The sun came up again this morning, meaning that the Yankees will play their biggest game of the season yet again tonight. Is everyone having fun yet? Stressed out? Just a little bit of nerves for all of you, I’m sure.
The Yankees magic number sits at three entering tonight’s rubber match against the Blue Jays. If they win out, not only will the Bombers clinch, but they’ll also ensure a home game in the Bronx for the Wild Card game. They could still get that without winning the next four games, of course. Here are the current standings:
Seattle eliminated Oakland last night, so the possibility of a five-way tie is no more. There’s still a chance for some madness with three or four-way ties now, and you can see how things could shake out by reading Jay Jaffe’s piece over at FanGraphs from yesterday. My head’s spinning from reading it, so I won’t even try to summarize. Just take a look for yourself. But before you do that, here are some thoughts entering tonight’s game with Toronto:
Luke Voit (if healthy) needs to play tonight. Of course, Voit is banged up, although Aaron Boone said that Voit should be be OK. Assuming that is this case, the erstwhile first baseman should be the team’s designated hitter this evening, with Giancarlo Stanton playing the outfield and either Brett Gardner or Joey Gallo on the bench.
Aside from Anthony Rizzo, who has a reverse platoon split, the Yankees should get as many right-handed hitters as possible in tonight’s lineup. Rizzo’s defense is needed anyway with Corey Kluber on the bump for the Yanks. So, that makes Voit an obvious addition. Southpaw Robbie Ray has limited lefties to a .248 wOBA this season, whereas righties have a .289 wOBA against him. Neither are great! But the Yankees need all of the help they can get against the American League’s Cy Young Award favorite.
That leaves either Brett Gardner or Joey Gallo as the odd man out tonight. There might not be much of a debate here depending on the results of Gallo’s X-Rays on his hand. Hopefully, Gallo is OK.
If we go by the hot hand, Gardner is the easy call. Gallo’s 0-for-15 since the middle game of the Boston series with one walk and 8 strikeouts. Even his defense has slipped, as we’ve seen over the last few days. On the other hand, Gardner has a .294/.368/.471 line since the start of the series at Fenway. Yet, Gallo does have one distinct advantage over Gardner: he can hit lefties.
Since 2016, Gardy owns a .230/.305/.323 (72 wRC+) against southpaws (as compared to a 112 wRC+ against righties). He was more balanced earlier in his career, but recent seasons haven’t been great. That said, Gardner has been closer to even this year, though I wouldn’t make too much of that. Meanwhile, Gallo has a lifetime 113 wRC+ against lefties and 116 wRC+ against righties.
Assuming good health, my brain tells me that Gallo should play over Gardner. Aside from being better against lefties, Ray also has a propensity to give up homers (29 in 188 innings). It’s his one weakness, and Gallo is far more likely to make him pay than Gardner, obviously. That said, my gut tells me that Gardner should get the nod. He’s been so good down the stretch and has come through when the Yankees have needed him the most. Gallo hasn’t. I don’t envy Boone’s choice tonight, assuming Gallo is good to go.
Obviously, the debate between Gardner and Gallo could be moot even if X-Rays are negative. Remember, Gallo wasn’t able to hit last night, and Boone may have to play it safe. Having Gardner in center is the better defensive lineup anyway, with Stanton and Aaron Judge flanking him on either side. Regardless, Voit has to play as long as his knee permits.
Gerrit Cole’s bad September. Remember when Cole struck out 15 Angels over 7 innings on September 1st? Good times. But uh, things haven’t been good ever since that start. He’s pitched five times otherwise this month and owns a 6.15 ERA (5.14 FIP) across 26.1 innings in those outings. The Yankees are 2-3 in those games. Two of those losses are against Toronto. Pretty, pretty bad. The ace has to do better.
Cole left the first game of this terrible run early due to hamstring trouble, as you surely recall. That was on September 7th against Toronto in which he lasted just 3.2 innings. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two-and-two together here: Cole’s hamstring can’t be anywhere close to 100% and probably is a big reason he’s having a hard time out there.
