After that four-game series against the Red Sox. After all of the wasted opportunities. After so many letdowns by the pitching staff. After blown saves and base-running blunders and throwing errors, the Yankees are today almost exactly where they were five days ago: Still two-and-a-half games out of the second wild card, still with a chance to close the gap.
“I think we did (dodge a bullet),” Joe Girardi said. “And we need to take a little momentum from this and play well in Baltimore.”
What that long-weekend, four-game series really cost the Yankees was time and placement. There are only 19 games left to make up ground, and there are now two teams — the Indians and Orioles — standing between the Yankees and the second-wild-card-leading Rays. The Indians and Orioles are a half game ahead of the Yankees, meaning that hole could be erased tonight.
A few random thoughts heading into yet another pivotal series.
• A week ago, Derek Jeter had back-to-back two-hit games. Then he had one hit in the next four games as his swing started to look worse and his movements seemed more difficult. The sample size is too small and his season too erratic to know much for certain about Jeter’s long-term status — we’ll have to find out about that next year — but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him need more than these two games off. Maybe play four or five, then take another day. I really don’t know. Just seems like he’s able to be productive in bursts, but still struggling to do it night after night. Hard to imagine him sitting out the rest of this season, though. Also hard to imagine him playing the rest of the way.
• Even after his disappointing start on Saturday, David Huff still seems like the best choice to start Thursday’s series finale in Baltimore. The Orioles have been quite a bit worse against lefties than against righties, and they’ve had some big nights against Phil Hughes this year. Brett Marshall pitched well two nights ago, but that’s not enough to push him to the front of the line coming off a down year in Triple-A. Huff seems like the guy, unless the Yankees think everyone can pitch on short rest for a turn, which seems hard to imagine with this rotation.
• Three right handers and then a lefty scheduled to start for the Orioles this series. About a week ago I liked the idea of Mark Reynolds getting some starts at first base against right handers, but Lyle Overbay’s been pretty productive lately, and he has a higher batting average against the Orioles pitching staff than against any other team this season. Might see him get the benefit of the doubt three games in row.
• Given the uncertainty of Jeter’s status — and the sudden abundance of relievers on the roster — it might make sense to bring back either Brent Lillibridge or Alberto Gonzalez. The bullpen isn’t quite as short-handed now, so the Yankees could pretty easily DFA either Matt Daley or Jim Miller to add some infield depth. Just seems goofy to play a game in September without a go-to backup shortstop, while carrying 10 healthy right-handed relievers.
• If you’re more into an offensive backup option, Cody Ransom was just designated for assignment. He slugged .449 for the Cubs this year. Just another option if the Yankees decide their infield is too thin right now.
• I can understand the desire to see Dellin Betances get more opportunities — he’d been awfully good out of the Triple-A bullpen, and he’s out of options next season — but I’m also finding it hard to blame Girardi for being reluctant to use him. Miller and Daley were also very good out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pen, and frankly, Betances has been so inconsistent in his career, it’s hard to say he’s absolutely going to handle big leaguers this time around. Maybe he will — and there’s certainly reason for the Yankees to find out — but this is a tough spot to suddenly trust guys who haven’t done it before. If Joba Chamberlain were sent to Triple-A right now, his minor league numbers might very well be outstanding as well. Wanting to see Betances is one thing. Saying he’s the Yankees best option is something else.
• That said, last night was a pretty clear indication of what Girardi thinks of all his available relievers not named Mariano Rivera and Shawn Kelley. Preston Claiborne might be in that circle of trust if not for his struggles Thursday and Friday. If Kelley is the setup man right now, and Rivera is the closer, who’s your choice for the seventh inning? Mine might be Adam Warren.
• Austin Romine would have caught tonight’s game regardless of Chris Stewart’s health — Romine’s been catching CC Sabathia — but I do wonder if Stewart’s injury will force Romine to catch some other guys, leaving Girardi more open to the idea of starting his best offensive catcher a little more often down the stretch. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with the current setup of starting Stewart three out of five and using Romine as a late-inning pinch hitter, but adding playing time for Romine would certainly be interesting to watch. There’s still a curiosity factor there.
• What do the Yankees need to do in Baltimore? A sweep could be enough to grab control of the wild card, but is two out of four enough? Surely winning just one would be a devastating blow and winning three would be a positive. Are there enough games left to settle for a split?
Associated Press photo