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The Yankees’ defense might cost them a deep playoff run

The Yankees’ offense and strikeout-heavy pitching can’t always paper over their defensive weaknesses.

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

One of the cruelest things about baseball is that it lets you dream. I dreamed of denying the Red Sox the pleasure of clinching the AL East at Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees did their darnedest to make that dream a reality, winning the first two games of the series. Game three began inauspiciously, with Masahiro Tanaka having his first rough start in a while, but when Giancarlo Stanton hit his go-ahead grand slam in the fourth, I honestly thought that the Yankees had the sweep in the bag.

Then the seventh inning happened, and the Red Sox took the lead on this play.

Granted, the Red Sox were going to have the lead as soon as Xander Bogaerts hit that fly ball, as it was too deep for Aaron Hicks, even with his cannon arm, to have a play at the plate. However, the second run was all on the Yankees. Hicks should have made his throw more carefully, as Andrew Benintendi, the runner on second base, had no intention of advancing to third. Some blame should be placed on Miguel Andujar, too, for egregiously misplaying an errant, but hardly uncatchable, throw.

With hindsight, one can say that the above play probably wasn’t the difference between a win and a loss. The Yankees failed to score after Stanton’s grand slam, while the Sox tacked on three more runs in the eighth inning off of Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees’ seventh-inning defensive miscues were still costly, however, as they turned a one-run gap to a two-run deficit with just nine outs remaining in the game.

One of the Yankees’ biggest weaknesses resides in their propensity for such defensive miscues. If you’ve watched some Yankee games this year, you probably remember a few. The numbers back this up, as FanGraphs’ error runs metric puts the Yankees at 2.5 runs below average, 11th-worst in baseball. Both the eye test and the numbers confirm that the Yankees leave something to be desired in terms of making fundamental defensive plays.

Now, this might be forgivable if the Yankees were skilled at turning non-outs into outs by making difficult plays. However, outside of some strong throwing arms in the outfield, as well as third base (Andujar) and catcher (Gary Sanchez), the Yankees have no redeeming fielding traits. They have merely average range (0.6 range runs, 15th in MLB), and they aren’t really adept at turning double plays (minus 5.6 double play runs, 27th in MLB). All in all, including positional adjustments, the Yankees’ overall Def rating stands at minus 9.6 runs, eighth-worst in the majors.

I bring up the last metric because it might be a big deal regarding the Yankees’ World Series chances. Since the year 2000, 18 teams have been crowned WS champs. Only four of those teams - 2000 Yankees, 2004 Red Sox, 2009 Yankees, 2017 Astros - had a negative Def rating.

It’s certainly possible to win a championship with a defensively challenged team, as long as the lineup can reliably out-slug opponents. As we’ve seen all too often with this year’s Yankees, however, there’s no guarantee that your lineups won’t have off days. Plus, even when the batters do their jobs, the other team might do the same, making for a tightly contested slugfest. If that happens, the pressure is on the defense to not make mistakes or give away outs. In that regard, this year’s defense doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence. Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.