Why the Yankees Will Win the AL East
Outside of a rough start to the season, the New York Yankees have been rolling all year. They have the second-best record in baseball, a deep lineup, a Cy Young candidate heading the rotation, a bullpen that is absolute dynamite, and a young core that will be around for years to come. Unfortunately for the Bronx Bombers, they have hit a bit of a road bump this past week, splitting a series in Baltimore as well as in Cleveland. All 8 of these games could have and should have been won, but it just didn’t happen. Meanwhile, the Red Sox continued their torrid play, jumping up to a 5 game-lead in the division.
Concerned? Don’t be. The Yankees will win the division.
But Sam, How Can You Say That – The Sox are UNREAL!!
Yes, this is true. The Red Sox are really, really, really damn good. They also have a deep lineup and good pitching, and they don’t really like to lose. But, every team has their flaws, and the Sox are no different.
For starters, their bullpen is a bit of a red flag. Kimbrel is unreal, but you can’t throw your closer every night for 3 innings. That, and even he melts down every now and then. Joe Kelly, the same Joe Kelly that couldn’t land a punch on Tyler Austin and was heralded as a Boston legend, has pulled a Tyler Clippard and turned into an absolute tomato can of a pitcher. In the months of June and July combined, he has a 9.22 ERA. That’s not good. At all. Especially for a set-up man that pitches pretty frequently in close games.
Outside of Kelly, they don’t have much. Matt Barnes is pretty good, but he’s not going to be a guy that scares me too bad if I see him coming out to pitch. Heath Hembree has struggled. Velázquez is starting to unravel a bit. Workman and Thornburg are solid, but even they aren’t perfect.
As we’ve seen with teams like the Royals and even the Yankees last year, a good bullpen means everything. The Red Sox could still go out and trade for a guy like Brad Hand, which would be a very good move for them, but if they stick with the current unit, they’re going to get beat up.
Alright, Alright…but They Still Win a Ton of Games
Granted, this is also true. They also beat up on weak competition.
OH MY GOD WITH THE WEAK COMPETITION THING
Relax. I’m not trying to take away from the Red Sox for beating up on the Orioles and Blue Jays. Good teams go to work on bad teams and take care of business against them night in and night out. The Yankees could actually do with a lesson here, seeing as to how badly they struggle with Baltimore for whatever God forsaken reason…
But, back to my point. The Sox haven’t played that many games against tough competition. That changes in the second half, especially in September, with games against New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Houston. They will get beat up a bit there. The Yankees weren’t as good as their 17-2 run where they put the entire American League through a meat grinder, and neither are the Red Sox. The Sox will stumble a bit here, and the Yankees should in theory pounce on this.
Ok…Enough About the Sox, What About the Yankees?
On the other end of the equation, the Yankees have an incredibly easy schedule for the second half. Yes, I know that they have struggled against bad teams a bit. I know that they just absolutely crapped themselves in Baltimore in a series where they easily should’ve won all 4 games. And I remember in June that Rays swept them. I haven’t lost sight of this, despite wanting to put these games way out of my mind…
The Yankees are simply too good to keep letting this happen. Sure, they’ve stumbled a bit. But this team is too loaded with talent to struggle this mightily against bad teams. They’ll right the ship and start doing damage to the bottom-dwellers of the league.
But Are They REALLY That Good?
Yes, yes they are. Against a harder schedule and with more injuries than the Sox, the Yankees are still comfortably within striking distance. They’ve lost a pitcher for the season due to Tommy John. Two other pitchers have spent time on the DL this season. The AL Rookie of the Year favorite, and 2016 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up are currently shelved. Their center fielder was on the DL after the first game, and don’t get me started with the injury bug at first base…
I don’t care who else is on your team, but if you have Jordan Montgomery, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sánchez, Aaron Hicks, and Greg Bird miss time due to injury, those are all massive blows. However, they have withstood everything the league has thrown at them despite the injury bug, and they still have the second-best record in baseball. Unfortunately, Gumby won’t be coming back this year, but everyone else is getting healthy and playing better. Tanaka just spun a nice start in Cleveland, and Hicks and Bird are starting to catch fire. All the remaining pitching is healthy, Torres is back soon, and Sánchez comes back against the Mets.
But Gary Sánchez is Utter Garbage!
Yeah, yeah, I get it, a .190 batting average is below the Mendoza line and it sucks and it’s inexcusable. The Kraken has some underlying numbers that suggest he is simply unlucky.
His fly ball rate is up 9% from last year, which takes away from line drives which fall for hits. Still making contact, just not hitting the ball exactly how he needs to be.
One thing Sánchez is doing better that should be helping him out is hitting against the shift. 18.7% of his balls go to the opposite field, and over 25% go against the shift; against the shift, he is batting .254. The underlying numbers are there, they just haven’t shown up yet.
His plate discipline has also improved from last year, as it’s down 4%. All of these numbers are detailed nicely in this Fansided post.
Also, his defense. Passed balls are still there, but with a staff that throws a ton of breaking pitches, that’s to be expected and is nothing more than a media-driven storyline. One eye-popping number? In his absence, runners have successfully stolen based 86% of the time off of Romine and Higashioka. That’s atrocious. Sanchez returning behind the dish immediately cuts down on that number, and in a one-run game like the Yankees have been losing lately, one baserunner is all it takes.
To summarize: some underlying metrics are good, he is just popping the ball up more, and the team badly misses his defense. Some time off will probably be good for El Gary, where he can recharge a bit and tinker with some bits and pieces of his swing and come back a monster. Make no mistake, when he’s on, this is one of the scariest players in baseball
The Rotation is Also Hot Garbage
Not entirely true. Severino and Sabathia are studs, so there’s two arms. Despite an inconsistent first half, Masahiro Tanaka is poised for a bounce-back second half. He did the same thing last year, and was stellar in the playoffs. His last start against Cleveland was great (6.1 IP 2 ER), only making one bad pitch that ended up over the wall.
Sonny Gray is maddeningly inconsistent, but God forbid there are reasons to hope. He has a 3.62 ERA on the road, a solid number for a middle-of-the-rotation starter. He’s horrid at home, and that’s a number that he needs to fix soon. The Yankees rely on him too much for that to remain constant. Am I expecting a Cy Young rebirth? No, absolutely not. But, I’d expect him to at the very least maintain his road numbers and maybe, just maybe, figure out his deal in The Bronx.
I also bet that Cashman trades for a pitcher at the deadline. As much as I want a guy like Snell, deGrom, or Bumgarner, and despite how I would trade the house for a guy like this, I doubt it happens – these players are on good contracts for their teams which are somewhat contenders, and it would take a drastic overpay to land them, something Cashman won’t do.
A more realistic option would be a guy like Nate Eovaldi or Zack Wheeler, quality middle-of-the-rotation arms. I would actually really like to see Wheeler in pinstripes, I’m just not sure if the Mets move him. But, the Yanks will 1000% acquire a pitcher for a playoff run. Let’s just hope it’s a good one.
Will the Yankees actually win the division? Only time will tell, and with my luck, I get every single one of these predictions wrong. But, if I nail every one of them, then the Yankees should be standing in October not having to play a Wild Card game, and hopefully a month later, I’ll be on Broadway freezing myself to death while ticker tape rains down on me from above as the parade floats cruise on by…
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