The Yankees are fun again. They are fun because they’re winning and winning is fun. Since losing the first game of the doubleheader against the Mets on July 4, the Yankees are 33-11.
1. 50-23. That’s the improbable record the Yankees needed to post after the All-Star break to reach 96 wins (which would win me by preseason over 95.5 wins wager) and most likely win the AL East and avoid the one-game, wild-card game. The Yankees have gone 28-9 (.757) since the All-Star break, a ridiculous, silly run to not only pass both the A’s and Red Sox to take control of the first wild-card berth, but to make winning the division a reality.
The problem is it might take more than 96 wins now to win the division. While the Yankees have been stacking wins for the last six weeks, so have the Rays. The Rays have nearly matched the Yankees’ incredible pace by going 26-11 themselves, and for as dominant as the Yankees have been since July 16, they have only made up two games of ground on the Rays. Two games! With a 28-9 record!
2. The entire look, feel, culture and expectations for the team changed at the trade deadline when Brian Cashman admitted his egregious mistake of thinking a team without real, major-league-caliber left-handed bats could win by trading for Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. The additions of Wandy Peralta, Joely Rodriguez and Clay Holmes throughout the season have been helpful and needed, but they haven’t had the impact Gallo and Rizzo have had.
Even if Rizzo hasn’t hit much since his first few days with the team (.248/.346/.446), without him, the team gets swept by the Marlins in Miami and their season potentially goes into a tailspin at the end of July rather than this remarkable run. The hits Rizzo has had have all been impactful, and even without racking up hits, he’s still getting on base and playing Gold Glove-level defense, something the Yankees tried to live without from 2002-2008 and again from 2017-July 29, 2021.
The same goes for Gallo. The hits he has gotten have been meaningful, every one of his plate appearance seems to last at least six pitches and his outfield defense has been essentially impeccable. It’s scary the Yankees have gone 21-4 since acquiring the two and neither of them has played to their offensive ability. Scary.
3. The trade for Rizzo made Luke Voit seemingly expendable. Thankfully, it didn’t lead to him being traded away. Voit has been one of the best hitters in baseball since his most recent return from the injured list, batting .320/.393/.620 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 15 games (13 starts). Last week, Voit openly spoke about how he deserves to play as much as Rizzo does and then he went out and posted a 1.591 OPS for the week.
It doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be Rizzo or Voit. It should be Rizzo and Voit. Rizzo at first base and Voit as the designated hitter and an outfield of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gallo. No more Brett Gardner. Please, no more Gardner. He shouldn’t be on the team taking up a roster spot, let alone taking up an actual lineup spot and forcing any of those names to the bench. Play the best lineup and play it every day. There’s 36 games remaining. Enough games were given away this season due to unnecessary rest that once again didn’t prevent injury or underperformance. Do everything possible to win the division. Something this organization has done once since 2012.
4. I wrote and said a lot of critical things about Nestor Cortes in 2019, and they were all earned. Cortes was awful. He somehow managed to maintain a roster spot throughout the season with 5.67 ERA and 5.57 FIP, while serving as an opener and the first in relief of the opener. This was when the Yankees decided to use Chad Green as an opener for the majority of the season and then were shocked when he couldn’t get the Astros out every night in October.
The career turnaround Cortes has experienced this season is remarkable. He went from getting unprotected by the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft in 2017 to getting returned to the Yankees by the Orioles in 2018 to getting traded to the Mariners for 2020 to re-signing with the Yankees for 2021. Before this season, over 79 career innings, Cortes had a 6.72 ERA, 6.69 FIP and had allowed 139 baserunners. He was a fringe major leaguer at best and really just an organizational depth arm. Now he’s being compared to El Duque.
Two years ago, it was painful to watch Cortes, now it’s enjoyable. His starts are entertaining, full of creativity and surprise with his various arm angles, deliveries and pitches. Most importantly, he’s been successful. I never thought I would be OK with Cortes starting a postseason game for the Yankees, but here I am being OK if Cortes were to start a postseason game for the Yankees.
5. For Cortes to start a postseason game, the Yankees need to get to the postseason. Not just get there, but to get to an actual series. That means either winning the division and avoiding the wild-card game or winning the wild-card game. That means the back end of the bullpen needs to be optimized in a way that the bullpen isn’t managed solely on who’s owed the most money.
