Aug
15

Why the Yankees shouldn’t get too comfortable

By

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

With a win last night courtesy of an absolute gem by Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees’ record stands at 69-47.  Despite their recent stretch of mediocre play, the Yankees are in great shape.  The win puts them a game and a half ahead of the Rangers for the best record in the American League, and a comfortable six games ahead of their closest competitor for the division, the Rays.  The Orioles are also hanging in there at six games back, surpassing the expectations of many (yours truly included) who thought that their hot start was a mirage.  The Red Sox, who I figured would be the Yankees’ biggest threat coming into the season, have been far from that.  Those of you with Schadenfreude may enjoy reading Jeff Passan’s sensationalistic account of the clubhouse problems facing Boston this season, and in particular, their star players’ discontent with Bobby Valentine.  As for the last place Blue Jays, they have been decimated by injuries this season, and were never really a factor.

Considering the position of the other teams in the division, the Yankees are sitting pretty.  While a six-game lead is a nice margin, it is still close enough that the Yankees (and Yankee fans) shouldn’t get complacent.  As we have seen in recent years, the stretch run can be a crazy time of year, and the large number of in-division games remaining can cut into the seemingly most secure leads.  While I am usually optimistic in my writings and ruminations, today I decided to take a look at the reasons the Yankees shouldn’t get too comfortable in the catbird seat.  Just to make things clear, I do think the Yankees will likely win the division, but I wanted to explore a few of the potential barriers that remain.

 Injuries

The Yankees are missing a number of key contributors, including Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, and CC Sabathia.  Sabathia’s injury is apparently not too serious, and he should be back relatively soon.  There may be a little rust, but if his elbow is healthy, he should be the reliable ace the Yankees have depended on since he signed.  While Rodriguez and Pettitte are on track to return before the end of the season, it may be optimistic to expect them to be in midseason form down the stretch.  Given Andy’s advanced age and the location of Alex’s injury, I expect the Yankees to take it slow with both of them, and ensure that they don’t run them out there until they are fully recovered.  Consequently, they may not be in peak form for some potentially big series coming up.

The Yankees have been fortunate that the replacement players have filled in capably for the injured stars, but it may not continue.  Eric Chavez has been a revelation this season, looking like the Chavez of old at the plate and showing that he can still pick it a 3rd base.  However, given his well-documented injury issues, overuse is a legitimate concern, as the extra playing time could cause him to break down or become less effective.  Jayson Nix is OPS’ing nearly 100 points over his career average, and while I think some of that has to do with effectively platooning him to face primarily left-handed starters, there is room for regression.  While Kuroda has been a rotation anchor (and a great Twitter meme), the rest of the Yankee rotation has shown the ability to toss up the occasional stinker.  The inconsistency of Hughes, Nova, and Garcia, along with the youth and inexperience of Phelps, could create the potential for a rough stretch if they all blow up at the same time.

The Rays

The Rays may be six games back, but coincidentally, they have six games remaining against the Yankees.  Their strong pitching staff could give the Yankees fits if they start firing on all cylinders, which is certainly a legitimate possibility.  Matt Moore has turned it on of late, posting a brilliant outing last night, and looking more like the up-and-coming ace he was predicted to become after his strong debut in 2011.  The trio of David Price, James Shields, and Jeremy Hellickson are all capable of keeping the Yankee offense in check, and sometimes, absolute dominance.  Evan Longoria, Tampa’s best offensive threat, recently came back from a long absence due to injury, and his return could energize Tampa’s lineup and provide much-needed punch in the heart of the order.  If Longoria gets off to a hot start, his production combined with Tampa’s pitching could put them on a run (like their seven-game win streak that was snapped last night).

The Orioles

Yes their success to this point seems somewhat fluky and hard to fathom, but the fact of the matter is that the Orioles have hung tough all season.  They have gotten offensive production from their key players, most notably Adam Jones.  The recent callup of stud prospect Manny Machado (who has raked in his first four games since making his major league debut) could add some energy and punch to a lineup that featured Wilson Betemit as the everyday 3rd baseman. Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel have been solid in the rotation, but the other three starters have been pretty mediocre.  The Orioles have covered for this weakness very effectively by having a strong, deep bullpen.

