Yankees limping to the finish line, but a fresh start is right around the corner


The Yankees are somehow pulling off the ultra-rare combination of exceeding expectations and being a huge disappointment this season. Not many people thought this team would contend coming into the season, yet here they are, on the verge of clinching a postseason spot. A win and they’re in. Nice and simple, right?

At the same time, expectations recalibrate, and the Yankees were seven games up in the AL East just two short months ago. That lead vanished in a matter of days, it seemed. The Yankees were eliminated from the division race yesterday and will have to settle for a wildcard spot. I think many of us would have taken a wildcard spot before the season. But in late July? Nah.

The Yankees are playing an awful brand of baseball right now. The rotation is shaky, the offense can never seem to get The Big Hit, and the bullpen has become such a liability that even Dellin Betances blew a lead last night. Nothing is going right at the moment. Nothing other than the new Dustin Ackley/Rob Refsnyder second base platoon, I guess. These last few games have not been inspiring.

The good news is the Yankees have a clean slate coming. The regular season ends Sunday and the postseason starts Tuesday. That’s a fresh start. A new beginning. I’m not sure how many years have to pass before it doesn’t have to be pointed out that being hot or cold heading into the postseason doesn’t matter one bit. Hot and cold streaks are not predictive. Hitting .400 over the last two weeks doesn’t mean you’ll get a hit tomorrow. (Tom Verducci wrote more on the myth of momentum.)

“We never want to lose,” said Andrew Miller to Chad Jennings following yesterday’s game. “We don’t want to lose one game, let alone two, three in a row, or whatever it is. At the same time, if we take care of business, we get a chance to start anew, and I think that’s what we look forward to. Anything can happen once you get there. I’ve seen it first hand multiple times. I think once you get into it, we’ve got the team to win games and get hot and take off and play as a unit, and I think that’s what’s important.”

Do I want the Yankees to turn things around and finish the regular season strong heading into the wildcard game? Of course. When you watch them play, there are times you wonder how they’re ever going to win again. But look at last night’s game — they had 21 (!) base-runners in the first nine innings. That’s really good. It didn’t lead to a win, but it’s a sign of good play. Leaving all the runners on base was ugly, sure, but those base-runners are a huge positive. That’s a good sign and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Yankees are backing into the postseason but hey, that’s still the postseason. It’s tough to watch and feel good about their postseason chances, that’s human nature, but the wildcard game is five days away. Five days is an eternity in baseball. We see it every year — every single year without fail — that the postseason is a clean slate and performance can change in a hurry, for better or worse. The Yankees desperately need that fresh start, and thankfully it is right around the corner.

Thoughts as the Yankees wait to clinch a postseason spot


The Yankees were unceremoniously eliminated from the AL East race yesterday afternoon, when the Blue Jays beat the Orioles in the first game of the doubleheader. They had a seven-game lead once upon a time, but boy, it disappeared in a hurry. The good news is New York is still in good position to clinch a postseason spot. Win one of the final four games and they’re in. Anyway, I have thoughts.

1. The Yankees are playing terribly right now — they didn’t even look good while taking three of four from the White Sox over the weekend, that was a grind of a series — and they look old and worn down. That’s because the Yankees always look old and worn down whenever they struggle, regardless of the time of year. Most teams do, but the Yankees are actually old, so there’s some truth behind it. Last night’s homer notwithstanding, I absolutely think it’s fair to wonder if Alex Rodriguez is running on fumes at this point. Joe Girardi admitted it was a concern yesterday. He’s 40 years old with two surgically repaired hips, and he was phenomenal at the start of the season. Really into late-July. But even as a full-time DH, A-Rod very well might be gassed after 157 games. It’s not just sitting on the bench, getting four at-bats and running to first a few times. There’s all the pregame work in the cages and the travel and all that stuff too. Baseball is a very demanding sport, it’s an endurance sport at heart, and as great as Alex is, he’s at the age where he can’t bounce back from the physical grind as well as he once did. The Yankees are struggling right now and they look old, because they always look old when they struggle. A-Rod is the only position player I am truly worried about being worn down though.

