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Predicting the Division and Wild Card

by Cary Greene

August 12, 2021

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I thought it would be fun to take a gut check of our reader base. You’re all invited to predict the Division from here on out. Grated, we still have a lot of baseball left to play but a number of teams made big trade deadline acquisitions and a few teams have star players who have missed all or most of this year’s season returning.

In the Yankees’ case, Luis Severino is returning this month and hopefully, Corey Kluber will return some time next month. Brian Cashman’s deadline acquisitions have all had their moments recently. Imagine what the Yankee rotation could look like “down the stretch?” Can the Yankees hang around until then and make a last minute charge for the ages, one that would propel them all the way to a World Series championship?

Massively boosting the lineup at the deadline, Brian Cashman acquired two left-handed power hitters! Anthony Rizzo has been a defensive stalwart while also igniting and balancing the Yankee offense with his throwback approach at the plate. He’s hit .281 with a .400 and a .963 OPS, but a stat that really jumps off the page is that Rizzo has made the team a ton better, his WPA is .468 and his RE24, an advanced stat that measures how many runs above average a player added with men on base is 3.14 – all this adds up to highlight a player who comes up in key spots and consistently does things to help the team win. (I can’t wait until he returns to the lineup.)

Joey Gallo started a little slower with the Yankees but his impact has been felt on the base paths and in the clutch home run department. Joey Gallo is also starting to play within himself, as evidenced by his amazing bunt to beat the shift the other day against the Mariners. Gallo is also providing stellar defense in the outfield. If ever there were two players the Yankees should probably extend, these two need to be the players. The top of the Yankee lineup, while still missing a true switch hitter or left handed hitting table setter, is mighty balanced lately. .

Additionally, all three of the pitchers that the Yankees dealt for are doing a great job. Andrew Heaney didn’t fare well in his first start with the Yankees, but last weekend against the Mariners he turned in a really gutsy performance, rebounding from a poor start. So far Heaney has sucked up innings but he’s probably not a playoffs starter for New York, barring injuries. Heaney’s job is to provide some stability to the rotation and suck up innings – and so far, he’s doing fine in this role. From watching him pitch, it’s apparent that he needs to become mentally more locked in when he takes the ball every five days. During his press conference the other day he pretty much admitted as much. He knows what he wants to do. Now it’s a matter of doing it!

Clay Holmes has been incredibly good versus right-handed hitters for the Yankees since he came over. Holmes is sporting a 1.23 ERA and opponents are batting only .125 against him with a .125 OBP. If that’s not a right-handed hitter nullifier, I’d like to know what is! The Yankees are using him almost exclusively against right-handed hitters. This is the same guy who had a 4.93 ERA with the Pirates. Maybe they did not realize that left-handed hitters destroy him.

Joely Rodriguez has also been okay in his earlier innings lefty specialist role.

The Yankees called up Luis Gil and Stephen Ridings who are both looking like permanent members of the Yankee pitching staff going forward.

My concern with the Yankees in the short term is the next couple of weeks really. Subtracting Rizzo and Allen really hurts the offense. Hopefully the team will be able to compensate, but I fear a platoon of Brett Gardner and Jonathan Davis in centerfield is going to make it hard for the Yankees to find the productive balance they need, especially when we look around the division.

Scariest of all teams right now are the Blue Jays, who got George Springer back on June 22nd and for the month of August he’s caught fire.

Toronto also added Jose Berrios at the deadline along with Brad Hand, two solid pitchers. Toronto is charging hard and fast and with their offense and new found pitching, they will begin to wear down other teams.

As of just a few days ago (when I wrote this), I see the Blue Jays as a lock to make the playoffs. Toronto has a +123 Differential, compared to the Yankees +15 and the Red Sox +33. With the improved pitching, I see Toronto challenging Tampa Bay for the Division title this year. August is one-third in the books at this point and the Blue Jays have eased into striking distance, it won’t be long until they overtake the Red Sox, who are regressing.

That brings up the question, did Boston do enough at the deadline? All they did really was add Kyle Schwarber, who is currently injured. He’s going to make the Red Sox lineup really scary when he comes back. The Sox also have Chris Sale coming back Saturday at Baltimore, so they’re going to become infinitely scarier in the immediate future.

My prediction? I hope I’m wrong, but won’t surprise me if the Yankees cool off a bit in the near future, as the Red Sox pick the pace back up while the Blue Jays begin to pull away. Covid is dramatically affecting the Yankees’ season at this point and it really feels like an awful lot to overcome.

The Yankees only have 49 games left in the season and the roster is still sputtering badly. Timing is everything right now and quite honestly, the longer these Covid interruptions hamper the Yankees, the more remote their chances get.

In the immediate future, the Yankees have three-game sets at the Royals and then home against the White Sox. Then the Bombers get a makeup game at home against the Angels, followed by their last crack at the Red Sox as they host Boston at the stadium. From there, the Yanks go into a massively important nine game road trip against the Braves, A’s, and Angels. If they come out of that stretch still within striking distance, which I don’t think they will be, then they will be in serious contention.

The Irony in this more immediate situation is that the Yankees were forced a few weeks ago to bring a lot of the players up who changed the entire tone of the team’s offense, defense, and pitching. If they weren’t forced to make the changes they did and have since mostly abandoned, they wouldn’t be anywhere near where they are now.

Quite honestly, I don’t have much faith in Brian Cashman and the Yankee analytics department to push the right buttons with the roster as we come into this crucial mid-August stretch and I don’t think the Yankees can win in spite of this disadvantage.

Therefore, I’ll go out on a limb with my predictions at this point:

I think Tampa Bay will narrowly win the Division, followed by Toronto, then Boston. The Yankees won’t be far off the pace, but I think this team as constructed with stars and supplemented by 40 man roster players, will not get the job done.

The only thing that would change my thinking would be if the Yankees did the following ASAP:

Promote Greg Allen & Estevan Florial immediately and platoon them in centerfield with Allen batting right handed against lefties (seeing that he hit .500 vs lefties) and Florial handling righties. Florial hit .400 vs right handed pitching during his cup of coffee and I believe the Yankees were wrong to demote both Florial and Allen.

Use Brett exclusively against right handed pitching. Gardy only hits .208 against righties but his OBP is .325 and his defense is acceptable so his value from here on out is to become a true, situationally used, 5th outfielder.

If the Yankees continue riding Gardy and Davis, I believe it will do just enough to cost the Yankees their chances of making the playoffs.

If the Yankees make my moves, there is a chance they’ll stay barely close enough as the stretch run begins and who knows – by then Luis Severino and Corey Kluber could both be rounding into form, along with Cole, Taillon and Monty. Suddenly, that’s an impressive rotation and I would think they’d have a decent chance at closing whatever gap exists and squeaking into the playoffs, to face Boston or Oakland in the Wild Card game.

Both Boston and Oakland would have a brutally tough starter lined up to face the Yankees in a Wild Card matchup, but the Yankees would have Gerrit Cole so anything could happen.

What do you think?

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