Saturday, September 25, 2021

Early Start for the Playoffs...


Photo Credit: Jim Rogash, Getty Images

Playing for Post-Season begins now…

For the Yankees, the playoffs began last night. Fortunately, the Yankees quickly dismissed old friend Nathan Eovaldi, and current team wearing funky yellow jerseys, with a few homers to take the first game of their series with the Boston Red Sox, the current top Wild Card team in the American League. With eight games remaining against two Wild Card challengers and the division champs, the Yankees simply cannot stumble. Now is the time for Team Inconsistency to play with, well, some consistency.  They have the talent to achieve but do they have the mental fortitude to win with their backs to the wall? I am still disappointed with the team’s failure to show for recent series against losing teams. Play up to the competition, not down to it.

In many ways, the very difficult final two weeks of the regular season might be a blessing in disguise. If the Yankees can continue to win, they control their destiny and can enter the one-game ‘winner take all’ Wild Card game with momentum. If they lose, it is probably indication they simply were not good enough this year. No freebies. Nothing is being handed to the Yankees. If they want it, they can take it.

Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg, The New York Post

While last night’s 8-3 win was fun, I hope the Yankees can follow it up with a strong performance today when they don’t have their recognized ace on the mound. No disrespect to Nestor Cortes, Jr, who has been so valuable this season, but he is not Gerrit Cole. Last weekend, we loved the Friday night 8-0 rout of the Cleveland (soon to be formerly) Indians, only to watch the Indians bludgeon the holy hell out of the Yankees over the subsequent two games. I don’t want a repeat performance this weekend.

Before the start of today’s games, the Yankees sit in the second Wild Card spot, a game behind the Red Sox. The Toronto Blue Jays, who lost last night, are two games behind and so are the Seattle Mariners. The Oakland A’s are four games back. Five teams for two spots. No team can afford a losing streak right now. This one is going down to the wire.

The sad part is that the 2021 Yankees should have been so much better than this. At the beginning of the year, if you had told me the San Francisco Giants would be a 100-win team and the Yankees would be struggling to avoid 70 losses, I would have laughed at you. I honestly thought we had another 100-win season in store for us. In the perfect world, the Yankees should have been fighting the Tampa Bay Rays for the division crown, not trying to wrestle the surprising Red Sox or young, upstart Toronto Blue Jays. 

Now that Luis Severino and Domingo German have joined the Yankees bullpen, I am hopeful we have seen the last of Andrew Heaney except for maybe mop-up duty. Not one of Brian Cashman’s better acquisitions. I had been hopeful the Yankees saw something in Heaney they thought they could fix but he has only proven why he has bounced around with a few different teams. As for Sevy, I loved seeing him back in game action after so long and if the Yankees are successful in grabbing a Wild Card spot and win it, I am hopeful Sevy will have worked his way into high leverage situations for the next rounds. No doubt we’ll see him today or tomorrow, and I hope the results continue to be positive. Welcome back, Sevy! We have missed you.

Photo Credit: Sarah Stier, Getty Images

Sounds like we may see Jonathan Loaisiga soon. Out with a strained rotator cuff since September 9th, the fear is coming back too soon, but if he’s ready, I am excited for the restoration of his role in Aaron Boone’s bullpen. Loaisiga is scheduled to throw on Sunday or Monday, and then the Yankees will decide if he needs further rehab or if he’s ready to join the team. He is, in my opinion, the single most valuable reliever on the team. Aroldis Chapman is pitching better, yes, but Loaisiga is so strong in so many different situations.  He offers the most diversity and inspires more confidence than the other guys. Chad Green has not been as consistent as I would like, although he is still a very good reliever. So glad Clay Holmes was there to fill the void left by Zack Britton, who underwent Tommy John surgery.  The Holmes acquisition was as good as the Heaney acquisition was bad. 

Manager Aaron Boone indicated that Jameson Taillon, currently on the IL with a partially torn tendon in his right ankle, could start one of the games next week against the Blue Jays. Taillon has grown into such a valuable part of the starting rotation after his early season struggles and it would be great if he’s healthy and can pick up where he left off. 

When I see fans predicting off-season additions for the Yankees, I rarely see mention of first baseman Anthony Rizzo. I am hopeful the Yankees can re-sign him after the season. I really like Rizzo’s presence on the roster. There’s no doubt he would have ended up in Boston if the Yankees had not acquired him and watching the defensively challenged Kyle Schwarber play first base for Boston yesterday, it reinforced how much stronger the Red Sox could have been with Rizzo back on their roster. I know Gleyber Torres must be the team’s second baseman next season, so the question is where does D.J. LeMahieu play? I often see people write his name in at first base and while I admire his play at the position, I continue to feel that his highest and best use is at second or third because of his defensive abilities. So, it becomes who do you want at third…LeMahieu or Gio Urshela? I am not ready to take sides in that debate, but if the Yankees must trade Torres or LeMahieu in the off-season to make room, so be it.  I want Rizzo back.

