As the final week of the season winds down, it’s time to turn our attention to the most important time of the year: October. As the Yankees gear up to enter battle in the ALDS, it makes sense to take a good, hard look at the state of the team. An examination of the team’s strengths ahead of the playoffs will get us started.
The bludgeoning offense
The offense this season has been for the Yankees what the legionaries were to ancient Rome: relentless, merciless, willing to fight no matter the odds, and—most importantly—highly adaptive.
If everybody were healthy, the Yankees would be able to build a postseason roster with exactly one player with an OPS+ of less than 100 this season: Didi Gregorius. Even with the recent injuries to Mike Tauchman, Gary Sanchez, Edwin Encarnacion, and possibly Gio Urshela, however, the team still would be able to fill out a starting lineup with only two players with an OPS+ under 100. One of them, Austin Romine, has a second-half OPS of .886.
The Yankees lead the American League in runs scored and home runs, and are two points behind the league-leading Houston Astros in OPS+. They’ve done that with 16 different players receiving more than 100 plate appearances and 14 players with 10 or more home runs. Shockingly, Giancarlo Stanton is part of neither category. It will be on the backs of this deep lineup that the Yankees will be carried.
The sheer number of “out-getters”
Despite the recent return of Luis Severino and the hot streak of James Paxton, the best praise that anybody could give to the Yankees’ starting rotation would be, at best, “serviceable.” Masahiro Tanaka has been inconsistent this year, particularly in the second half, and J.A. Happ, although better recently, has not lived up to expectations. To continue with the ancient warfare analogies, if the lineup is the main battle line, the rotation would be that unit of fresh recruits and old men brought along to inflate the army’s numbers, but positioned in a spot where they wouldn’t get in the way.
What the Yankees lack in starting pitching, however, they make up for in sheer number of arms. At the back of the bullpen live the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse known as Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, and Adam Ottavino. In the front, the team has Chad Green and the quietly-strong Luis Cessa (2.61 ERA in the second half, including 0.93 ERA in the month of September). Happ and CC Sabathia will likely round out a deep bullpen that Aaron Boone has said will be used a bit nontraditionally.
Time will tell if these relievers—and this strategy—will make up for the lack of pitching depth.
A pair of aces
Despite the relative performance by the starting rotation this season, the Yankees do enter the playoffs with two aces. While they do not quite match up with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who may very well finish first and second in the Cy Young voting, Paxton and Severino have shown enough to give Yankees fans confidence every time they get the ball.
Ever since a clunker at the end of July in which he gave up seven runs in four innings against Boston, Paxton has won 10-straight starts. In this time, he has given up more than two runs only twice and has seen his ERA drop by a full point, from 4.72 to 3.73. Both a healthy knee and a dominant curveball have been at the core of this hot streak, one that Paxton looks to continue into October.
In an admittedly-small sample size, meanwhile, Severino has been lights out, striking out 13 in nine innings across two games, walking only four. His fastball has been better than ever, and at this point, the biggest concern he faces is not performance, but endurance. In his last start against Toronto, he only threw 80 pitches, and there’s not much time left for him to build up to be able to pitch deep into games. Even so, some Severino is better than no Severino.
The 2019 Yankees have been a veritable super-team for a reason, despite all the injuries and the lackluster rotation for much of the year. The strengths that carried them this far, plus one that has been born down the stretch, will be what carries this team throughout October, hopefully all the way to the Canyon of Heroes.