Happy Wednesday everyone. It is a happy Wednesday indeed. The Yankees are on a freaking roll right now and I love, love, love to see it. It’s almost playoff time, too. Things have really turned around in the last week or so, and it’s glorious.
Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these and there’s a ton on my mind, as you can imagine. Let’s get right to it.
1. Starting Pitching Rules the Day: The Yankees hit rock bottom last Monday night in Buffalo when the bullpen imploded and gave up ten runs in the bottom of the 6th inning. You remember it. It was ugly. The team’s starting pitching ensured that truly was rock bottom, though: they’ve truly been dominant since that game. Across 43.0 innings in the next 7 games, Yankees starters have a 1.88 ERA (3.18 FIP) with a 30.7% strikeout rate and a 3.7% walk rate. Opponents are batting just .179 and make hard contact just 29.3% of the time against Yankee starters. As is pretty obvious from numbers like that, everyone is joining in on the fun. Here are the individual lines:
- Deivi Garcia: 14.0 IP, 3.21 ERA (4.70 FIP), 11 H, 21.8% strikeout rate, 3.6% walk rate
- J.A. Happ: 11.1 IP, 2.38 ERA (3.38 FIP), 9 H, 34.9% strikeout rate, 4.7% walk rate
- Gerrit Cole: 7.0 IP, 0.00 ERA (1.06 FIP), 2 H, 36.0% strikeout rate, 4.0% walk rate
- Jordan Montgomery: 5.2 IP, 0.00 ERA (0.55 FIP), 3 H, 40.9% strikeout rate, 4.6% walk rate
- Masahiro Tanaka: 5.0 IP, 1.80 ERA (4.40 FIP), 3 H, 27.8% strikeout rate, 0.0% walk rate
Is this level of success sustainable? No. The samples here are tiny to the point of being laughable Have they faced any really strong offenses during this stretch? No. Do I care? Also no. The team was truly in a crisis situation a week ago. Their record dropped as low as .500 and they were on the brink of losing a playoff spot, as unfathomable as it was. They were banged up, blowing games they should win, and uncompetitive in nearly every other game. To say their backs were up against a wall is an understatement.
The starting pitching stepped up and rose to the challenge. They’ve kept the Yankees in every single game since then and are a huge reason – perhaps the reason – why the Yankees have won 6 in a row and turned their season around. None of us expect Jordan Montgomery to carry a 41% strikeout rate moving forward, but that’s not the point. The point is that the Yankees have essentially been in “playoff” mode for the last week, and the pitchers were up to the task. Now they can focus on getting healthy and ready for the short-series tournament next month. We have the starters to thank for that.
2. The Big Guns Return: It sure was nice to see an almost full lineup last night, wasn’t it? Sure, Torres was out and Judge isn’t back (yet) but it was as close to a full lineup as we’ve seen in weeks. All the Yankees did in response was score 20 runs. This was obviously a coincidence, but it felt symbolic to me at least. Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela are back and with it is some more of the Yankees’ firepower.
Anyway, I don’t really have a lot to add here other than the fact that it feels good. The Yankees are suddenly in good shape again. Last night’s win means the Yanks are in second place in the AL East again. That ranks them as the 5th seed in the AL if the season ended today. They have a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs, per FanGraphs, and a 71% chance of coming in second in the division. They won’t win the division, but I’m beyond caring about that. It makes no difference whatsoever aside from our vanity and hatred of all things Rays (and besides, coming in second all but guarantees the Yankees will play the Twins in the first round).
This is important, not just because we all want to see the Yankees make the playoffs, obviously. It’s important because they don’t have to go “all-out” necessarily now. They just have to take care of business against Toronto, get their bullpen arms the necessary work to stay fresh, and keep the big guns healthy as we head into October. It’s why I can’t get worked up about lineup construction right now, despite the Twitter meltdowns. Let the team give guys their days, let them nurse any lingering injuries they have, and let’s go into October as a fully-operational offensive juggernaut, shall we?
