After a season of incredible highs and lows, the Yankees can play their final two series of the season knowing that both the AL East division title and their critical first-round bye are secured. Over these seven games against Baltimore and Texas, Aaron Boone will certainly be scrutinizing the performances of some key players. Below are some of the most important questions that the team would ideally answer before the postseason kicks off.
Can Giancarlo Stanton figure himself out at bat?
Ever since his return from the IL, Stanton has frankly looked completely lost. The walk-off grand slam was sadly the exception rather than the rule. The prodigious slugger is taking strikes right down the middle and swinging through pitches he’s normally able to crush. The Yankees could really use another major power threat besides Aaron Judge, who is sure to be pitched around frequently (as has often been the case the past couple months). The resurgent Gleyber Torres and healthy Anthony Rizzo can help matters, but they don’t strike as much fear as Stanton at his best. Even some little signs of life would be big from him.
Is Zack Britton a viable bullpen option?
Britton returning from his Tommy John surgery in time to debut before the end of the season is a feel-good story, but if he looks as rusty as he has in his first couple games, it’s hard to see how he could be on a playoff roster. Britton had a huge issue with walks in his two appearances to date, with five over 0.2 innings. That absolutely can’t happen in the playoffs with the pressure on, so he’ll have to demonstrate big improvements, and quickly.
Do you trust Clay Holmes to close?
If it was the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, would you feel good with Holmes out there? I wouldn’t. While his performance would be a boon for those geniuses who put money on the likes of Ron Marinaccio being the playoff closer a year ago, more consistency and fewer baserunners allowed would make the bullpen less of a question mark for this team. Holmes has been just okay recently, with his last clunker being his blown save in Milwaukee on September 16. However, “okay” is far from dominant.
A closer by committee situation in the playoffs feels likely right now — and smarter, given the multiple options available in Jonathan Loáisiga, Lou Trivino, and Scott Effross (as Andrés argued on Wednesday). There are more bullpen issues at hand, like the potential returns of Wandy Peralta and to a lesser extent, Miguel Castro, and whether Aroldis Chapman can make the cut, but Holmes is arguably the most important question.
Is Oswaldo Cabrera a viable left fielder?
Seeing Aaron Hicks in a playoff starting lineup would make me tear my hair out — although it’s probably going to happen — and the only other player who could play left in his place is Cabrera. He showed tremendous ability in right, and he and the coaching staff have quickly been trying to get him used to left field too. If Cabrera keeps hitting well, even being just good enough in the field to avoid major mistakes should earn him the starting role out there.
Can DJ LeMahieu bring anything with the bat?
Despite all the ominous updates about DJ LeMahieu’s foot injury, he will rejoin the team just to see if there’s any chance of him successfully playing through it and helping the team with his bat. LeMahieu’s contact ability has been sorely missed for a while now, but it’s nigh-impossible to picture him being his usual self after struggling for so long. Still, if the injury has in fact improved and he can hit again, that changes the lineup immensely. Otherwise, LeMahieu’s role on the playoff roster is exclusively “backup infielder,” if there’s even a place for him at all.
Will Matt Carpenter come back?
Carpenter’s foot fracture is healing, and it’s possible that he’ll be activated for the final series against the Rangers (unlike Andrew Benintendi). But a four-game series is hardly enough time to get your swing back — unless his magic is even stronger than we thought. If he does return and play, signs of the Judge-like power he showed earlier in the season would have to quickly emerge to make him a candidate for the playoff roster.