Beginning at the End

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday, CC Sabathia walked off the mound after 5 2/3 innings. There is a chance that was the last time he walked off the mound as a starter in the regular season for the New York Yankees. Thinking back on it hours later, if it was his last time–I hope it wasn’t–it marks the end of something great, but hopefully the beginning of something that has the potential to be even greater.

CC hasn’t been a dominant pitcher in a long time and Masahiro Tanaka has been the Yankees’ best starter since he arrived; but he might be out the door as well. Two potential endings to two great Yankee careers. But right behind them, there’s a new beginning with equal potential: Luis Severino. It’s impossible to overstate just how good Severino was this year. The only pitchers better than him over the course of the season, really, were Corey Kluber and Chris Sale. That’s some damn good company. Is it likely that Severino has a year this good again? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be great going forward, and it looks like he will. As two ace-like pitchers (possibly? probably?) end their careers as Yankees, another one is taking over at just the right time. Are you ready for the Luis Severino Era?

Love these dudes. (Elsa/Getty)
Love these dudes. (Elsa/Getty)

Who else is ready to see that over and over and over for the next ten years? Hell. Friggin’. Yes. The end of this incredible season by Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge hopefully marks the beginning of a long run of offensive prowess and dominance by two young players that we haven’t seen in decades. Even back in the 90’s, Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams were established when Derek Jeter was establishing himself. And was like O’Neill and Williams when Jorge Posada began his prominence. The most apt comparison is the pair of Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, forging their ways as Yankee pitching mainstays. Sanchez and Judge are doing it on the other side of the ball, though, and with a chance for both of them to be more dominant at their positions than Pettitte ever was. To match Mo, well, that’s a hard ask, isn’t it?

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

Like in September of 2015, Greg Bird has been on fire this month. He was slow out of the block this year before being injured, and was somewhat inconsistent upon his return from the DL. Is he completely clear now, to the point where the Yankees can fully trust him for 2018 and beyond in terms of health? Eh… But his offensive performance this month speaks to his potential: a patient, powerful first baseman who can man the middle of the order with his counterparts at catcher and right field for years to come.

These individual accomplishments–hopefully big beginnings at the end of this surprising season–by homegrown Yankee youngsters are just a microcosm of the team and the organization at large. This was a year that took us all by surprise, but it happened. Just as we cross our fingers for the players above to be great for a long time, we do the same for the team. And if this season–especially its end–is any indication, we’re in for a fun few years. Now let’s just get through Tuesday.

Yankeemetrics: Rounding third, heading home (Sept. 25-28)

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

The Dinger King
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off the final week of the season with a sweet 11-3 rout of the Royals. They improved to 17-0 in games decided by at least eight runs, a typical blowout for this year’s club. The Yankees have the most wins by that margin in the majors, and are the only team that hasn’t suffered a loss by eight or more runs.

Aaron Judge stole the statistical spotlight as he enjoyed a record-breaking day at the Stadium. He clubbed his 49th and 50th homers of the season, not only becoming MLB’s all-time rookie home run king, but also etching his name alongside a bunch of franchise legends and some of baseball’s most iconic players. Let’s recap a few of his other incredible feats:

  • Fifth player in franchise history to hit 50-plus homers, a group that includes A-Rod (2007), Roger Maris (1961), Mickey Mantle (twice) and Babe Ruth (four times)
  • Joined Mantle (1956) and Ruth (1920) as the only Yankees with seven multi-homer games in a season at age 25 or younger
  • With his 12th and 13th homers in September, he became the youngest Yankee to go deep 13 times in a calendar month since a 25-year-old Maris had 14 in June 1960.
  • Coming off his two-homer effort on Sunday, Judge became the first rookie in franchise history with back-to-back multi-homer games
  • He also got his 120th walk, making him just the second player in major-league history to hit 50 homers and walk 120 times in a season before the age of 26. The other? That Ruth dude in 1920.
(AP)
(AP)

While Judge hogged the headlines, a couple other Baby Bombers helped turn this game into a rout with both Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez adding to their 2017 homer totals. It was the first time in the majors that Judge, Sanchez and Bird each went yard in the same game.

And let’s not forget about the old guy on the mound, CC “The Stopper” Sabathia. After cruising through six scoreless innings, he coughed up a couple homers in the seventh but still finished with a win and a bare-minimum quality start. More impressively, he’s now 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 11 games following a Yankee loss, the best record and lowest ERA of any MLB pitcher with at least seven such starts this season.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Another win, another clinching
After beating the Rays on Tuesday, the Yankees locked down homefield advantage for the Wild Card game next week. Aaron Hicks was activated from the disabled list in the morning, inserted into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact with a spectacular grand-slam-saving catch in the first inning. Even Hicks was amazed by the jaw-dropping home run robbery:

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

Aaron Judge didn’t homer but still contributed with an RBI double and scored his 125th run of the season. He joined Ted Williams (1939) and Joe DiMaggio (1936) as the only players in MLB history with at least 100 RBIs and 125 runs in their rookie campaigns.