2. Even with his recent control issues, Dellin Betances has joined Andrew Miller to form the most dominant one-two bullpen punch in baseball. No other team has two relievers who can compare. Betances and Miller are the strength of the roster, and while that’s great when leading after six or seven innings, the Blue Jays also showed how quickly that strength can be negated. The Yankees and Blue Jays played 13 games after the trade deadline, and Betances and Miller combined for only nine appearances in the 13 games. Five by Betances, four my Miller. That’s all. Why didn’t they pitch more often? The Blue Jays had the lead. Betances and Miller are dynamite, but their usage is dependent on the other players on the roster, so the Blue Jays were able to remove those two from the equation by having a better offense and a better rotation than the Yankees. Having a dominant one-two bullpen punch is great! You need a strong bullpen to contend these days, especially with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings. Bullpen usage depends on the offense and rotation though, and if those parts of the team aren’t up to snuff, the great relievers get marginalized. That happened with Betances and Miller against the Blue Jays in the second half.

3. How about Dustin Ackley? It’s too bad he missed that month with a back injury after the trade considering how well he’s played the last two weeks. I didn’t think Ackley would have any sort of impact at all — he was terrible with the Mariners (76 wRC+) and he was replacing Garrett Jones, which meant he was probably never going to play — but here he is, mashing taters and playing second base nearly everyday. It’s very easy to get excited about a player like this, a former elite prospect and super high draft pick coming to a more competent organization with a more hitter friendly ballpark. I have no idea what the plan is for Ackley next year. We’ve got an entire offseason ahead of us to think about that. Right now though, Ackley has been tremendous the last two weeks. I’m not buying in all the way yet, but Ackley has talent, and it’s easy to understand why the Yankees wanted to pick him up. Classic change of scenery guy who has produced right away. The Yankees have done well with players like this this season (Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi are two other examples.)

4. Greg Bird‘s role with the Yankees going forward has been a much discussed topic the last few weeks. He’s clearly the first baseman of the future, but Mark Teixeira is still under contract next season, and neither Teixeira nor Bird can play a position other than first base or DH. Teixeira’s not going anywhere — he has full no-trade protection and no reason to uproot his family — and, frankly, he’s the better player and should be at first base in 2016. As good as Bird has been, Teixeira was a monster before getting hurt. The Yankees miss him, especially against lefties. Anyway, I made this handy flow chart to help you figure out what the Yankees should do with Bird next season:

Bird flow chart

That sums it up, right? When Bird is hitting homers and doing well, we all want him in MLB. When he’s striking out in bunches, eh maybe some more time in Triple-A wouldn’t be the end of the world. Then we all wait until for his next at-bat to change our minds again. As with Ackley, this is a “worry about it in the offseason” problem. (“Problem.”) Get through the season first. Besides, A-Rod and Teixeira (and Bird, for that matter) haven’t been the most durable players in recent years. This could easily take care of itself and all three guys end up playing 100-120 games or so. I’m just glad Bird has put himself in this discussion. I had no expectation of him playing in MLB this season, let alone producing in an everyday role.

5. This has not been Girardi’s finest month in terms of on-field moves. I think he’s an average-ish strategic manager who does his best work behind closed doors in the clubhouse. The Yankees are, amazingly, a distraction-free team, and I think Girardi deserves a ton of credit for that. On the field though, there have been really questionable moves in September. Last Wednesday’s game stands out the most, when a bunch of Triple-A relievers decided a close game against the Blue Jay the Yankees more or less had to have to stay alive in the AL East, but there have been some other weird ones. Pinch-running for A-Rod at first base with the bases loaded a few weeks ago, for example. Using four different second baseman in four innings against the Mets because of unnecessary double switches. That sorta stuff. Girardi doesn’t hit or pitch, he can push the correct button every time and it still might not work out. That’s baseball. His job is to put his players and his team in the best possible position to succeed, and I’m not sure he’s done that consistently this month. I don’t think Girardi should be fired or anything that. I’m just making an observation. This hasn’t been a great month for the skipper.

Yankees miss chances, drop one in the extras against Boston for a 9-5 loss

Well, the Yankees came close to two big feats tonight: the 10,000th franchise victory and a postseason berth. I do think both will happen soon but it would have been nice to get those out of the way tonight, especially against the Red Sox in a game that should have been won. New York missed multiple chances late in the game and allowed one to slip away on a cold night in Bronx. You know what they say, the 10,000th win is the hardest.


