The Yankees’ concerns going into the 2017 season centered around the starting pitching but while those concerns have been somewhat alleviated, there are other concerns that could derail any hopes of going deep into October.
The Yankees believed that the depth of their bullpen was a strength. The trick was to put together a capable starting rotation to lead into that deep pen.
Once the season started, some succeeding events blew the low expectations sky high. Aaron Judge became an instant star, Luis Severino began to develop into a top notch starter and as the team began winning more than anticipated, the Yankees started to believe they were a playoff team. The front office took the cue and acquired Sonny Gray from Oakland that showed they were all in.
Well, they have their playoff team.
Barring an all time collapse, the Yankees will be in the post-season, most likely as a “Wild Card” entry with a strong chance that they’ll host the game on October 3rd. If they can win the one game showdown, they’ll advance to their first playoff series in five years where they would be a heavy underdog against the red hot and looking very strong, Cleveland Indians in the Divisional Series. The Yankees would sign up for that in a heartbeat as we all know, anything can happen.
However, the Yankees may run into some obstacles on their way to the World Series.
As evidenced by their 16-25 record in one-run games, the bullpen has not been the strength it was predicted to be. If I may borrow a line from the late Mets’ announcer Bob Murphy, it’ll be “fasten your seat belts” for the Yankees when a close game gets to the late innings and Mgr. Joe Girardi has to go to the pen.
The relief corps has not been the only culprit that has contributed to the poor performance in close games. The offense is inconsistent and at times, can disappear. The Yankees have developed an alarming trend of not being able to cash in on prime, run scoring opportunities and if that continues in the playoffs, it will be a short run.
With some exceptions, the playoffs are defined by close, low scoring games. The Yankees offense projects a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. Some days they can score with the best of them, but there are not many of those days. There are more days like you’re left saying “why can’t they score more runs.”
The Yankees don’t seem to have the ability to sustain rallies and like many teams in this day and age, they score most of their runs as a result of home runs.
They have some speed in Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury but they’re not maximizing that quickness. Gardner has had a pretty good season with some clutch hits and his hustling play but he doesn’t run enough. There are times that he gets on first with no one out and is pinned there for the entirety of the inning. Despite his good play of late, Ellsbury has not had a good season and needs to be more concerned with getting on first base before he can even think about stealing second.
The structure of the batting order may need a review.
Gardner is capable at the top (but as noted above, he needs to run more) and Gary Sanchez is justifiably locked into the three-hole but as good as a season as Didi Gregorius has had, he is not a #4 hitter. I know that Didi has been very good with men on base but he doesn’t provide max protection for Sanchez. Opposing pitchers do not fear Gregorius being on deck so Sanchez does not get pitches that he can handle. Judge is not a #2 hitter, he needs to be lower down in the order. Girardi likes to construct the order with an alternating “left-right-left look” but sometimes it’s better to design the batting order by going with the “old school” significance of how the 1-2-3 hitters line up.
Judge’s season took an extreme “u-turn” in the second half and let’s be frank about it, that is a big reason why the offense has sputtered, but there are other factors.
When they have run, the Yankees have made a number of mistakes on the base paths and have run themselves out of innings with poor decisions. They’re also severely lacking in the category of “productive outs.” There have been a number of times when the Yankees have had a runner on second and he doesn’t move.
During the regular season, a team can overcome their inefficiencies, but when the playoffs start, it seems as if those inefficiencies seem to surface and take center stage. It’s something to look out for in October.