Gary Sanchez also reached a nice round number, notching his 90th RBI of the year on a bloop single in the eighth. He’s the youngest American League catcher (primary position) to drive in at least 90 runs in a season since a 24-year-old Yogi Berra in 1949.

On the mound, Jordan Montgomery delivered his second straight gem, holding the Rays to one run over six solid innings. After allowing seven homers in his first eight home starts, he’s kept the ball in the park in each of his last six home starts dating back to July. How impressive that? The only Yankee with a longer single-season streak of homerless starts at the current Yankee Stadium is CC Sabathia in 2011. And through Wednesday, he was the only pitcher in the majors that had pitched at least 30 innings at home since the All-Star break and hadn’t given up a longball in his own stadium.

(USA Today)
(USA Today)

#TooManyHomers
A late-September Home Run Derby broke out in the Bronx on Wednesday as the Yankees enjoyed a 6-1 win backed by three homers and another masterful performance by Luis Severino. It improved their record to 18-7 this month, their most September wins since they went 19-9 in 2009 en route to … World Series title No. 27.

Amidst the offensive fireworks, the star of the game was the team’s 23-year-old ace. Severino rebounded from a poor start against the Twins last week to produce another typical dominant outing – nine strikeouts and one run allowed in six sharp innings – in the final performance of his historic 2017 campaign.

It was the 16th time this year he surrendered no more than one run, the most such starts in the majors, and the most by any Yankee since Mike Mussina also had 16 in 2001. He’s also youngest AL pitcher with 16 starts of one run or fewer in a season since Vida Blue in 1971, and the youngest right-hander in either league to reach that mark since a 21-year-old Dwight Gooden in 1985.

The nine strikeouts gave him 230, matching CC Sabathia (2011) for the third-highest single-season total in franchise history; the two guys ahead of him are Ron Guidry (248 in 1978) and Hall-of-Famer Jack Chesbro (239 in 1904). Oh, and Chesbro’s 1904 season is mind-boggling in the context of today’s pitching environment: he threw 454 innings while setting modern-era records in games started (51), wins (41) and complete games (48)!

Severino also lowered his ERA to 2.98, becoming the first Yankee to qualify for the ERA title with a sub-3.00 ERA since David Cone and Andy Pettitte in 1997, and the youngest to do it since Dave Righetti in 1981. Combined with his 230 strikeouts, and Sevvy is in some pretty elite company:

The last American League pitcher with 230 or more strikeouts and an ERA below 3.00 in his age-23 season or younger was Roger Clemens in 1986, the year he captured his first Cy Young award and the league MVP.

(AP)
(AP)

#NotEnoughHomers
The Yankees road to October hit a speedbump with a deflating 9-6 loss in the series finale. Let’s recap this rollercoaster-like game with a Yankeemetrics-style of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Ugly
Handed a 4-1 lead, Sonny Gray imploded in the fifth inning, surrendering five runs in the frame (six overall) before getting pulled with two outs. It was definitely not the way he wanted to cap off his regular season in the Bronx. Following the disaster outing, his final three starts at Yankee Stadium look like this: 15 2/3 innings, 15 runs, 17 hits, six homers.

The Bad:
Normally a dinger party equals a Yankee win, but somehow the Bronx Bombers managed to snatch defeat from a near-certain victory. Prior to Thursday, they were 13-0 when hitting at least four homers in a game this season, the second-best record in MLB. The last game they lost despite going deep four times was August 22, 2016 at Seattle, and their last such defeat at Yankee Stadium was more than two years ago on June 23, 2015 versus the Phillies.

The Good:
The offense got off to a fast start when Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge opened the game with back-to-back homers, the first Yankee duo to do that since Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter on April 16, 2012 against the Twins. Greg Bird invited himself to the power party with a fourth-inning solo blast, his eighth homer and 23rd RBI in 26 games since coming off the DL. By the way, that’s a 162-game pace of 49 homers and 143 RBIs.

