The New York Yankees sit five games atop of the AL East standing in the loss column, with the Rays and Blue Jays fresh off a four-game series that ended in a split, and with another one on the horizon for next week in Tampa.
That lead doesn’t look like much in the grand scheme of things, it’s virtually the same as the St. Louis Cardinals have over this weekend’s adversary in the Milwaukee Brewers, and it looks rather small in comparison with what the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers have over their West rivals. That same type of lead was one the Yankees seemed in line for during the first half of the year, but here we are.
However, understanding the context that the Tampa Bay Rays entered a game against the Yankees not that long ago able to tie New York in the loss column with a couple of wins in the Bronx, most Yankee fans and the organization as a whole are probably relieved to at least be where they are right now, even if this is an ultimately very disappointing second half. So long as they don’t develop an allergy to winning streaks, this team is still the favorite to win the AL East with just a couple of weeks left to go.
The biggest priority beyond clinching the division, and subsequently the second seed that comes with a bye in the first round of the playoffs, is a very simple one. Get everyone healthy and ready for a big postseason run. On that note, the Yankees will be getting massive reinforcements in the coming days on all three phases of the game.
Luis Severino, Anthony Rizzo, and Harrison Bader should be back by next week’s end. All three of these players have faced significant challenges, and their contributions will be needed now more than ever. A big reason for this team’s recent struggles and overall sense of disappointment relates directly to these three players, and not in a way that knocks their performance or anything like that, but more so looking at the bigger picture.
The Yankees brought in Frankie Montas to be a staple of this rotation and take some pressure off an injured Luis Severino, among other things. The gamble in Montas was such that the front office felt comfortable in dealing Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals for an injured Harrison Bader, and a month and a half later, Montas has struggled massively, and Montgomery is pitching like the ace of the Cards.
This turn of events puts a lot more pressure on Luis Severino to come back and reestablish himself as that Game 2 starter for the playoffs because right now the only question regarding that possibility is if he’ll be healthy enough to do so by the start of the postseason. The man coming back in return for Jordan Montgomery also faces the pressure to form well right off the bat in Harrison Bader, not only to make up for losing an established member of the clubhouse but to turn the tide on a sea of deadline acquisitions that stumbled out of the gates.
Bader is a different profile of a hitter, and his value will come mainly from elite glovework in center field, such that will allow Aaron Boone to play Judge primarily in right-field, and keep him fresh for the playoffs, especially since no other outfielder is really making that decision difficult. Regardless of his profile, Bader will undoubtedly face immediate pressure to perform, and that’s not something everyone handles with ease, especially for the Yankees.
Lastly, if you want to get a sense of Anthony Rizzo’s importance to this lineup, especially with DJ LeMahieu’s recent struggles as he battles a foot issue, take a look at the following numbers as of Friday night:
- Yankees’ team wRC+; 114
- Yankees’ team wRC+ without Aaron Judge: 102
- Yankeees’ team wRC without Judge & Rizzo: 90
Beyond Judge, there is no denying that Rizzo has been the most reliable bat in this lineup, well ahead of anyone else, as shown by those numbers. Getting Severino, Rizzo, and Bader back in time for the playoffs will be crucial, now more than ever, if the Yankees are to make any sort of noise in October.
Quick shout out to Grant Washburn, who pointed me towards those eye-popping numbers of the Yankees’ lineup with the subtraction of Judge and Rizzo.