Even with the Yankees entering Wednesday with a four-game winning streak and the Red Sox in the midst of a three-game losing streak, New York still trailed Boston by eight games in the AL East (seven in the loss column). With six weeks left in the season, it is an insurmountable lead…or is it?
There are a number of factors playing in favor and against the Yankees and Red Sox, including the teams’ depth, injuries, and schedule.
The Yankees have produced some notoriously bad performances against sub-.500 teams this season. They were
fortunate, lucky, unbelievably lucky to beat the Miami Marlins this past Tuesday night.
After Wednesday night’s game with Miami, the Yankees go to Baltimore for four games with the Orioles (37-89, 6-6 vs. Yankees). The team then travels home for a three-game set with the Chicago White Sox (47-78, 0-3 vs. Yankees) and a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers (52-74, 1-2 vs. Yankees). The White Sox have won six of eight games but have lost their best hitter, Jose Abreu, for at least two weeks.
During the same time period, the Red Sox have the finale of a four-game set against the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians (77-48, 2-0 vs. Red Sox) and a three-game road series with the Tampa Bay Rays (65-61, 5-11 vs Red Sox).
The Red Sox then come home for a quick two-game series with the Marlins (50-77, 0-2 vs. Red Sox) before going back on the road for four games with the White Sox (47-78, 2-1 vs Red Sox)
Both teams need to capitalize during the late August stretch because things will then get tougher. The Yankees have six games on the west coast against the Oakland A’s (76-50) and Seattle Mariners (72-55). The Sox will go up against the Braves for three games in Atlanta (70-55) and then come home for three games with the Houston Astros (76-50).
Both the Yankees and Red Sox have been hit with injuries to significant players. It’s tested the depth of both squads and has Brian Cashman and his Red Sox counterpart (President of Baseball Operations) Dave Dombrowski combing the waiver wire for inexpensive additions.
The Yankees currently have Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius, or one-third of their starting lineup, on the disabled list. Additionally, CC Sabathia and Aroldis Chapman are on the DL with knee issues and David Robertson (shoulder) is ailing.
Gary Sanchez is scheduled to begin his rehab assignment today, but the timetable for Judge’s return is uncertain. Cashman recently admitted to what he felt was a mistake in his optimism about how quickly Judge could make it back into the lineup. He based some of that on team doctor Christopher Ahmed’s own optimism about the condition of the fractured bone in Judge’s wrist.
To a layperson, three weeks seemed a bit premature for a return and unfortunately, that has been the way things have panned out. The Yankees are hoping Gregorius’ bruised heel doesn’t take him much past the 10-day DL period, but Aaron Boone‘s description of a “pretty significant bruise” didn’t sound good.
The rotation will get a boost when Sabathia returns tomorrow (Friday) against the Orioles.
The Red Sox biggest concern is the status of their ace, Chris Sale, who’s made two trips to the DL in the last month with shoulder inflammation. At first, the team downplayed the issue and Sale was activated 12 days after being DL’ed. But just six days later he returned to the 10-day DL.
Though the Sox added Nathan Eovaldi at the trade deadline, Sale’s loss has been magnified by the ineffectiveness of Drew Pomeranz and injuries to Eduardo Rodriguez (though the latter has been sent out on a rehab assignment).
Also, no. 2 starter Rick Porcello has complicated matters with his inconsistency. He’s been brilliant one moment (1-hit complete game vs. Yankees) and awful the next (eight runs in two innings vs. Blue Jays). He hasn’t put back-to-back good efforts together over his last eight starts.
While the Red Sox still score plenty of runs, they lost third baseman Rafael Devers to the DL with a hamstring strain and have been without second baseman Dustin Pedroia for all but three games this season. His replacement, Ian Kinsler, made a trip to the DL and has only produced a .546 OPS in eight games.
Start spreading the (Good) News
Not everything is dire for both ball clubs. For one thing, Boston still has a nine-game lead and some players have stepped up.
June – .950 OPS – 8 HR – 17 RBI
July – .876 OPS – 5 HR – 18 RBI
Aug – .1127 OPS – 8 HR – 16 RBI
Gleyber Torres seemed to be a lock for AL Rookie of the Year, but Andujar’s August has changed that. The third baseman has produced a .995 OPS with 7 HR and 20 RBI in 20 games. His six doubles this month has raised his season total to 36, just eight behind the Yankees rookie record of 44 set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936. Andujar is also within reach of the AL rookie record of 47 doubles, established by Boston’s Fred Lynn in 1975.
