The Yankees are going to the postseason. Well, they’re most likely going to the postseason. If they don’t, it will be one last parting gift from a team that has found new ways to disappoint their fans all season. But I don’t see that happening. (OK, I’ll knock on wood.)
1. The Yankees are a health risk for their fans. There have been many times this season when I thought I might not make it, but somehow after 159 games, I’m still here. And somehow after 159 games, the Yankees are still here.
The highs and lows of this season have been emotionally, physically and mentally draining, and thankfully, there are only three games, one series and one weekend left in the regular season. And in those three games, one series and one weekend, the Yankees have a chance to do something they only had a 29 percent chance of doing as recently as 12 days ago: clinch a postseason berth.
This entire season has played out like the extremes of Giancarlo Stanton at-bats. When the Yankees opened the season 5-10 or lost 11 of 13 immediately after winning 13 straight, they looked like Stanton when he’s guessing wrong and flailing at pitches that bounce in the other batter’s box. With moments like the 13-game winning streak or their current 8-1 run with the season on the line, they have looked like Stanton did last weekend when he was trying to single-handedly destroy the Red Sox’ season with moonshots. Like Stanton when he’s off, you wonder if the Yankees will ever be good again. And like Stanton when he’s on, you wonder if they will ever lose again.
2. DJ LeMahieu recently called the Yankees the streakiest team in baseball and he wasn’t exaggerating. Here are the Yankees’ streaks this season:
3. This season has been mostly a disappointment (so far). The Yankees were favored to win the American League and get back to the World Series for the first time in 12 years. For a team expected to the best in the league, they will instead play in the wild-card game for the fourth time in six years and the third time in the last four seasons in which the game has been held.
For as hot as the Yankees have been over the last 10 days and for as good as they have looked against the Red Sox and Blue Jays over the last week, they will play one game for their season on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium or somewhere else. It’s not a great spot to be in.
Sure, playing in the wild-card game is better than not playing in the playoffs at all, but that doesn’t make me feel better as a Yankees fan. For the Red Sox, an overachieving roster which has no business even being in contention for a postseason spot, it would be an accomplishment. For the Blue Jays, a young team whose window hasn’t even really opened yet, it would be an accomplishment. For the Mariners, the team with the longest postseason drought in North American major sports, of course it would be an enormous accomplishment, considering they had a 2 percent chance just five days ago and boast a minus-48 run differential. For the Yankees, it’s a disappointment.
4. The Yankees will start Gerrit Cole in the wild-card game and in theory it’s about as well as any team could be set up from a starting pitcher standpoint. That’s in theory. In actuality, Cole hasn’t looked like himself in exactly a month, and my confidence in him has waned following his hamstring injury on Sept. 7 and his five starts after the injury.
Sept. 7 vs. Toronto: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HR
Sept. 14 at Baltimore: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K
Sept. 19 vs. Cleveland: 5.2 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 2 HR
Sept. 24 at Boston: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 HR
Sept. 29 at Toronto: 6 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 2 HR
The Sept. 7 start was cut short due to the hamstring injury and while Cole says he’s healthy now, it’s hard to believe him. In the four starts he made before Sept. 7, he allowed two earned runs in 24 2/3 innings (24.2 IP, 17 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 39 K, 1 HR). Since Sept. 7, he has allowed 42 baserunners, 18 earned runs and six home runs in 26 1/3 innings.
5. The Yankees got Cole to win this exact game: a must-win game in the truest sense of the phrase. A game literally with the season on the line. In Game 5 of the 2020 ALDS, he started the elimination game on three days rest and couldn’t protect a minuscule 1-0 lead over his 5 1/3 innings in the team’s eventual season-ending loss. This season, outside of his complete-game shutout of the Astros in Houston in July, Cole has failed every other important assignment. After his clunker on Wednesday against the Blue Jays, he’s lucky he’s going to get to pitch again in 2021.
I really don’t know what to expect from Cole on Tuesday night. Will we see the Cole who threw that complete-game shutout in a 1-0 win in Houston? The Cole who was good, but not great in Boston this past weekend, allowing three runs over six innings? Or the Cole who was knocked around by the Rangers, Mets and Indians this season and who was lit up over his last five starts in September? I honestly have no idea. No one does. And if you think you do, John Sterling would have a good laugh in your face.
