Are these New York Yankees for real?
The Bronx Bombers had an 11-game winning streak entering this current series with the Oakland Athletics, one of their main rivals for an American League wild card spot. It was their longest winning streak since 1985, and along the way, they had swept the Boston Red Sox in a series to pass them into the AL East standings and take the wild-card lead.
Ultimately, they extended that winning streak to 13 games, the best since 1961, before the Athletics broke it on Saturday. Still, the Yankees have been arguably the best team in the American League in the second half of the season.
Will this high-caliber game continue down the stretch, or will we see more of the inconsistent club we witnessed in the first half? We posed this question to ESPN baseball experts Joon Lee and David Schoenfield, asking for their input on how far the Yankees will go this year.
So far it has been a bumpy ride in the Bronx. Give us a reason to believe that the sizzling version of the second half of the team is the real Yankees, and a reason it’s a mirage.
Read: Everyone is recovering and they are beginning to feel the impact of the entire squad. The most important thing GM Brian Cashman did at the trade deadline was restore depth to the Yankees. As the Los Angeles Angels show, with Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, you can’t win in baseball with a very heavy roster. The Yankees came into the season as a team with depth and star power, but it seemed like the two could never line up for success. At the moment, they are.
On the other hand, it feels like the Red Sox and Yankees are changing their seasons. Boston outscored each other in the first half while the Yankees struggled. Since then it has been the opposite, and the teams have exchanged places in the rankings. But one thing the leading Tampa Bay Rays haven’t suffered all season is inconsistency, while New York has shown it has two extremes that could show up on any given day. Despite the Yankees’ success in the second half thus far, we don’t know which team will show up when October rolls around.
Schoenfield: Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo not only provided two much-needed left-handed bats to the lineup, but they also added some much-needed swagger. The Yankees seemed to be drowning in their mediocrity and level of expectations. As of July 29, coinciding with Rizzo’s first game on July 30, they were hitting .235 / .323 / .394. In 28 games since then, the Yankees have been 23-5 and hit .249 / .337 / .436.
Pitching has also improved. On July 29, they lost 14-0 to the Rays, in a game started by Gerrit Cole. It was arguably the lowest point of the season. They have posted a 2.77 ERA in that 23-5 stretch and opponents have scored 3.18 runs per game. They did a lot of that without Cole, who missed two weeks while on the COVID-19 disabled list.
So hitting and pitching, two reasons this raise isn’t a mirage. If you want reason to be skeptical, the bullpen is 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA over the 28-game stretch, all while averaging nearly four innings per game. Can you keep that up with the heavy workload?
Who will be the most important Yankee down the stretch?
Read: The return of starting pitchers Corey Kluber and Luis Severino could go a long way in preparing the Yankees for a solid postseason run, but third baseman Gio Urshela could also change the game. Urshela just returned after missing nearly a month with a hamstring injury, and has been a huge player for the Bronx Firefighters for the past two seasons. Urshela hasn’t been as good in 2021, striking out at a higher rate than in 2019 and 2020, but if he can hit more like the Urshela of old, the Yankees’ lineup will look even more formidable down the stretch.
Schoenfield: I just mentioned the bullpen, but Aroldis Chapman is still a concern in the ninth. Aaron Boone had to get him out of two recent save opportunities, and Lucas Luetge and Wandy Peralta had to enter for the final out. If Chapman can’t be trusted, then Boone will have to save Chad Green or Jonathan Loaisiga for the ninth inning, which affects everything else before the ninth. The Yankees’ best team has Chapman clinching the ninth, and they’ve been good despite a shaky Chapman, but that’s not a recipe for success in October.
How far will the Yankees go this season?
Read: They will make the playoffs as wild cards, but I don’t think they have the consistency to make the World Series.
Schoenfield: The lineup has been better, but does it compare to Houston, Tampa Bay, or Chicago? I’m still not convinced. Rizzo and Gallo provide balance for lefties, but I still feel like this is a lineup you can go up against in a postseason series – bring in a southpaw to face the Rizzo / Aaron Judge / Gallo portion of the lineup and then a right-hander. to cut the bottom of the order. Still, they have a legitimate ace in Cole and the White Sox have been more vulnerable lately. For me, Houston is the team to beat, and the Yankees could face the Astros in the division series.
If the Yankees miss the playoffs or come out early, what would that mean for manager Aaron Boone? And how could it affect the team’s offseason plan?
Read: I think part of this would depend on exactly how the Yankees come out. Boone certainly should take some of the blame for how this team performed early, but he also deserves credit for helping turn things around. Beyond Boone, I’m curious to see how the Yankees approach Gleyber Torres’ future, given his struggles this season, especially with an outstanding shortstop like Trevor Story available as a free agent.
Schoenfield: Boone is in the final year of his contract and there has been little public discussion about an extension, so it seems the Yankees have to at least make the postseason for him to keep his job, especially in a season where they They were the American League favorites for the World Series, where the Yankees haven’t been since 2009. I don’t think a wild card is enough, however, after disappointing losses in the American League to the Red Sox in 2018, to the Astros in the 2019 American League Championship Series, and the Rays in the 2020 Division Series. Boone may have to win the American League to wear stripes again in 2022.
As for the offseason, we’ll have to see how the new collective bargaining agreement plays out and how willing the Yankees will be to exceed the luxury tax (if any) after staying under it this year. I’m with Joon: They’ll have a new shortstop next season, with the issue of whether Torres slips to second base or gets traded by some prospects / pitching help. They need to get a little more athletic (Gallo helps in that regard) and a good two-way player like Story is a good fit, with his power, defense and base run. Aaron Hicks is still under contract, but a new center fielder may also be in order.