Can Sanchez surge?
Yankees catcher has had a forgettable season, but October is a chance at redemption.
NEW YORK – The postseason represents Gary Sanchez’s salvation.
As a personally forgettable 2018 season draws to a close, Sanchez’s passed ball totals have risen while his batting average has remained flatly on the interstate.
But a far better finish could be written with a long and productive Yankees playoff run.
“Honestly, winning for me is everything,” the slugging catcher said through an interpreter after the Yankees clinched an American League wild-card spot. “Stats and numbers … they don’t mean anything unless you win.”
Due to Sanchez’s offensive ability and the likely need to free up the designated hitter spot for Giancarlo Stanton, manager Aaron Boone affirmed that Sanchez would be catching the Oct. 3 wild-card game.
And no, Boone isn’t thinking of subbing Sanchez out late in games, the way he does with rookie third baseman Miguel Andujar to protect a lead.
In a season twice interrupted by disabled-list stints due to a strained right groin, Sanchez owned a .674 OPS through 84 games, unrecognizable next to his .876 in 2017 and his 1.033 in 53 games as a rookie in 2016.
“He’s such a natural hitter that it’s hard to hold those guys down for such a long period,” Boone said. “That’s what I’m going on and hopefully there is that stretch in him where he really gains some momentum.”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman also has reaffirmed his confidence in Sanchez.
“He’s a big reason why we had the success we had last year ... we’re betting on him,” Cashman said. “We’re doubling down and tripling down on Gary Sanchez because we know the ceiling and the capabilities this player has on both sides of the ball.”
Yes, Cashman acknowledged the short time frame for the likes of Sanchez, closer Aroldis Chapman and right fielder Aaron Judge (both recently returned from the DL) to find their stride.
And yet “if we can get these guys as close to their happy zone as close we can, they’ll give us much better chances of accomplishing those dreams we had of winning this whole season,” Cashman said.
The GM also referenced Sanchez’s commitment, having arrived at Yankee Stadium for extra cage time on a recent off day.
“I thought it would be something good for me,” Sanchez said of requesting time with hitting coach Marcus Thames to work on swing mechanics.
“Gary is always working on his craft, he works really hard on his hitting,” Boone said. “He’s started walking more, he’s done a pretty good job of controlling the strike zone.
“If he continues to do that, I feel like the results will follow.”
But time is running out, and “I think he has pressed this year,” Boone said of Sanchez “chasing results” due to that glaring .182 batting average on the scoreboard.
“You see that number up there and you want to get a hit so bad,” Boone said. “And you play into the pitcher’s hands a bit because you get a little overaggressive at times.”
Since the 2018 regular-season stats can’t be salvaged, Boone’s challenge to Sanchez is to “go up and have a good atbat,” and to embrace the second chance that October offers.
“The next play, the next day is so important and the script can change in a hurry,” said Boone, who can offer his own personal history as a guide.
Boone didn’t start Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series, but his 11th-inning home run vs. Boston sent the Yankees to the World Series.
“If you have the bat still in your hands, you (have a chance to) change the narrative,” Cashman said, quoting Reggie Jackson. “And that’s a big bat we’re talking about in Gary Sanchez.
“Maybe the best is yet to come because he’s capable of doing a lot of good things when he’s in alignment and right.”
Perhaps he’ll be batting eighth in the order, but Sanchez will get his second chance.
“I’m definitely happy, having the opportunity to go back to the playoffs,” Sanchez said. “Now, the focus is to win that (wild-card) game ... and move on.”
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez says, “Stats and numbers … they don’t mean anything unless you win.”