As the regular season begins to wind down, we’re going to be inundated with narratives from across the league. Storylines like the AL MVP battle, the absolutely bonkers AL Wild Card race, the equally wild race in the NL East, and a host of other narratives are about to take over the media landscape in a big way.
Some of these storylines, like the AL Wild Card race and MVP discussions, will affect the Yankees, and some won’t. But this is a Yankees blog, so I thought, rather than looking at storylines across the league that we won’t stop hearing about, we could touch on some of the biggest Yankees-specific storylines over the final 17 games of the season.
Who will return from injury in time for the playoffs? And will they be effective?
As of writing this (Friday evening), these players are all currently on the injured list with varying chances of coming back this season: Matt Carpenter, Harrison Bader, Anthony Rizzo, Scott Effross, Andrew Benintendi, Zack Britton, DJ LeMahieu, Luis Severino, Miguel Castro, and Albert Abreu. In addition to this list, Aroldis Chapman was just reinstated from the IL after his botched tattoo debacle.
That is a lot of key players who have been out for a long time, coming back to a team with World Series aspirations. As we see every year, it takes most players a little while to get up to game speed when returning from injury. For guys like Bader, Severino, Castro, and Carpenter, who all haven’t played in a couple months, or guys like Rizzo and LeMahieu who have been dealing with lengthy, nagging injuries for a while now, how much can this team realistically count on them, should they return before season’s end?
What will the roster look like in a few weeks?
Beyond just the question of whether they’ll be up to game speed in time to contribute in a meaningful way, some of these returns — in particular, the return of the pitchers — pose a logistical problem as well. You’d figure Greg Weissert would be the first one sent back to the minors and that Effross is pretty much certain to slot back into a major role in the ‘pen immediately, but is choosing Britton, who hasn’t pitched since last season, or Castro, who hasn’t pitched since before the All-Star break, over say, Ron Marinaccio or Clarke Schmidt, who have performed quite well this season, really the smart decision for this team? And, if you choose to add all five of these pitchers to your roster, who else beyond Marinaccio, Schmidt, and Weissert is going?
And that’s just the pitching side of things. It’s likely that Miguel Andújar and Estevan Florial will be off the active roster once rosters shrink back down to 26 at the end of the regular season. With the returns of Bader, Rizzo, LeMahieu, Carpenter and Benintendi all at least a possibility (though the actual status of the latter two is still unclear), who will they replace on the active roster? I imagine that Tim Locastro, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Oswald Peraza would be demoted, but if all five come back ready to contribute, who else would you leave off the roster? Aaron Hicks and Marwin González?
Who will crack the playoff rotation?
The first two pitchers for the Yankees playoff rotation are set to be Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes, obviously. Beyond that, though, there’s a bunch of question marks.
Frankie Montas, this season’s big trade deadline acquisition, has been anything but stellar for the Yankees so far. In seven games for New York, Montas has pitched to a 5.94 ERA and 4.51 FIP. Friday’s numbers aren’t included in this line as they haven’t been updated as of writing this, but he posted yet another ugly start in Milwaukee. I imagine that the Yankees will likely run him out there as the number three given what they had to give up to get him, but can he be trusted in a big playoff spot?
Beyond Montas, Jameson Taillon and Domingo Germán are the other two options. Taillon has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season — and he also pitched extraordinarily well in a huge game 162 last season — but he has been inconsistent on the whole. Germán has pitched well since returning from injury, but can he be trusted as more than an opener in the postseason?
And, finally, there’s the seemingly imminent return of Severino. Due to his injury, he likely won’t be stretched out enough to pitch too many high-pressure innings, so does that mean he projects to max out as an opener, or would he be more effective as a fireman reliever?
What can we expect from the big-time relievers?
Aside from trying to sort out which relievers will still even be on the active roster, what can we expect from the guys that are virtual locks to be used in big moments down the stretch?
Aroldis Chapman went through a very bad stretch, but looked like he was potentially coming back around prior to hitting the IL for probably the dumbest reason I have ever seen. Similarly, Jonathan Loáisiga had a rough start to the year but has rounded back into form in the second half (he has a 1.69 ERA and 2.83 FIP since the All-Star break) and Clay Holmes, who seemingly lost his release point and the strike zone for a while there, looks to be coming back around. For the team, that’s great news — especially Loáisiga — but the inconsistency from most of their big relievers has to be cause for at least a little concern.
Which hitters are going to step up?
It’s no secret that Aaron Judge has been carrying this offense for around three months now. He’s become a god amongst men, and he is dragging this team on his back to a division title.
Beyond Judge, though, which hitters will step up? Giancarlo Stanton has looked like a shell of himself since returning from injury, Gleyber Torres has had a very rough second half (though he has turned it on recently), Father Time has apparently caught up to Josh Donaldson’s bat, and the bottom of the order has been fairly bleak.
Will Gleyber be able to continue his recent hot hitting for the rest of the season? Is Stanton about to go nuclear? Will Donaldson turn back the clock? We may not know the answer to those questions yet, but we do know this — someone needs to do it.
When will Judge break the record?
Come on, you knew I had to include the biggest storyline in baseball. A new record will be set, it’s just a matter of when. No additional words needed.