Brian Cashman doesn’t want the Yankees to lay the groundwork for a potential ALDS matchup with the Red Sox. They just haven’t reached that checkpoint yet.
With nine regular season games remaining, the Yankees’ general manager enjoins his staff and players to focus solely on preserving and securing home-field advantage for the American League Wild Card game on October 3. After all, the Oakland Athletics will stand in their way before Boston can.
“We’d like to put ourselves in the best position possible to fight through anything that comes our way,” Cashman told reporters on Friday at Yankee Stadium. “Limiting travel would be a benefit, but we’ll see how it plays out. Got a lot of good teams we have to play, and Oakland obviously has been resurgent for quite some time now. They’re certainly taking a good shot at it…
“It’s a long year but our guys know what time it is. Not that they’ve ever slacked off or cut back. We know all eyes are on us. We know at the end of the day, it’s postseason baseball in front of us and we’ve got to secure that first and foremost, and we want to host that Wild Card game if at all possible. But if not, the effort’s going to be the same whether it’s here or there.”
Since the All-Star break, the Yankees have largely teetered between promising surges and discouraging stumbles. Entering Saturday, their second-half record of 32-26 ranks sixth-best in the American League, and due to these mood swings, they were ultimately no match for the formidable Red Sox, who clinched their third consecutive division title on Thursday in the Bronx. The last time Boston celebrated a postseason accomplishment via a win at Yankee Stadium was back in 2004, during Game 7 of the ALCS.
Although the Yankees had aspirations of winning the AL East — the early December acquisition of reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton made them favorites to do so — Cashman admitted back in February the team still wasn’t on equal footing with the Red Sox, who were defending division champs. Not long after those comments, Cashman likened the Yankees to underdogs, coining them, “The Little Engine That Could.”
Due to summer slumps and debilitating injuries, the Yankees couldn’t keep up with Boston in the standings. And this reality caused a slight sting on Thursday. But Cashman was encouraged by the Yankees’ series against the Sox, and he believes the team is capable of another deep October run with the roster back at full-strength.
“I saw a lot of good signs here in this last series. Sorry that we lost here [Thursday], but we’ve gotten everybody back from the disabled list,” Cashman said. “Obviously, we’ve got to finish things off here in the regular season because we want to be the Wild Card home team. We have remaining work cut out for ourselves, but we obviously want to find our stride too, as we enter October so we can be everything we hope we can be. And we got a lot of capable guys in there.
“I know [Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone] is working with this staff hard to fine tune these guys and hopefully we can hit the ground at the highest level when it counts in the postseason.”
As for who will start the wild card game for the Yankees, Cashman had no answer. While Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and Luis Severino are qualified candidates, there’s no ruling out the possibility of a bullpen game, which the Yankees were essentially forced to implement in last year’s do-or-die playoff game against the Twins.
Cashman said the wild card game requires “all hands on deck.” And that’s not hyperbole.
“I think we’re going to pick the best person to help us win that game, and then roll with it,” he said. “Our last two cage matches have been with Houston and Minnesota, and in both cases, it was not by strategy, but it turned out to be bullpen games, because the starters were knocked out early and the leash that you go with a starter isn’t long. You have very little time and very little margin for error.
“I assume we’ll start with a starter, knowing we can deploy a high-leverage ‘pen. But I’d say we’re in a very open-minded situation. We try to be. So what’s in our best interest we’ll try to do. But first things first. We have to punch our ticket, and we have to punch our ticket with the home field, which is the most favored circumstance now that we’re not going to be the AL East champs.”
The Yankees enter Saturday with a 1.5-game lead over Oakland for the top wild card spot.