Disregarding recent performance and ability this season (as well as not being able to use simple logic in determining who should get high-leverage outs) is why the Yankees are still chasing the Rays and not the other way around. Zack Britton is now injured and potentially done for the season, but before he went on the injured list, it took Britton going to Aaron Boone and telling him he shouldn’t be used in high-leverage situations for the time being. It’s supposed to be the manager’s job to recognize who he should or shouldn’t use to get outs at the most crucial time. Yet, it’s another thing Boone simply hasn’t been able to grasp as manager. (I’m waiting to find something he has been able to grasp as manager other than his use of the word “obviously.”)
6. The same is now true of Aroldis Chapman. It’s been true of Chapman since mid-June when he started pitching like the left-handed Nick Nelson. Chapman has walked 31 and given up seven home runs in just 42 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is a miserable 2.29, the lowest it’s been since it was 1.73 a decade ago when he was a 23-year-old breaking into the majors.
As I talked about on the podcast after his latest meltdown in Atlanta, he can’t be trusted. Not now, not in September and certainly not in October. Chapman has already ushered in the offseason for the Yankees the last two years with the home runs he allowed to Jose Altuve and Mike Brosseau, and if given the chance this October, he will likely send the Yankees home prematurely again. Chapman doesn’t deserve to be the “closer” until he proves he can be trusted (if he ever can).
7. The Yankees shouldn’t even have a closer. That role should have been retired once Number 42 retired. It’s an unnecessary job and term, and the save stat is rather ridiculous, and it’s a disaster that salaries, contracts and arbitration are based on a meaningless stat. How is protecting a three-run lead to start the ninth inning against a team’s 7-8-9 hitters more important than getting the heart of the order out when the lead was only one run the inning before?
The Yankees should finally move on from having a set closer and set innings. Let the matchup determine who gets the ball, not the inning.
8. Right now, I trust Jonathan Loaisiga the most in the bullpen. (See how much things have changed from a year ago.) Here is my current Bullpen Level of Trust (scale 1-10):
Jonathan Loaisiga: 8.2
Chad Green: 7.9
Clay Holmes: 6.9
Joely Rodriguez: 6.2
Wandy Peralta: 6.1
Lucas Luetge: 5.7
Albert Abreu: 5.4
Aroldis Chapman: 2.1
Loaisiga and Green are in their own tier. Then Holmes. Then Rodriguez and Peralta. Then Abreu and Luetge. I actually don’t have a problem with any of the relievers other than Chapman right now.
9. It’s not the bullpen the Yankees expected when they signed Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson, and thought those two would pair well with Britton and Chapman at the end of games. But it’s still a very good bullpen and one that’s good enough to win, as long as they aren’t walking in runs. Or as long as Boone doesn’t let a game get to the point in which any of them are walking in runs.
10. The Yankees don’t need to win every game in Oakland this weekend. They don’t even need to win the series. It would be great if they swept the A’s since the Rays are playing the Orioles and there’s a better chance of Boone logically filling out the lineup card for a single game than there is the Orioles taking a game from the Rays this weekend.
Winning two of the four games against the A’s is all the Yankees need to do. (They could actually only win one of the four and it wouldn’t be a big deal, they just can’t get swept.) It would keep them five games ahead of the A’s, most likely keep them ahead of the Red Sox and it would take four games off the schedule with them not losing much, if any, ground. It would likely set them back to a game or two to the Rays, but that’s OK. The ground was never going to be made up while the Rays were playing the Orioles. If the ground is going to be made up, it’s going to come when the Rays play the Red Sox (7), Tigers (7), Blue Jays (6), Astros (3) and Yankees (3) in the final three games of the season. The Yankees need to get the division deficit to one game before that final weekend, so that a series win ties them with the Rays for the AL East, forcing a one-game playoff the day after Game 162 for the division with the loser going to the wild-card game.
That’s the goal: get the division deficit to one game by Game 160. The Yankees have 33 games to get the division deficit to one game. It won’t be easy, but a big weekend in Oakland would make it a little easier.
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