6. The problem with being the wild-card winner is that 48 hours after your season-saving win, you’re playing on the road against the well-rested best team in your league without your best starter until the third game of the series. If the Yankees survive Tuesday, they will go to Tampa for the first two games of the ALDS at Tropicana Field (a place they rarely play well at) against the Rays (a team they never seem to beat). It’s a bad spot to be in, but it’s the best spot you can be in when you’re 41-41 on July 4 or when you go 24-30 against the Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays or 23-22 against the Orioles, Mets, Angels, Tigers and Indians or when you lose 13 of 16 from late August to mid-September.
After Cole, I don’t know what the Yankees do. I guess they go with Jordan Montgomery and Nestor Cortes in some order for Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS? Corey Kluber could be an option, though I would only want him to be an option if he were to have a two-times-through-the-order limit, though with Aaron Boone managing the team, there’s no such limit.
7. With the Yankees’ season and Boone’s own job in question on Thursday night in Toronto, and with all of the data in the world suggesting Kluber shouldn’t face any lineup a third time, Boone let him face George Springer, Marcus Semien and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. each a third time. Guerrero Jr. hit a go-ahead double to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead at the time and then Boone went to the bullpen to relieve Kluber. Thursday’s game was essentially a playoff game, just like this entire month has been has been for the Yankees, and Boone has once again shown he can’t be trusted to make even the simplest of logical decisions in playoff-type games. Do you really want him to have to make these decisions in actual playoff games? If Kluber is “cruising” or in line for a win (an archaic concept), Boone won’t pull him. He didn’t on Thursday.
The two-times-through-the-order limit should be for every Yankees starter (with the exception of Cole if he’s himself). The Yankees’ bullpen is once against deep with Michael King (who should never open or start again), Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman. Wandy Peralta and Joely Rodriguez no longer have to be trusted to get the biggest outs in games and that’s a good thing. And the addition of Luis Severino to the bullpen has made the Yankees that much better.
8. I would feel a lot better about the Yankees starting pitching in the postseason (again, if they’re able to survive Tuesday) if Severino were an option. But he’s not an option, even though he could be. Severino rejoined the Yankees as a reliever because he “wasn’t built up” to start games. He could be, but he’s not. He’s not because of his odd usage.
In Severino’s season debut on Sept. 21, he thew 30 pitches over two innings. Four days later he threw 37 pitches across two innings. Three days later he threw 15 pitches and two days after that (Thursday in Toronto) 16 pitches. The Yankees haven’t tried to stretch him out and increase his pitch count to make him a postseason starting option. They have done the opposite, limiting his pitch count over his last two appearances and holding him to one inning in each game. It’s odd, but it’s Boone and the Yankees, and so it’s not a surprise as they idiotically chase a set-inning, late-game formula, featuring Severino. My choice for ALDS Game 1 starter would be to have Severino start the game and figure it out from there. After Cole, he’s the Yankees’ best starter even if he’s not currently a starter. Holding him back to maybe pitch the sixth or seventh inning in a high-leverage situation that may never come is a waste.
9. Whether it’s Severino (unlikely) or Montgomery (very likely), Cortes (also very likely) or even Kluber (not as likely) starting Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS (if the Yankees get there), I have confidence in the Yankees’ pitching, both the rotation and bullpen. The Yankees’ season will hinge on their offense, the way it does every postseason and if the Yankees’ offense performs an October disappearing act for the ninth time in the last 12 Octobers, their season will finish the same way it has the last 11 Octobers: without a championship.
Right now, the Yankees’ offense looks the best it has all season. During this nine-game stretch in which they have gone 8-1, the Yankees have scored 55 runs, averaging 6.1 runs per point game. Seven of the eight wins were by two-plus runs, a far cry from how they were winning through the first 149 games of the year. Everyone (and I mean everyone) in the lineup has been contributing. Yes, some more than others, but over the last nine games and 10 days, every Yankee has had a moment. It’s been a collective effort with Aaron Judge and Stanton leading the way. The Yankees’ offense of Games 150-159 has been the Yankees we rarely saw from Games 1-149. Had we seen this offense more often in those first 149 games, I would be worried about who’s starting after Cole in Games 2 and 3 of the ALDS and not whether or not the Yankees will even reach the ALDS.
10. The Yankees now have three games left. Three games against the Rays, who have nothing to play for other than to prevent the Yankees from reaching the postseason. After Thursday’s win over the Blue Jays, the Yankees’ magic number is down to 2 to play a 163rd game. It’s not where I thought the team would be on Opening Day, but it’s where they are.
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