3. Finding Hidden Talent: This is a complete cliche to the point of being boring at this point, but I just want to take a second to talk – again – about how insane it is that Luke Voit and Gio Urshela are so good. Look, last year was the year of Next Man Up, as we all know. But Voit and Urshela have proven time and time again that they are much more than Next Men. They are true studs that belong in a championship-caliber lineup. I mean, I’ve started to expect this every night now from Luke Voit:
And a play like this every night from Gio Urshela:
I know that Urshela’s defense is a bit controversial, but let’s leave that aside for now. The point is that both guys are improbably key pieces of a pretty damn good Yankees team. Look at their offensive production since joining the Yankees:
- Luke Voit, 201 games: .280/.375/.543 (145 wRC+) with 53 HR
- Gio Urshela, 164 games: .310/.359/.535 (135 wRC+) with 27 HR
Their offensive value goes on and on and gets no less impressive the deeper you look into it. I think Voit proved last year that he was no fluke, and Urshela is doing the same this year. These guys are the real deal and it is incredible. I mean, Luke Voit is a bonafide MVP candidate in 2020. Not bad production out of guys who cost the Yankees Gio Gallegos, Chasen Shreve, and $25,000 total. Not bad at all.
4. Demoting Andújar, Estrada: The Yankees made some roster moves in the last two days. First, they demoted Miguel Andújar to make room for Giancarlo Stanton. This brought up a range of emotions. First, I wanted to know why Andújar – who has been raking – was demoted instead of Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada, who have notably not been raking. Then, Gleyber Torres was kept out of the lineup (sigh) as he nurses a (sighs again) “quad issue” that hopefully isn’t too serious. (Not keeping my hopes up on that one because why would I?) That made the move make more sense. The Yanks obviously don’t want Andújar’s defense in the infield – they’ve made that abundantly clear of late – and if Torres is out, then they need the backup INF. I see the logic, at least.
Finally, after the game, the Yankees did send down Estrada. I think it’s pretty clear that this is because Aaron Judge is returning to the lineup today and that is damn good news. This leaves Wade as the primary non-Torres option, which is less than ideal, but I can live with it. If we really want to be optimistic, perhaps it means that Torres’ injury is fine and he’ll return to regular-ish action as well. But as we all know, the formula is that another key Yank has to go down when another one comes up. That’s been the formula since 2019, and all we can do is hope they break it now.
5. New Playoff Format: Here is something that is disgusting: Rob Manfred said last night that he expects that the 16-team postseason is here to stay and that an “overwhelming majority” of owners like the idea. It is hard for me to put into words how much I hate this idea. Let me try: I absolutely HATE this idea. It is awful and will fundamentally change baseball for the worse. I hate it. Did that get the message across?
I think it is so bad because it does two things in particular: 1) it devalues a very long regular season and 2) it disincentives teams to spend. Let’s start with the first. If more than half of the league makes the playoffs, why should anyone watch the 162-game regular season? This is a serious question. I see fans complaining constantly that the Yankees never use their A-lineup during the regular season. I get it! It’s frustrating. Well, guess what: we’re going to see a whole lot more of that if this is true. A whole lot more. It would be virtually impossible for even half-good teams to miss the playoffs now. Why go all out in the regular season? This is a serious problem for the NBA, by the way. I’m not just making this up because I want to whine.
That brings us to the second point. There is almost zero incentive now for teams to actually try to improve. Zero. The floor for making the playoffs, generously, will be about 83 wins. That’s not a joke. Look at the standings from the past few years. Why should any team try to boost their payroll or trade a prospect for a difference-maker at the deadline? Competitive integrity would be the only reason and honestly, we’ve seen enough from the vast, vast majority of teams recently to know how seriously they take that.
I hate this new system. It was fine for 2020 for obvious reasons, but beyond that, it is an abomination. Let’s just hope that the players wisen up and reject this change.