Everyone’s familiar with the “Next Man Up” story of the 2019 Yankees. When the likes of Judge, Stanton, Gary & Sevy went down, Urshela, Tauchman, Maybin & German were right there to pick up the slack. That team won 103 games en route to an AL East Division title. However, they employed a dangerous strategy heading into the playoffs. They relied on players to return from injury shortly before October and be key contributors.
Severino made just three regular season starts before joining the postseason rotation. Stanton played nine games in September, and Sanchez played just two games after his last IL stint. Edwin Encarnacion did not play between September 12 and ALDS Game 1 on October 4. Aaron Hicks suffered what many believed to be a season-ending injury in August, was not on the ALDS roster, and then ended up playing in the ALCS against Houston.
What happens when a team heavily relies on players to return from injury with little-to-no preparation to be major contributors in October? Spoiler alert, that team does not win the World Series. Well, one year later, the Yankees are on a collision course for a repeat of 2019.
The parade of injuries began with the Yankees losing Tommy Kahnle for the season. Kahnle is an integral piece of the Yankee bullpen, striking out 88 in 61.1 innings in 2019. He was also trustworthy in October, allowing just one run in 5.2 innings in the ALCS.
I thought Yankee fans kind of brushed off Kahnle being gone for the season because we have other high-leverage relievers. It shouldn’t be underplayed, that’s a huge loss for this team.
Zack Britton was the next reliever to hit the IL with a hamstring injury. He’s expected to return, but no timetable has been given. To top it all off, Adam Ottavino has looked like a shell of himself since late last season.
If the Yankee bullpen is to return to form, they need Kahnle’s spot filled, a healthy Britton, and an effective Ottavino. As of right now, they have none of those three things.
We’ve all known Severino would miss 2020 since before coronavirus was even a thing. The talented young right-hander had Tommy John surgery in Spring Training. It hurt, but with Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and Jordan Montgomery in the fold, most were optimistic the Yankees could overcome the loss of Severino.
Fast forward six months, and now Paxton is out with his own elbow issues. He was already having trouble with his velocity following postseason back surgery. Paxton looks to be avoiding Tommy John surgery, but I’m still doubtful that he’ll return in 2020. Best case scenario is he repeats what Severino did in 2019, making 2/3 starts late in the season before the playoffs. He could help, but that’s not someone you can heavily rely on in October.
Even if Paxton comes back, the Yankees need to add another starter at the deadline. Too bad Domingo German isn’t an option right now.
The 2019 Yankees had a revolving door of players step up from obscurity to stardom, carrying the offense no matter who went down. While those players were dubbed the “savages in the box,” this year’s replacements have been below average in the box. Mike Ford, Tyler Wade, and Thairo Estrada have struggled mightily thus far in 2020. Miguel Andujar has yet to find his groove after missing nearly all of 2019 with an injury. The only productive replacement has been Clint Frazier, who boasts a .964 OPS through nine games. As far as I’m concerned, the “savages in the box”/”next man up” mentality of 2019 is officially dead.
Judge was placed on the IL with “lower body soreness” after the series in Tampa. He insisted he was completely fine, only to leave his first game back after five innings. Stanton once again hurt himself running the bases. Gleyber strained his hamstring running to first base. None of their returns are imminent.
Luckily, it appears DJ LeMahieu will return from his IL stint for a thumb injury within the week. The Yankees’ lead-off hitter was off to another fast start after finishing 4th in MVP voting a year ago.
On top of the injuries, the lineup has been plagued by struggling veterans. We’ve seen bad Sanchez this year, as his OPS sits at just .614. Hicks gets on base a lot, but is batting below .200. Brett Gardner is overmatched at the plate, and Urshela is currently mired in a 6-for-39 slump. The only bright spot is Luke Voit, who’s been one of the best hitters in baseball this year. If the Yankees are to have any chance in October, they need Judge, Stanton, and Torres to get healthy, and better play from Sanchez, Hicks and Urshela.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. As of right now, the 2020 Yankees are following the exact blueprint laid by the 2019 squad. I absolutely love this team, but as of right now, to think they’ll win a World Series this year is insane.