Let’s be realistic here. The Yankees’ chances of playing baseball in October will not be about the division title based on their first half 17-24 record against the leading Red Sox, the second place Rays, Blue Jays, and last place Orioles.
“Another gut punch,” manager Aaron Boone said after last Sunday’s ninth inning bullpen meltdown in Houston that prevented a three-game series sweep over their AL West rivals.
And their quest to get things right suffered a severe blow late Thursday when the first of a four-game series against the Red Sox in the Bronx was postponed due to the COVID testing and contact tracing following positive tests within the Yankees organization.
With 26 games remaining with the Red Sox and Rays, a Wild Card is the Yankees only possibility of salvaging a miserable and underachieving first half, where they are 46-43. The Yankees hope to resume their schedule with what is now a three -game series, Friday night against the Red Sox.
The gap is 8.0 games from the division leaders. The Yankees have to leap ahead for the consolation prize with Tampa Bay and Oakland leading the pack by 4½ games and at this juncture there is always a chance.
Remember, baseball is played everyday but things have been going in the wrong direction for the Yankees and now COVID has become another issue.
But the opportunity for the Yankees to get one of two AL Wild Card spots is a task. They need to win a lot of ball games. With this 13-game stretch of their schedule against the Red Sox, Rays, and a few interleague games with the Phillies in between, their task is difficult and crucial.
So the next two weeks could determine if the Yankees play baseball in October or if they go home and become fans like you and me. By then, it will likely be determined if the Yankees are buyers or sellers prior to the July 30th non-waiver trade deadline.
We know why the Yankees are in this position. Had this team played to expectations, a pre-season pick by most to lead the Al East, there would be more talk about adding a player or two to secure that spot of playing deep in October.
So now is the time for the Yankees inconsistent lineup to produce with more consistency. Gleyber Torres, Luke Voit, Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Urshela, Rougned Odor, and DJ LeMahieu are among the culprits. Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge showed that consistency, Though, Sanchez, at times is still an enigma when chasing pitches.
On the other hand, Judge remained healthy and is the team leader in average (.282), Home runs (21), and RBI with 47.
Brett Gardner is the longest tenured Yankee, but the Yankees are not benefitting from his presence in the lineup and his team leading two triples are an indication as to where this offense stands. In all fairness, Gardner was not brought back to be an everyday player.
Regardless, this is a Yankees team that was built to win with the home run ball and in the first half the long balls were few and far in between. Most of their home runs (114) have not come with runners on base which leads to a 20th ranked offense of 4.16 runs per game.
With a lineup that is capable and reputed as they are supposed to be, the Yankees offense could turn the tide at any time and play to their potential. However, it will take winning 49 of their final 73 games against teams that are playing .500 ball or better.
The other significant issue is the Yankees pitching rotation needs to pitch deep into game, and don’t expect Gerrit Cole to provide a similar 129-pitch, complete game, one-hit shutout that was a season highlight last week against the Astros.
The bullpen that had been efficient, sustained a meltdown for one reason or another. A three-game sweep in Houston prior to the All-Star break was imminent but the bullpen and Chad Green, in particular, could not hold on to a five-run, ninth inning lead that led to six Astros’ runs.
Aroldis Chapman needs to work things out. He is the obvious catalyst to the bullpen and he has lost command of his fastball.
The Yankees blew a game to the Angels at home because the pen gave up seven runs in the top of the ninth inning. Then, they lost to the Mets at Yankee Stadium because the pen gave up six runs in the ninth of a seven inning game.
Chapman needs to find himself after giving up 14 earned runs in a 5⅔ inning span. That caused him to lose his closer role after two months with a 0.45 ERA.
Take two out of three this weekend from the Red Sox and then we can talk about baby steps and the wild card. Then again, the Red Sox are a perfect 6-0 against their rivals.
Any quest for the division title is out of the question. I don’t see the Yankees sweeping the Red Sox in this stretch against Boston, that now includes a makeup of Thursday’s game that was cancelled.
Yes, baseball is played everyday with those possible postponements. For the Yankees, this will be a daily battle to survive as a fighter does in the championship rounds.
For some reason, the first half of the Yankees’ season was a failure. For some reason I see that quest for October as another test that they need to pass with flying colors.
Comment: Twitter @Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso