Yankees Thoughts: The Turning Point of the Season?

A wild pitch, a five-run inning and a grand slam have momentarily saved the Yankees' season

The Yankees could have won all five games over the weekend against the Mets. They could have also lost all five games. In actuality, they should have gone 4-1. They should have won every game except for the wild, five-run, seventh-inning comeback game they won. Prior to the series, I said I would sign up for a 2-3 weekend and I ended up lowering my expectations to 1-4. Thankfully, the Mets are abysmal and the Yankees’ “C” team, or maybe even their “D” team was able to win three of five against their cross-city rival.

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. A couple weeks ago in an afternoon game against the Rays, Mike Tauchman was listed as the 3-hitter in the lineup. About 12 hours earlier the night before, Tauchman wasn’t allowed to bat in the bottom of the ninth and was pinch hit for by Miguel Andujar. Andujar struck out on three pitches and was sent down to the alternate site after the game. So Andujar was good enough to pinch hit for someone the Yankees feel can bat third in a lineup, but then following the pinch-hit at-bat wasn’t good enough to be on the Yankees.

Twice this season, Luis “Everyday” Avilan was allowed to pitch with the game on the line against the Rays, and both times he blew the game, and the Yankees lost. For the first month of the season, Avilan was good enough to either warm up or come into every game for the Yankees, but this past week he was released by the Yankees, apparently no longer good enough to be a Yankee.

On Sunday, when Michael King ran out of gas in the fourth inning against the Mets, Aaron Boone turned to Brooks Kriske for the final out of the inning. Kriske got the out and returned for the fifth. He was allowed to stay in to face Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith and Robinson Cano, and Cano hit a two-run home run off him. Boone stayed with Kriske after the home run to finish the fith and Kriske came back out for the sixth. He walked Wilson Ramos to lead off the inning and Boone still didn’t pull him. He then walked Andres Gimenez, and finally, Boone had seen enough. Or at least I thought he had. Boone walked to the mound, never signaled to the bullpen and talked with Kriske rather than pull him. Six pitches later, Kriske walked Brandon Nimmo to load the bases via walks with no outs. Then Boone decided to take him out. It was Boone’s Mona Lisa; the complete package of managerial incompetence. Kriske was allowed to pitch in a tie game and keep on pitching with the Yankees barely hanging on to a postseason spot, and then after the game, he was optioned back to the alternate site.

The Yankees continue to allow marginal players and pitchers to determine the outcome of their games only to then determine the players and pitchers aren’t good enough to be Yankees.

2. With each Yankees Thoughts I write, Aaron Boone seems to get worse as a manager. There has been no improvement for him managing the bullpen, which remains his biggest flaw, and the only true in-game decision making he needs to do. He is every bit as bad as he was for the last two years, and each game he manages to do something more ridiculous than he did the game before. He consistently fails to put his team in the best position to succeed by making inconsistent choices. As I have written before, these lines from Stanley Hudson to Michael Scott in The Office do a good job of explaining Boone:

Every day you do something stupider than the day before. And I think, “There’s no possible way he can top that.” But what do you do? You find a way, damnit, to top it! You are a professional idiot!

Boone is a professional idiot. He was wrongfully given the Yankees’ managerial job in the middle of a championship window with no managing or coaching experience, and he hasn’t gotten any better in what’s now Year 3. He remains a more challenging obstacle for his team than the Rays, Twins, A’s, Astros and Dodgers combined. The only way the Yankees are safe from Boone’s destructive decision making is if they score 10 runs in a game, and with their current lineup, that’s impossible.

3. The Yankees’ lineup continues to appear to be picked at random. Thankfully, DJ LeMahieu is back to give the leadoff spot stability, and the Yankees are 3-0 since he came back. Coincidence? No. LeMahieu is the Yankees’ best player and the team is 16-5 when he starts and 3-8 when he doesn’t. LeMahieu has hit safely in 20 of the 22 games he has played in (he had a pinch-hit single). He makes the lineup go even if it’s very hard to get this lineup to go right now with the bottom-third it has and because Boone feels the need to screw around with the middle third of it every day. LeMahieu is the most important defensive player on the team, and while I have long thought Aaron Judge to be the most important player on the Yankees, I think I have changed my mind to it being LeMahieu since you actually have to play in games to be the most important player on the team.