Photo Credit: Eric Espada, Getty Images

As much as I’d love to have an elite shortstop like Trevor Story or Corey Seager, the Yankees just need someone who can hold down the position until the young guys, Oswald Peraza, and Anthony Volpe, are ready. Most predictions show their arrival in 2023 and we could see them at some point late next season. Peraza is already on the 40-man roster. I’ve seen a few articles that say Volpe will eventually be shifted to second or third so does that make Torres expendable? Possibly. Speaking of shortstops, Urshela has played the position much better than I thought he would. The return to second has certainly helped Torres and I am glad his bat is starting to come around again. I am glad I am not GM Brian Cashman. He has many difficult decisions to make after the season is over. 

Ok Nasty Nestor, it’s your day. Please bring home the W.

As always, go Yankees!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Winning is Better...

Photo Credit: John Minchillo, AP

Why can’t all wins be this easy?...

Friday night’s win over the soon-to-be renamed Cleveland Indians was one of the rare times the Yankees have won in a cake walk this season and it was nice…very nice. With homers flying everywhere, the Yankees easily backed starter Corey Kluber and the bullpen (thank you for not inserting Andrew Heaney), thumping the Indians 8-0. It was probably bittersweet for Kluber as he’ll never face his former team again while they wear Indians gear.  Next season they become the Cleveland Guardians and will have a different look. 

Things looked so sunny and bright for the Yankees a few weeks ago when they were on the 13-game winning streak, and then, as we know, they fell hard with miserable play to undo the strong wild card advancement they had made, putting them back into the mix with the Red Sox and Blue Jays.

As hard as it was to get swept by the Blue Jays earlier this month, Thursday’s ugly loss to the Baltimore Orioles was probably one of the toughest losses, for me, to accept. The Yankees have lost a few games this season they should have won, and Thursday’s game was obviously the latest example. They scored two early runs and couldn’t put more insurance runs on the board, and let the Orioles steal the victory in walk-off fashion, thanks to ineffective late relief and sloppy play. The Yankees inability to figure out the Orioles this season while the Tampa Bay Rays were beating them in 18 out of 19 games is why the Rays are in first place and the Yankees are not. 

When the Yankees can’t beat a truly inferior opponent, it leads me to believe there will be no October magic in the Bronx this year. They do not seem to have the “it” quality teams destined for championships have. They have not given me the confidence they can sustain excellence and steamroll opponents when the chips are on the line. It’s within the realm of possibility they can win, if they can win one of the wild card spots, but they need to play more like Friday night and less like Thursday night. Of course, I hope and want them to win, I am just not overly confident they will. Please, Yankees, prove me wrong.

I had started to see ugly comments from the Yankees fan base when Joey Gallo wasn’t hitting dingers, but honestly, I never lost faith in the guy. Even when he is not hitting, he is helping with strong defense and getting on base. He also seems like a cool dude to have in the clubhouse which helps team chemistry. Now that he’s been placed in the lower part of the batting order (which is apparently more comfortable for him), he’s seemingly crushing homers every day. Two last night.  He is certainly heating up at the right time, and I am happy that I’ve supported him from the start.

When the Yankees designated reliever Brooks Kriske for assignment last week and subsequently lost him to the Orioles, it rubbed salt in the wound for how badly the Yankees’ front office botched it last winter when they protected Kriske on the 40-man roster, leaving Garrett Whitlock, now enjoying success in Boston, unprotected, and subsequently lost in the Rule 5 Draft. Not that Kriske has enjoyed any major league success, but it was disappointing that the guy who took his place on the roster, Sal Romano, was lost to injury in his first game back with the Yankees. 

Thanks to former Yankee Michael Pineda, the Yankees are back in the second Wild Card spot. Pineda and his current team, the Minnesota Twins, beat the Blue Jays last night.  The Red Sox hold the top Wild Card, but the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays are in a virtual dead heat with 65 losses. They are only separated by the number of wins (84, 83, and 82 wins, respectively) which means the Yankees and Blue Jays can make up ground when they play an equal number of games (assuming they win those games).

I am happy the Yankees finally pulled Gleyber Torres from shortstop and put him back at second base. I like having Anthony Rizzo on the roster, but I do wish the Yankees had been successful in prying Trevor Story from the Colorado Rockies at the trade deadline. It will be interesting to see what the Yankees do in the off-season. With strong young shortstops in the system, like Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, still a couple of seasons away, will the Yankees make a play for a top free agent shortstop like Story or Corey Seager, or do they just try to find an average player that can fill the spot until one of the young shortstops is ready to ascend to the position? If they don’t go big, it sort of feels like they are wasting the prime years of Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge. Both Volpe and Peraza are targeted for 2023 which is not too far away. Big off-season decisions for the Yankees, especially if they miss out on the play-offs or take the one and done route. 

Photo Credit: David Gravely, Southwest Times

Speaking of off-season decisions, please fire hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere. The Yankees have made significant upgrades with pitching instruction with innovative, new-age hires like Matt Blake and Sam Briend. They need to do the same with the hitting coaches. Sorry P.J., I know you are a company loyalist, and you were cheated out of a bonus a few years ago, but the Yankees can do better. 

Hopefully the Yankees can ensure the Cleveland “Indians” never win a game against the Yankees ever again. Just win today and tomorrow, please. Every game counts. No more room for poor play. 

As always, Go Yankees!