And with his first-inning blast, Judge continued his destruction of the record books:

  • 32nd longball at The Stadium this year, tying Babe Ruth — who hit 32 at the Polo Grounds in 1921 — for the most homers hit at home in a season in franchise history.
  • 14th homer this month, the first Yankee to go deep 14 times in September since Ruth set the major-league record for September home runs with 17 in 1927.
  • The only other right-handed batters to wear pinstripes and hit 14 homers in any calendar month were A-Rod (April 2007) and Joe DiMaggio (twice).
  • 8th straight game with extra-base hit, the longest streak by Yankee rookie in the last 100 years

The Yankees and 2017’s major awards

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

For the first time in a very long time, the Yankees have legitimate candidates for each of baseball’s major awards this season. Even in 2009, the Yankees did not have a Rookie of the Year candidate. They had MVP (Mark Teixeira) and Cy Young (CC Sabathia) candidates, but not a Rookie of the Year candidate. Their best rookie that year, by WAR, was Brett Gardner, and he had only 284 plate appearances as the fourth outfielder.

In recent years the voting body seems to be doing a better job handing out the awards, which really just means the voting results closely match my hypothetical ballot. There is no right or wrong with this stuff. The voting criteria is intentionally vague, so it’s up to the individual voter to decide. It is what it is. So anyway, with the regular season winding down, let’s take a look at where the various Yankees place in this year’s award races.

Most Valuable Player

The first six or seven weeks after the All-Star break were not pretty, but a ferocious September has Aaron Judge right back in the thick of the MVP race. I see six serious AL MVP candidates right now: Judge, Jose Altuve, Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez, Chris Sale, and Mike Trout. Trout missed too much time with his thumb injury to win. The voters are going to hold that against him. Kluber and Sale have to deal with the anti-pitcher bias the exists in MVP voting, and as good as Ramirez has been, Altuve and Judge have superior numbers. Considerably superior numbers, really.

MVP is not only a performance award. It’s a performance plus narrative award. Both the Astros and Yankees are going to the postseason, so that’s not going to sway the vote in Judge’s or Altuve’s favor. On one hand, you could argue the Yankees would’ve won the AL East if not for Judge’s slump. On the other, you could argue the Astros have such a huge lead in the AL West that they would’ve won even without Altuve. Hmmm.

Statistically, Judge has a slight edge overall, but obviously Altuve has been excellent as well. Let’s compare quickly:

  • AVG: Altuve (.347 to .284)
  • OBP: Judge (.421 to .413)
  • SLG: Judge (.622 to .552)
  • wRC+: Judge (171 to 161)
  • XBH: Judge (77 to 66)
  • HR: Judge (50 to 24)
  • SB: Altuve (32 to 9)
  • DRS: Judge (+10 to +3)
  • fWAR: Judge (+7.8 to +7.4)
  • bWAR: Altuve (+8.3 to +7.8)

Fun fact: that +7.8 fWAR leads all of baseball. Judge jumped over Sale (+7.7) this week. Altuve has hit for a much higher average — he’s only the fifth player in the last 70 years with 200+ hits in four straight seasons, joining Hall of Famers Kirby Puckett and Wade Boggs, future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, and, uh, Michael Young — and yet Judge still has him beat in on-base percentage. Judge strikes out a ton more (30.7% to 12.8%) but also walks a ton more too (18.6% to 9.0%). Altuve is a greater threat on the bases while Judge saves more runs in the field. Pretty amazing.

My favorite thing about this AL MVP debate is how it shows two very different players can be among the game’s best. Judge and Altuve couldn’t be any more different, both in terms of their physical size and the shape of their production. Judge is a monster power hitter while Altuve is a pint-sized contact machine. Will Altuve’s size give him an edge in the MVP race? Don’t doubt the voting body’s ability to come up with a “he overcame greater odds” narrative. There’s also the “Judge isn’t clutch!” storyline that has become a thing.

Judge with runners in scoring position: .255/.381/.621 (146 wRC+)
Altuve with runners in scoring position: .310/.400/.450 (129 wRC+)

Judge in high-leverage situations: .235/.345/.498 (95 wRC+)
Altuve in high-leverage situations: .318/.400/.477 (138 wRC+)

Ultimately, I do think Altuve is going to win MVP because he had a more consistent season from start to finish, which essentially means Judge’s second half slump will cost him, even with the big September. I suppose if the Yankees rally to steal the AL East these next few days, that could shift things in Judge’s favor, but nah. I think Altuve wins with Ramirez and Judge finishing second and third in either order.

Also, another fun fact: the Yankees have more than one player worthy of MVP votes. Gary Sanchez is hitting .280/.346/.537 (131 wRC+) with 33 homers despite missing a month, and he’s thrown out 38.3% batters of faced. There are ten spots on the MVP ballot and I expect Sanchez to get a handful of down ballot votes. Putting him in the top five would be tough, but the 5-10 range? Hell yeah he’ll get votes. Maybe Didi Gregorius too. And Luis Severino. There’s always some down ballot weirdness. Judge is a legitimate MVP candidate. Gary is going to get some votes too.

