Well, this is going just as we expected: the Yankees have won 9 of their last 12 games, even after a COVID-19 outbreak sidelined some of the most important players on the roster. The Scranton Wilkes-Barre
RailBirds Yankees have really stepped up – and very well may have saved the season. That was just the bare minimum, though. The Yankees now face their toughest and most important stretch of the season.
Suffice to say, I have some thoughts. Let’s get to ’em.
1. Setting the Stakes: So, yeah. The Yanks are now on the road, where they’ll play four in Boston and three in Tampa Bay. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say it will make or break their season – or at least their chances at a division title. If they go on a tear, they’re right back in it. If they get demolished, their chances are all but gone. And if they tread water, well, they still have a chance, but they made it a whole hell of a lot more difficult.
The Yankees currently sit 7 games behind Boston (6 in the loss column) for first place of the division. They’re 6 games behind Tampa (5 in the loss column) for second place. This stretch will be crucial. (They’ll still have a chance in the Wild Card, where they’re the team just outside the dance, 3.5 games behind Oakland, though it’s just 2 in the loss column.) Their playoff odds, per FanGraphs, stand at 43.4% going into the big stretch.
That will change a lot over the next week.Unfortunately, the Yankees will at least start the weekend still playing shorthanded. Aaron Judge won’t be back until at least Sunday, nor will Gio Urshela or Kyle Higashioka. (It’s theoretically possible that they’ll return sooner, at least the vaccinated among them – but we’ve heard nothing to that effect so far.) There is some good news, though: the Yanks could get both Jonathan Loaisiga and Nestor Cortes Jr. back this weekend.
Loaisiga rejoined the team on Tuesday, threw on flat ground, tossed a bullpen, and is expected to be activated for the weekend. Boone also hinted, earlier this week, that Cortes could also return against Boston. It doesn’t solve the roster crunch – I’d prefer the Yankees attack be at full strength right now – but it’s better than nothing.
Finally, the Yanks’ rotation is well-positioned going into this stretch. There won’t be any former Oriole reclamation projects, bullpen games, or fliers, barring injury. The starters line up as such:
- Thursday, July 22 (@ BOS): Jordan Montgomery
- Friday, July 23 (@ BOS): Gerrit Cole
- Saturday, July 24 (@ BOS): Jameson Taillon
- Sunday, July 25 (@ BOS): Domingo Germán
- Tuesday, July 27 (@ TB): Jordan Montgomery
- Wednesday, July 28 (@ TB): Gerrit Cole
- Thursday, July 29 (@ TB): Jameson Taillon
That is good news. Cole, Taillon, and Montgomery are clearly the Yanks’ best, most-reliable starters right now. (If that’s a good thing is a different question.) They’ll be taking the mound in 6 of the 7 biggest games of the season. Can’t ask for much more than that. Now they need to go out and perform. Wouldn’t hurt to get a 2006 or 2009 mid-summer sweep of Boston going. Is that too much to ask?