There are many times this season when these descriptions of the Yankees have applied in back-to-back days. Yesterday and Friday were just the latest. A day after winning 8-0 behind five homers, the Yankees were drubbed 11-1 by Cleveland.
It took more than half the season, but the Yankees finally look like the team we had expected to see before the regular season began. They’re 32-13 since July, which is the best record in the majors in that span, but have played their best ball this month (18-4 and a current 10-game winning streak). As a result, the top Wild Card spot is theirs to lose and the division is still a possibility.
If on June 30th, when the Yankees ended the day 41-39 and 5.5 games out of a postseason spot, you told me that they’d go 18-4 in August, I’d have assumed that they were playing inspired baseball thanks to an aggressive trade deadline. And indeed, the Yankees made a lot of moves at the deadline by acquiring Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo, and Andrew Heaney, but none of those three are actually the driving force behind the team’s ascension. Take a look:
Joey Gallo: .148/.310/.358 (88 wRC+) in 100 PA
Anthony Rizzo: .217/.333/.413, 107 wRC+ in 57 PA
Andrew Heaney: 6.55 ERA/7.22 FIP in 22 IP
Granted, all three of these guys have had their moments. Rizzo had a huge series in Miami, Gallo has made some stellar defense plays and hit a couple of clutch homers, and Heaney had that one terrific start against Boston. Still, it’s actually the incumbent Yankees who’ve helped turn things around the most.
For many, may reasons, 2019 seems a long time ago. On a personal level, it’s the last time I had only one kid. On a global scale, it’s the last ‘normal’ year we had. And on from a baseball perspective, it’s the last time we felt confident about Gleyber Torres.
That was the year he blasted 38 home runs and eventually drove Gary Thorne to exasperation. While he’d been successful before that, 2019 was Gleyber’s real coming out party and our expectations for him grew. Then 2020 happened. Okay, fine, whatever. Last season was an anomaly to rule all anomalies and Torres was, seemingly, greatly affected by the pandemic. 2021 was a perfect time for him to rebound, especially considering the investment the Yankees put in him. By not trading for Francisco Lindor, for example, they doubled down on Torres as their shortstop. And then he fell on his face.
His power seemingly gone, he slugged just .308 (!) in the first half of the season, lower than his .326 OBP. His defense was also an issue: consistently sketchy at best and downright bad at worst. And as we see what’s unfolded over 2020-21 with Gleyber, I can’t help but think back to another young middle infielder who dealt with early-career struggles: Robinson Cano.
After helping invigorate the 2005 Yankees with his call up, Cano won his first Silver Slugger in 2006 and played well in 2007. Then in the first half of 2008, he seemingly forgot how to hit. Luckily for him and the Yankees, he rebounded in the second half and went on to have a stellar career…and get suspended for PEDs twice, but that’s not the point. The point is that, even if they’re different players, maybe Torres can take a page out of Cano’s book.
To his credit, and with a small sample size caveat, Gleyber is already working his way towards that. Since coming back from the All Star break, he’s hitting .276 with a .474 SLG. The challenge this time will be maintaining that level of play. Throughout 2021, he’s had great stretches, brilliant flashes that he’s been unable to sustain over the long term.
If he can not only turn the corner but stay on the new street, avoiding the traps of alleyways, it will benefit him and the Yankees as they look to push into playoff position. The last season-plus has given both fans and the organization reason to question Torres both in the present and going forward. With a strong shortstop free agent class in the offing, it’s incumbent upon Gleyber to re-prove himself as a reliable hitter to justify the Yankees’ faith in him.
When last I left you, dear audience, the Yankees looked quite a bit different. Then, they made trades for Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, tops among others, like Joley Rodriguez, Andrew Heaney, and Clay Holmes. Shockingly devoid of left-handed power before the deadline, the Yankees fixed it with their southpaw hitting headliners. Now, it’s time to maximize them to turn around what has been a moribund offense.
Part of the Yankees’ offensive woes has been a lack of balance. Now with two big lefty hitters, some will be restored. Rizzo and Gallo will make it harder for right-handed relievers to exploit the Yankee lineup for long stretches, at least at the top. They’ll also likely be able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium, something this year’s lineup, by virtue of being so right handed, hasn’t fully been able to do. Aside from helping balance things out, Rizzo and Gallo are just good players. They’re marked improvements for the spots they’re taking.