Cy Young

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Pretty amazing that we’re talking about Severino as a Cy Young candidate, isn’t it? And not as a down ballot candidate who might get a few votes. A bonafide Cy Young candidate. Kluber and Sale are off in their own little stratosphere and they’re going to finish first and second in the Cy Young voting in either order. (Kluber’s probably going to win.) Severino is the best of the rest. Check out his ranks among the 57 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title:

  • IP: 193.1 (16th)
  • ERA: 2.98 (8th)
  • FIP: 3.07 (7th)
  • K%: 29.4% (6th)
  • BB%: 6.5% (16th)
  • K/BB: 4.51 (8th)
  • GB%: 50.6% (5th)
  • fWAR: +5.8 (4th)
  • bWAR: +5.5 (9th)

What a season for Sevy. He’s been so good overall. So, so good. The Cy Young ballot runs five players deep, not ten like the MVP, and I imagine Kluber and Sale will be first and second on every single ballot. That leaves the 3-5 spots for Severino, Justin Verlander, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, and Craig Kimbrel. Plus whoever else lands a stray vote (Jason Vargas has 17 wins!). My guess is Verlander sneaks ahead of Severino and finished third in the voting behind Kluber and Sale, and Severino finishes fourth.

Rookie of the Year

There is no mystery here. Judge is going to win Rookie of the Year and he should win unanimously. The whole “first ever rookie to hit 50 freaking home runs” thing clinched it, if there was any lingering doubt. There was that weird “Andrew Benintendi might steal Rookie of the Year!” narrative a few weeks back but lol to that. The AL rookie fWAR leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge: +7.8
  2. Jordan Montgomery: +2.6
  3. Matt Chapman: +2.3
  4. Mitch Haniger: +2.3
  5. Andrew Benintendi: +2.1

Yeah. Judge is going to win in a landslide. I fully expect Judge to get basically all the first place votes, Benintendi to get basically all the second place votes, then the third place votes — there are only three spots on the Rookie of the Year ballot — get split between Montgomery, Chapman, Haniger, Matt Olson, Bradley Zimmer, Scott Alexander, and a few others.

Chad Green, by the way, is not rookie eligible, otherwise it would’ve been interesting to see whether he grabbed some third place votes. Green threw only 45.2 innings last season — the rookie limit is 50 innings — but he does not qualify as a rookie this year due to service time. Womp womp.

Manager of the Year

Moreso than any other award, the Manager of the Year is a narrative award. How the heck do you evaluate a manager? They all make seemingly silly bullpen and lineup decisions. We don’t get to see their work behind the scenes in the clubhouse either. For all intents and purposes, the Manager of the Year is the “manager of the team that most exceeded expectations” award. That’s been the prevailing theme the last few seasons.

The Yankees, pretty clearly, have exceeded expectations this season. By a lot. Many pundits, myself included, as well as the various projection systems pegged the Yankees for something like 80-82 wins. Some a little higher, some a little lower. Basically no one had them winning 90-ish games with the second best run differential (+197) in baseball. By the “team that exceeded expectations” standard, Joe Girardi should get a ton of Manager of the Year votes.

Now, here’s the problem: the Twins exist. They lost 103 games last season! Now they’re going to the postseason as the second wildcard team. That’s an amazing turnaround. I fully expect Paul Molitor to win Manager of the Year because of that. I mean, how could you vote against him when the team accomplishes that? Girardi has received Manager of the Year votes every season since 2009 and I have no reason to believe that streak will end this year. I just think it’s unlikely he’ll beat out Molitor. Maybe Girardi will finish second in the voting?

Comeback Player of the Year

The Yankees do not have a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Their best comeback player is, uh, Adam Warren? It’s probably him. Severino is just a young kid breaking out. He’s not a comeback player. I imagine Mike Moustakas is the Comeback Player of the Year favorite. He went from playing only 27 games last season due to a torn ACL to setting the franchise single-season home run record this year.

Gold Gloves

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Sanchez won’t win the Gold Glove at catcher because of the passed balls, even with his above-average framing and throwing numbers. That means the Yankees only have three Gold Glove candidates: Judge, Gregorius, and Gardner. First base and third base turned over at midseason, and center field was a bit of a revolving door. Second base? No. Sorry, Starlin Castro. But no. Some numbers for the hell of it:

  • Gardner: +13 DRS (1st among all left fielders)
  • Gregorius: +0 DRS (39th among all shortstops, and lol)
  • Judge: +10 DRS (4th among all right fielders)

Gregorius won’t win the Gold Glove because Andrelton Simmons and Francisco Lindor exist. Judge won’t win the Gold Glove because Mookie Betts exists. Gardner might win the Gold Glove in left field though. He won it last year, and Alex Gordon, his longtime competition for the award, has faded big time the last two years. It’ll come down to Gardner, Benintendi, Eddie Rosario, and Justin Upton. Gardner’s got a good shot for his second straight Gold Glove, I think.

