The Yankees are in the catbird seat with a week to go in the season. No, they may not secure homefield through the postseason, but they’re guaranteed to be home on Oct. 4 to start their playoff run. No regular season game left is a must win, which is neat.
The Bombers still have some business of which to take care in their final five games. Beyond trying to chase down the Astros, they have to figure their final roster, adjust to roles for the postseason and stay fresh all the while. Here’s the checklist for New York the rest of the way.
Chase Homefield, Play Spoiler
The Astros and Yankees have the following schedules ahead of them
Houston: 2G @SEA, 4G @LAA
New York: 2G @TB, 3G @TEX
The Astros (102-54) hold a half game lead over the Yankees (102-55) going into these final games. As a friendly reminder, the Astros have the tiebreaker. That means the Yankees have to lose two fewer games than the Astros the rest of the way.
That’s ultimately unlikely even if the Yankees go full-tilt. The Astros are playing two teams well under .500 and may not even lose two games. Therefore, the Yankees almost certainly have to sweep their final five games to have a chance.
However, the Yankees are also chasing homefield advantage for the World Series. The Dodgers sit at 100-56 with games against the Padres and Giants remaining. By virtue of their series win in Los Angeles, the Yankees have the tiebreak. By finishing with the same record or better than LA, the Pinstripers would be guaranteed to start and end a potential Fall Classic at home.
Lastly, the Bombers can spoil the Rays’ bid to even advance to October. Tampa Bay is tied for the second wild card spot with Cleveland. Win one or two of their pair with the Rays and the Yankees could knock their division mates out of the dance.
Get Healthy and Stay Healthy
The Yankees now have a handful of key contributors out for the year with Aaron Hicks and Dellin Betances chief among them. There are only 11 days to get right for ALDS Game 1. Of the walking wounded in the Bronx, there are three players the team needs to get back on the field that could actually return: Gleyber Torres, Edwin Encarnación and Gary Sánchez.
Torres, by all accounts, is fine after his injury scare Friday, but he was out of the lineup for consecutive games this weekend. Just getting him back and fresh over the next five games is a priority.
Encarnación is expected to return in Texas, though he could play in the finale against the Rays, Aaron Boone told reporters. Sánchez has a chance of playing by the end of the Rangers series, but he may have to go into the postseason cold. Not ideal, but he has to remain steadfast in his rehab.
On the stay healthy side, Giancarlo Stanton and Luis Severino looked good in their respective returns this week. The Yankees now have to get Stanton ready for a full game in the field and further stretch out Severino. Do that, and that’s two elite players back.
Adjust to Playoff Roles
Stanton appeared in 36 games in left field last year and has already played eight there this season, including Opening Day. Still, the Yankees can give him more reps as he prepares for his October home.
Meanwhile, Cameron Maybin should probably start another game in center field as he’s the backup there for October. Aaron Judge has all of a few outs of MLB experience in center, so he could handle it in a pinch, but it’s best not to need him. Tyler Wade can handle more outfield reps as well as some pinch running opportunities if he’s going to be a supersub (more on that later).
On the pitching side, CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ figure to pitch out of the postseason bullpen. The plan is for Sabathia to have a scripted start of an inning out of the pen in Tampa, then an unscripted opportunity in Texas. Happ will pitch at some point Wednesday in Tampa, perhaps behind an opener.
Figure out Final Roster Spots
As we’ve detailed in recent weeks, the Yankees have the majority of their postseason roster spots all but decided, provided a few key players are healthy. If Sanchez and Encarnacion are on the roster, there are really only three spots up for grabs, and two of them should be relievers. Here’s a quick rundown of the locks:
Position Players (12): Sánchez, Romine, Voit, Encarnación, LeMahieu, Torres, Gregorius, Urshela, Stanton, Gardner, Judge, Maybin
Pitchers (10): Paxton, Tanaka, Severino, Happ, Sabathia, Ottavino, Kahnle, Britton, Chapman, Green
I’m assuming the Yankees go with 12 pitchers in the Division Series. With two days off in the series, they shouldn’t need more than that. That leaves two spots open for Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Cory Gearrin, Ben Heller and Tyler Lyons, those being the most realistic candidates.
The first three there are the best of those with Loaisiga having the best stuff and looking dominant in two recent low leverage outings. I think Cessa and Loaisiga take the spots, but I’d like to see Gearrin get a chance.
If the last spot goes to a position player, it appears that Wade has the spot. (The Yanks could also eschew Maybin for Wade, but that would be questionable.) Wade can play everywhere on the field outside of pitcher, catcher and first base. He’s the fastest man on the team and would be an excellent pinch runner. Is he needed? No, yet a designated pinch runner likely has more use than another reliever in a short series.