How the Yankees survived and thrived in a brutal start to August

The Yankees have just six days left in what could have been a hellish stretch.

Playing 19 games in 17 days starting on Aug. 2 defines the baseball grind. Doing so with an already battered roster with no trade acquisitions to bolster the pitching staff could have sunk the Yankees, yet they emerge even stronger in some ways.

However, the first 11 days have taken their toll on the team. Here’s a look at what has hurt the Yankees (literally) in this time and how the Bombers have found a way to go 11-2 despite all of that.

(MLB Gifs)

Injuries and Replacements

Since the start of August, the Yankees have had the following players go on the IL: Edwin Encarnacion (wrist fracture), Aaron Hicks (elbow), Jonathan Holder (shoulder) and Stephen Tarpley (elbow). In addition, there have been day-to-day injuries for Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius and Gio Urshela.

Futhermore, the team has already been without plenty of their key players and lost two just before embarking on this brutal stretch as Luke Voit and CC Sabathia went on the IL. Even with Gary Sanchez and Brett Gardner coming back, the Yankees were still down just about their entire infield at one point in addition to plenty of pitchers.

Part of this is inevitable. Not only do these players have 100+ games on their odometer, but they’re also forced to play long stretches without a break. The travel hasn’t been brutal — the longest trip was Baltimore to Toronto with plenty of time at home — yet the aches and pains can mount without a breather.

I’ll get to the starting pitching in a second, but it’s worth mentioning how the offense hasn’t missed a beat. Again, plenty of games against the Orioles will do that. The Yankees, however, have been running up the score on the Red Sox and Jays as well without their full complement of stars.

Mike Tauchman and the bench crew hit well before August, yet their performances this month have been more crucial. Tauchman has teamed with Austin Romine, Kyle Higashioka, Mike Ford and Cameron Maybin to make the bottom of the Yankees’ lineup a force in August when none of those players would have been counted on in an everyday role just a few months ago.

Better Starting Pitching

Nineteen games in 17 days means at least two spot starts with doubleheaders. However, the Yankees were down to four starters before even entering the month as Sabathia was sidelined. That meant an undue burden on the bullpen, something that would have destroyed the team if the starters were pitching as they did in July.

However, the four traditional starters have averaged 6.07 innings per start in this span, producing five quality starts in nine opportunities. For reference, they had just two in their previous 16 games before August.

Even the worst start in the stretch produced five innings for the Yankees, making the bullpen cover just three innings. When the Yankees’ pitching nearly collapsed against the Twins and Red Sox, it was partially a snowball effect as each game forced more innings upon the bullpen and thus lessened their availability or effectiveness for the next game.

James Paxton has stood out in his three appearances. Yes, two of them were against the Orioles, but Big Maple adjusted his pitch mix and has given the Yankees three quality starts in three attempts. How he handles the Indians or Dodgers will be a better test, but he’s been on point in a critical stretch.

And still, the Yankees have had to throw four bullpen games in this time. They may be able to avoid another with Sabathia coming back against Cleveland, though it’s likely there will be another opener start in this stretch. That’s not a negative on the team’s win-loss record — The Yankees are 12-1 with an opener this year — but it will mean more bullpen mileage.

Burden on the Bullpen

The Yankees have had two more injuries to the bullpen with Tarpley and Holder going down. Both were likely attributable in part by the long outings they had to undertake as openers/followers right before going on the IL. Tarpley has apparently been dealing with elbow issues and spoke up more about it now. Though they’re low in the pecking order, they’re 40-man roster arms that are now unavailable.

Every pitcher in the Yankees’ bullpen but Chance Adams pitched on Monday. Adams gave the team long relief Saturday. Even if some appearances were as short as one out, that’s still another game of getting warm and throwing. Remarkably, Aaron Boone has still avoided using any reliever in three straight games this season.

The top arms in the bullpen have maintained varying levels of effectiveness while not getting overused in this time. Here a look at the top five relievers in the last 11 days: (Note: B2B stands for pairs of outings back-to-back in August):

GamesIPRKBBHRsBack-to-backs
Aroldis Chapman5508102
Zack Britton54.205601
Adam Ottavino55.226201
Tommy Kahnle65.236222
Chad Green55.218301

That group has a whole has a 2.05 ERA in the stretch with 11.9 K per nine innings. Kahnle has been the only pitcher used six times in August and he’s held up well. He’s given up two home runs but been himself otherwise. Britton’s walk issues have spiked but he gets enough Ks and grounders to make up for it.