The Machado callup was a fairly aggressive one, since he just turned 20, was in AA, and wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire there.  By rushing Machado to the majors, Baltimore is sending a pretty clear signal that they are going for broke this year, and are going to do whatever it takes to earn a playoff spot.  This may include calling up another phenom in 19 year-old Dylan Bundy, who was recently promoted to AA.  While there is substantial risk inherent in relying on two minor league callups with limited upper level experience, strong debuts by both could make the Orioles a very dangerous team come September.  The Yankees play them four more times, and should look to at least split the remaining games in order to avoid losing ground.

Despite my discussion of some pessimistic themes in this post, I think in all likelihood the Yankees should take the division.  Boston’s struggles this year have definitely given me an added sense of security about the Yankees’ path to the playoffs, but the fact is, Baltimore and Tampa are both close enough to make things interesting if they get on a hot streak and play the Yankees tough in their matchups.  The injuries to several key players on the Yankees does create some uncertainty, and the Rays and the Orioles are in decent position to capitalize on a Yankee slump if some things break their way.  I’m hoping none of the things I am concerned about in this post come to pass, but regardless, it should make for some interesting September baseball.

Categories : Musings

114 Comments»

  1. Eddard says:

    I think you’re wrong. We can get comfortable. Those 3 injured ballplayers are all coming back later this month or next month. Texas doesn’t have better pitching than we do. The other teams are flawed too. The comparisons to last year’s Red Sox are ridiculous. That was a team in disarray and that would never happen here under Cashman and Girardi. The Sox are whiny little babies and they got what they deserved.

  2. The Real Greg says:

    Well the Orioles on here are not a threat to alot of people.

    As for the Rays, they have to play the Rangers 6 times so their schedule isn’t exactly comfy either.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      I’m still a hell of a lot more concerned as to the Rays as I am about the Orioles.

      They’ve stuck around, so I guess we should take them seriously, but I still question whether they have it in them to make the sort of run in which you gain six games from mid-August on.

      • Andruw's Smile says:

        They always seem to got something goin on down there in Tampa too. Until the O’s prove me wrong over a whole season, it’s same old O’s for me.

        Price, Shields and Moore can be pretty devastating when all on (the two lefties scare me especially)

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          I agree. When those three are on, they can carry that offense….and they are.

          The Rays are what the Sox used to be for me in that, regardless of current standing, I always assume they will be there in the end.

        • YanksFanInBeantown says:

          I’m more afraid of Shields, the Yanks hit lefties well.

          • Brian S. says:

            That was last year. I remember hoping for the Rangers in the DS last year because of how pronounced the Yankees split was against lefties last year. This year I actually think we fare better against righties.

  3. Robinson Tilapia says:

    You get complacent when you’re holding the WS trophy.

  4. Darren says:

    Practically speaking, I doubt there’s that much difference between getting “too” comfortable and not. Girardi’s been resting/DHing guys all year (even Jeter in Game 2 or 3, right?); his biggest strength is his bullpen managment, so that’s unlikley to change, Chavez is going to need to rest at least every few games anyway, CC must now be handled somewhat delicately, etc.

    I mean, how would he manage differently if they lost 4 games off the lead? Maybe he’d blow out Logan or Rapada or use Joba more than normal, but doubtful. No one’s gonna pitch on 3 days rest…Neither Pettitte nor Arod are gonna be able to be rushed. So, it is what it is. At most, you can say that hopefully the players (continue to?)play with fire and don’t give up.

    tl; dr:

    Girardi is a cautious manager anyway so not much will change regardless of how big of a lead. The post is more directed to a subtle approach from the plaers – KEEP PLAYING HARD GUYS! than concrete managerial decisions.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      Yeah and, win or lose, they’re still playing hard.

      I don’t see a whole lot of “get comfortable” managerial decisions going on. The DL’ing of CC is certainly forward-thinking, but also the correct move.

  5. JobaWockeeZ says:

    So the rest of the games aren’t a formality then? Mind blown.

  6. Robinson Tilapia says:

    Michael Kay currently questionning the existence of humanity on the radio.

  7. Chad Gaudin the Friendly Ghost says:

    Melky positive for testosterone according to NESPN. Surprising, sort of.

  8. Robinson Tilapia says:

    Think Axisa misses us while doing the MLBTR chat?

  9. Tom Zig says:

    What? No picture? What are we in 2008 or something?

  10. Dixon Hurbut says:

    Re: Melky

    This also means Cano is on rocket fuel, but has been able to avoid getting caught. He always did seem like the smarter of the two.

  11. Gonzo says:

    Does this mean the Yankees can sign Melkman to a bargain 1 year deal this offseason?

