Yankees Thoughts: The AL East Is Over

The Yankees will have to settle for being the 4-seed at best in the postseason

Another series against the Rays, another series loss for the Yankees. The Yankees are 18-7 against teams not from Tampa this season, and they went 2-8 against the Rays this season. Thankfully, the season series is over because I can’t take anymore embarrassment of the team with the 28th payroll beating the team with the highest payroll in every facet of the game.

Last season, I wrote the Off Day Dreaming blogs on every off day, but this season there aren’t many off days. There aren’t many games. So instead, I have decided to use the Off Day Dreaming format following each series. Yankees Thoughts will be posted after each series this season.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Back in February, the Yankees were the favorite to win the World Series. Aaron Hicks was going to miss the first half of the season. Then James Paxton was going to be out for the first month of the season. Then Luis Severino went down for the season. Then Giancarlo Stanton was going to miss the first half of the season. Then Aaron Judge was going to miss the first half of the season. Then the season was postponed.

With the late-July start to a shortened, 60-game season, the Yankees were still at least the favorite to win the American League. Then Masahiro Tanaka missed the start of the shortened season after taking a line drive to the head. Then Aroldis Chapman got put on the COVID-19 list. Then Paxton lost his velocity. Then Tommy Kahnle went down for the season. Then J.A. Happ pitched like a soon-to-be 38-year-old coming off the worst season of his career. Then Aaron Boone didn’t improve as a manager. Then Gary Sanchez couldn’t make contact. Then Stanton went on the injured list. The Judge went on the injured list. Then the Yankees couldn’t beat the Rays. Then Brett Gardner turned back into the player who looked finished in 2018. Then DJ LeMahieu went on the injured list. Then Boone still didn’t improve as a manager. Then Hicks became the No. 3 hitter. Then Zack Britton went on the injured list. Then the Yankees still couldn’t beat the Rays. Then Gleyber Torres went on the injured list. Then the Yankees started playing Tyler Wade every day. Then Judge went on the injured list again. Then Sanchez still couldn’t make contact. Then Mike Tauchman turned back into the player the Rockies gave up on. Then Gerrit Cole started giving up home runs like Phil Hughes. Then Boone still didn’t improve as a manager. Then Chad Green turned into his April 2019 self. Then the Yankees still couldn’t beat the Rays.

Once 16-6 with the best record in baseball, the Yankees are now just 20-15. 

2. The division is over. It’s over. Put an asterisk or a lowercase letter next to the Rays in the standings denoting they clinched it. The Yankees are three games back in the loss column and 4 1/2 games back overall against the Rays. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees have a 13 percent chance of winning the AL East. If you’re holding on to the slimmest of hope that they can play better than .750 baseball for the next three-plus weeks or that the Rays collapse, just remember the Yankees are closer to being out of the playoffs (they have a two-game loss-column lead on the ninth-place Tigers) than they are to the Rays.

The Yankees have 25 games remaining and the Rays have 22. If the Rays play .500 baseball the rest of the way and go 11-11, they will finish at 37-23. The Yankees would have to go 18-7 just to tie them, and that would do nothing since the Rays won the head-to-head matchup in an 8-2 landslide. The Yankees would have to go 19-6 to win the division if the Rays play .500 baseball. The Rays aren’t going to play .500 baseball though, not with a rotation of Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton. And the Yankees aren’t going to go 19-6. Not with 10 of their remaining 25 games against the Blue Jays, who are much improved and also battling for a postseason spot.

3. The best the Yankees can do now is finish as the No. 4 seed in the AL playoffs. That is the only non-division winner spot that will get to host all three games in the best-of-3 first round. The Yankees are one game back in the loss column from the 4-seed and are tied with the same record as the Astros for the 5-seed, but lose the division record tiebreaker. Right now, the Yankees are the 6-seed, lined up to play the Indians in the best-of-3. That means facing the best pitcher in the AL this season in Shane Bieber in Game 1 and then either Carlos Carrasco (3.75 ERA), Zach Plesac (1.33 ERA), Triston McKenzie (1.69 ERA) or Aaron Civale (3.72 ERA) in Game 2, and another name from that list in Game 3. All three games (if necessary) would be played in Cleveland if there isn’t a playoff bubble.

4. The Yankees just had their current postseason rotation of Cole, Tanaka and Jordan Montgomery perfectly set for a three-game series at home against the Rays, who wouldn’t be starting Snell, and they still lost the series. That’s about as disheartening as it gets. The Yankees not having Judge, Stanton or Torres isn’t an excuse. Even without those three, the Yankees’ lineup is still better than the Rays’ on paper. The problem is the Yankees’ lineup doesn’t hit like it should on paper and neither does the Rays’. And the Rays have their own injury problems, missing Ryan Yarbrough, Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, Jalen Beeks, Chaz Rose, Mike Zunino, Yonny Chirinos and Jose Alvarado. I don’t see anyone complaining about the Rays’ injuries, all I see them is winning nearly every day and having the best record in the American League.