I’d guess that this would be an injured list situation earlier in the season, but obviously the Yankees can’t afford that right now. Even some semblance of Cole should still be one of the better pitchers in the game. And it’s not like his stuff has deteriorated. Last night, his velo, movement, and spin rates were all in line with his norms this season.
As Jaime mentioned in last night’s takeaways, Cole’s command has been a bigger issue. One easy way to illustrate that is to look at his edge rate by start:
This should be a pretty decent proxy for command. Pitchers want to throw more pitches on the edges of the strike zone, obviously. And judging by the chart above, Cole’s taken a dip this month. You can see that in all but one start (September 19th, oddly enough a game he allowed 7 runs to Cleveland), the righty has been missing his spots more often than usual. That helps explain why he’s gotten hit harder of late.
I have no idea how much his hamstring hinders his command (let alone how healthy it actually is), but I imagine it’s holding him back to some degree. At least there hasn’t been a degradation of stuff. Cole’s next start will be his biggest of the year, and hopefully, he can get his command back in order by then. Speaking of that upcoming start…
Should Cole pitch Sunday or the Wild Card game? Obviously, if the Yankees are in a win-or-go-home scenario to end the regular season, he will start. But what if the Yankees have clinched a spot in the Wild Card game already, with homefield advantage still up for grabs? That’s where the debate gets interesting.
The Wild Card game is Tuesday, meaning that as things currently stand, Cole is lined up to start with an extra day’s rest. However, if he were to go on Sunday, he’d have to pitch on short (three days) rest.
Tossing Cole on Sunday is a gamble if the Yankees are already safely in the Wild Card game, but perhaps a risk worth taking if HFA is on the line. Here’s why:
- Give me a playoff game at Yankee Stadium over a road game in Boston or Toronto.
- I’m pretty confident in the Yankees winning the Wild Card game without Cole. I wouldn’t put it past the Yankees to start Luis Severino and let him air it out for two innings. Jordan Montgomery would probably be the best bet otherwise, though the issue is that he may need to start on Saturday against the Rays.
- The bullpen should be able to carry the load of the Wild Card game. If Sevy starts, the options behind him could easily get to the end of the game: Jonathan Loáisiga (who looked great last night), Chad Green, Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, and Michael King all could bridge the gap to Aroldis Chapman.
- Assuming they win the Wild Card game without Cole pitching, he’d be lined up to start Games 2 and 5 of the ALDS, both on regular rest. If he pitches the Wild Card Game, he could only start Game 3 and maybe be a bullpen option in the final game. Two starts for Cole would be a pretty good outcome.
Alright, but what about the downsides?
- Getting eliminated in the WC Game without Cole pitching would leave the Yankees with some egg on their face. Not as bad as the Deivi García/JA Happ fiasco in the ALDS last year, that’s for sure. But still not ideal.
- There’s always a chance that one bullpen guy just doesn’t have it in a bullpen game and blows up the entire plans.
I’m sure there are more cons that aren’t immediately coming to mind for me. In any case, it’s a fun debate to have. I’ve almost convinced myself that even if the Yankees have already clinched HFA before Sunday, the team should roll the dice and save Cole for two starts in the ALDS. Almost.
Hitters coming around. Understandably, Giancarlo Stanton has been the talk of the town given his heroics over the last week or so. He has a 312 wRC+ (!!) over the last seven days and seven homers over the last two weeks. Pretty incredible stuff. I want to give kudos to three others who have stepped up recently though:
- Gleyber Torres: .341/.420/.477 (147 wRC+) in his last 50 PA
- Gio Urshela: .341/.356/.500 (135 wRC+) in his last 45 PA
- DJ LeMahieu: .282/.391/.333 (111 wRC+) in his last 46 PA
The Yankees have really missed the offensive production from these guys for the majority of this season. Torres has been dreadful practically all year long. Urshela has been a bit disappointing, although also hurt. DJLM has been a major disappointment, though he’s dealt with triceps and now a leg injury that he’s played through.
With them finally clicking, the lineup is much deeper and circular. They’re having good at-bats and keeping the line moving while Stanton and Aaron Judge knock everyone in. It’s been terrific to see. This is the top-to-bottom production the offense has sorely missed. Hopefully, it’s here to stay in October.