A month ago, the Yankees trailed the Red Sox by eight games. Today, they are ahead of the Red Sox and hold a playoff spot for the first time in nearly three months.
1. The sun is shining a little brighter today after the Yankees swept the Red Sox in a doubleheader on Tuesday to hold a playoff spot for the first time since the end of May. The Yankees’ two wins moved them past the Red Sox for the second wild card and when the A’s lost on Tuesday night, the Yankees moved past them for the first wild card.
How did the Yankees get here? By winning, of course, and winning at a ridiculous rate. Here are the Yankees’ records since specific July checkpoints:
Since the second game of the doubleheader against the Mets on July 4: 27-11
Since the All-Star break: 22-9
Since losing three of four to the Red Sox from July 22-25: 17-5
Since the trade deadline: 15-4
The Yankees began the second half of the season needing to play nearly .700 baseball for the remaining 73 games and go 50-23, and so far they have been even better than that wishful thinking, playing .710 baseball.
2. Be happy today. Be very happy. But don’t be content. The goal is to win the World Series, not win a wild-card berth. And the best path to winning the World Series is to advance to the ALDS by avoiding a one-game playoff, in which anything could go wrong. That means overcoming the five-game deficit to the Rays with 43 games left.
3. Back on July 14, coming out of the All-Star break, I wrote Yankees Thoughts: Path to Postseason Isn’t Pretty. In that I had this path to the postseason with the Yankees needing to win 50 of 73 games:
Red Sox: 10-4
White Sox: 2-1
Blue Jays: 4-3
The current path is now:
Red Sox: 2-2
Blue Jays: 4-3
4. The last few times I have updated the path to 96 wins, I have written, “Again, not crazy. Also, not likely.” Now it’s actually likely. That right there is a 28-14 record, the equivalent of winning two of every three games for the next six weeks. The Yankees have been doing so while not close to full strength. They just got Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery and Gary Sanchez back. Anthony Rizzo is close to returning, Gio Urshela is beginning baseball activities, Gleyber Torres is working out, Aroldis Chapman is throwing and Corey Kluber is pitching in rehab games.
5. I know whenever the Yankees get one player back, another goes down, but if everyone were to be healthy at the same time, this could be the lineup in the very near future:
DJ LeMahieu, 2B
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Aaron Judge, RF
Joey Gallo, CF
Giancarlo Stanton, LF
Luke Voit, DH
Gary Sanchez, C
Gleyber Torres, SS
Gio Urshela, 3B
That’s the best possible Yankees lineup. No Brett Gardner. No Tyler Wade. No Rougned Odor. No Kyle Higashioka. Those four can make up the bench. But some version of those nine names should be the starting lineup.
6. Voit had a big day against the Red Sox with what ended up being the game-winning hit in both games: a two-run single in the day game and a solo home run in the night game. Voit has been much better of late with three home runs, nine RBIs and an .804 OPS since returning on 10 days ago. After the sweep, Voit spoke about his status and potential playing time, and it was a little odd.
“I was Top 10 in MVP and I’ve been a great player for this organization for the last three years,” Voit said after the night game. “I’m not going down. I wanna play. Obviously, I know it’s going to be tough here with Rizzo, but I deserve to play just as much as he does. I led the league in home runs last year and I feel really good again. Obviously, the injury bug is the reason he’s here beause of me, but I hope Booney can do whatever he can to get me consistent at-bats.”
I’m glad Voit acknowledges Rizzo is a Yankee because of his own doing. Voit’s inability to stay healthy (he’s played in 39 games this season) is the reason Rizzo is here. The Yankees had to go out and get a first baseman because they didn’t have one because Voit can’t stay healthy. And even when Voit was “healthy” he wasn’t performing. Now the Yankees have Voit and Rizzo and they both can only play first base.
Rizzo has had the better career, is better at getting on base, is a left-handed hitter who hits both righties and lefties and plays a Gold Glove first. There’s nothing Voit does better than Rizzo, and he should never play over him. But thanks to the designated hitter spot, they can both play. That will just mean the Yankees playing Stanton in the outfield more often, a move that should have been happening frequently all along the last two years.