Beyond the top five, Luis Cessa, Nestor Cortes Jr. and the long relievers have been asked to do a lot. Cessa and Cortes have pitched 5 2/3 and 7 2/3, respectively, filling in and around the team’s bullpen games. The role of a long man has changed in an era where starters don’t go long consistently and now having someone who can absorb the innings is essential.

Cessa (MLB.TV)

Focusing on Cessa, the right-hander has curtailed his walks, yet his strikeouts have also gone down in recent games, all while his hard-hit rate remains above league average. His recent success may not last, even if the eye test has been more favorable. Still, excluding yesterday’s poor outing, he’s been a salve on the Yankees’ wounds for a couple of months.

On the Horizon

The Yankees optioned both Joe Mantiply and Brady Lail before Tuesday’s game to get fresh arms. It would appear Scranton starter Adonis Rosa will be one of those fresh arms while Jonathan Loaisiga is set to return from the 60-day IL soon as well. Loaisiga has plenty of potential over shorter outings with his upper-90s heat and good stuff as long as he stays healthy.

Further reinforcements beyond Sabathia are a ways off. Luis Severino and Dellin Betances are off to good starts to rehab, but they won’t be back until September at the earliest.

Meanwhile, just getting through the Cleveland series doesn’t mean the Yankees are out of the woods. After an off-day Monday, they travel to the West Coast for nine games right afterward, then have a day off and start a new homestand. That means they’ll have long travel on each of their next two off-days, negating some of the restorative qualities they can provide.

September call-ups might not be able to give the Yankees the boost it would other teams. Mantiply and Lail are the only Yankees pitchers on the 40-man roster who aren’t currently on the 25-man roster or the IL. There may not be a cadre of arms to come up right away.

Therefore, some of the effects from this August stretch could linger. Even with a nine-game lead in the division and a tie for baseball’s best record, the Yankees have some consequential games coming up, namely series with the Indians, Dodgers and Athletics (twice). The Yankees have weathered injuries and lack of rest plenty this season, so one shouldn’t doubt their ability to do it again.

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8 Comments

  1. Brian M

    Is there anything new with Ben Heller? J-Mont? Would be nice if we can test them out before the playoffs start.

    • Rob in CT

      That’s right, Monty was recovering well, hit a snag, but then the last I saw he was going to be throwing again. The last update I see on him was in mid-July, when he had just started throwing again after having been shut down for ~4 weeks. I found something that says he could be back in late August (which seems a little aggressive, I’d guess September).

      Heller also had a setback, target return date is September…

      https://www.mlb.com/news/a-look-at-the-yankees-injury-timetables

    • I’m actually surprised we don’t get more frequent and detailed injury updates. I mean.. even Ellsbury. At this point I don’t want him to come back but I’m curious what the current ailment is. You would think with all those reporters around that they would be able to get some sort of update on it.

  2. The Original Drew

    In terms of pitching, the Yankees have to get through the rest of this month and then focus on rest and staying sharp in September. I understand that HFA is very important, but going for that might be shooting themselves in the foot and overworking the few effective pitchers they do have for the playoffs.

    It’s beating a dead horse at this point but not picking up even minor pitching depth at the deadline is looming very large here.

    • dasit

      i anticipate a frustrating amount of rest for regulars and the top bullpen arms resulting in loss of HFA but it’s probably the right move

      • Completely the right move. Having a huge race in the division buys you the luxury of keeping everyone fresh as you head towards the postseason. It would be foolish not to take advantage.

        • dasit

          hypothetical: if HFA is in play with 3 games left do you go all in or keep resting the troops?

        • The Original Drew

          And if there is a team between the Astros and the Twins/Indians to get HFA i’d want the Astros to get it meaning that the Yankees wouldn’t face them until the ALCS. The idea of having to face Verlander Cole Grienke in all five games is nightmare fuel.

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