It kind of stinks that General George Armstrong Custer is best known for his infamous "Last Stand", where he and his entire regiment were massacred by a coalition of Plains Indian tribes at Little Bighorn in Montana in 1876. He's honestly a lot more awesome than that. The whole legend of the cavalry coming to save victory from the jaws of defeat right at the nick of time probably comes from General Custer and his cavalry cutting off Confederate reinforcements from wiping out the Union artillery on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg about 13 years prior significantly aiding the Union in its eventual victory in that famous battle.
This isn't a history lesson, I promise- just a heavy handed metaphor that sort of alludes to the situation our Yankees find themselves in after another series loss to the Boston Red Sox. Since the July 31st trade deadline, the team is 10-10 and has slipped from first place in the AL East to barely clinging onto a Wild Card spot in just three short weeks. Injuries and slumps on both sides of the ball have really crushed the team this August. Greg Bird, Luis Cessa, Starlin Castro, Garrett Cooper, Clint Frazier, Matt Holliday, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka are all on the Disabled List. Aroldis Chapman and the $86 million still owed to him have been bumped from the closer role, and was seen pitching as early the 6th inning for the first time in almost 7 years against the Boston Red Sox the day after that official announcement. Aaron Judge is in the midst of a well-publicized meteoric crash back to earth after his historic start to the season, and the starting rotation continues to be in a state of flux, even with the addition of Sonny Gray. If the Yankees want to continue to compete for a postseason spot in 2017, they're going to need some help. Luckily a few of the names on that lengthy Disabled List look like they could be penciled back into the team's starting lineup or rotation in the near future. Will the return of some of these walking wounded stabilize the team for a late run at the division title, or has the team buried itself with its own mediocrity already?
Let's get this one out of the way first- it is, after all, somewhat of the elephant in the room. Greg Bird has played 10 rehab games thus far with Triple-A Scranton and has slashed .257/.396/.484 in those rehab appearances. Bird could be ready to join the team when they return home at the end of next week for a three game series against the Mariners. What, though, can we expect from Bird after injuries limited him to a .100/.250/.200 showing in the first 20 games of the season? We should remember that Bird hasn't been a productive Major League hitter in almost exactly two years- and that was two major surgeries ago. With over 200 games missed in the past two years due to injury and the games played having been subpar to say the least, its hard to expect Greg Bird to have a tangible impact for the rest of 2017. As much as I like the guy, he's been disappointing enough that I don't know if I'd even put him in the lineup over Todd Frazier at this point (and I'm no Todd Frazier fan).
Speaking of disappointments, Masahiro Tanaka is slated to make a start against the Tigers on Tuesday (8/22). Tanaka has been having a pretty miserable year posting a 4.92 ERA in 133.2 Innings over 23 starts. Tanaka's DL-stint is due to shoulder inflammation, not the partially torn UCL that has had Yankee fans on edge since only a few weeks into Tanaka's MLB debut in 2014, so luckily this isn't an ongoing issue as of yet. Tanaka has indeed shown flashes of brilliance this season, and in his career has of course been one of the top starting pitchers in baseball when healthy. It makes sense to be optimistic about Tanaka coming off the DL because of his track record (career 3.51 ERA in 623.2 IP) and because he'll be coming off rest and has had some time to get his head straight. When Tanaka comes back, the Yankees would be best suited to bump Jaime Garcia (6.32 ERA, 15.2 IP, 3 GS) from the starting rotation and going with a rotation of Severino-Gray-Tanaka-Sabathia-Montgomery.
Starlin Castro is the third notable name coming off the DL for the Yankees. Before I talk about him, I want to recognize the admirable job that Ronald Torreyes has done in Castro's absence. Torreyes is such a great personality and even though his offensive production doesn't standout much (76 OPS+), his defense and versatility have served the Yankees really well while Castro has been sidelined. Castro in 2017 has been hampered by hamstring issues all year, but in the 79 games he's played, he's put up some of the best offensive numbers of his career. Starlin sports a .307/.344/.472 (110 OPS+) slash line on the year which earned him his first All-Star nod as Yankee. As long as the hamstring is healed up, Castro will be a huge offensive upgrade over Torreyes without a doubt and if he keeps up his 2017 performance to date, it could be a huge shot in the arm for a lackluster Yankees offense.
As for the rest of the current Yankee Disabled List, Matt Holliday seems to be the only other player that has a chance of making any kind of impact, however, his relatively poor performance this season (.229/.319/.430) despite a strong start, and the fact that he's currently 0 for 10 in his Single-A rehab assignment doesn't give me a lot of hope. Michael Pineda has probably thrown his last pitch as a Yankee since he's out until the middle or end of next season recovering from Tommy John Surgery. Cessa and Cooper are fringe 25-man roster players, and the Yankees are probably best playing it safe with top prospect Clint Frazier's oblique injury. Otherwise, even though Bird is somewhat of a wild card, the return of Masahiro Tanaka and Starlin Castro from the DL signal that the cavalry is coming for the Yankees, and it looks like that cavalry could be what the Yankees need to make a push through the lines of the AL Playoff Race.