The New York Yankees are now 13 -13 upon their return to Tampa Bay after getting swept in their last trip to Tropicana Field. Where does this lead them?
Gary Sanchez’s return to the majors after a prolonged DL stint has proven less than desirable, a notion on full display in the Yankees’ 7-6 loss on Monday night, by which Sanchez’s lack of hustle cost New York two runs on a passed ball in the first he failed to play properly and a groundout in the ninth that would have tied the game had the beleaguered catcher made any effort down the first base line.
As of Tuesday, there was reason, amid mixed response from Yankee fans, for Sanchez’s lack of hustle: an MRI concluded that he re-aggravated a groin injury, forcing the Yankees to rely on Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka for a while longer as Sanchez returns to the disabled list, which may further coerce Brian Cashman to seek out another catcher at the deadline, should Sanchez’s injury linger last August.
As his batting average and efforts collectively plummet, so too does any support for Sanchez, even from his largest and most dedicated fans. But the calendar still reads July and a full comeback is not off the table for him, especially given what Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius have proven after rebounding from their respective slumps.
Remember that Sanchez nearly stole the American League Rookie of the Year award on the strength of two hot months in 2016.
Despite the American League’s third-best record, the Yankees have fallen six games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox, largely on the strength of their 19-5 record against the Orioles and Rays, against whom New York has posted a 10-10 record as of Monday night.
Not even Luis Severino could salvage the day, nor Giancarlo Stanton, who notched his sixth game of four hits or more in a contest, the most in the majors. While the fan base awaits Sanchez’s return and repentance for his lackadaisical performance, perhaps they need to face the harsh reality of what awaits them:
The New York Yankees as currently constituted may only be worthy of another play-in wild-card game against the Seattle Mariners or the Oakland Athletics.
- The crop of available starting pitchers are (a) not worth the farm and (b) will not get the Yankees over the proverbial hump to take the division. There is no Justin Verlander or Yu Darvish available as they were last season and Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Madison Bumgarner are not to be had, and if they are suddenly put on the block, the haul to receive any one of them would be astronomical.
- Sanchez’s continued struggles at the plate, lack of effort, and inability to remain healthy now make him a lightning rod with the New York media, perhaps in worse fashion than last year, when the inability to block the plate was a hot-button issue. Suddenly, a strength heading into 2018 becomes a mounting problem. How Aaron Boone handles Sanchez upon his return and how the latter response could ultimately decide the season.
- Brian Cashman cannot disrupt the current roster or the future based solely on fanbase reaction or the need to answer the rate at which the Red Sox keep winning. The Yankees would be better off waiting for a Red Sox slide and an ascension in the division race, seeing as, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Yankees have the second-easiest strength of schedule remaining (the Sox’s schedule is ninth, according to the same metric). A Gleyber Torres return, a Justus Sheffield addition to the rotation, and a Domingo German placement in the pen, where he is better suited, could be the shot in the arm the Yankees need down the stretch.
- Too much has been thrust upon Severino and CC Sabathia, evinced in their most recent starts. In five games, two starts for CC and three for Sevy, neither pitcher got past the sixth inning, with Severino yielding 13 runs in 15 innings and Sabathia surrendering 9 runs in 10 2/3 innings. Would adding a middle to back-end starter really serve a purpose? If anything, acquiring a subpar starter at the cost of top prospects would compound the issues that Domingo German, Sonny Gray, and the loss of Jordan Montgomery have already created.
- Aroldis Chapman is either hurt or fatigued, as illustrated by his effort on Saturday, when he forced three walks, hit a batter, and failed to record an out in a save situation against the crosstown Mets. With David Robertson losing his edge and Tommy Kahnle failing to reclaim his velocity, the Yankees may be inclined to go after Zach Britton, whom the O’s are desperate to unload, although it may come at a steep cost (Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman report that a deal is in place for Britton that includes Dillon Tate, previously acquired for Carlos Beltran in 2016, Josh Rogers, and Cody Carroll) given his tools, past dominance, lefthandedness, and Cleveland’s recent acquisition of former San Diego Padre reliever Brad Hand. Despite this, the addition of Britton lengthens a bullpen that could subtract Chasen Shreve and potentially add Kahnle, should his velocity return. And a Britton acquisition, along with Cleveland’s deals for two relievers, Hand included, blocks Boston and Houston’s ability to add a quality arm in the ‘pen.
- Jon Heyman reports that Sonny Gray has piqued the interest of a variety of clubs, with the Milwaukee Brewers a likely fit, given their employment of Derek Johnson as pitching coach, a man who formerly coached Gray during his tenure with Vanderbilt. Considering the Yankees need starting pitching, offloading Sonny would be odd even despite his struggles, especially since he is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in his last two starts. That said, Milwaukee is desperately looking to remain relevant in the NL pennant race and Gray’s placement in a small market could assist in his small sample turnaround.
Although a six-game deficit is not insurmountable, the Yankees need to maintain their wild card lead over the Mariners, whom they best currently by four games. The Yankees have already proven their ability to go deep into the playoffs in spite of having to host the wild card game, and past performance is thrown to the wayside in a rivalry matchup similar to what awaits New York and Boston in the ALDS.
Losing a one-run game to the Rays, who have the Yankees’ number in 2018, should not result in Cashman’s hitting the panic button, not when the Yankees, still in a relative rebuild, are arguably in a better position than they were last season. Patience before and past the deadline may prove vital in where the Yankees’ season takes them.