* * *

Keep in mind these are regular season awards. The ballots are due following the end of the regular season but before the start of the postseason. Judge is definitely going to become the first Yankee to win Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996. That much is obvious. He has a chance — I wouldn’t call it a great one, but a chance — to win MVP as well, which would be the first for the Yankees since Alex Rodriguez in 2007. Sabathia finished in the top four of the Cy Young voting three straight years from 2009-11, and Severino could finish that high in the voting this year.

Just the fact we’re talking about Judge as an MVP candidate — in addition to being the runaway Rookie of the Year favorite — and Severino as a Cy Young candidate is pretty awesome. Coming into the season, I think we were all hoping they’d shake off last season’s disappointing big league stints and begin to establish themselves as building blocks going forward. They did that and more. Best case scenario seasons for both of them. Really. Winning any kind of award, or just finishing high up in the voting, would be the cherry on top of an already amazing season.

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Nine goals for the final week of the regular season now that the Yankees have clinched a postseason spot

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the weekend the Yankees clinched a postseason spot — heck of a rebuilding transitioning year, eh? — and pretty soon they’ll lock down homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game. The magic number to do that is one because the Yankees hold the tiebreaker over the Twins. The Yankees are mathematically alive in the AL East race, but forget that. Wild Card Game it is.

Because the Yankees clinched with a week to spare in the regular season, they have the luxury of using these last few regular season games to prepare for the postseason. Line up the rotation, rest the regulars, give those bumps and bruises a chance to heal … that kinda stuff. The obvious stuff every team hopes they get a chance to do before playing in October.

“I think the physical part of it is really important for our players so that they are strong going into the playoffs, and they’re not beat up and they feel rested. That’s really important,” said Joe Girardi yesterday. “There’s a balance there because you want everyone to feel confident and feel good about where they are going into the playoffs … Going into the playoffs, you want guys to feel confident and feel that they’re right where they want to be.”

Resting players and lining up the postseason rotation — right now Luis Severino is lined up to start the Wild Card Game and Sonny Gray is lined up to start Game One of the ALDS, so that part is done already — are the obvious big picture goals this week. What else do the Yankees need to accomplish before their season is on the line in the Wild Card Game one week from today? Here are nine other goals for the Yankees this week, in no particular order.

Clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game

A formality with the magic number sitting at one, yes, but the Yankees have to actually do it at some point. They can’t go into cruise control just yet. Clinch homefield advantage and do it soon. The sooner the better. Lock into the top Wild Card spot and be done with it. That’s not something you want to let linger, you know?

Try to get Betances straightened out

(Presswire)
Dellin. (Presswire)

I gotta say, I was pretty surprised to see Dellin Betances go five days between appearances last week. It’s not like Girardi didn’t have chances to use him. The Yankees won by eight runs Wednesday and lost by seven runs Friday. Want to get Dellin straightened out in low-leverage spots? Well, there were two low-leverage spots, and Betances was nowhere to be found. Hmmm.

The Yankees are a potentially dominant postseason team because their bullpen is so deep with power arms, so they figure to have the advantage in the late innings pretty much every night. Betances is a big part of that bullpen, and the Yankees need him to be at his best in October. Dellin’s not going to right the ship by sitting in the bullpen. Heck, the longer the sits, the worse he gets. He has to get enough work this week to try to figure things out.

“I think best case scenario is we’ll be able to get Dellin in three — maybe four — games this week if we can to get him going,” said Girardi. “If you feel like he’s going and you don’t need to push him as hard, you can do that too. He’s important to us. Much like (Aroldis Chapman) — Chappy had a little period where he was struggling, and we got him going. We need to do the same with Dellin.”

Let Green pitch back-to-back days

With Betances still having control problems, Chad Green has taken over as the third option in the bullpen behind Chapman and David Robertson. You could argue Green is the best option out of the bullpen, though that’s a waste of time. They’re all pretty great. Girardi clearly trusts Green and he’s going to see plenty of high-leverage work in the postseason. Lately Girardi has been using him as a one-inning setup man, which is kinda new.

Anyway, because he’s done the multi-inning reliever thing pretty much all season, Green hasn’t pitched back-to-back days much. Just once, in fact. He threw 14 pitches in a perfect inning on July 22nd, then threw 37 pitches in 2.1 perfect innings the next day. Green hasn’t pitched back-to-back days since. Should the Yankees advance to the ALDS, they’re probably going to need to use Green back-to-back at some point, and you don’t want that to be a new experience. Get his feet wet. Use him two straight days at some point this week so he knows what’s up.

