The Yankees have clinched the division and are putting the finishing touches on a remarkable regular season, one that saw them overcome a myriad of injuries to key players to put up more than 100 wins. Yet,t he entitled fan in me can’t help but ask, “What about the postseason?” Sure, the Yankees are a great team. But the teams they’ll be meeting in the playoffs are all scary, and anything can happen in a short series. There are no shortages of pitfalls that might jeopardize the Yankees’path to their 28th World Series title. Here are three of the most pressing ones.
What if the super bullpen can’t hold up?
All season long, I’ve expressed my concerns about the Yankees’rotation. I will admit that the ostensibly successful comeback of Luis Severino goes a long way towards alleviating such worries. A Sevy-Paxton-Tanaka top three, especially with Tanaka in his usual playoff form, would be one of the best among this year’s postseason contenders.
What worries me isn’t the front three spots of the playoff rotation - it’s the fourth. Currently, the Yankees are presumably going with either a full-on bullpen day or J.A. Happ for one time through the order as their fourth starter. I’m not saying that both plans are doomed to fail, I’m just worried about the fact that both are heavily reliant on three things: a lot of pitchers not having bad days, the bullpen not having to be taxed in the previous three games, and Aaron Boone pushing all the right buttons at all the right times. It just seems like a lot has to go in the Yankees’ favor for them to come out of a Game 4 smiling.
Will the Yankees’ infield defense prove costly?
The Yankees are excellent in many ways, but defense isn’t one of them. Their collective Def rating of -12.4 is good for just 22nd in MLB per FanGraphs, with only the Twins below them among playoff-bound teams. Individually, some Yankees have had great defensive years - Aaron Judge, and Didi Gregorius come to mind. However, taken as a whole, the Yankees come out to be a fairly unimpressive defensive unit.
Particularly worrying is the infield, where the Yankees hope that Gregorius’s contributions can offset any losses from Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, and Luke Voit all of whom have rated below average this year by both UZR and DRS. In the postseason, the importance of a single out becomes that much more magnified. If the Yankees can’t win games because of their defense, they would at least be wise to insure that they don’t lose games due to it.
Will the Yankees’ approach at the plate crumble against great pitchers?
The Yankees’ recent offensive performance against the Tampa Bay Rays has left a bad taste in many a Yankee fan’s mouth. To be fair, it isn’t exactly easy to have good at-bats against Charlie Morton when all of his secondaries have wipeout movement and he’s locating his heater on the black. Sometimes you have to face a great pitcher on top of his game, and you can’t do anything against him.
Then again, beating great pitchers is precisely what the Yankees’ offense needs to do multiple times in the next month to have a fighting chance for ring #28. In order to do that, the Bombers have to practice selective aggression perfectly; that is, they have to be ready to put good swings on hittable pitches at all times, while refraining from expanding the zone, or becoming trigger happy and thus falling prey to pitches that look good at first and end up in the opposite batter’s box.
The Yankees are better at doing that than you might think; their team O-Swing rate of 30.6% is 10th-best in the majors,while their Z-Swing of 68.9% is 14th. However, those traits were clearly not present when they faced Morton, and they failed to produce a hit until the sixth inning. It’s easier said than done, but the Yankees have to keep their cool and stick to what they’ve been doing all season, even when they’re up against great pitchers having great games.
It is human nature to worry, and doubly so if your favorite baseball team is advancing to the postseason. Though I’ve cast some doom and gloom about the Yankees’ chances, the truth is that they have a good a chance as any team still standing to win it all. They have weaknesses, but so does every team. While I do think the concerns I listed above are legitimate, they shouldn’t keep anyone from feeling confident about the Yankees’ chances. At this late stage in the season, all that’s left for us to do is to root for our team and hope for the best.