Masahiro, not a hero tonight

Masahiro Tanaka had a good beginning for the first two hitters – a strikeout of Mookie Betts and pop out of Dustin Pedroia. However, he allowed a single to Xander Bogaerts and walked David Ortiz to put two on with Travis Shaw on plate. Shaw, as you may know, has become somewhat of an unprecedented slugger in ML. His numbers in the bigs have completely surpassed the minor league ones. The Boston first baseman took a 89-mph fastball down in the zone out of the park to give his team a 3-0 lead. That went from 0 to 100 real quick.

Tanaka had an easy one-two-three second inning. In the third, however, he allowed a ground-rule double to Pedroia to start the rally. Two batters later, Ortiz drove him in with an RBI single to give Sox a 4-1 lead. Well, that’s about all the damage Tanaka allowed. He had two more one-two-three innings for a mixed bag of an outing — five innings, four runs, five hits, one walk and three strikeouts. He labored and breezed at different times. Hopefully he’s getting some rust off before his next start, which, possibly could be, the AL Wildcard game.


Miley, what’s good?

Wade Miley had a pretty rough start to the season but he’s progressed for better. Prior to tonight’s game, he had a 4.39 ERA/3.80 FIP in 188.2 IP, good for a 2.5 fWAR. Not bad. The Yankee bats didn’t really leave him alone though. In the bottom of second, trailing 3-0, Chris Young singled and Greg Bird walked to put two runners on with two outs. Rob Refsnyder, in the lineup as a righty bat platoon for second base, hit an outside fastball to opposite field for a ground-rule double. That was not a good break for the Yanks – had the ball stayed in the park, they would have scored two. Nonetheless, the Yankees deficit cut down to 3-1.

Fast forward to bottom of fifth (4-1 Red Sox by then), when Yankees put together a bigger rally. Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. With one out, A-Rod worked a walk and Carlos Beltran drilled a ground-rule double to trim the deficit to 4-2. With one out and runners on second and third, Brian McCann hit an RBI groundout and Chris Young hit an infield single to drive in another – a 4-4 tie game. Unfortunately for New York, the team would not be as successful with runners on later in the game.


Getting the lead and spitting it back

Former UConn product Matt Barnes came in for Boston in the sixth to relieve Wade Miley. With two outs, A-Rod took his 95-mph fastball and turned it into a go-ahead home run. That was his first home run since September 15 against the Rays. Also since that game, up to tonight, he had only been hitting .147/.268/.206, which is not great. Hopefully his bat will start to get hot heading into the postseason and beyond. Oh, and Yankees took their first lead of the game, 5-4.

In the bottom of seventh, however, after Justin Wilson got the two first outs, Joe Girardi replaced him with Dellin Betances because why not? That’s how things had been going. However, Dellin allowed a booming, game-tying solo homer to Mookie Betts on a 96-mph fastball right down the middle. 5-5. According to Ian Browne of MLB.com, that was 96 mph in, 105 mph out. Whoosh.

Missed opportunities

Against Heath Hembree in the seventh, McCann worked a walk and was immediately lifted for Rico Noel because, running. Noel stole second and advanced to third on a long Brett Gardner fly out. Noel did make a big turn at third for maybe a chance to get to home but he didn’t bite. Boy, he’s fast. In the postseason, where late-inning runs can be very, very precious, I’d love to see some Noel pinch-running heroics. Torey Lovullo switched Hembree to lefty Tommy Layne and Yankees countered the move by pinch-hitting for Bird with John Ryan Murphy.

After a 3-2 count battle, Layne got Murphy fishing with a 84 mph slider diving in. Red Sox opted to intentionally walk righty-hitting Refsnyder and face lefty-hitting Didi Gregorius. And, well, Boston’s strategy worked. Didi flew out to strand two runners and kept the score tied at 5-5.

The Yankees’ futile offensive attempts continued into the eighth. Ellsbury walked to lead off but got picked off by Layne. Not ideal. Chase Headley did get on base via walk and A-Rod also walked. All of sudden, here was another good scoring chance for the Yanks. Lovullo brought in the Red Sox closer Jean Machi against Carlos Beltran, who grounded into force out to make it two outs and runners on corners. With it being Brendan Ryan’s turn to hit, Girardi put Dustin Ackley to pinch-hit and … he walked. Yankees had four base-runners reach in that frame by then and none of them were via hits and they did not get any run — Brett Gardner grounded out weakly to leave the bases loaded. That’s 13 runners left on base.

