Monday, September 5, 2022

Play Today, Win Today...


Aaron Judge & Oswaldo Cabrera / Photo Credit: Getty Images

Time to start a winning streak…

The Yankees’ Great Collapse of 2022 continues. It is hard not to look at the New York Yankees with a ‘glass is half empty’ lens.  Since the Trading Deadline (August 2nd), the Yankees are 10-20. A five-game winning streak in late August that included a two-game sweep of the New York Mets and the first two games of the series in Oakland, things had started to look better. It was a fa├žade. The Yankees proceeded to lose the last two games of the four-game set with the A’s, then dropped three of four in Anaheim, and barely avoided being swept in Tampa this weekend. 

The Yankees return home today to play Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela and the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees have handled the Twins with ease for years but if there was ever a year for the Twins to get revenge, this is it. Minnesota has had their own struggles, but the Yankees would be foolish to underestimate the Twins given the state of their current play. The Twins are 68-64, which is good for a first-place tie in the AL Central with the Cleveland Guardians. The Twins and the Guardians are currently five games out of the Wild Card chase, so the pressure is on the Twins to win the division if they have October aspirations. In other words, I fully expect the Twins to be ready to play. Former Yank Mike Ford was slugging like Babe Ruth when the Yankees were in Anaheim (okay, not really, but it seemed like it). No doubt former Yanks Sanchez and Urshela would love to do the same. 

Gary Sanchez & Gio Urshela

The Yankees desperately needed a win yesterday to keep the Rays from pulling within two games in the loss column. They may have won the game, 2-1, after thwarting a Rays rally in the bottom of the ninth, but the Yankees got away with one when Clay Holmes’ 3-2 pitch to Yandy Diaz, slightly below the zone was a called third strike with the excellent glove work by Jose Trevino who brought his glove up quickly on the reception. If it had been called a ball which is what it really was, the Rays would have had the bases loaded against a reliever they clearly had on the ropes. The stage was nearly set for a Rays walk-off which would have been agonizing. 

Regardless of how the Yankees (80-54) got the win on Sunday, they stand five games up on the Rays (74-58) entering play today (four games in the loss column). The Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles are six and eight-and-a-half games back, respectively. The Orioles trailing by only single digits. I type those words in disbelief, yet sadly they are true. The Orioles are a success story, and I am not excited they stand in the Yankees’ path the last week of the regular season when the teams play at Yankee Stadium for three games starting Friday, September 30th. The Yankees’ last homestand of the year (they head to Arlington, Texas for the final regular season series), could have playoff implications for both teams. The Boston Red Sox seemingly have a stranglehold on the AL East Cellar as they have a five-game lead on the O’s for worst record in the division, and Baltimore seems content to let Boston reign as the bilge water of the division. 

The Rays get the Red Sox at home for three games starting today before they head to New York to play the Yankees again. It is imperative the Yankees hold ground against the Rays to protect the five-game lead heading into play on Friday. It sucks the Rays get the soft Red Sox, but their schedule gets noticeably tougher as the month progresses. They have nine games against the Blue Jays (those teams could cancel themselves out in division play), six against the AL’s winningest team, the Houston Astros, and three against the AL Central co-leader Cleveland Guardians. By the time they get through those challenging teams, a three-game pillow at Fenway Park awaits them to end the season. Hoping the season does not come down to which team, Yankees, or Rays, does better in their final regular season series.

Hopefully the Yankees can play winning baseball again this month. Last month was hard. The injuries have not helped, and they lost another valuable player in Andrew Benintendi whose injured wrist has landed him on the 10-day Injured List. Hoping Matt Carpenter and Harrison Bader are back soon to help the lineup. The Yankees must figure out the bullpen. Clay Holmes’ near meltdown yesterday is a reminder that his struggles have not gone away. I look forward with cautious optimism. I know the team, despite its challenges, can win. Unless they get some guys back, I cannot say I am so optimistic about October, but we will cross that bridge when it comes. The focus today should rightfully be on securing the AL East championship and gaining a first-round bye. The dog days of summer are over so no more time for lackluster play. Yankees, you got this!