MVP-worthy Red Sox
All season long, the Red Sox have had legitimate AL MVP candidates in outfielder/DJ J.D. Martinez and outfielder Mookie Betts. While injuries may take a toll on the team, the duo have come up with one big hit after another.
Martinez is coming off his 2017 monster season – 1.066 OPS – 45 HR – 104 RBI – with a 1.059 OPS and an AL-leading 38 HR and 106 RBI campaign…and the season hasn’t reached September yet. An injury limited Martinez to 119 games last season and he still put up that much production. His 2018 numbers are from the 120 games he’s played this season.
Betts is an incredibly gifted athlete who is good at just about anything he does, especially baseball. He’s currently putting up a career-high 1.071 OPS and with 27 home runs to date, will cruise past his previous high of 31. Betts leads the AL in hitting (.340) and his 24 stolen bases are two steals shy of his previous best. He also a lock to win his third Gold Glove Award.
The two have been remarkably consistent and maintained steady production throughout the season, picking up their streaky teammates.
The Red Sox have also gotten a shot in the arm from an unexpected source – reliever Brian Johnson. Entering Wednesday night’s play, Johnson was 4-1, 3.40 in nine starts this season, a big improvement from his work out of the pen.
Brian Cashman, pick up a white courtesy phone
The Yankees lack of depth is showing during this time. Luke Voit doesn’t belong in the Major Leagues. Austin Romine is as steady defensively as they come and calls a game/handles pitchers as well as anyone in baseball, but his hitting is suffering from playing so much.
Neil Walker is too streaky and Greg Bird has not been able to put it all together for more than two games at a time. It’s time for Cashman to strengthen the team until his starters get back. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of internal options, with a couple of exceptions.
Justus Sheffield started working out of the Scranton RailRiders bullpen to prepare him to join the Yankees’ pen in September. Outfielder Clint Frazier has begun to ramp up baseball activity after suffering symptoms from the concussion he suffered during Spring Training. It would be a tremendous lift to the lineup if Frazier were able to rejoin the team soon.
Up until now, Cashman has strictly used what he has in his team’s personal arsenal. There are players available, while not superstars, who would be more useful than the team’s internal options.
After being designated for assignment, Danny Valencia was released by the Orioles on August 15. He’s versatile – he can play both corner positions and the outfield. More importantly, he’s been eating left-handed pitching for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Valencia has put up splits of .303/.368/.505 in 109 at-bats against lefties this season and has also enjoyed success against the Yankees’ divisional opponents.
Former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen has been the subject of a number of trade rumors. He reportedly passed through waivers meaning the Giants could deal him anywhere.
“Cutch” isn’t the player he was, but could still provide some help from the right-handed hitting batter’s box. In 123 games, he has produced a .255/.353/.412 split with 14 HR and 53 RBI,26 doubles, two triples, and 11 steals in 17 attempts.
McCutchen earns $14.75M this season, meaning money matters would also be a big part of any trade. He’s due a sizable amount – $3.155M according to the website MLB Trade Rumors – for the remainder of the season.
No matter the destination, the Giants seem highly motivated to move McCutchen before the end of August.
Though a right-handed bat suits the Yankees more than a lefty, there is one deal that could make some sense…even if there’s a slim chance of it happening.
Blue Jays left-handed hitting first baseman Justin Smoak (surprisingly) cleared waivers. With Bird struggling mightily – .206/.296/.403, Smoak would be a marked improvement.
Smoak’s splits are currently .255/.364/.468 with 19 home runs. It pales in comparison to the 38 home runs he hit last year, but his 61 RBI in the middle of a weak Blue Jays lineup isn’t bad.
Smoak’s contract has a cheap $6M option/$250K minimum buyout, which in turn would be cause for greater return in a deal. After the season, Smoak could be dealt or kept and Bird could be moved elsewhere.
Down the backstretch they come
The next two weeks will be very telling as to whether or not the Yankees can catch Boston for the AL East title. The two teams meet six more times: a three-game series in New York from 9/18 thru 9/20 and a season-ending three-game series in Boston from 9/28 thru 9/30.
The odds aren’t good.
Or are they?