The regular season has come to an end, but for the first time since 2012 this does not mean the end of the Yankee baseball schedule. At least one game remains, for Tuesday, where the Bronx Bombers take the field behind Masahiro Tanaka for the right to keep playing into the American League Divison Series and hopefully beyond.
Should the team progress deep into the postseason, chances are the Yankees would have received valued production out of their biggest stars; players such as Tanaka and rotation-mate Michael Pineda, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez spearhead the lineup, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller form a superstar bullpen duo closing out games. Luis Severino and Greg Bird may be midseason callups but they are already both core to Yankee success. For the team to flip its recent poor form and win multiple October series though, it'll need help beyond the top names on the squad. Oftentimes a championship team might get that vital, clutch contribution from a player lower down the 25-man postseason depth chart. Here are some Yankees who might end up having key moments that turn a game, or even a series, this October.
The Yankee bullpen has been a strength all year, and remains a key component of any hope for a deep postseason run. Outside the top-three of Betances, Miller and Justin Wilson though, there isn't much by way of credible depth. Chasen Shreve's impressive first half helped the Yankees win games earlier this season, but he's fallen off so significantly now he might not even be a lock to make the postseason roster. None of the Triple-A taxi squad has filled in to own the fourth relief option job vacated by Shreve, and so the Yankees have a hole in middle relief. Enter Adam Warren.
Warren has swung between the rotation and the bullpen this year, but is likely to start the postseason in relief. Unsurprisingly, he's performed better when asked to provide shorter outings, posting an impressive 2.29 ERA (2.71 FIP) and 0.6 WAR in 35.1 relief innings spread over 25 games. Still reasonably stretched out with his most recent start on Septermber 26th, and a three inning relief performance on Thursday against Boston, Warren could serve for multiple innings in a postseason appearance. Be it a starter knocked out early in a still winnable game, or an extra-inning duel, there will certainly be outings that call for length from the bullpen, likely multiple such games. With a suddenly shaky back-end of the pen, Warren stepping in to absorb innings could be the difference in at least one October win.
Again a potential answer to the lack of pitching depth, but Nathan Eovaldi is a bit more of a wild card here. For starters, he won't be playing in the wild card game at all, and he won't return this year as a starter. Eovaldi's pitched out of the rotation for virtually his entire big league career, but having only just thrown his first bullpen session since being shut down with elbow soreness, he can only return as a reliever from this point, even here he might not have multiple inning appearances in him right away. Joe Girardi hasn't confirmed that Eovaldi would even make the ALDS roster should the Yankees advance, but he has a chance to do so, and the Yankees will have him face live hitters early next week so they are at least trying to get him back rather than shut him down until spring training. Should Eovaldi be available, though, his power fastball and developing secondary arsenal, effective in the rotation, could be harnessed to deadly effect in shorter outings. Even in October settings the team may not be able to give every bullpen inning to one of its top-four relievers. Right away Eovaldi might slot in as the fifth man, and if he shows Girardi that he's returned with effectiveness Eovaldi might move up the pecking order quickly. Not as safe a bet as Warren to start this October, but potentially higher upside.
Rob Refsnyder & Dustin Ackley
Second base has been a black hole in the lineup for most of the year, but the quasi-platoon of Ackley and Refsnyder has produced reasonably well over the last month. Small sample size of course, but both have been among the better hitters in the last thirty days. Four home runs for Dustin Ackley in 46 plate appearances has helped him to a 181 wRC+ and .437 wOBA. He isn't going to sustain a .405 ISO and a .714 slugging percentage for very long, but if he can carry some form into October he could well provide game-changing production at some point during the postseason. October isn't always about who is best, often it is about who is hottest.
Refsnyder is on a pretty strong run himself; 26 plate appearances in the last month as the rookie is actually getting some sustained playing time. He's performed to the tune of a 166 wRC+ and .414 wOBA, and looks set to earn a spot on the postseason roster, perhaps continued playing time in a platoon with Ackley. Refsnyder played both halves of yesterday's double-header, including starting against a right-hander. Might be a leap from there to see him face a RHP in the postseason, but if he keeps hitting well, it'll give Girardi yet more flexibility with being able to move Ackley around to back-up first base or the outfield if ever needed for situational reasons during a game.
Neither Refsnyder nor Ackley would be counted on to carry the lineup, or to remain anywhere near this hot for a full season next year, but any lineup position could be the one to come up in a critical situation late in a game with runners on and a big hit needed. If second base is the position to come to bat there, it will be a chance for either Ackley or Refsnyder to earn an honorary mention in Yankee postseason annals.
Chris Young has had an up-and-down season for the Yankees, but more up than down for the journeyman as he ends the year with a 107 wRC+ (159 wRC+ against left-handers) and 1.1 WAR added. Useful for a fourth outfielder, and certainly Young will be a part of the postseason roster. He might even make a start at some point if Joe Girardi decides to play him over Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury against a particularly tough lefty, in any case there will be pinch-hit appearances available for the right-handed outfielder. As with Refsnyder and Ackley, Young isn't one of the key figures in the Yankee lineup, but any postseason at-bat could be a huge one. The last time the Yankees were in the postseason Raul Ibanez threatened to write himself into Yankee folklore, could it be Chris Young launching the extraordinarily clutch home runs this time around? He will have opportunities to do so.
The Yankees aren't going into this postseason as favourites, but the Royals and Giants did not enter the 2014 wild card round carrying much expectation of deep runs either. Baseball, as ever, is an unpredictable sport, so who is to say one of the players here won't turn into an October hero that carries the Bronx Bombers to success?