The Yankees’ Actual Test Is Just Around the Corner
By Derek McAdam
July 25, 2023
Following a road trip in which the New York Yankees went 1-5, including the Los Angeles Angels sweeping the Yankees in a three-game series, the Yankees returned to the Bronx and followed up with a series sweep of their own against the Kansas City Royals. Overall, it was a good weekend for Yankee fans, and not just because the team rebounded nicely after the Western roadtrip.
The sweep was a fantastic way to begin, but the Yankees also got some good news with regards to several of their injured players. First, and foremost, Aaron Judge took live batting practice for the first time since his injury on June 3, facing Jonathan Loaisiga, who was also doing some rehab work from an injury that has sidelined him since April. Fans were quick to question how Judge had a “good” session, given that he fouled off five of 16 pitches and did not put any into play. It’s not the most promising statistic to look at, but Loaisiga has some nasty pitches. It was not simply fastball after fastball.
Nestor Cortes Jr. also began his rehab assignment in Double-A Somerset on Sunday, throwing just over 40 pitches in 2.1 innings of work. It wasn’t the best start from Cortes, but hopefully with another start or two, he’ll be able to get himself back on track. The only timeline for Cortes is that he will not join the Yankees until August, so there is no doubt that he’ll make at least one more start in the minors before coming up. This makes complete sense, because why would the Yankees want to bring him up if he can’t throw at least 60-65 pitches.
Coming into the start of a new week, there seems to be a lot of optimism coming from the Yankee clubhouse, the front office and the media. However, the Yankees cannot get too ahead of themselves, as the real test to see what this team is truly capable of being is right around the corner.
There is no question that the Yankees should have won the series against the Royals. They’re one of the worst teams in baseball that struggles to produce runs. Sure, the Yankees have had the same problem lately, but they managed to score at least four runs in each of the three games. When the Yankees score at least four runs in a game, they’re somewhere in the ballpark of 30 games over .500. The offense definitely came in clutch during Friday and Sunday’s games, especially since some late game home runs from the Royals were making things a little uncomfortable.
While the Yankees did manage to sweep the Royals, which is a great start, they are about to face several teams that are going to be a challenge for them. Beginning tonight, the Yankees will host the New York Mets for a two-game series at Yankee Stadium. The Mets have lost six of their last 10 games and are losing ground in hopes of being a Wild Card team. However, this is not going to be an easy two games for the Yankees. They will face Justin Verlander in tonight’s game, and Jose Quintana tomorrow night, so the offense will be facing a couple of seasoned veterans.
We have now reached the point in the season where every single game is important, especially given the circumstances the Yankees are in. The Yankees cannot afford to split a two-game series with the Mets, much less get swept. To make things even more challenging, it is the worst team of the next four that the Yankees will face.
Following the Mets series, the Yankees will head to Baltimore for three games and return home to host the Tampa Bay Rays for three and the Houston Astros for four. This is where the real test is going to come into play. What hurts the Yankees even more is that these series are a week or so too late on the calendar. Here’s why.
Let’s say the Yankees began their three-game series with the Rays last night and finished off this week with the Astros. If the Yankees did well against these two teams, the front office would surely be convinced that the Yankees can maybe add a couple of players before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
However, the reality is that the Yankees will only be able to face off against the Orioles and get one game in with the Rays before the deadline. During that time is when they will have to make their best impression. But as I have said several times throughout my game summaries and other articles, I do not believe that this team if capable of making any sort of playoff run, even with some of the injured players coming back into the mix.
The first big problem that the Yankees will face is that Judge will not be 100% for the rest of the season. Judge’s injury is different from DJ LeMahieu’s foot injury last season, but LeMahieu said that it was an injury that nagged him for the rest of the season. Who’s to say that Judge comes back and cannot get the gears turning for the rest of the season? It’s definitely a possibility that may happen, but the Yankees are in desperation mode, and the feel as if Judge can contribute something to the lineup, even at 75%.
Here’s another reason why the Yankees are nowhere close to a playoff run, and one that I feel is the most important. The list of positions that the Yankees wanted to upgrade at was staggering. The Yankees want help in the starting rotation, bullpen, a catcher, a corner outfielder and even potentially a third baseman. In this current moment, it seems that the Yankees are content with LeMahieu at third, and maybe Ben Rortvedt coming up in place of the injured Jose Trevino changes that a little, but their requests just show where this team is actually at.
The Yankees have Gerrit Cole in their starting rotation that they can rely on to throw 100 pitches every game. There is no one else in the rotation that they can truly rely on to deliver that nearly every time out there. Clarke Schmidt has been good as of late, but he struggles once he gets to the 6th inning. Luis Severino and Domingo German have been inconsistent, and we’ve yet to see what Carlos Rodon can truly do. The Yankees cannot count on Cortes coming back into the rotation and lighting it up. He hasn’t had a great season, but only time will tell if it was due to a lingering injury.
The bullpen is absolutely shot, and it has shown since the beginning of the month. The bullpen has been heavily relied on since the beginning of the season, when the starters were given a pitch limit of 80-85 pitches and were forced to come out in the 4th or 5th innings most of the time. The bullpen may be healthy at the beginning of the season, but it takes its toll as the year goes on.
As similar events have transpired in years past, the bullpen gets to July and August and shows it’s absolutely exhausted. There isn’t a trustworthy reliever that the Yankees can currently go to, which has become a big problem, especially in close games. Do the Yankees try and depend on someone like Loaisiga when he comes back and maybe someone in rotation who gets moved to the bullpen once Cortes returns? I think it’s likely.
As for a corner outfielder, this is something that the Yankees did not address this past off-season. It was a given that Judge would be in right field and Harrison Bader in center, but the Yankees did not go after a left fielder, even though it was something that Brian Cashman publicly said they were looking for help at that spot. The Yankees instead decided to go with a platoon of players, with Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera, and several other Yankees playing that position. Has it worked? No, because if it did, there would be an every day player in left field. Even still, the Yankees cannot fully commit to one player out there.
Also, how do we know that the current starters are going to hit the way they have? Is Anthony Rizzo truly out a slump with Sunday’s game in which he got four hits? It’s definitely a starting point, but we’ll have to wait and see. Can Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres and LeMahieu continue to hit? Hopefully so, but again, we’ll have to wait and see.
It seems that Sean Casey has come in and changed some hitting approaches for some players, specifically Stanton and Rizzo. Both players have a bit more of a crouch in their stance, which could allow them to have more balanced swings and better at-bats. It’s great to see, but I just don’t think that this team will be any different than in years past come playoff time.
Of course, it is obvious that the Yankees’ big goal season-after-season is to just make the playoffs, at least in Hal Steinbrenner’s mind. It keeps the fans coming to the stadium and the revenues flowing, but the fans are obviously looking for a different answer. We want a ring, plain and simple. It’s been 14 years since the last one, and we haven’t been close to one since then.
Where this organization is heading to will be determined over the next five games. But if this keep decides to buy instead of sell at the deadline, the big test will come right after that. It’s going to be an interesting two weeks of baseball, so let’s see what happens.