Keep running Bird out there

(Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

For the first time all season, Greg Bird really looks comfortable at the plate. He’s gone 6-for-14 (.429) with three doubles and two home runs in his last four games — he was 5-for-40 (.125) in his first 14 games this month — and you want him to keep building on that. I know this is the time to rest players and all that, but it shouldn’t be for Bird. He was out too long earlier this season. Play him every game the rest of the way — against righties and lefties — and let him continue to find his stroke. Bird can be a impact hitter and provide a big time boost to the lineup.

Let Sanchez catch Montgomery

For whatever reason Austin Romine has become Jordan Montgomery‘s personal catcher. Romine has caught Montgomery’s last ten starts now, and I guess this is why:

  • Montgomery with Romine: 3.78 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 102.1 innings
  • Montgomery with Sanchez: 5.19 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 26 innings

That’s all well and good, but here’s the thing: Romine can’t play in the postseason. He just can’t. Girardi twice started Jose Molina in the World Series so he could catch A.J. Burnett, but Romine is no Molina. Molina was at least a great defensive catcher, plus he’d occasionally run into a fastball for a double. Romine does neither of those things. (Plus Burnett was much more important to the 2009 Yankees than Montgomery is to the 2017 Yankees.)

As things stand, Montgomery will not be in the postseason rotation. He might not even be in the postseason bullpen. But! If the Yankees need a replacement starter due to injury at some point, Montgomery figures to get the call over Jaime Garcia, and he and Gary Sanchez need to be on the same page. The postseason is no time for personal catchers, especially with your fifth starter. Montgomery is starting tonight and could start Game 162 as well. Let Sanchez catch him so they can get reacquainted. You don’t want them paired up for the first time in three months in a postseason game.

Play Hicks as much as humanly possible

Earlier today the Yankees activated Aaron Hicks off the disabled list, so he will be in uniform tonight. And now that Hicks is back, the Yankees should play him as much as possible. Basically every game from here on out. Even if Hicks is slated to be a bench player in the postseason, it wouldn’t take much to push him into regular duty and the Yankees should want him ready in case that happens. He’s missed a lot of time and needs the at-bats.

Girardi said yesterday the Yankees plan to give the regular outfielders a rest this week — they’ve played a ton the last month or so — and that creates the perfect opportunity for Hicks. Play him every game, move him around the outfield as needed, give the regulars rest. Heck, bat Hicks first or second too, so he could maybe get that one extra at-bat each game. Every little bit helps. We saw Hicks be an impact player earlier this year. After the long layoff, giving him as much playing time as possible to help get him back to being that impact player is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

Make sure Warren gets all the way back

Warren. (Presswire)
Warren. (Presswire)

As with Hicks, the Yankees will get Adam Warren back from injury this week, and they need to make sure he’s on track prior to the postseason. Warren, who hasn’t missed nearly as much time as Hicks in the second half, will throw a simulated game today, and figures to be activated as soon as tomorrow if that goes well. The big name late-inning guys get all the attention, but Warren is a really important part of the bullpen as the Swiss Army knife reliever who can get one out in the tight spot or throw two innings in the middle of the game or fill-in as the setup man for a day. He’s an underappreciated weapon for Girardi and the Yankees want to make sure Warren is ready to go come October.

Test Wade as a pinch-runner

With Jacoby Ellsbury playing his way back into the starting lineup and the Yankees not bringing in an Eric Young Jr. or Rico Noel type to pinch-run this month, Tyler Wade is the obvious designated pinch-runner candidate for the postseason. And maybe the Yankees decide they don’t need that guy. Even if they don’t, it would be smart to give Wade a bunch of pinch-running opportunities this week. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but coming off the bench cold and stealing a base in a big spot is not easy. Wade’s been an everyday player pretty much his entire life. Getting him prepared for a potential pinch-runner role makes sense even if the Yankees aren’t planning to carry him on the postseason roster. One injury could land him on the postseason bench.

Win at least three more games

In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing important about this. Heck, once they clinch the top wildcard spot, you could argue the Yankees should lose as much possible to improve their draft position! I won’t do it, but I’m sure someone out there is thinking it. Anyway, I want the Yankees to win at least three more games because damn, a 90-win season sure would be sweet. Lots of people, myself included, pegged this team for 82-84 wins. Somewhere in that neighborhood. Plenty of pundits were picking them to finish under-.500 for the first time in an eternity. It’s not happening. Seeing the Yankees join the 90-win club for the first time since 2012 sure would be a nice cherry on top of an otherwise wildly successful rebuilding season.

