those four names will be trying to get season-changing outs against the Mariners, Guardians, Blue Jays, Rays or Astros. That’s what I think about.

3. The lineup Aaron Boone constructed in the two games over the Pirates is what the Yankees are going to use come Game 1 of the ALDS if DJ LeMahieu, Matt Carpenter and Andrew Benintendi don’t return, and you can’t expect any of them to return. This is that lineup:

Aaron Judge, RF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Gleyber Torres, 2B
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
Oswaldo Cabrera, LF
Harrison Bader, CF
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, SS
Jose Trevino, C

Yes, that lineup produced 23 runs in 17 innings against the last-place Pirates, but the last-place Pirates (on pace for 102 losses) won’t be in the American League postseason. What the Yankees did the last two nights with that lineup is meaningless come 19 days from now when they play the winner of the Mariners-Guardians best-of-3 (which is who they will play as of now). If you had told me on Opening Day the Yankees lineup we saw the last two nights would be the Yankees lineup on September 20-21, I would ask where in the Top 10 the Yankees would be picking in the draft.

4. This is the lineup I dream about for Game 1 of the ALDS:

Aaron Judge, RF
Matt Carpenter, 3B
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
DJ LeMahieu, 2B
Andrew Benintendi, LF
Oswald Peraza/Oswaldo Cabrera, SS
Harrison Bader, CF
Jose Trevino, C

I know that even if the Yankees were at full strength that lineup is still unrealistic because Aaron Boone would never sit both Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson. I fully expect those two to play every game in the postseason no matter what. Boone called Kiner-Falefa one of the best shortstops in baseball just a couple of weeks ago and continues to bat Donaldson and his 15 home runs and .699 OPS at cleanup, even ahead of Stanton. They aren’t sitting. There’s no way Gleyber Torres will sit, who is experiencing one good week after three bad years. The Yankees literally destroyed their roster construction this past offseason to accommodate Torres and then tried and failed to trade him at this year’s deadline. The Yankees also have an obsession with defense and run prevention that would never allow Carpenter to play third base. They would rather play without their version of Barry Bonds than sacrifice defense.

5. Tough shit. The Yankees will have to sacrifice defense for offense if they plan on winning the World Series. Defense isn’t going to hit the pitching they are going to see in the postseason. It’s frightening to think about the ease Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr., Christian Javier, Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Shane McClanahan, Shane Bieber, Luis Castillo or any other elite starter the Yankees may face in October will be able to navigate through the bottom of Boone’s lineup. It’s extremely hard to succeed in the postseason with one automatic out in the lineup, and the Yankees will be playing with three to five automatic outs on a given night with Boone’s lineup.

Aside from Aaron Judge, which Yankee do you feel comfortable and confident in come the playoffs? Come the playoffs, Judge won’t be able to put on the one-man show that has carried the Yankees to this point. Opposing managers will pitch around him and make other bats beat them, and it will likely be taken to an extreme if his protection remains an inconsistent Rizzo, Torres (LOL), a washed-up Donaldson and a lost Stanton.

6. I’m not worried about the Yankees’ pitching in the postseason. It hasn’t been the reason the team has lost any series with this group. The pitching will be there, especially now that Luis Severino has returned. Between Severino, Nestor Cortes and Gerrit Cole, the Yankees have the best 1-2-3 for the postseason they have had in a decade when they had CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte. That trio was able to carry the Yankees to an ALCS appearance before the Yankees pulled off the type of annual offensive disappearing act the organization has since 2009. I’m worried about the offense.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to when it comes to the postseason offense, other than put the best possible lineup together and hope for the best. The Yankees aren’t even putting the best possible lineup together right now, so it’s hard to envision them doing so if any or all of LeMahieu, Carpenter and Benintendi return.

7. Judge is set up to tie and pass Roger Maris against the Red Sox, which will make his 61st and 62nd home runs all the much better, if he’s able to hit two over the next four games.

Judge has always said the right thing and has always put the team above himself in any quote he has ever given the media in his career, and that hasn’t changed during this all-time season. But the media falling all over themselves talking about how Judge cares more about winning than he does about his own personal stats is a bit much. Yes, Judge cares about winning, but he also cares about his personal stats. He didn’t turn down the Yankees’ nearly $31 million average annual salary for seven years because he doesn’t care about his own success. He didn’t leave open the possibility of signing with the Red Sox just a week ago because he doesn’t care about his own success. If you truly think Judge isn’t concerned with his stats and numbers as an impending free agent who turned down nearly a quarter of a billion dollars (like Jeff Passan and Marly Rivera seem to think) then you’re likely the type of simple person who saw the Yankees eek out a home win over the .369 win percentage Pirates on Tuesday and think their performance was spectacular.

8. Yankees fans waited nearly two months to see Harrison Bader actually play for the Yankees, and he had a fantastic debut. Bader went 3-for-8 with five RBIs in his first two games as a Yankee, and just his mere presence on the team was a welcome sight because it kept Aaron Hicks glued to the bench. I don’t expect Bader to continue to hit like he did on Tuesday and Wednesday because the Yankees don’t continue to play the Pirates and because he’s not a very good hitter. But having him on the team means no more Hicks this season and likely the end of Hicks as a Yankee in future seasons as the Yankees will end up eating a lot of the $70 million they regrettably gave to Hicks in a move that was first-guessed when it happened. Bader has five RBIs in eight plate appearances as a Yankee. Hicks has five RBIs since August 8.

9. I want nothing more than for Torres to be the budding superstar he was in 2018 and 2019 and on his way to hitting third for the Yankees for the next 15 years. I also know his recent hot streak is just that: a hot streak. A span of nine games and 43 plate appearances that doesn’t come close to erasing his downfall since the start of 2020. From the beginning of August through the beginning of September, Torres had the lowest OPS of all players in Major League Baseball. This is likely him leveling out since he’s not the worst hitter in all of Major League Baseball (though the Yankees have a few candidates for that title). This is a nice week against mostly bad teams that are all headed home for the winter in less than three weeks. Nothing more. Sorry, Torres isn’t “back.” Not after nine games.

10. The Yankees need Stanton back. They have to have him back. They need the version of Stanton that carried the Yankees to a playoff berth in the finals week of last season and tried to beat the Red Sox by himself in the one-game playoff. I thought maybe his walk-off grand slam would propel him into a strong finish to the season, but he followed it up with a contact-less night on Wednesday (two strikeouts and two walks, though he at least reached base twice) and Boone inexplicably had him bat behind Donaldson again.

The Yankees have too many holes in their lineup right now and the lineup right now is looking like it will be the postseason lineup. Stanton needs to figure it out and fast. He only has 14 games left to do so.

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