Andrew Miller pitched a scoreless ninth to keep it 5-5. Bottom of ninth, Red Sox put Alexi Ogando to pitch and Murphy led off the frame with a single. However, Refsnyder struck out (after multiple missed bunt attempts), Didi popped out and Ellsbury flew out to waste it. In the tenth, Beltran walked with two outs to put another base-runner on (would also be lifted for pinch-runner Heathcott) but Dustin Ackley flied out to deep left to strand another Yankee base-runner. Yep, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s that kind of night.


Falling apart

Andrew Miller tossed two scoreless so Yankees turned to the next option to keep the game tied in the 11th inning, so they went with Andrew Bailey, the former All-Star. Travis Shaw reached on an infield single but All-Star Brock Holt bunt popped-out for the first out. Bailey battled Swihart to the 3-2 count and allowed a single to put runners in the corner with only one out. The next hitter, Deven Marrero, hit the first pitch just out of reach of Didi and Refsnyder to give Red Sox a 6-5 lead. It was far from over — Girardi brought in Chasen Shreve, whose charm seemed to have ran out lately. With runners on corner, Jackie Bradley Jr. pulled a suicide squeeze to drive another one for a two-run lead. And Mookie Betts connected for his second homer of the game to put the nail in the coffin, 9-5 Red Sox.

Robbie Ross Jr. came into pitch in the bottom of the frame to close it out for the Sox. Gardner led off with a single to keep the hopes alive but Murphy lined out and Refsnyder GIDP’d to end the game. Yankees are stalled out at 9,999 wins for another day.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees and Red Sox wrap up this series Thursday night. CC Sabathia and Rich Hill will be the pitching matchup.

Game 158: Tanaka Returns

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

After a 12-day hamstring-related hiatus, Masahiro Tanaka returns to the mound and rejoins the rotation tonight. And not a second too soon either. The Yankees need to line him up for next Tuesday’s wildcard game, and they need to actually clinch a postseason spot too. That hasn’t happened yet. It can happen tonight though.

For the Yankees to clinch their first postseason berth since 2012 tonight, they first need to beat the Red Sox, and then any two of the following have to happen as well:

– Twins lose (doubleheader at Indians)
– Astros lose (at Mariners)
– Rangers OR Angels lose (Rangers home against Tigers, Angels home against A’s)

Got all that? I miss the days of “you win, this other team loses, and you’re in” clincher scenarios. Life was much simpler before that second wildcard spot came along. Anyway, as long as the Yankees win and two of those other three things happen, they’ll clinch a postseason spot tonight. Gotta take care of the Red Sox first. Here is Boston’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 2B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. LF Chris Young
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Good news on the weather front: there is only a small chance of rain throughout the night. At this time yesterday the forecast said it was supposed to pour basically all day and night. That hasn’t happened. Hasn’t rained since the late-morning. The sky does look mighty threatening though. Tonight’s game will begin just after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Try to enjoy.

Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Position Players


The Yankees are in position to clinch a wildcard spot very soon, possibly tonight, so it’s time to start thinking about the wildcard game roster. Earlier today we sorted through the pitching staff, trying to figure out which ten or eleven pitchers the Yankees will carry in the wildcard game. It was easier said than done.

Ten or eleven pitchers — my guess is ten, but you never know — leaves 14-15 position player spots to fill. Joe Girardi will have a decent-sized bench at his disposal, but ideally it won’t come into play too much. The starting lineup will decide the game. As we did with the pitchers, let’s go through the position player group and try to figure out who will be on the wildcard game roster next Tuesday.

The Locks

This is the easy part …

Catcher: Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy
First Base: Greg Bird
Second Base: ???
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius
Third Base: Chase Headley
Outfield: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran
Designated Hitter: Alex Rodriguez

That’s nine of the 14-15 position player spots right there and they’re all self-explanatory right? Right. That is eighth-ninths of the starting lineup and the backup catcher. All easy calls. Next.

