The big picture is pretty obvious heading into this weekend. The Yankees are four games out of the second wild card and about to play three games against a pretty bad White Sox team (granted, with Chris Sale pitching one of those games). They’re not in a great spot, but they are remarkably not buried just yet. They have to hit better, they have to get on a roll, and they have to take advantage of situations like this weekend if they want to make any sort of playoff run. All of that goes without saying at this point. So here are a few random thoughts heading into the weekend.
• Easy to say this after yesterday’s strong start, but of all the guys the Yankees traded for his season, Brandon McCarthy stands out as the best option for a new contract. Martin Prado is going to stick around anyway, and while there’s an argument to be made for both Chase Headley (who I think might be more expensive than expected) and Stephen Drew (who doesn’t strike me as the best shortstop on the market this winter), McCarthy seems like a great fit. He gets groundballs in a stadium where fly balls are dangerous, he throws strikes, and he has a personality that fits this market and this clubhouse. Kind of walks that line between being goofy and still having a leadership quality. And this year has proven beyond a doubt that there really is no such thing as too much starting pitching.
• Speaking of McCarthy, there are some similarities between him and tonight’s Yankees starter, Shane Greene. And yesterday, McCarthy had some awfully nice things to say about Greene. “I like watching Shane pitch. I don’t care if I’m not here anymore (next year), he’s a really fun kid for me to watch pitch because he lies and calls it a cutter even though it’s s disgusting, unhittable slider. His fastball is just explosive. He’s a guy I’d never heard of before a came here, and 10 years ago that’s a kid that’s on the cover of Baseball America, and he’s the next big thing. It’s crazy where pitching has gone, but I think it shows how good he is that, nobody really knows who he is, probably, and I guarantee you when hitters go back to the dugout they’re (saying), ‘I don’t know what I just saw.’”
• On Wednesday night, Joe Girardi said that Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Derek Jeter — the top three hitters in the lineup — have been probably the team’s most consistent hitters. While I think most people are on board with Gardner and Ellsbury being two of the bright spots this season, I wanted to look up Jeter’s numbers. He hit .272 in April, .275 in May, .272 in June, and .289 in July. His on-base percentage — except for a down much of June — and slugging percentage have also been fairly steady from month to month (though all of his numbers are down in August). Jeter has not been a great hitter this season, but I really believe that if the offense were more productive around him, we’d all be talking about what a nice, steady, still-productive final seasons he’s having. Instead, with the offense struggling so much, Jeter occasionally becomes a go-to argument as if he’s the source of the problem.
• Carlos Beltran seems confident that playing catch and playing the outfield have nothing to do with his recent elbow setback. But that’s been a risky situation ever since the bone spur was discovered, and I can’t help wondering if throwing a baseball a little bit might have played some small role in expediting a setback that was probably inevitable anyway. He’ll have surgery regardless, but now he’s had three cortisone shots in a year. That just seems like a lot. If doctors cleared it, I’m sure it’s fine, but he’s really doing what he can to stay on the field.
• On the flip side of the Beltran-in-the-field argument: I was never sure it was a good idea, and I’m still not sure it was a good idea, but I became significantly more on board when Girardi made it clear he was willing to give Derek Jeter significant time at designated hitter so that either Drew or Brendan Ryan could spend more time at shortstop. Freeing up the DH spot not only let the Yankees rest veterans more easily, but it helped their infield defense on those days Girardi was willing to play his best defensive shortstops. That seemed like a real plus. It might have been an obvious move, but I wasn’t sure Girardi would be willing to do it.
• I assume yesterday’s Zelous Wheeler call-up makes him a shoo-in for a September call-up (meaning he’ll stick around once rosters expand). Nothing against Wheeler, who’s done a nice job establishing himself as a kind of utility option in the big leagues, but I really wondered if his roster spot might be up for grabs next month. There’s little sense keeping both he and Jose Pirela on the roster — they’re fairly similar — and I thought the Yankees might prefer to check out the younger guy. I guess it still might happen. With Wheeler and Yangervis Solarte, the Yankees did a nice job over the winter of finding some useful pieces among the six-year minor league free agents. Need to do that kind of thing when the upper levels of the minor league system are fairly thin.
• Take away any requirement for number of at-bats, and the only Yankees who have hit better than .300 with runners in scoring position this year are Scott Sizemore (2-for-4), Zoilo Almonte (1-for-3) and John Ryan Murphy (4-for-13). The other Yankees hitting better than .250 with runners in scoring position are Brett Gardner (.295), Stephen Drew (.294), Jacoby Ellsbury (.292), Yangervis Solarte (.284), Kelly Johnson (.280) and Derek Jeter (.275).
• Not the usual sort of item for a post like this, but it sounds interesting: Yesterday, MLB announced that Robinson Cano, Adam Jones, Yasiel Puig and Albert Pujols will be among a group of Major Leaguers who will travel to Japan this November to play a five-game series against “Samurai Japan” (Japan’s National Team) in “All-Star Series 2014.” Ron Washington will manage the team. No word on a full roster just yet. I think it would be cool to see Brett Gardner, Dave Robertson or Dellin Betances make the trip. Maybe even a guy like Shane Greene or David Phelps if MLB is going to flesh out the roster with younger guys like that. Certainly not the biggest names on the Yankees roster, but absolutely among the most deserving of something like this.
• One reason the Yankees are still in the race is because of the general parity in baseball. I really wonder if we’ll see another run where a team makes the playoffs as consistently as the Yankees did the previous two decades. “I think that with the way that baseball has (gone) with the revenue sharing and the TV contracts and everything that’s going on, I think you’re seeing more parity in the game,” Girardi said. “It doesn’t appear that there’s going to be a team that wins 100 games this year. I don’t know how many teams are going to win 90 games this year. You’re seeing, I think, a group of 30 teams that from top to bottom, I think there’s more competition and it becomes really difficult. We can look at Boston last year, they won the World Series. They made a few changes, but they didn’t make a ton of changes, and this year for whatever reason it hasn’t worked out for them. And I don’t think they expected that. It’s not easy to win a championship.”
Associated Press photos