Baseball is a unique sport for a myriad of reasons. The defense has the ball, tons of outcomes can happen in just one at-bat in almost any order, the statistics are the most advanced, etc. But one thing it has in common with every other sport is its narratives. Over the 162-game season, players slump, break out, and so do teams. Records, good and bad, are broken. Questionable decisions are made, and so are smart ones. Narratives create all sorts of reactions, and there’s one specifically that Yankees fans have heard too many times to count: don’t panic. Look at the division lead!
The Yankees are playing some unbelievably awful baseball currently. Since the trade deadline, they’ve gone 2-11 and racked up plenty of injuries along the way. Luis Severino was placed on the 60-day IL, Giancarlo Stanton is taking longer to return from an Achilles injury than first anticipated, Matt Carpenter is out six-to-eight weeks, and just recently, DJ LeMahieu was reported to have a “toe/foot issue.” The pitching hasn’t been awful, but the offense is anemic, and the lineups look hilariously bad.
No offense to Miguel Andújar, but no championship-caliber team should have him batting fifth in the order, let alone even be on the roster. Of course, the injuries aren’t helping, but decisions like this and the lower half of the lineup full of struggling players (excluding Jose Trevino) lead to tallies in the loss column.
The division lead validates why the Yankees should take it slow with their injured players. Why rush players as integral as LeMahieu and Stanton back if there’s no threat to the division lead? Everyone would much prefer those two fully healthy by the time the postseason rolls around because they are part of what makes the lineup dangerous. It also helps that the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t been able to gain any traction and are losing games left and right (as Erin detailed earlier today).
I can’t fault Aaron Boone for taking advantage of this enormous division lead and using it to his advantage. However, considering the kinds of losses the Yankees are experiencing right now and the slump they’re in, there doesn’t appear to be a sense of urgency.
Gerrit Cole admitted that the team needs a spark (no Aaron, not Marwin González), and with reinforcements not coming off of injury anytime soon, it appears they’re going to need something else. Brian Cashman and Boone have stuck their heels in the sand on bringing up a young, electric player in Oswald Peraza or Oswaldo Cabrera to replace Isiah Kiner-Falefa at shortstop. And despite a game where IKF pretty much won it himself against the Red Sox, it is a bit puzzling why they won’t even attempt to bring one of them up. Reportedly, Estevan Florial is coming up, and we may finally see one of those infielders following him.
There’s also the decision to send Ron Marinaccio and Clarke Schmidt down to Triple-A despite being some of the most effective pitchers in the bullpen. My colleague John Griffin has written extensively about that subject at Pinstripe Alley, so I’ll refrain from impeding on his domain. But even bringing one back up and ridding the bullpen of someone who doesn’t produce (Albert Abreu) or doesn’t play play much (Lucas Luetge) could help change the vibes.
Complacency in professional sports is a problem, especially for a team with championship aspirations. The Yankees can enjoy their division lead while understanding that they need to win games. With a series against the Blue Jays coming up and the Rays currently happening, there’s no reason why the team should expect everything to go swimmingly if they keep losing. The division lead could undoubtedly disappear, and in the outcome that it doesn’t, creating bad habits suggests terrible things for the postseason.
This division lead talk reminds me of last year’s Chicago White Sox. The comparison is not exact, as they weren’t as incredible as the Yankees in the first half or as bad as they have been in the second half. Still, they built a considerable division lead in the AL Central with a 54-35 record (a .607 winning percentage), coasted the rest of the way with a long .500 stretch, and were uncompetitive in the playoffs against the Houston Astros. The Astros probably win that series anyway, but it’s not about the result. It’s about how the result came to be, and for the most part, the White Sox seemed to get too complacent with their play.
Every team goes through slumps, and there are two different ways to approach the “division lead” narrative. None of this is fun for anyone, including the players. But the lack of urgency and gradually recurring bad at-bats from players like Josh Donaldson, who started off the month of August on a pretty high note, does not appear to be giving Yankees fans any hope. Players will slowly return, but that’s no excuse for complacency. Everything can change on a dime, and the team needs to know that their process is good, but the results aren’t coming. As of now, the process is not good. Something has to change.