Second Base

For most of the summer, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan platooned at second base. That is no longer the case. Drew has been dealing with some dizziness/concussion issues that may end his season, but even before that Dustin Ackley wrestled the starting job away from him. Ackley got some playing time, hit right away, and he’s continued to play against right-handers.

Meanwhile, Rob Refsnyder has started each of the Yankees’ last four games against left-handed starters, not Ryan. Chances are Refsnyder will start against lefties Wade Miley, Rich Hill, and Wei-Yin Chen the next three days too. Like Ackley, he got a few at-bats, got some hits, and has received more playing time. That Drew/Ryan platoon was together for 140 games or so. The last 16 have gone to Ackley/Refsnyder.

Smackley. (Presswire)
Smackley. (Presswire)

At this point there is no doubt Ackley will be on the wildcard roster. The rest of the guys is where it gets tricky. Refsnyder is starting against lefties, but would the Yankees actually start him in the wildcard game if they face, say, Dallas Keuchel or Scott Kazmir or Cole Hamels? I get the sense Girardi would stick with Ackley in that situation and just roll with his best player.

If Refsnyder’s not going to start the game, then what’s his role? Pinch-hitter against a lefty reliever. That’s all. I guess he could pinch-run too, but there figure to be other guys on the roster to do that. Refsnyder’s not going to come in for defense. Pinch-hitter against a lefty is a big deal though! It could be the difference in the late-innings of a close game. Given the extra bench spots, I think Refsnyder’s in.

With Ackley and Refsnyder on the roster, the Yankees will need to carry a shortstop-capable backup infielder. Neither of those guys can play short. Not even in an emergency. That leaves a spot for Drew or Ryan. In a vacuum, I’d take Drew over Ryan eight days a week and twice on Sundays. But Drew isn’t healthy and we shouldn’t count on him getting healthy before the wildcard game. He’s still dealing with this dizziness/concussion stuff and has been for almost two weeks now. That puts Ryan on the wildcard game roster along with Ackley and Refsnyder.

The Pinch-Runner

Rico Noel will be on the wildcard game roster. I’m sure of it. One of the benefits of shrinking the pitching staff in the postseason is creating an open roster spot for someone just like Noel. A burner who can come off the bench to pinch-run in the late innings of a close game. Look at Rico run:

The kid can fly and his speed can potentially have a huge impact in the wildcard game. The Yankees brought Noel up this month strictly to pinch-run and I fully expect him to be on the postseason roster. Remember, they carried Freddy Guzman on the postseason roster in 2009 for this exact reason. Noel’s on the wildcard roster. I have no doubt about it.

(Since he wasn’t called up until September 1st, Noel will technically have to be an injury replacement. The Yankees have two position player injury spots available thanks to Mark Teixeira and Mason Williams.)

The Backup Outfielder

Noel will be on the wildcard game roster but he’s not really a backup outfielder. He’s a pinch-runner and that’s all. (The scouting reports indicate Noel is a pretty good defender, but the Yankees haven’t used him defensively all that much.) The Yankees will still need to carry a legitimate backup outfielder if for no other reason than to replace Beltran for defense in the late innings. Chris Young, who is the only righty hitting outfielder on the roster, held that job all season and I expect him to be on the wildcard roster. I know he’s stumped lately, but there’s no reason to think the Yankees won’t carry Young in October. In fact, I’m not sure how you can look at the 39-man active roster and saying Young doesn’t belong on the wildcard game roster. He’s in.

The Final Roster Spot

We still have one last roster spot to fill. The nine locks above plus Ackley, Refsnyder, Ryan, Noel, and Young gets us to 14 position players. I suppose the Yankees could carry eleven pitchers, but I doubt it. It was hard enough coming up with ten pitchers worth a spot on the wildcard roster. One last position player makes sense.

There’s no point in carrying three catchers, so Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are out. The remaining candidates are Jose Pirela and Slade Heathcott, assuming Drew is indeed done for the year. With Refsnyder on the roster, there’s no need for Pirela, another righty hitter. Yeah, Pirela can play the outfield if necessary, but he’s an emergency option out there only. Noel and Ackley are available as emergency outfielders. I also think Pirela would have played more this month if he was a serious wildcard game roster candidate.

