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Keys to the Yankees’ Stretch Run

By Patrick Gunn

So, no one told the Yankees life would be this way (clap clap clap). They’re record’s a joke, they’re broke, their whole team’s D.O.A. It’s like they’re all just stuck in second gear.

However, unlike the “Friends” theme, the Yankees have no one there for them, confirmed by General Manager Brian Cashman. The Bombers are 22-21 right now, a record that puts them closer in standings to the Mariners than the first-place Rays. New York still has time to rebuild its status, with 17 games remaining.

Their turnaround needs to happen quickly, as the Yankees have gone 6-15 over their past 21 games. So, here are my keys for a Yankees’ turnaround:

GERRIT COLE NEEDS TO PITCH LIKE AN ACE:

The Yankees have lost each of Cole’s past four starts during this three-week debacle. Part of that is his support (which we’ll get to shortly), but Cole is not exactly helping his cause. He’s striking out batters, but Cole has allowed at least four runs in each of his past three starts while walking 4.5 batters per nine innings over that stretch.

The real issue with Cole during this run, however, has come with the long ball. Cole has allowed at least one home run in each of his starts this season, and that’s gotten worse recently. He’s given up six long balls over his past three starts, a rate of 3.4 home runs per nine innings. That’s horrible even in a high-octane offensive league. He’s giving up more barreled hits this season and they’re all leaving the yard.

Cole has the talent to turn things around, as shown by his strikeout rate of late (14.6 K/9 over his past three starts). Masahiro Tanaka has been reliable, Deivi Garcia has provided a jolt in his major league debut, and even J.A. Happ has delivered several strong starts of late. He just needs to find his 2019 form and get back to mowing down hitters.

THE OFFENSE NEEDS TO DELIVER:

Of course, Cole wouldn’t have as much pressure if he had support from his lineup. The Yankees averaged 7.4 runs per game in Cole’s first five starts, all New York wins. They’ve averaged only 1.75 runs per game in Cole’s last four starts.

Those numbers are indicative of the Yankees’ recent run. The Bombers are not living up to their name. Luke Voit has been raking (.934 OPS with a .590 slugging and .320 Isolated Power) and D.J. LeMahieu, when healthy, is hitting like the machine he was last season. Aside from them (and a resurgent Clint Frazier), the Yankees have seven players with at least 20 games played and an OPS under .700.

The bulk of that has come from Gary Sanchez’s offensive woes (.557 OPS, and only a 10.5% line-drive rate), but he’s not alone. Gleyber Torres, Brett Gardner, and Mike Tauchman are all in that group, too, and all three were key offensive contributors to the 2019 lineup. Aaron Hicks has a serviceable .768 OPS thanks to a .377 OBP (and 30 walks), but he only has a .391 slugging percentage. To see more success, the Yankees need help from their key bats to give their starters some breathing room.

THE INJURED PLAYERS NEED TO RETURN GRACEFULLY:

Their lineup would also get a jolt from seeing their injured stars returning. LeMahieu and Torres have successfully returned from an injured list stint, but Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gio Urshela are still on the shelf.

The Yankees expect Urshela to return next week, that’s good. James Paxton had a setback in his recovery, that’s bad. With only a few weeks left until the postseason, the Yankees need their stars to return in midseason form. They cannot afford to have another situation where a star returns from the I.L. for barely a game, like Judge’s first stint.

THE BULLPEN NEEDS TO BE CONSISTENTLY:

Adam Ottavino and Chad Green threw horribly on Monday. With that said, they are not alone. The Yankees bullpen has given up at least two runs in nine of the Yankees’ last 21 games, that’s over 40% of the Bomber’s games during this poor stretch.

I mentioned Ottavino and Green, and they have had their share of poor outings. With that said, Ottavino and Green have pitched a ton this season (17 games for Ottavino; 16 for Green), which does not help. Injuries to Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Tommy Kahnle have forced them into more outings. That does not excuse Ottavino pitching to a 7.84 ERA, or Green allowing 1.9 home runs per nine innings.

The backend of the Yankees’ bullpen kept the team afloat last season when the team saw significant injuries to every other unit. Now, with the bullpen mostly healthy, the Yankees’ relievers need to deliver, and manager Aaron Boone needs to put them in a good position to work.

REGAIN CONTROL OF THE EAST:

No, the Yankees have no more opportunities to exact revenge upon the Rays. With that said, the Yankees still have seven games with the second-place Blue Jays (somehow, New York and Toronto did not play each other in July and August), a four-game series with the surprise Orioles, and one more three-game set with the abysmal Red Sox. If the Yankees can go 10-4 over that stretch, the Yankees can put away Baltimore and put some pressure on Toronto.

The end of the Yankees’ season will not be easy, but this is still the same team that won over 100 games last season and added Gerrit Cole. If they can start playing like that team, the Yankees have as good of a shot as anyone to get back on a World Series track.

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