Saturday, August 21, 2021

The (Less Rocky) Road to the World Series...


Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer, AP

Yankees gaining momentum toward goal…

It’s great to be a Yankee fan. No stress. Just casual winning every day with monster bats and stellar pitching. Life is good.

As The Greedy Pinstripes’ Daniel Burch (@GreedyStripes) continues to say, nearly every day from the start of the season, these are just more highlights for the World Series DVD. I may have laughed at first, but it is looking more and more like the odds are in Daniel’s favor and he might truly have the last laugh. A fervent believer despite the many earlier challenges, credit goes to him for never taking off the rose-colored glasses.

The August success for the Yankees does not typify the bumpy roads we’ve travelled to get here but I am feeling so much better about the state of the Yankees than I did last month. I find it hard to believe that I was wondering early last month if the Yankees should be buyers or sellers at the trading deadline. I guess I had become too accustomed of being disappointed about moves not made at the trading deadline (case in point, 2019) that I could not have imagined the brilliant job GM Brian Cashman was about to do this past July. Everyone acquired has contributed in some way.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

It’s goes without question the biggest acquisition is first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He’s the consummate pro who is brilliant on the field, both offensively and defensively, and a leader in the clubhouse. He brought such a winning attitude to the team. Not saying the Yankees don’t have other guys of the same mindset, but Rizzo has been the glue to pull it all together. The presence of his left-handed bat, along with Joey Gallo, finally provided the balance in the lineup that all of us Twitter GM’s have endlessly been calling for.  This is just another plug that I hope the Yankees re-sign Rizzo in the off-season. He’s another great in a long line of great first sackers.  @Yankees, make it happen!

To briefly digress, I do believe there is room on this team for Luke Voit. His homer and four RBIs last night are a testament to the production of a healthy Louis Linwood Voit III with regular playing time, and he should play. Historically, I’ve been against playing Giancarlo Stanton in the field (health concerns), but Voit changes the equation. Stanton should play left (or right on the days Judge is given a breather) and let Voit be the team’s DH. Nothing against Voit but I prefer to see Anthony Rizzo and his glove at first base. There’s risk of injury for Stanton, but he seems to be in the right place this year and I am hopeful he stays in good health.

Back to the trading deadline acquisitions, I like Joey Gallo on this team. I know there are those who are frustrated by strikeouts, but his ability to get on base and his outfield defense are so strong. He always says the right things in interviews and he is clearly a team-first guy. He has also melded into the cohesiveness of the clubhouse. I feel the home runs will come more regularly in time. I remember it taking at least a year before Jason Giambi truly settled in as a Yankee. It is not easy. There are very high expectations when you put on the Pinstripes. Some guys, like Rizzo, can come in and produce from the start. For other guys, there is a bit of a ramp up. I don’t blame him. I want to give him the necessary time because I know how good Gallo can be, and I will continue to support him. The Yankees open the 2022 season in Texas against the Rangers, and I am sure it will be a terrific moment for Gallo given how much he loved his time there. I am sure he will be very motivated to perform well in front of his many friends. I know, that doesn’t mean anything for this year. For now, I will just enjoy Gallo’s name written into the lineup every day and know that his next titan home run might only be an at-bat away. He can be one of the guys who deliver their signature Yankee moment in October.

Photo Credit: AP

Even the pitching acquisitions have been strong. It goes back to the Mike Tauchman trade when the Yankees acquired Wandy Peralta (angering the fan base). I can’t imagine the bullpen without Peralta through the ebbs and flows of the unit’s success. Meanwhile, Tauchman struggled in San Francisco and is currently a Sacramento River Cat after being designated for assignment and clearing waivers. Adding Clay Holmes and Joely Rodriguez have proven to be solid moves. I was down on Andrew Heaney for his first two starts, like many fans were, but I have held out hope and optimism Matt Blake and Eric Cressey saw something in him they thought they could fix. His last start against the Boston Red Sox, a win, was an example of the pitcher he can be. The guy was once a very highly rated prospect. He is older and has never reached his potential, but it doesn’t mean he can’t. Granted, they are not the same type of pitchers, but I always think of Randy Johnson as a pitcher who took awhile to figure it out, but when he did, he was one of the best. That’s not to say I think Heaney will be bumping Gerrit Cole off the ace’s perch but I do believe, if Blake and Cressey are successful, he can be a valuable member of the rotation. There is nothing wrong with a consistent and effective #3 starter. 

So, the acquisitions have helped the Yankees seemingly turn their season around. Before, I didn’t feel like the team had the right drive or passion. That’s an unfair comment on my part because I am not in the clubhouse every day. But the team has bonded and they are winning and having fun while they are doing it. Yes, winning is fun and that’s part of it, but you don’t win by accident. I am proud of the Yankees for erasing Boston’s 10 ½ game lead from early July, finally catching and passing them this past week with a sweep of the Red Sox in New York. If you had asked me on July 6th if I thought the Yankees could catch Boston, I probably would have said no. But here we are with nearly a month and a half left in the season and Boston is in the rearview mirror. Not only that, the Yankees are only four games behind the division leading Tampa Bay Rays which is certainly well within reach. As the Yankees continue to get their players back from the injured list, they will continue to get better and better.

There was a time when I thought just getting the second Wild Card spot was huge. Now, the AL East division title is a possibility if the Yankees continue to play this well.  Someone posted on Twitter that the Yankees are never hot in August. Generally speaking, that seems to be true. I didn’t look up the stats but in past years, it has seemed like the Yankees have always run into a rough patch during this month. But just because it happened in the past, doesn’t mean it has to happen in the future or now. This is a resilient team that has proven they can change and adapt. I am sure other American League teams are fearful of the Yankees right now. They should be.

Hats off to the in-house “acquisitions” too. Nestor Cortes Jr is clearly the leader of the guys who have stepped up as part of the ‘Next Man Up’ brigade. I remember nearly losing him to the Baltimore Orioles a few seasons ago, actually losing him to the Seattle Mariners last year (November 2019 trade for international bonus pool money), and then getting him back on a minor league contract last December. After his less than successful season as a Mariner, I know I didn’t have high expectations for him, but he has delivered far greater…consistently…than I could have ever imagined. He, along with the magic of young Luis Gil, are the reasons the Yankees have maintained solid starting pitching despite the injury and COVID losses in the rotation.  Nasty Nestor deserves so much of the credit for the Yankees’ recent success.

Luis Gil will come back to Earth but what a breath of fresh air he has been. I love seeing his early success even if it is not sustainable. He is a guy that can get better and better, and even if he is not pitching shutouts every game, he can put the team in position to win every time which is very powerful.

Andrew Velazquez has been another great story. The Bronx native enjoying success in his hometown. When the Yankees signed him in January, I didn’t think much of the move. It seemed like just more fodder for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. But the 27-year-old utility man and one time Diamondback-Ray-Indian (Guardians?) has fully taken advantage of Gleyber Torres’ time away. I am happy to see his success. I don’t know what his long-term future will be. When Gleyber comes back, decisions will have to be made to open room. Never a great Tyler Wade fan, I’d prefer Velazquez but there are those who can make the legitimate argument for why Wade should be the choice to stay. I hope Velazquez can continue to make this a very difficult and complicated decision for the Yankees’ front office. For now, I will enjoy his play and the smile on his face when he comes up with a key hit or makes a challenging fielding play. 

Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg, NY Post

Here is an image certain to bring a smile to the face of any Yankee fan:

As always, Go Yankees!