Slade. (Presswire)
Slade. (Presswire)

That leaves it between Heathcott and a possibly but not likely healthy Drew. If Drew is not over high dizziness/concussion symptoms by next week, this questioned gets answered for us. In the unlikely event Drew is healthy though, would it make sense to carry another infielder or another outfielder? I think an extra outfielder makes more sense. Between Ackley, Refsnyder, and Ryan, you’ve got the second base starter and two backups. The only backup outfielder is Young considering Noel’s job is pinch-running.

Heathcott gives the Yankees another potential pinch-runner — he’s no Rico, but he’s faster than Young or Refsnyder — and another quality defender, as well as a left-handed bat on the bench. In fact, Drew and Slade are the only possible lefty bats off the bench, and one’s hurt. Besides, if Drew is healthy, it’s Ryan or Heathcott, not Drew or Heathcott. I’d take Heathcott over Ryan.

With Slade on the roster, the Yankees would have two backup infielders even without Drew (or Ryan), and Heathcott at least has a chance to contribute offensively and defensively. I mean, if Drew’s healthy and on the roster, what’s the point of Ryan? What does he offer in a winner-take-all game? I’d expect neither guy to actually play in the game, but, if pressed into action, it’s easy to see Slade having more potential impact than Ryan.

So after all of that, here’s the 25-man wildcard game roster we’ve kinda sorta pieced together today:

Catchers (2) Infielders (7) Outfielders (6) RHP (5) LHP (5)
McCann Bird Gardner Masahiro Tanaka (SP) Andrew Miller
Murphy Ackley Ellsbury Dellin Betances Justin Wilson
Gregorius Beltran Adam Warren Chasen Shreve
Headley Young Andrew Bailey Chris Capuano
A-Rod (DH) Heathcott Nova/Severino/Pineda CC Sabathia
Refsnyder Noel (PR)

Remember, the Yankees can change their 25-man roster prior to the ALDS should they advance, and they’ll have to change it too. They’d need to get more starting pitchers on the roster. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. One thing at a time.

That appears to be the best 25-man roster the Yankees can carry in the wildcard game. Maybe not the most talented, but the most useful given the circumstances. We’re not planning for a best-of-five or best-of-seven series. It’s one game. One stupid little game where anything can happen. Hopefully Girardi won’t have to use anyone beyond the nine starting position players, Beltran’s defensive replacement, Tanaka, and the big three relievers. That’s the best case scenario. If the Yankees need to dip any deeper into their wildcard game roster than that, then, well, just hang on tight.

Stephen Drew’s season likely over due to dizziness and concussion symptoms


Yesterday afternoon, both Stephen Drew and Joe Girardi acknowledged Drew’s season may be over due to his ongoing dizziness and concussion symptoms. He’s gone for tests which ruled out “serious stuff” but showed a problem with his vestibular system, the inner ear system that controls balance and eye movements.

“From the MRI, the good news is they were basically checking some serious stuff and that showed negative, but on the concussion side it’s kind of leaning toward that,” said Drew to Fred Kerber. “They’re going to do some more tests and try to figure it out and go from there because of the way I’m feeling … It’s more or less the vestibular. They’re trying to pinpoint it. There is no time frame. I could wake up tomorrow and feel really good.”

Drew, 32, has not played since last Tuesday and has only played nine innings in the field (three at-bats) in the last 15 days. Part of that is Dustin Ackley taking over as the starting second baseman, but Drew has been dealing with this dizziness for about ten days now. He said he believes it happened during the doubleheader with the Blue Jays, when a ground ball deflected off his glove and hit him in the face.

“You go back on the play when the ball deflected off the glove and hit me in the face. I don’t think much about it and keep playing. It just progressed, got worse. It’s that play. There was nothing else in the season,” said Drew. He missed time with a concussion with the Red Sox in 2013 and had vestibular problems as well. “That’s the symptoms I’ve been having. With the vestibular, when I had it in ’13 it was really severe.”

Girardi said the Yankees are “playing it like we’re not going to have him” the rest of the season, which makes sense. Drew said there hasn’t been much improvement in recent days and the season ends Sunday, so there’s not much time for things to improve. You don’t want a player to rush back from a possible concussion either. It’s a brain injury, remember. You don’t mess around with those.

