Yankees fans have been waiting for this for a long, long time. One of the weirdest fun facts I read in the past week was that for the first time, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, and Greg Bird were in the same lineup on Saturday. That’s incredibly odd considering how much they’ve been talked about in the same breath, so it’s so satisfying to see that on a lineup card.
With a full and healthy team, it couldn’t come at a better time. As of today, the Yankees are three and a half games behind the Red Sox in the division, and they have an 86% chance of making the playoffs according to FanGraphs. The season could come down to a single wild card game, or a full series, if they can catch Bostom.
Luckily for the Yankees, they face those very same Red Sox in a four-game set at Yankee Stadium starting on Thursday. They also happen to be facing the Cleveland Indians right now, arguably the second-best team in the American League next to the Astros. In a way, facing teams this good can, and should, be treated like a playoff series.
For one, like I mentioned, this is your full team. There was some claim in the middle of the year when they stumbled that it was because they were missing Starlin Castro, or Aaron Hicks, or Bird, or CC Sabathia, but that time is over. This is the ideal team that Brian Cashman wants in a playoff series. Cashman has also made additions that make even that healthy team so much better, by adding Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, and Sonny Gray.
Secondly, this is the best chance for the Yankees to gain in the division and prove their playoff mettle. Every game against Boston is a two-game swing in the standings, and every game against the Indians could preview a playoff series; Cleveland is even sending out the three pitchers you’d likely see at some point in the series. The Yankees are also at home, and they’ve been so good at home, so winning these games against playoff contenders in your own house should establish some sense of confidence when that place is packed in October.
That’s really the biggest thing. Sure, the standings are the most important thing on paper. Winning all four games against Boston would catapult them to the top of standings, but most of all it would prove to the Yankees that when your full squad is assembled—in real life and not on paper—you can be better than the Red Sox mono a mono. Even against the Indians, that feeling of accomplishment (or disappointment) should feel relatively similar (even though they won’t).
This is arguably the most important week of Yankees baseball this year. In the end, this could be the denouement of the year, the week where the Yankees just couldn’t hold up against the best of the best in the American League. Conversely, they could succeed. They could take five or six of seven against these great teams, poised to lead the pack, in the face of a relatively easy September schedule.
You can’t predict baseball, and that’s what makes it incredibly exciting. This could be great or horrible or more likely somewhere in between, but as it dawns, I kind of feel all of them at once. Sure, maybe the players aren’t actually acting like it’s the last game of the year, and Joe Girardi won’t manage that way, but he’ll know its import. At least for the fans, this will hopefully be a pleasant appetizer.