This three-game series against the Rays was supposed to be pivotal for the Yankees playoff chances. Instead, it feels like the first truly meaningless series of the year. The Yankees aren’t technically eliminated just yet, but they’re awfully close. A few random thoughts heading into tonight’s series opener.
• Mariano Rivera’s number has been retired, his legacy is beyond secure, and the Yankees seem to have very little to play for the rest of the way. Is he actually going to get that inning in center field that he’s wanted for so long? And if so, would Joe Girardi do it at Yankee Stadium this week — letting Rivera play center in the Bronx, and still make his final career appearance as a pitcher in Houston — or would he wait until the Yankees are officially eliminated to send his closer into the outfield, which might mean having Rivera play center field in a visiting ball park?
• Went back to look through CC Sabathia’s postgame comments after Friday’s start when — it turns out — he strained his hamstring. It was actually one of his best starts of the year. “It means a lot, but I’ve got a start in five days and I’ll be ready for that one,” he said. Or, you know, maybe not.
• So how to handle the rotation without Sabathia? I assume Phil Hughes will start one of these days. Could make a case for starting him in Houston only because he’s generally much better on the road, but I’m not sure that really matters. Either way, even if Hughes does get a start, the Yankees would still have to find one other starter. Might as well give that start to Adam Warren, right? Is there anyone else who could actually do something meaningful with a spot start this late in the year? Warren’s earned it, and might as well get one more look at him in that role heading into the offseason.
• Speaking of getting a look at Warren, the one interesting thing about watching a team that’s out of the hunt would be watching a few guys try out for roles next season. But how many guys on this Yankees roster are really in that position? Maybe Zoilo Almonte gets a few more at-bats, Cesar Cabral faces a few more lefties, and J.R. Murphy splits the catching duties? The guy who makes the most sense to see some of this ultimately meaningless playing time might be Dellin Betances. Girardi’s been slow to trust him for obvious reasons, but might as well throw him in the fire now. If it works out right, Betances could get three or four appearances to begin making a new impression before next year’s make-or-break spring training.
• In Saturday’s ninth inning, down by one, the Yankees sent Mark Reynolds, Brendan Ryan and J.R. Murphy to the plate without using a pinch hitter. They’d already burned through Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells in one pinch hitting opportunity earlier in the game, and they’d already used Zoilo Almonte to pinch run. I bring it up because, even in September with expanded roster, the Yankees bench is pretty thin. Losing Jeter and Gardner really had a trickle-down impact.
• Will there come a point when Alex Rodriguez just sits out the rest of the way? He’s obviously far from 100 percent, but he could also use as many at-bats as he can get considering this has been such a limited season as it is. Then again, does it really matter given the fact he seems to be heading toward some sort of lengthy suspension regardless.
• Along the same lines, is there any chance at all that Ivan Nova follows Sabathia’s lead and skips his next start? The fact Girardi — who’s usually super cautious with injuries, especially to pitchers — has been using him strongly suggests the Yankees have medical evidence that Nova’s not at risk of serious injury, but if that triceps issue is anything at all, what’s the point in having him pitch again? Does that situation change if the Yankees are officially eliminated?
• It might have been better to have it reversed, but it’s pretty cool that Andy Pettitte is going to close out his career with a start in New York and a start in Houston. Would have been nice to have the Yankee Stadium start be his true farewell, but still, pretty good for him to pitch in those two cities at the end.
• Ichiro Suzuki since the All-Star break: .222/.256/.259. Vernon Wells since the All-Star break: .250/.322/.333. Neither slash line is good, but Wells comes with solid traditional splits against lefties. Might not have said this in July, but at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wells is more valuable to the Yankees than Ichiro next season.
• And speaking of next season, there’s a temptation to begin looking ahead immediately, but that’s awfully hard to do right now. We still don’t know Rodriguez’s suspension status, whether Curtis Granderson might accept a qualifying offer to reset his free agent value, what exactly it’s going to take to re-sign Robinson Cano, and whether Hiroki Kuroda is even interested in coming back. Those situations might become a little clearer fairly quickly, but for now, those are big questions that cloud a lot of what the Yankees can or will do going forward. A lot of uncertainty surrounding this team beyond Sunday’s season finale.
Associated Press photos