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These Yankees have turned it on at the right time

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Despite poor overall play this season, three Yankees players have contributed in a big way to the stretch run.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

From virtually every viewpoint other than starting pitching, this has been a disappointing season for the New York Yankees. Chief among these disappointments is the lack of production from pretty much any hitter not named Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. For me, perhaps the second most disappointing storyline from this season is the implosion of Aroldis Chapman, which seemed to come out of nowhere after a historic start and threw the bullpen into chaos for a long stretch in the middle of the season.

Despite this, the Yankees find themselves right in the middle of the Wild Card race because of some lengthy streaks that have come at the perfect time. As the 13-game winning streak (followed, of course, by a 7-15 stretch leading into the series against the Texas Rangers) has shown, this team is much better than they’ve demonstrated throughout this season, both on an individual and collective basis.

For a team fighting for the right to play in (or potentially host) a sudden death, winner-takes-all Wild Card game despite an overwhelmingly disappointing season, these three players could not have timed their late-season hot streaks any better.

Gleyber Torres

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Gleyber Torres has been the most disappointing Yankee by far this season. Even though he has been hampered by injuries and COVID, his peripherals have been so bad that it’s impossible to give him a pass on anything. At times, it has honestly looked like he has a case of the dreaded yips.

But he might be showing signs that he’s ready to turn a corner. In 20 games since coming off the IL on September 3rd, Torres has slashed .300/.364/.429 with two home runs and seven runs batted in, all of which is good for a 118 wRC+. For the sake of comparison, in his 407 plate appearances from April until August, he slashed .253/.328/.351 with six home runs, 35 runs batted in, and a below-average 91 wRC+.

The numbers get even better lately. On September 13th, the Yankees mercifully moved Torres back to second base. Since that transition, he has slashed .350/.435/.475 with one home run, four runs batted in, and a 151 wRC+. This is a small sample size, of course, but this massive leap in production is happening at the exact right time for this team. His defense is still not good, but if he can produce these numbers (ideally with a little more pop) that becomes a little more excusable, considering how this team has struggled to consistently score runs.

Gio Urshela

Gio Urshela has been amongst the most disappointing Yankees players this season. After an incredibly productive first two years in New York that kind of came out of nowhere, Urshela almost went, as PSA’s own Peter Brody so eloquently put it, full pumpkin. Injuries have certainly hampered his progress, but there are a few alarming trends in his Statcast data that indicate this might be a regression back to his norms.

Despite the injuries and poor performance, however, Gio Urshela has been dynamite at the bottom of the order for the Yankees since the Subway Series. In his last 14 games, Urshela has slashed .286/.300/.429 with two home runs, five runs batted in, and a league-average 98 wRC+. Compare that with the disastrous showing in the first 10 games after returning from the IL, when slashed .121/.121/.152 with one extra base hit, ten strikeouts, no walks, and a -33 (yes, minus) wRC+, and it’s clear that he’s starting to round back into form — or at least a form that has value to this team. Though it’s clear that injuries have certainly contributed to his deflated numbers, a healthy Urshela for the stretch run could be a monumental difference maker for this team.

Aroldis Chapman

I hate using clichés in my writing (yes, I know this article is filled with them), but when a team is trying to pull off the kind of postseason run the Yankees currently find themselves in the midst of, all that matters is winning. And that’s exactly what Aroldis Chapman has helped the Yankees do lately.

Since coming off the IL on August 18th, Chapman has pitched to a 2.84 ERA, 3.48 FIP (2.97 xFIP), and has struck out 23 batters across 12.1 innings pitched, which is good for a 16.34 K/9. Hitters are slashing a meager .191/.304/.362 in that time, and he’s stranded 91.5 percent of the baserunners he has either inherited or allowed. Oh, he also hasn’t blown a save opportunity since the beginning of July.

Don’t get me wrong, Chapman’s run has not been pretty. In fact, I am never as nervous in my regular life as I am when Chapman enters in a one-run ballgame, and I have anxiety. But the results speak for themselves. Do I wish he could control his fastball a little bit more? Absolutely, for the sake of my well-being and the batters. Is his walk rate a little too high for my liking? Definitely. Does his propensity for giving up the long ball keep me up at night? Yup. But, at the end of the day, a win is a win, no matter how ugly it looks.

It’s going to take a lot more than three players to get the Yankees into the postseason, but the importance of Torres, Urshela, and Chapman stepping up when it matters the most simply cannot be overstated. On the offensive side, it’s nice to see a little relief coming from the bottom third of the order for Judge and Stanton, who have carried this team all season long. On the pitching side, it’s nice to be able to count on Chapman again, even if he makes us sweat a little too much. After all, with just seven games left to decide their postseason fate, this team needs all the help they can get.