Luke Voit has been otherworldly in the 2-hole in Judge’s absence. The 3-hole has become Aaron Hicks’ and up until his game-tying, two-run home run off Edwin Diaz on Sunday, Hicks has done absolutely nothing to deserve being a Top 3 hitter, even with Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres all on the injured list. Hicks entered Sunday with one home run since July 29, and his on-base percentage which has always been his defenders’ only favorable argument had fallen to .343. But Hicks saved the first game on Sunday and prevented another miserable loss, and the Yankees won a game in which they had a 0.02 percent chance of winning in the seventh inning. It didn’t take long for the real Hicks to return, though, as he was pulled from the second game of the doubleheader with “cramping in both of his calves.” I guess there’s a reason why Hicks never plays both ends of a doubleheader and it’s because he can’t play more than nine innings of baseball on the same day. After the game, Boone was asked about the severity of Hicks’ injury and said, “I don’t think it’s serious at all,” and when Boone says that, it’s a guarantee the player will be placed on the injured list, if not worse.

4. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hicks is placed on the IL since that’s what he does: he gets hurt. I realize some (OK, maybe a lot) of my criticism of Hicks is unfair given his advanced metrics, but the criticism stems from his inability to stay healthy. As a Yankee, Hicks has played in 435 of a possible 680 regular-season games or 64 percent, and he has been on the injured list at least once in each of his first four seasons with the team with back, hamstring, oblique and elbow injuries, and I’m sure I’m forgetting others. If there’s a baseball-related injury, Hicks has had it. It wouldn’t be a baseball season without Hicks going on the IL, and after he was able to avoid a first-half stint if the season began on time in March for Tommy John surgery rehab, it was only a matter of time until he landed on a place he has called home for roughly one-third of his Yankees tenure. No, he hasn’t been placed on it yet, but it’s only a matter of time until he is.

5. I was more nervous for Gary Sanchez and his pinch-hit opportunity on Sunday night than Sanchez was. As President of the Gary Sanchez Fan Club, I finally caved and heavily criticized the struggling catcher, while maintaining my belief he will turn it around because he has to … right? When Sanchez stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and one out and the game tied at 1, I could envision the social media meltdown from another strikeout. My wife, who is a Sanchez critic, sat next to me pulling for Sanchez, though I knew she had no faith in his ability to come through since I didn’t even have any. She was just trying to be nice in the moment, waiting to write another one of her critical tweets about him. Once there were two strikes on Sanchez, I was prepared for the at-bat to end as a complete failure. Sanchez had been unsuccessful in putting Drew Smith’s fastball in play, so Smith tried once more to get Sanchez to swing through it, but instead, Sanchez channeled his 2016 self and sent the pitch deep into the New York night. A pinch-hit grand slam to give the Yankees a four-run, extra-inning lead.

Is this finally the hit to get Sanchez going? I thought it might be any of his other five home runs, but it wasn’t. I thought he might be coming alive when he homered in three straight games earlier this month, and those three games were followed by a 3-for-25 slide. Maybe Sunday night’s go-ahead grand slam will be the spot we look back at for when Sanchez’s season turned around. If it’s not, maybe he will never turn it around this season, a season in which he has yet to have a multi-hit game.

6. The Yankees nearly blew the four-run lead after Sanchez’s grand slam because Boone wouldn’t use Aroldis Chapman, deciding to stay with Jonathan Holder for a second inning. Chapman was unavailable because he had pitched two consecutive days. It didn’t matter to Boone that Chapman had thrown 25 pitches over the last 14 days or that he had thrown 45 pitches since being walked off against on Oct. 19, 2019 in Game 6 of the ALCS. Boone and the Yankees have their bullpen usage rules and no amount of pitches and no amount of importance on a game or situation will change their mind. Boone would have rather lost the game to the Mets and erased the momentum the team had built with two straight walk-off wins to end their seven-game losing streak than use Chapman for a third straight day. Ask Zack Britton, who’s on the injured list with a hamstring injury, or Tommy Kahnle, who’s out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, how not pitching on three consecutive days prevented them from getting hurt.