While the Yankees have players like Gallo in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and a slugging first baseman like Rizzo in Luke Voit, the Yankees have done something that we, specifically Randy, have advocated for time and time again: just get the best players and let the rest sort itself out. The Yankees were trying to avoid any potential logjam by looking to trade Voit, but that didn’t happen. Now, the Yankees have to find a way–how horrible a problem to have!–to fit Voit back in when he’s healthy. Utilizing him and the rest of the lineup properly will propel the Yankees to success and, hopefully, the playoffs.
So, how should they do it? The answer is simple, and one that we saw in Miami: Stanton in the outfield and Judge and/or Gallo in center field. When Voit returns, this is what the lineup should look like on a nightly basis:
DJ LeMahieu, 2B
Aaron Judge, CF/RF
Joey Gallo, CF/RF/LF
Giancarlo Stanton, LF/RF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Luke Voit, DH
Gio Urshela, 3B
Gary Sanchez, C
Gleyber Torres, SS
There is a lot of outfield flexibility here and this improves the Yankee defense. Both Rizzo and Gallo are among the tops at their respective positions and likely improvements over what the Yankees had there. Additionally, it allows DJLM to play second full time, increasing his defensive value.
All of Judge, Gallo, Stanton, Rizzo, Voit, and even Sanchez can rotate in and out of the DH spot and the nice thing is that no matter whose turn it happens to be to sit, there’s still someone strong in his place. How often has that not been the case for the Yankees this year?
Finally, it seems that the Yankees are following the Dodgers model that we’ve–again, especially Randy–called for. Put talent on the field, put the best players out there and roll with it. Given that the Yankees are in striking position for a playoff spot, this is a necessity, not a luxury.
After riding a relative high coming off the series with the Astros–despite the loss on Sunday–the Yankees had a shot (yet another) to right things in 2021, to get the season back on track. And then they reminded us that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta, (Nasty) Nestor Cortes, Aaron Judge, Kyle Higashioka, and Gio Urshela find themselves in COVID protocol, with manager Aaron Boone anticipating they’ll all miss the full ten days. Given the importance of the next two series, this could well tank the season.
Of course, we must remember that the health and safety of the players is the most important thing. I’d rather the Yankees lose every game and those six guys be completely fine than the Yankees win and one or more of them suffer greatly from COVID. Putting that aside, since it should be obvious, the ramifications of these losses were felt immediately on Friday night.
The Yankees ran out a lineup that was positively 2013-esque, one that would’ve been more in place in Tampa in February than the Bronx in July. Not surprisingly, they were shut out and mustered just three hits against Eduardo Rodriguez and the Red Sox. That put them a full nine games back of the division-leading Red Sox and 5.5 back of the second wildcard leading A’s (with three teams in front of them in Cleveland, Toronto, and Seattle). Things aren’t over (talk to me, Yogi), but they’re feeling fairly bleak. Just a few days ago, we were talking about the Yankees as potential buyers at the trade deadline. Now…
As I’ve stated multiple times and multiple places–here, the Views’ Twitter account, my personal account–I don’t think the Yankees should sell at the trade deadline. There really isn’t anything to sell. This isn’t like 2016 when the Yankees had three expiring contracts attached to good players who could help out a stretch run. The most tradeable players on this roster with the best contracts–Aaron Hicks and Luis Severino–are injured. The guys who might be desirable–Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez–are players you should build around, not trade away, especially if you’re the Yankees. And, of course, they’re not trading Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, or DJ LeMahieu without taking considerable hits financially, reputationally, and on the field.
The entire organization is stuck in the middle. The team sports an incredibly talented roster…that also has easily exploitable flaws. The front office runs a tight ship and has been unarguably successful…yet there’s been no title in eleven-plus years and there seems to be rigidity in thought fomenting.
At this point, I’m almost at a loss for words. Almost. But one that certainly comes to mind is angry. I’m not necessarily angry at the play the Yankees have demonstrated on the field, however warranted. Sometimes, it’s just not your year and stuff happens. But I am angry that at least one player on the team has forgone getting vaccinated. Personal choice, blah, blah, blah. How a player on this team, from this city could watch how COVID ravaged the city and not get vaccinated is beyond me. Even on a baseball level, knowing that COVID could derail a season, like it’s doing right now, and not getting vaccinated seems selfish. This situation was completely avoidable, yet thanks to a selfish choice, here we are, potentially watching the last days of truly competitive Yankee baseball.
Maybe a funny thing will happen. Maybe baseball will be its unpredictable self and the Yankees will come out of this ten day stretch in better shape than they went into it. But, like many things related to this pandemic, it didn’t have to be this way. Yet it is.