7. With Cole and Montgomery back and Kluber nearing a return, the Yankees will go from having a rotation featuring Andrew Heaney and an opener day to having seven capable starters for five spots. I fully expecet the Yankees to do the wrong thing and insert Scumbag German back into the rotation, put Nestor Cortes in the bullpen and send Luis Gil down. The Yankees don’t care about fielding the best possible team, they care about roster depth. It’s why Greg Allen is in Triple-A and Jonathan Davis is striking out and grounding out to short in every plate appearances. It’s why Nick Nelson is on the major league roster and Stephen Ridings is back in the minors.
Gil became the first pitcher in the Modern Era (since 1900) to strikeout 18 without allowing an earned run in his first three career starts, and I fully expect the Yankees to send him down once there are five other starting options not named Andrew Heaney.
Even after Gil dominated the Orioles and Royals, the idea he “isn’t ready” and needs more seasoning and grooming in the minors was prevalent. Well, he just pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Red Sox, a team that has crushed Cole in two of his three starts against them. What more could Gil need to do to prove he belongs?
8. I have written and said a lot of critical things about Aaron Boone over the last three years and nearly five months. They have all been fair. He’s a terrible manager who was undeserving of the position and has been a disaster in the role. But for all the negative things I have said about Boone (again, all accurate and fair), he had his best-managed game of his career in the first game of the doubleheader, outmanaging Alex Cora for the first time ever.
The starting lineup was poorly constructed, but Boone will never get that right. I’m only speaking to his in-game mnagement. He removed Montgomery at the right moment, one out shy of five innings pitched. He correctly went to Albert Abreu to get the last out of the fifth, and was right to go to Jonathan Loaisiga for both the sixth and seventh innings of the seven-inning game. In addition to his successful bullpen management, he used Staton to pinch hit for Odor (Stanton produced an RBI single) and then used Davis as the center fielder, moved Wade from left field to third and Gardner from center field to left field.
For the final inning of the night game, Boone moved every position player except for Higashioka to get the most optimal defensive alignment. It was a crazy idea considering the Yankees trailed by two runs and a walk or bloop and a blast and they would have had to score more runs without some big bats, but it worked out. Boone pushed the right buttons on Tuesday, something he rarely ever does.
9. Boone will never be a great in-game manager. He has been in the managerial role for 524 games and I have seen too much (or too little) to expect him to change suddenly change his ways. The lineup will always be an issue (like batting Gardner second) and the batter-to-batter, stealing-outs strategy will always be a problem. But if Boone is even a little better at his job over the next six weeks and for as long as he’s Yankees manager (which will hopefully only be until their last game in 2021), it will make things so much easier.
Boone is the Yankees’ biggest obstacle to winning a championship. The offense can’t always outhit his mistakes, like it has had to do for going on four seasons. On Tuesday, when the offense only produced five runs in the first game and two runs in the second, normally that wouldn’t be enough to overcome their own manager. However, when he makes the right, most logical decisions, good things happen like they did in the doubleheader, and the Yankees won both games.
10. I’m happy today. Happy, but not content, This team was expected to represent the AL in the World Series, now celebrate a trip to the one-game playoff for the third time in the last four years in which there was a wild-card game (and fourth in time in last six years there was one).
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Boone said after the night game. “We’ve gotta continue it. We’ve gotta keep the foot down on the gas and continue to grind away. It’s going to be a tough road ahead still.”
I’m happy the Yankees aren’t prematurely talking trash, the way Judge loves to do and like he did after the Game 2 in the 2018 ALDS and like he did earlier this season in Houston. Like Boone said, the Yankees have a long way to go, and given their remaining schedule and the Rays’, it’s not going to be easy.
There’s so much work left to do. Winning the division has been and still is the goal. It was a nearly impossibly goal a month ago. Now it’s very possible.
Subscribe to the Keefe To The City Podcast. New episode after every game during the season.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!