7. Tyler Wade hit a home run in the second game on Sunday for his first of the season and fourth of his career. On Saturday, Michael Kay said, “The only thing keeping Tyler Wade from regular work is that he has not hit.” Really? Is that all, Michael? The only thing that has kept him from being an everyday major leaguer is that he hasn’t been able to perform half of the game of baseball. The line from Kay reminded me of this exchange from The Mighty Ducks when Gordon Bombay find Fulton Reed taking slap shots in an alley way:

Gordon Bombay: Why don’t you play for us?

Fulton Reed: I can’t … I don’t know how to skate.

Gordon Bombay: Whoa! Is that all that’s stoppin’ ya?

Sure, Wade is extremely fast and a threat on the bases, but you have to actually get on base to be a threat on the bases. As long as he plays great defense while he has to be in the lineup, I don’t care if he goes 0-for-100, representing as close to an automatic out at the bottom of the order as you can have. I just can’t wait until he’s no longer needed to be an everyday player.

8. I think we are watching the final weeks of Brett Gardner’s career. I wanted the Yankees to sign Michael Brantley after 2018, and they instead brought back Gardner. He benefited from the super baseball in 2019, hitting a career-high 28 home runs, and got himself another contract with the Yankees. But now that the baseball has lost its unbelievable flight, Gardner is back to being the player he was in 2018 when he look finished and lost his starting job to Andrew McCutchen. Gardner entered Sunday with a .190/.325/.381 line and then went 0-for-5. He has two multi-hit games and two doubles this season and hasn’t homered since Aug. 3. No, power isn’t supposed to be his game, but it shows how last year was an anomaly and a clear product of the state of the ball. Gardner is still an elite defender, and maybe that’s enough for him to keep getting new contracts with the team. It shouldn’t be enough for him to block other outfield options from a path to playing time.

9. The trade deadline is Monday, and I’m OK with the Yankees doing nothing. There isn’t a game-changing starting pitcher available, and that’s all I would be interested in. Mike Clevinger isn’t that, and given his character following his night out in Chicago, I doubt that’s someone Brian Cashman would want on the team after being so concerned with the clubhouse culture for more than a decade now. And Lance Lynn certainly isn’t that. I don’t care about what he’s done since leaving the Yankees after 2018. There’s no point in trading just for the sake of trading and neither are going to swing a series in the Yankees’ favor. There’s a chance the Yankees found a potential front-end starter on Sunday in Deivi Garcia, and there’s a chance they have another one waiting for his turn in Scranton in Clark Schmidt. The Yankees shouldn’t have waited until now to find out what they have in the organization, but they did, and they should stand pat at this deadline.

10. Garcia became the first Yankees pitcher to pitch six innings and allow zero earned runs and zero walks in their debut. He was as good as advertised and his one start was better than any start Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka or Jordan Montgomery has had this season, and those three would currently be the Yankees’ postseason starters in order. Garcia doesn’t only deserve another start, he deserves to stay. He actually has ability, unlike most Yankees pitchers, and no matter what his role is, he is a better option that just about every Yankees pitcher.

After Garcia’s start, Boone was asked about his roster spot, and Boone said, “We’ll talk about that and get back to you.” It was comical, but also expected from a manager and a team that has no idea how to properly manage a roster as I depicted earlier in this blog with moves like Andujar, Avilan and Kriske. I wouldn’t be surprised if Garcia is optioned back to the alternate site while the Yankees continue to give J.A. Happ unlimited chances and let Michael King open games and let Ben Heller ruin games out of the bullpen. This is the same team that won’t bring up Schmidt to start because he isn’t on the 40-man roster, as if there isn’t a litany of names eligible to be designated for assignment on the current 40-man roster, and because of service time, as if they’re not the New York Yankees and capable of paying any free agent any amount of money. I would be disappointed and frustrated and embarrassed if Garcia were optioned, but that’s life as a 2020 Yankees fan. (Sure enough, Garcia was sent down to the alternate site. It better just be a technicality for the next four days until he’s needed as a starter again.)


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