It’s only August 19th. In practically any other year, the headline of this article would sound defeatist, but this isn’t a typical baseball season. The Boston Red Sox boast an impressive .707 winning percentage, and remain on track to compile an historic win total. The Yankees, meanwhile, are banged up. Still, they’re on pace to win over 100 games and make the playoffs as a Wild Card entry.
Barring an unprecedented collapse, that’s precisely how the club will get to the postseason. The schedule favors the Bombers, with 26 of their remaining 38 games after today coming against teams with losing records. They also have three games apiece coming up against fellow Wild Card contenders Oakland and Seattle, while having already won the season series against Houston. New York will have every opportunity to ensure that the Wild Card Game on October 3rd takes place at Yankee Stadium.
If that game were held tomorrow, I would not be optimistic about the outcome favoring the Bombers. Too many important players are either sidelined entirely or are playing at less than 100%. That’s exactly why management needs to prioritize getting the players healthy, rather than pushing a must-win mentality every game.
There are signs that the front office is indeed taking that approach. When CC Sabathia recently revealed that he was experiencing discomfort in his knee, the Yankees immediately placed the veteran on the disabled list — rather than saying “we’ll take it day-to-day,” which can be code for “suck it up, we expect you back on the field ASAP.”
The organization also seems to be taking an ultra-cautious approach in handling the injuries of both Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. I don’t need to trumpet the importance of those two superstars to the team’s championship hopes. Suffice to say, the Yankees are a mere shell of themselves without Judge and Sanchez in the lineup.
Add to that Giancarlo Stanton’s injured hamstring, Greg Bird’s reported fatigue, and the fact that Gleyber Torres has been unable to get into a groove since returning from the DL, and we have a Yankees team that is playing well below full strength. That needs to change if the club hopes to have a successful October.
Luis Severino is another concern, having recently displayed the telltale signs of a tired arm. This isn’t surprising, considering he threw a career-high 209 1/3 innings last year. He only tossed 151 1/3 in 2016, more than half of which occurred in the minors. An increase of 58 innings is a lot.
I’m not a doctor, trainer, or pitching coach, but if there’s a benefit to having Severino skip a start or two to rest up, then that’s exactly what the Yankees should do. Perhaps shutting him down for a month, and subsequently ramping him up again with a few starts at the end of September, could be even more beneficial. I’m in favor of doing whatever it takes to protect the 24-year-old’s arm. I’d also rather have dominant Sevy pitching in October, instead of the middling version.
David Robertson is another important pitcher who reached a career high in innings pitched last year. We saw how this affected Aroldis Chapman last season after doing the same in 2016. The Yankees possess a relief corps with the talent to lock down games from the early innings on. These guys need to get regular rest for the remainder of the season to ensure that they are pitching optimally come October.
Tyler recently argued that the Yankees should take the opposite tact to what I’m advocating. He wrote that thinking the division as out of reach, and focusing on getting healthy and ready for the one-game playoff could lead them into a nightmare scenario where they face Justin Verlander in the Wild Card Game.
This isn’t 1978, when a good — but not great — Red Sox club sprinted out to a big division lead over the woefully underachieving defending champion Yankees. This year’s Beantown squad is a truly impressive team, showing no signs of collapse, while New York is currently bogged down with injuries.
If the Yankees go 29-10 down the stretch, while the Red Sox slump to .500, then Boston still wins the AL East. Neither of those dream scenarios is likely, let alone both. It makes much more sense for management to focus on getting the players healthy, rather than chasing a unicorn.
I believe the Yankees have the talent to beat any team in a one-game playoff or best-of series when they are healthy, rested, and firing on all cylinders. Yes, even Verlander and the Astros. As a sportsman, I’d love to see the Yankees overcome Verlander in the Wild Card Game. Beat the best, to be the best.
I’m certainly not going to anoint the Red Sox a “team of destiny” or any such nonsense. The 2018 season is far from over. The Yankees have the talent to capture the franchise’s 28th World Series title this fall.
Sun Tsu’s Art of War teaches us that the battle is won before it’s fought. The Yankees’ next big battle almost certainly begins on October 3rd. It behooves the organization’s brain trust to ensure that the team is ready.