Assuming Drew’s season is over, he finishes the year having hit .201/.271/.381 (76 wRC+) with 17 homers in 428 plate appearances, which is quite bad. His defense in his first year as a full-time second baseman was fine, more than fine really, but I’m not sure any level of defense makes up for making an out nearly 73% of the time. Drew was worth the $5M flier but it didn’t work out. So it goes. The Yankees have a good second base situation right now.

Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Pitching Staff


At some point soon, possibly later today, the Yankees will officially clinch their first postseason berth in three seasons. It’s only a wildcard spot, sure, but a wildcard spot is better than nothing. Both the Royals and Giants went to the World Series after being wildcard teams last year, remember.

The wildcard game is considered its own distinct playoff round, which means it gets its own 25-man roster. It’s not a regular season game, so no expanded rosters with September call-ups, but the Yankees would also be able to change their roster prior to the ALDS, should they advance. They can build a roster specifically for the wildcard game.

There have been 12 wildcard teams since the current system was put in place in 2012, and those 12 teams averaged 9.67 pitchers on the roster. Three teams carried eleven pitchers, three carried ten, five carried nine, and one carried eight. There’s no need to carry all the extra starting pitchers, so teams have taken advantage and expanded their benches.

Whoever starts Game 162 for the Yankees on Sunday won’t be on the wildcard roster. There’s no reason to carry him since they won’t be available for the wildcard game on Tuesday. It also wouldn’t make sense to carry the Game 161 starter since he’d be on two days’ rest in the wildcard game. Right now Luis Severino and Michael Pineda are lined up to start Games 161 and 162, respectively, though that can change.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees love to match up with their relievers, so my guess is they end up carrying ten or eleven pitchers in the wildcard game. I’d be surprised if it was any fewer but I suppose it is possible. Which ten or eleven pitchers should the Yankees carry in the wildcard game? Let’s try to figure it out. Later today we’ll tackle the position player side of things.

The Locks

Might as well start with the easy ones to get them out of the way. Masahiro Tanaka will start the wildcard game — he will return from his hamstring injury tonight and start with “no restrictions” (no pitch count, basically), putting him in line for the wildcard game with an extra day of rest — and we know Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson will be in the bullpen. That’s four of the ten or eleven spots right there. You can be sure Girardi would prefer not to use anyone other than those four in the wildcard game too.

If Tanaka’s hamstring acts up tonight, my guess is the Yankees would rearrange their weekend rotation and go with either Severino or Pineda in the wildcard game. (Likely Severino given Pineda’s dud last night.) CC Sabathia is starting tomorrow night and would be able to start the wildcard game on regular rest, though I’d be surprised if he got the call. Yes, Sabathia has pitched better of late, and he is the team’s highest paid starter, but the Yankees wouldn’t even run him out there against the Blue Jays in a regular season game. In a winner-take-all wildcard game? It would surprise me to see him out there if better options available (i.e. Severino).


The Safe Bet

Given their need in middle relief and the fact they have four other starters for the postseason rotation, it makes perfect sense for Adam Warren to be on the wildcard game roster and ready for middle innings work. He is currently stretched out to 80+ pitches and lined up to start Friday, which means he’ll be on three days’ rest for the wildcard game. The Yankees could always cut Friday’s start short — say three innings or 50 pitches, something like that — to make sure Warren is fresh for Tuesday. Unless someone gets hurt and Warren has to remain in the postseason rotation, I expect him to be on the wildcard game roster. He’s too good not be in the bullpen for that game. So five of the ten or eleven pitching spots are claimed.

Whither Shreve?

Considering how well he pitched for most of the season, it’s hard to believe Chasen Shreve‘s postseason roster spot is now in question. He’s been that bad in recent weeks. Girardi has already reduced his high-leverage work, so Shreve’s falling out of favor. Once the Yankees clinch, Girardi and the Yankees absolutely should use Shreve as much as possible these last few regular season games to try to get him sorted out, and those last few outings could easily determine his wildcard roster fate. Right now, given his overall body of work, my guess is he’s on the roster.