5. I’m happy the season series against the Rays is over. Now I don’t have to watch the Yankees lose anymore regular-season games to the Rays and I don’t have to hear about the two team’s recent history of throwing at each other. Has there ever been more made of a pitch that didn’t actually hit a player or benches clearing that didn’t actually lead to a fight than there was from Tuesday night? Maybe Chapman meant to throw at Mike Brosseau. If he did, he’s an idiot, considering the Yankees had to have that game and putting Brosseau on with two outs in the ninth would have brought up the tying run. And Chapman isn’t exactly Mariano Rivera or even his old self in terms of confidence in successfully closing out games. He can’t be screwing around with runners on base because it usually doesn’t end well for him. The suspension for him and the suspensions for Boone and Kevin Cash were unnecessary. Nothing happened. No one did anything and no one pushed or punched anyone, outside of Wade for some reason trying to hold the Rays’ dugout back. If you were picking teams in a fight between the Yankees and Rays, Wade would easily be the last pick of the draft, and that’s after you pick the clubhouse attendants and bat and ball boys. I wonder how tough the Rays would have acted if Judge and Stanton were on the IL or if CC Sabathia were still on the team. Probably as tough as they have acted under those circumstances when tempers flared in the past: not tough at all.

6. So much for that grand slam on Sunday leading to Sanchez turning around his season. None of his previous five home runs led to him turning around his season, and homering in three straight games didn’t either. So I’m not sure why I thought maybe, just maybe a go-ahead, extra-inning grand slam would bring the old Sanchez back. Sanchez went 1-for-10 with a walk and four strikeouts in the three games against the Rays and he’s down to .130/.245/.337. It’s appalling that Sanchez’s OPS (.582) looks like what his slugging percentage should be. The other night, Paul O’Neill said that Sanchez isn’t going to hit .300 this season should focus on just hitting well for from here on. .300? .300?!?! Can Sanchez even get to .200 at this point?

7. DJ LeMahieu’s average finally dipped below .400 to .392. If LeMahieu can get to 186 plate appearances, he will qualify for the batting title, and he will win it. He needs 82 over the final 25 games or 3.28 per game. Basically, he just can’t get hurt. The next closest is Franmil Reyes at .336 and Tim Anderson at .333. LeMahieu would become the first player ever to win a batting title in both leagues, and he should have done it last season when he hit .327, but Anderson stole it from him by hitting .335 in only 123 games and 22 fewer games. LeMahieu is the best player on the Yankees. He needs to be extended. The Yankees can’t screw this up, but I wouldn’t count on them not screwing it up.

8. I want to reiterate what I wrote in What is Wrong with Gerrit Cole? on Tuesday because he’s the most important Yankee when it comes to the postseason. If Cole doesn’t turn into his Houston self, the Yankees aren’t going anywhere. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does in October, he’s the single-most important Yankee in the postseason. He was supposed to be like signing two starting pitchers if the Yankees were to face the Astros in the ALCS since the Astros would be without him and the Yankees would be with him. Now that there’s an extra best-of-3 postseason round, the Yankees will need him to beat whichever team they face in that game. Cole has five starts left: Baltimore (2), Toronto, Boston and Miami. He has five stats to go from the guy leading the league in home runs allowed to the guy that couldn’t lose a game for more than a year. If this version of Cole is present in the postseason, it won’t matter if the team is at full strength, the Yankees won’t have a chance.

9. I like how the Yankees keep saying Deivi Garcia is in the conversation to start on Friday. I hope that’s just an unnecessary strategy ploy, so the Orioles don’t overly prepare for him because if it’s not, this team is more poorly run and managed than anyone thought. Garcia produced the best, or at worst, the second-best start of the Yankees’ season in his debut. It was better than any Cole or Tanaka start, much better than any Montgomery start, and the only start comparable would be Happ’s against the Mets. Garcia doesn’t just deserve to start, he deserves to be in the rotation. I would have him pitch Game 3 in the postseason right now over Montgomery based on one major league start. That’s how good he was. I’m sure the Yankees will call him up to start on Friday and make him the 29th man on the roster for the doubleheader and then send him back down after his start because they don’t want to not have Nick Nelson or Ben Heller on the active roster. What would they do without Nelson or Heller?!

10. The last three games were absent of Boone screwing anything up, causing my blood pressure to hit dangerous levels. That’s because Cole ruined Monday’s game in the first inning and the offense could barely make contact against Tyler Glasnow, Tanaka was able to get the ball right to the elite relievers on Tuesday, and Boone was suspended for Wednesday’s game, though it didn’t matter since Montgomery ruined it within the first four batters. It wasn’t fun watching the Yankees lose another series to the Rays, lose more ground in the standings, and ultimately lose the division. But it was nice to sit back and not have any issues with Boone over the last three nights. I don’t expect that trend to last much longer, if at all.


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