Yankeemetrics: How sweet it is, Bombers sweep Twinkies (Sept. 18-20)

(AP)
(AP)

Who needs clutch hitting?
In what was billed as a potential Wild Card game preview, the Yankees struck first with a narrow 2-1 win in the series opener over the Twins. They overcame another massive RISPFAIL (0-for-12 with runners in scoring position) thanks to justenough power at the plate and a (mostly) lock-down performance on the mound.

Aaron Judge continued the steady climb out of his post-break slump with a first-inning solo bomb. It was his 28th home run in the Bronx this year, moving him into a tie for fourth place on the franchise single-season list for homers hit at home. A few guys named Gehrig (30 in 1934), Maris (30 in 1961), and Ruth (29 in 1928) are ahead of him.

After the Twins tied it in the fifth, Todd Frazier delivered a game-winning bases-loaded sac fly in the sixth inning. Here’s a “betcha didn’t know” stat: that was the Yankees’ 52nd sacrifice fly of the season, the second-most in the majors behind the Astros. The last time they finished first or second in sac flies was 20 years ago (!) when they hit an MLB-best 70 in 1997.

Jaime Garcia pitched his finest game in pinstripes, allowing one unearned run on four hits while striking out nine, before getting pulled with two outs in the sixth. He remained winless as a Yankee, though, giving us an excuse for another #KillTheWin Yankeemetric:

Garcia is the third pitcher over the last 100 seasons to not get a win in his first seven starts with the Yankees – the others were Steve Trout in 1987 and Mike Kekich in 1969 – but his 3.86 ERA is by far the best among that trio (both those other guys had ERAs way above 5.00 during their streaks).

The Yankees nearly wasted Garcia’s gem as Dellin Betances‘ control problems re-surfaced in an ugly eighth inning, during which three of the four guys he faced reached base without a hit (two walks, hit-by-pitch). Adding in the wild pitch he threw, and Betances gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series.

Yes, it is very hard to cram all of that wildness into such a short outing. He is the first Yankee since at least 1912 to hit a guy, throw a wild pitch and issue multiple walks — while facing no more than four batters in a game.

Walks have always been a problem for Betances but he’s taken the hit-by-pitch issue to another level this year. It was the 10th time he hit a guy, becoming the first reliever in franchise history to plunk double-digit batters in a season. Betances had a total of nine hit-by-pitches in his major-league career before this year.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Don’t forget about the Elder Bombers
The Yankees continued to build momentum down the stretch with a 5-2 win on Tuesday, clinching their sixth straight series win. Over the last month, the only series they have lost was to the Indians (August 28-30) during their historic 22-game win streak.

The win also was their third in five games against the Twins in 2017, and with Wednesday’s finale being the only remaining matchup, the Yankees still haven’t lost a season series to the Twins since 2001. That is … good?

CC Sabathia battled through a shaky first inning, but recovered for one of his sharpest and most efficient starts of the season (77 pitches, six innings, two runs). Sabathia’s ability to come up huge in the most critical games has been well-documented here. And now we’ve got another “Big Game CC” stat to chew on: following Tuesday’s solid outing, he is 6-0 with a 1.25 ERA in seven starts against opponents with a .500 record or better this season. That’s the best record and lowest ERA in the majors among pitchers that have started at least five games against winning teams.

We’ve also got a Milestone Alert Yankeemetric for the big fella: his strikeout of Chris Gimenez to end the second inning was the 2,833rd of his career, moving him past Mickey Lolich for 18th place on the major-league all-time strikeout list, and third place among left-handers.

Most Strikeouts by LHP in MLB History
1. Randy Johnson – 4,875
2. Steve Carlton – 4,136
3. CC Sabathia – 2,836
4. Mickey Lolich – 2,832

Brett Gardner stuffed the stat sheet and provided the offensive spark at the top of the order, with three hits, two RBIs and a stolen base. The last Yankee leadoff batter to reach each of those totals in a game was Derek Jeter on July 9, 2011.

If that date sounds familiar …. yup, it was the Mr. 3000 game, when Jeter got his 3,000th hit against the Rays and produced one of the most iconic highlights in franchise history.

#TooManyHomers
The Bronx Bombers returned to their bread-and-butter winning strategy – explosive innings and dingers galore – in sweeping the Twins with a 11-3 win on Wednesday. It was their ninth sweep in 2017, nearly twice as many as they had last year (5).

If these teams do end up meeting for a one-game playoff in less than three weeks, the Yankees should like their chances based on recent history.

