Go AL East young men!
THE FALSE NARRATIVE of the Yankee season continues to be this one: Because they seem to be set up for future seasons, that they are just some underdog team this season, as if they’re the Little Pinstripers That Could. Only they’re not. Say it again: The general manager didn’t make all those moves at the trade deadline just to get the first wild card in the American League. He made the deals to win the AL East. Which the Yankees still should.
The Yankees, I believe, are a better team right now than the Red Sox, even running out of games and time. The Yankees, even with ground to make up on the Red Sox between here and the finish line, are set up better for the playoffs than the Red Sox are, and that includes with starting pitching, something nobody would have believed when the season started, just because the Red Sox were supposed to have Chris Sale and David Price and Rick Porcello, last year’s Cy Young Award winner, as their three top starting pitchers.
Then Price got hurt in the spring and later got hurt again and is now coming out of the bullpen. Porcello has turned into a guy making a run at losing 20 games after winning 22 a year ago, and the Red Sox’s most reliable starter after Sale (who has not beaten the Yankees this season) is Drew Pomeranz. Of course at the other end of the game, the Red Sox have Craig Kimbrel, who has been a force of nature. But the Yankees, once their starter is out of the game, come at you with Chad Green, David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.
But it is more than just pitching. The Yankees have something that the Red Sox, who chose to pass on Edwin Encarnacion, do not, and that is home-run danger up and down their lineup.
It might not mean anything if they don’t win the East and then don’t pitch or hit in a one-game, hit-or-miss wild-card game. Because bad things can happen, and fast, in a one-game season and, if you don’t believe that, ask Mets fans about what Conor Gillaspie did one year ago.
Everybody can see that this Yankee team is worlds better than the one that Dallas Keuchel shut out the last time the Yankees made it to the playoffs, against the Astros. They still need to win the East because if they don’t and even if they do win a wild-card game, the Indians (in a close race with the Astros for best record in the league) might be waiting for them in the first round. I think the Red Sox are young and talented and fun to watch and, boy, did they win a big game in 15 innings against the Rays on Friday night after entering the ninth down three runs. The Red Sox are another team set up for the future with Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts. Sale is still just 28 years old, even as he has faded slightly in September. Kimbrel’s not going anywhere. They aren’t going anywhere for years to come. But with all these kids, and all this talent, the playoff resume on this team — with the exception of Dustin Pedroia — is as thin as the Yankees’. The Red Sox may well hold off the Yankees in the East. The Yankees are still a better team. Cashman brought in amazing reinforcements at the end of July. David Robertson and Todd Frazier have become huge pieces on this team. So has Sonny Gray, who has pitched like a star for months, all the way back to when he was still with the A’s. But if you wonder why Girardi has been managing as if it’s October already, certainly when he pulled CC Sabathia against the Rays at Citi Field the other night, it’s because he sees what the draw might look like if the Indians stay hot. And if you think the Indians are peaking too early, think again. It was the Dodgers who peaked too early.
Cashman did basically turn over a fifth of his roster. If the Yankees don’t win the division, they will kick themselves all the way to the wild-card game for the games they kicked away after the trade deadline, one in particular, the worst lost of the season, after Chapman let the kid, Devers, take him out of Yankee Stadium, the opposite way, one Sunday night.
This isn’t about what we thought would happen with the Yankees back in the spring. This isn’t the season we thought they might have, even after they started fast in April, before they turned into a .500 team for over 100 games. This is the team they are right now, the one you’re seeing in September. Aaron Judge is back, Didi Gregorius continues to have a breakout season. Gary Sanchez has 31 homers in 111 games, and has just 10 fewer RBI than Judge despite having played 30 fewer games.
It may mean nothing by October that the Yankees really are a more complete team than Boston. They should have enough to win the East. Not a lot of time left. But enough.