To date, the Yankees have had a wildly successful season. Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against Oakland, the team sits atop the American League East with a 38 - 27 record. It’s safe to say that this mark defied all reasonable expectations. Those are best case scenario numbers.
Give the team some credit, it’s not like the Yankees avoided adversity all together. The club began the season with Didi Gregorius on the shelf, and in about a month lost Greg Bird, Aroldis Chapman, and Jacoby Ellsbury. Those are fairly significant pieces! Combine this with the fact that Chase Headley hit like a pitcher in May and you have a team that probably shouldn’t be in first place. They are, though, and that’s a testament to how well the rest of the roster has performed.
The adversity, however, compounded as the Yankees took to the west coast. Over the last week, the team lost CC Sabathia to a hamstring injury and received news that Bird suffered a setback in his rehab. On Thursday night against Oakland, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks were both removed with injuries. Plus, Joe Girardi indicated after the game that Adam Warren was unavailable due to a trapezius issue. While only Warren has yet to land on the disabled list, that could change in an instant.
What makes this recent rash of injuries particularly frustrating is that it involves three of the Yankees’ top players. Sabathia owned a 1.40 ERA in the four starts prior to suffering his hamstring strain. Hicks appeared to finally live up to his former top prospect hype, while Sanchez seemed to have rediscovered his power stroke. “Obviously it’s not a good time for him to miss any time,” said Girardi of Sanchez. “So hopefully it’s not much.”
How the Yankees react to the stress placed on the roster will speak to what direction the team takes. Contenders ready for a legitimate playoff run typically have enough depth to withstand a small injury outbreak. Right now the club is opting for marginal replacements such as Luis Cessa and Mason Williams. If the regulars aren’t expected to miss much time, and the stopgaps do their job, this might be all the turnover the roster sees.
If the replacements struggle, however, decisions must me made. On the one hand, Brian Cashman and company could play their impressive collection of prospects. Or perhaps the team will ante up at the trade deadline and acquire veteran help. A number of avenues exist for the Yankees to call in the cavalry. Of course this presupposes the team remains in contention and management expects a push to the postseason. That’s no guarantee, either.
The good news is that the club can look forward to a rather soft schedule. Their next 11 games come against the Athletics, Angels, Rangers, and White Sox. Those teams have largely disappointed this season, so it’s possible that the Yankees will use this stretch as an evaluation period. They could really buy some time here, but not too much.
Baseball has a way of throwing the best laid plans right out the window. They have surprised many by exceeding all expectations to date. Now they face their biggest test yet. The injuries have piled up and decisions must be made. While it’s foolhardy to describe one stretch of time as a pivotal moment in the season, this one is fairly significant. How the Yankees react to this will give us insight into how the rest of the year will play out.