Their .721 winning percentage (44-17) in the regular season against the Twins since 2009 is the highest in any head-to-head matchup between any MLB teams (min. 25 games) over the past nine seasons. The Yankees’ domination extends to the postseason, too. They are 12-2 against the Twins in the playoffs – their best postseason record against any opponent (min. 10 games) in franchise history – and have won all four series played between the two clubs.

So … back to Wednesday’s game …. Not only did we get a ton of offensive fireworks to enjoy, but we also saw a bunch of rare, historical feats. Let’s dive into the stat madness!

(AP)
(AP)

Judge started the party with a two-run homer in the third inning, his 45th of the season. He is the second outfielder in baseball history with 45 homers and 115 walks in his age-25 season or younger. The other? Babe Ruth in 1920.

The homer also gave him 100 RBIs for the year (he added RBI No. 101 later in the game on a sac fly), and when combined with his triple-digit-plus walk and run-scoring numbers, Judge has put himself in some very impressive company. Judge is the …

  • Fifth Yankee age 25 or younger with at least 100 RBI, 100 runs and 100 walks: Mickey Mantle, Charlie Keller, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth are the others
  • Second rookie all-time to with more than 100 walks, runs and RBIs, joining Ted Williams (1939)
  • Only right-handed batter in Yankees history to have a 100-walk, 100-RBI, 100-run season

Gary Sanchez then went back-to-back with Judge in the third, belting a mammoth 439-foot blast deep into Monument Park. Fifteen of his 32 homers this season have gone at least 425 feet, the highest rate (47 percent) among all players with at least 20 homers.

The Yankees turned the game into a rout with a six-run fourth inning, sparked by Jacoby Ellsbury‘s one-out triple. Ellsbury wasn’t part of the homer-fest, but he still got on base four times via a single, double, triple and a walk – and that performance is worthy of a #FunFact. Over the last four decades, just two other Yankee centerfielders have produced a game with at least one single, double, triple and a walk: Bernie Williams (1998) and Dave Winfield (1984).

The biggest blow in the fourth inning was delivered by Didi Gregorius. His three-run shot to cap off the scoring made him the only shortstop in franchise history with 25 homers in a season, surpassing the 24 that Derek Jeter hit in 1999.

Attractive Opposites

World Series Phillies Yankees Baseball

I’ve said often that the 2009 World Series winning Yankee team is my favorite of all the championship teams. I was finally old enough to appreciate a World Series win and I watched nearly every inning of that season. Additionally, I was (way too) active on this site and met a lot of great people through it. Every night was a new, fun, exciting experience on the road to dominance and an eventual championship. On its face, the 2017 version of the Yankees has very little to do with that team.

The 2009 team was built and focused around veterans. There were the ‘holdovers’ like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Robinson Cano. The team brought in Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeria. That team was expected to win and to win big. And that’s what they did. Including the playoffs, they won 114 games en route to World Series number 27. The 2017 team, on the other hand, was built around young players and the hope that maybe if everything broke right, they could fight for the second Wild Card spot. Obviously, things have gone better than that and this year has been, probably, the most enjoyable year of my Yankee fandom since 2009.

Every night, this team is fun to watch. Of course, there have been frustrating moments of offensive and bullpen related frustrations, but those pale in comparison to how great it feels to watch young players playing great on a nightly basis. From Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge knocking dingers, leading their respective positions in offense, to Didi Gregorius‘s further offensive development and stellar throwing arm, to Luis Severino and Chad Green reaching heights that seemed well beyond anything we could think of, to Clint Frazier making an unexpected debut, young players have fueled the good times in 2017.

2009 featured walk off after walk off and it was amazing. I’ll not soon forget he A-Rod walk off against the Red Sox or walk off weekend against the Twins or all the playoff heroics of A-Rod and others. That sense of drama hasn’t quite been there more than a few times in 2017, but the wins have been satisfying nonetheless.

We’ve talked a lot about expectations this year and how the lack thereof has made this a stress free year of rooting. A different feeling than the expectations-laden one in 2009 for sure. But, at the end of the rooting day, there is a sense of calm I’ve felt regarding both squads. In 2009, I always knew the team would come through. I knew they’d get the big hit. I knew they’d win even when it looked like they wouldn’t. There was a level of comfort knowing just how damn good they were, knowing that they were the best. Even as expectations now rise for the 2017 team–anything less than a DS appearance would be disappointing at this point–there’s a comfort level in knowing that they blew past what we should have expected long ago.

Baseball is supposed to be fun, whether you’re playing or watching. Since 2012, the fun times for the Yankees have been few and far between, with plenty of frustration flung in there. 2017 hasn’t been that at all. 2009 seemed predestined for a championship and I’ve got no idea what 2017 will really do, but the ride has been fun as all hell and I hope it goes on for a long time and ends with a big parade.