  12. VT Yankee Fan says:

    The Yanks have played .500 since July 17. Even if they only play .500 for the remainder of the season the Os and Rays would have to play .630 ball to catch them. Not impossible but also very unlikely.

  13. Todd says:

    I don’t think you should get too comfortable, Eric.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      I think Eric should get extremely comfortable. Best pure writer I’ve seen come in in a guest role. Now where Larry at?

  14. CUYanks says:

    King Felix fighting the good fight this afternoon.

  15. stuckey says:

    “While a six-game lead is a nice margin, it is still close enough that the Yankees (and Yankee fans) shouldn’t get complacent.”

    My, yours and/or our complacency will have no effect on whether the Yankees win the division or not. We can all walk under ladders, while holding a black cat and break a mirror on our way to betting our life savings on the Yankees winning the division and it will have NO effect on whether or not they do.

    Now some will say it was just an innocuous turn of the phrase, but I honestly think there is a fan mindset that you MUST remain vigilant about a team’s potential weaknesses, which is why we see so much obsessing about them hour after hour and day after day and week after week and month after month and year after year.

    • cashthegenius says:

      ummmmmmmm, What?

    • Eric Schultz says:

      Ha, I was wondering if somebody was going to call me on that. I agree that the level of complacency of a fanbase likely has no effect on the team’s performance. I meant that more to say that there are still going to be important games played down the stretch.

      • stuckey says:

        Eric, don’t mean to pick on you, but I think this sort of story is reaching epidemic proportions. Wallace Matthews can be regularly counted on to come up with a “is it time to worry” story whenever he’s able.

        We see this in the press all the time. No matter WHAT the situation, someone in the press attempts to do the “other side” story, simply because reasonably certain things don’t breed good daily stories. The press thrives on an uncertain narrative, which is so much of the press WANTS the selection of Paul Ryan to be a “came changer” (for example). Whether he really is or not seems beside the point.

        Yanks are the AL’s best team. They have a lead in the AL East than anyone one of us would have signed up for on opening day if given the chance without a 2nd thought.

        THAT’s the real story. You can write the “other side” of ANYthing if you want it bad enough.

        • RetroRob says:

          Comparing anything RAB does to Wally Matthews is nonsense. Wally is an instigator, whose job is to drive clicks by non-Yankee fans even more so than Yankee fans, hence the negative takes.

          RAB does analysis and more in-depth looks at the Yankees and players. If that’s not your cup of tea, well…

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      Is that why Greg keeps on yelling at us?

  16. Wayne says:

    I hope thing workout with phelps on Saturday.

  17. CUYanks says:

    I KNEW Jesus Montero would help the Yankees in 2012!

  18. LiterallyFigurative says:

    I don’t think the Yanks are comfortable, I just think that the team is what the team is. This team is flawed, but so is every one else in the AL.

    The Angels, everyone’s darlings after the Grienke trade, haven’t run roughshod over people.

    Texas looks alot like the Yankees. Dangerous and powerful, with decent pitching.

    The Rays are tough and scrappy, but we have had some success over the years vs. their pitchers.

    On and on and on….

    Look at what the Yankees do vs. other teams ace pitchers and tell me we should be shaking in our boots?

    All we can do is watch and wait for the playoffs.

  19. The Real Greg says:

    Meanwhile Felix has a perfecto against the Rays through 4 innings

    • RetroRob says:

      Just flipped on MLBN hoping they were covering it, but seems to be the Giants-minus-Melky game on. I wonder if the goofy fans who dress up in Milkman outfits are wandering around confused, drowning their sorrows in a bottle of milk.

      Timmy looks like it might be time to visit Melky’s chemist. Just gave up yet another long blast.

  20. The Real Greg says:

    Get the blue box out ESPN. He’s through 6

  21. The Real Greg says:

    Felix says “fuck you” to Joe Maddon

  22. Hall and Nokes says:

    If he gets this he’s a True Yankee in my book.

  23. smurfy says:

    Are you watching MLBN, right now? Felix is 2 outs toward perfect in the 9th,

  24. The Real Greg says:

    HE GOT IT

  25. smurfy says:

    hail, the King. Well done, old boy.

  26. smurfy says:

    Good for you, Jaso! You hit damned good too.

  27. Rocky Road Redemption says:

    Not really much I can say except sorry, I’m not really remotely worried…

  28. OMG! Bagels! says:

    Is Mo no longer injured? Thank Mo!

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