Even though the Yankees have the best record in baseball, it can be easy to worry about some of the team’s flaws. The starting pitching is shaky and many players are still on the injured list. That said, those problems aren’t a death knell come October. Remember the 83 win Cardinals in 2006? They won it all. Or, what about the Royals mediocre starting rotation in 2016? That didn’t hold them back. Weird things can happen in the postseason.
Anyway, it’s not like the Yankees are the lone team in the American League field with warts. Let’s take a look at the issues other pennant hopefuls face.
Although they’ve had Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger step up in the rotation, Cleveland was dealt a big blow recently. The team’s ace, Corey Kluber, was shut down for two weeks with an oblique strain which puts his season in jeopardy. The strain happened during a rehab start from a broken arm he suffered earlier this season.
Their offense isn’t spectacular either. Entering last night, they owned a 95 wRC+. They’ve hit better this month which is a credit to its acquisition of Yasiel Puig and the resurgence of José Ramírez. Puig is bound to cool off and couldn’t be a panacea to the club’s weak hitting outfield all on his own, anyway. They have the 26th-lowest outfielder wRC+ in baseball.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays rotation is going to be thin, even when Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell are healthy. That’s because Glasnow won’t rejoin the rotation, but rather, will be used in short one and two inning stints. Meanwhile, Snell has only recently begun playing catch after having elbow surgery in July. His timetable and role are pretty murky. They still have the excellent Charlie Morton, but might have to rely on bullpening to win.
Can the Rays bullpen carry them through October? On one hand, their bullpen looks pretty effective (second lowest ERA) and Glasnow should only help. On the other hand, their relievers have 79 meltdowns, only behind Baltimore and Kansas City in the American League. As a whole, Tampa Bay’s bullpen isn’t particularly clutch, either. The team is 18th in the majors in that category. They’ve also racked up the second most relief innings in all of baseball, which could ultimately wear them down.
Moreover, Tampa Bay’s offense is nothing special. They’re in the bottom third of the league in terms of power and are average overall (100 wRC+). They have a number of talented hitters, like Austin Meadows and Tommy Pham, but they’ve also experienced a number of injuries. Yandy Díaz (117 wRC+) won’t return because of a foot fracture and Brandon Lowe (127 wRC+) has been out for nearly two months.
I’m sure this will go over well now that the Yankees have lost two in a row to the A’s.
Oakland’s relievers (aside from Liam Hendricks) are mostly pretty bad. In total, they have one fewer meltdown than Tampa Bay but a far worse clutch score (3rd-worst in baseball) and a negative win probability added. Blake Treinen, who was brilliant last season, has really struggled.
Oakland’s rotation has good numbers on the surface, but Frankie Montas, their best starter, was suspended for PEDs back in June. He’s currently serving his 80 game suspension and won’t be eligible for the postseason. Prior to getting busted, he had a 2.70 ERA and 2.90 FIP in 90 innings. They’ll need some combination of Tanner Roark, Mike Fiers, Chris Bassitt, Brett Anderson, and Homer Bailey to carry the torch.
Another weakness is defense behind the plate. Josh Phegley is their starter and he grades out all sorts of terrible back there. Advanced metrics absolutely abhor his glovework. In particular, his framing ranks near the bottom of the league.
Boston Red Sox
I was debating whether or not to exclude Boston, but their seven game Wild Card deficit isn’t insurmountable I suppose. Anyway, the Red Sox have a number of big problems this year.
First and foremost, Chris Sale won’t be back this season. David Price has been hurt and ineffective. The rest of the rotation, namely Rick Porcello, has been poor as well. Their bullpen, which was expected to be dreadful, has actually been decent enough to date.
Offensively, Boston’s offense is still top notch, but they haven’t gotten some of the otherworldly performances from their championship club last year. Mookie Betts has taken a big step back, ditto JD Martinez. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t count their offense as a “flaw” should they make it to the postseason. Just an observation, is all.
It’s a wee bit harder to find problems on Houston’s side. They’re a pretty deep squad, as you surely know. Nonetheless, they took a potentially substantial blow this week, losing Carlos Correa to a back injury. His status is still TBD.
Even without Correa, Houston will still have a deep lineup. But, if there’s one offensive weakness they have, it’s baserunning. Of note, they’ve taken an extra base on just 34 percent of all opportunities, which is the worst in baseball. Overall, they’re the twelfth-worst baserunning team per Baseball Prospectus and fourth-worst per Fangraphs.
Further, their catching situation isn’t very good. They acquired Martín Maldonado to help with the poor framing numbers that Robinson Chirinos posted. The problem is that Maldonado can’t hit (67 wRC+). Chirinos can hit a little bit (104 wRC+), but appears to have been a minus for the pitching staff.
Lastly, should the Yankees match up with Houston, at least they won’t get curveball’d to death by Lance McCullers again. He’s out for the season.
The Twins bullpen is nothing special. Taylor Rogers has been very good in the closer role, but outside of him, it’s slim pickings. They’ve tried to bolster their relief corps with the acquisitions of Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo, but neither of the two should be very impactful. Overall, their 4.39 bullpen ERA is smack dab in the middle of the American League.
Defensively, the Twins infield is pretty bad. CJ Cron, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, and Jonathan Schoop are below average fielders. Their outfield (when Byron Buxton is healthy) is excellent, but Buxton’s been out with a shoulder injury for a few weeks now.
Stolen bases have gone by the wayside in today’s game, but teams have shown a propensity to run on Yankees’ pitchers in the postseason. The Twins have by far the fewest steals in the league this year, so perhaps they aren’t a threat.
Now, just because I’ve pointed out what’s wrong with other teams doesn’t make me worry less about the Yankees’ flaws. I’m still disappointed that the organization didn’t trade for Marcus Stroman or sign Patrick Corbin. But, it’s good to remember that any potential postseason opponent isn’t unassailable, either. That’s right, an imperfect club is going to win a title this year, and it just might be the Yankees.