The Extra Starters

Tanaka is going to start the wildcard game but it would also make sense to carry an extra starter or two in the bullpen, at the very least to serve as a long relief option in case things get crazy in extra innings. As I said, Sabathia would be on full rest for the wildcard game and could serve as the extra starter. Ivan Nova is another candidate — he started Monday and probably won’t start again during the regular season — but I think it’s more likely Nova starts Saturday or Sunday, leaving Severino or Pineda available for the wildcard game. I have a hard time thinking Nova will be on the wildcard game roster, but I guess it’s possible. Do the Yankees need one or two extra starters? I guess that depends how the rest of the roster shakes out. For now I’m thinking Sabathia and another starter will be in the wildcard game bullpen.

The Rest of the Rest

Assuming Warren, Shreve, and two spare starters are on the wild card roster, the Yankees still have two or three pitching spots to fill to get their staff up to ten or eleven. They have no shortage of candidates, that’s for sure. Andrew Bailey, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Chris Capuano, Bryan Mitchell, Chris Martin, Caleb Cotham, and Nick Goody are all on the active roster at the moment. Those last two or three arms will come from that group.

Process of elimination: Goody is out because he’s barely pitched in September, making only two appearances. He seems to be at the very bottom of the Triple-A reliever depth chart. Martin is basically one rung higher — he’s made five appearances this month and three lasted one out. He’s out too. Mitchell looked pretty sharp in short relief earlier this season but has not been all that effective since taking the line drive to the face. Can’t afford to risk his wildness in a winner-take-all game. He’s out.


That leaves Bailey, Pazos, Pinder, Rumbelow, Capuano, and Cotham. Bailey is a Proven Veteran™ who Girardi has tried to squeeze into some tight spots of late. Sometimes it’s worked (last Friday against the White Sox), sometimes it hasn’t (last Wednesday in Toronto). Pazos and Capuano are lefties, and I thought it was interesting Capuano was used in a true left-on-left matchup situation Monday night (he struck out both batters). He warmed up again for a similar spot last night, but did not enter the game. Pazos has been okay — lefties are 2-for-7 with a walk against him this month — but not great. The next few days could be telling. If we see Capuano get more lefty specialist work, he’ll probably be the guy.

Out of all the guys on the bullpen shuttle, Pinder has spent the most time on the big league roster this year while both Rumbelow and Cotham seemed to get chances to grab hold of a middle relief spot at various points. Neither really did. Both have shown flashes of being useful. Flashes shouldn’t be enough to get them on the wildcard roster though. Right now, I believe both Bailey and Capuano will make the wildcard roster with the caveat that Capuano could get smacked around in the coming days and lose his spot. In that case I think they’d take Pazos as the emergency lefty specialist.

The mechanics of getting Bailey on the roster are simple. He was in the organization before August 31st, so he’s postseason eligible, but he didn’t get called up until September 1st. That means he has to be an injury replacement. The Yankees have three pitching injury spots to play with: Chase Whitley, Sergio Santos, and Diego Moreno. (The injury replacements have to be pitcher for pitcher, position player for position player. No mixing and matching.) Whitley and Santos had Tommy John surgery while Moreno had bone spurs taken out of his elbow. Bailey replaces one of them. Pazos would get one of the other two spots if he makes the roster.

Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is in the middle of a throwing program but has already been ruled out for the wildcard game. The hope is he can join the bullpen should the Yankees advance to the ALDS. Probably should have mentioned that earlier. Anyway, so after all of that, here’s my ten-man pitching staff guesstimate for the wildcard game:

Nova (or Severino or Pineda)
Tanaka (starter)


That might be it right there. The Yankees don’t have to carry an 11th pitcher. Ten is plenty — especially since both Sabathia and Nova/Severino/Pineda would be available for super long relief — and is right in line with the previous 12 wild card teams. If they do carry an 11th reliever, I think it would be a righty just to even things out. So … Cotham? Girardi has used him in some big-ish situations of late. Either way, the 11th pitcher’s role on the wildcard roster would be what, 25th inning guy?

The ten-man pitching staff includes Tanaka (the starter) and two extra starters for long relief purposes, giving Girardi a normal seven-man bullpen. For one individual game, that should be plenty. The pitching game plan is pretty simple too, right? Get at least five innings from Tanaka, then turn it over to Wilson, Betances, and Miller. Warren is the next “trusted” reliever. If Girardi has to start dipping into guys like Capuano or Bailey or Shreve, something’s gone wrong.