Today, the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers play a doubleheader. Two games, 18 innings of baseball — perhaps more, if one (or maybe even both) go into extra innings. Back in June or July, this day would have been circled on my calendar as soon as the doubleheader was announced; there’s nothing better in the middle of the summer than a day filled with Yankees baseball.
Yet now, on October 4th, this day fills me with worry. We’re in the final days of the regular season, the playoffs start this weekend, and neither game means much of anything to anyone. The Yankees have clinched both the AL East and the No. 2 seed in the American League. The Texas Rangers went into action last night with 92 losses and have been eliminated from postseason contention since September 18th. I’d say that it would be impossible to find games that mean less than these Yankees/Rangers matchups, except in truth, nobody in the AL except for the Rays and Mariners (who are playing the Red Sox and Tigers, respectively) have anything to play for this week.
I should say that these games aren’t 100-percent meaningless. Aaron Judge is still trying to break Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, and Gerrit Cole is primed to break Ron Guidry’s single-season strikeout mark. Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu are trying to find their stroke at the plate, and Miguel Castro has joined the battle for the Yankees postseason bullpen. For everybody else, however, the best thing that they can do is stay healthy — and a doubleheader makes that goal just a little bit harder.
On a day like today, I just can’t help but get nostalgic for the days when rosters expanded to 40 on September 1st and teams kept over 30 players around. The final days of the regular season used to be known for some incredibly memorable lineups, although not always memorable in the way that its hitters would prefer. Take, for example, the lineup after Derek Jeter’s final home game back in 2014.
No Yankee fan who watched this game will forget it, and indeed, it rears its head on the Pinstripe Alley Twitter account as the measuring stick upon which every injury-trodden or post-hangover lineup is measured.
A late September/early October doubleheader like today would have been a wonderful opportunity for a lineup like this. Sure, LeMahieu and Stanton need at-bats to get their swings going, and there’s no way Judge is sitting until he hits No. 62, but beyond that? LeMahieu could spell Anthony Rizzo at first base during one game, and with Gleyber Torres under the weather, that would open up second base for Oswaldo Cabrera or Oswald Peraza.
Beyond them, Estevan Florial and Tim Locastro would be with the team’s expanded roster in Texas, allowing them to fill out the outfield alongside Judge to let Harrison Bader to sit. Ben Rortvedt could actually get a chance to prove that he’s a real player and not a fictional construct added to the March trade with the Twins to reassure fans that the team did in fact have enough catchers to get through the season. And even with all these players getting a chance to play two games, there are still more than enough at-bats for the players that need them.
Even more importantly, expanded rosters would put extra arms in the bullpen (Game 162 of 2011 is a good example of that). Doubleheaders can be hell for a pitching staff. Even if everything goes well and the two starters give the team six quality innings, the team still needs to get six innings from its relievers — the equivalent of the starter going just three innings on a normal day. And that’s assuming neither game goes into extras; even with the Manfred Moron, that adds additional strain. Having additional relievers out there — particularly one or two who could go multiple innings — would make things a lot less stressful for everybody involved.
Alas, times change and we’ll probably never go back to that era, especially because managers complained about uneven roster sizes across the board (there are other workarounds for the roster anyway). So for those who remember those exhibition-esque games, we’ll just have the box scores and scattered memories to look back upon and smile.