Andrew Benintendi has been shelved. It was not a good sign when there was a ‘pop’ heard from Benny’s wrist during an at-bat against the Rays. Even though the early test results were negative, the sound alone was cause for concern. Turns out it was an indicator of greater problems as Benny was diagnosed with a broken hook of the hamate bone.

He will undergo surgery and we await his timeline. There is still hope he could be back for the playoffs, but time will tell. It is not like he can roll out of bed one morning and start hitting .300 again. Who knows how much time he will have to get ready…if he is ready at all. With typical rehab entailing three to four weeks of immobilization, there will not be much time to get back into baseball shape. Look at Giancarlo Stanton, he left his bat at the All-Star Game, and it has not rejoined him on the active roster yet. 

Although his Yankees career started slowly, Benny was rounding into form as a much-needed consistent source of hits. Since he was acquired from the Kansas City Royals on July 27th for minor league pitchers Chandler Champlain, T.J. Sikkema and Beck Way, Benny has hit .254/.331/.404 with .734 OPS. He was four of five in stolen base attempts, and had hit two home runs, nine doubles, and a triple while walking thirteen times in 33 games. Can Aaron Hicks match that production? Not sure I would hold my breath on that one.   

I like Benintendi and what he brings to the team’s offense. I just wish the other guys not named Aaron Judge were hitting better. Hoping for a swift recovery and Benny’s return as a source for extra base hits.  The offseason free agent focus will be Judge, however, I hope the Yankees do not lose sight of Benintendi and bring him back for next year. Or trade for Ian Happ, that would work too. 

Anthony Rizzo’s back! I wish that meant he was back in the lineup but unfortunately it is the continued back problems that have caused Rizzo to miss extended time. After receiving an epidural for his back pain, there is hope he will be ready to play in a couple of days. He is needed now more than ever. With the injuries, Rizzo plays such a huge role in the lineup and the diversity of his left-handed bat in a predominantly right-handed batting order, worsened by the loss of Benintendi, is essential.

Anthony Rizzo / Photo Credit: AP

I have mixed feelings about bringing Rizzo back next year. I love the guy for how he plays and the leadership he brings to a clubhouse, but chronic back trouble is not a favorable sign. It will continue to be an issue for him moving forward, and that alone would give me pause to spend millions of dollars to keep him in Pinstripes. It really sucks to say that, but I am trying to be a realist. Austin Wells is frequently mentioned as a player who will eventually switch from catcher to first base, but he is still a few seasons away. There are no immediate or obvious first base solutions for next season beyond Rizzo.  I am sure this will be a topic of discussion for the team’s offseason rebuild strategy.

As for Rizzo’s epidural, let's hope he gives birth to an AL East championship.

The Roger Maris Watch. The historic season for Aaron Judge continues. His 53rd home run yesterday in the first inning of the Yankees’ 2-1 win was accomplished in the Yankees’ 134th game. Roger Maris, the American League record holder with 61*, did not hit his 53rd until his 135th game. So, Judge remains slightly ahead of the pace. I feel bad for Maris. The conditions he played under while in pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record must have been unbearable. I have heard the stories of the stress he endured while chasing a legend. The hate he received, the hair loss, etc. Judge, for the most part, does not get the same level of scrutiny since the fans…and more importantly, the media…are cheering for his success.

Aaron Judge / Photo Credit: @Yankees, via Twitter

I am glad it is a Yankee assaulting the AL home run record. Records are made to be broken, and even if the Maris record falls, his name and image have received tremendous attention this season. His 1961 season will not be forgotten regardless of what Aaron Judge does. I would love to see Judge hit 61 home runs in 154 games to eliminate the asterisk, but regardless, Judge has earned the right to stand next to the legends.

As always, Go Yankees!