The Yankees, between now and October, will be walking a treacherous tightrope. Decisions loom as to how to get there healthy and in stride…
The Yankees, like all of us, glance at the standings with mild confidence their lead is safe. True to form, Aaron Boone incessantly reminds the clubhouse the only game that matters is the one they are playing today. No letups. Lethargy can’t set in with two formidable teams, Tampa Bay and Boston, having ideas of their own.
But at the same time, Boone and the Yankees can’t afford to keep October far from their sights. It has little to do with injuries. They happen, and you play around them, just like all teams do.
The Yankees remain in control of their destiny this season. Decisions loom, however, and they revolve around an overall plan designed to get the team to October healthy and in stride.
The Yankees Master Plan
The plan begins and ends with Boone having a method to give his players adequate rest during the second half – but not too much rest. The tightrope that keeps each player fresh while maintaining that competitive edge, so necessary for play at this level.
Boone’s task is most straightforward with his position players. Each night, one player sits. It helps, of course, to have Mr. Versatility, DJ LeMahieu, on hand to fill in, as he did for Gio Urshela Tuesday night at third base. Tonight, Gleyber Torres gets the night off with LeMahieu filling in at for him at second base.
The DH spot counts as only a half-day off, The idea is to give the player a chance to put on a sweatshirt and do nothing but stand on the top step of the dugout, chatting and relaxing while his teammates take care of things
Now to the tricky part – pitching. Aaron Boone has been a master at alternating his relievers from Triple-A Scranton up to the Yankees and then back again in favor of another arm. An example is David Hale, who threw two middle innings on Tuesday night while gaining the win when Didi Gregorius unloaded a grand slam home run later in the game.
Stephen Tarpley, Chance Adams, and Jonathan Holder have also ridden the shuttle to the Bronx and back. Still, the trick is going to be not to overwork the core of the Yankees bullpen. Adam Ottavino, for instance, has already appeared in 44 games while cohort, Tommy Kahnle has worked in 43. By the time the Yankees reach the middle of the playoffs, these numbers can easily exceed 80 games.
Aaron Boone: Juggling The Goods
The starters represent a similar problem in terms of innings pitched. But things get more complicated with them because they rely so heavily on following a routine. Every day of the four between starts is scripted and strictly adhered to, leading up to a separate method each starter develops on the day they pitch.
Break that routine at your peril. Veterans like CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka are more flexible, but still, they need to know in advance when they are going to be skipped in the rotation.
Domingo German, the Yankees most effective starter this year (11-2, 3.40 ERA in 15 starts), represents a problem of different sorts. With 82 innings under his belt, he is within three innings of his total last year. His time on the IL helped but count on the Yankees watching him closely.
The wild cards are Dellin Betances and Luis Severino. Both have received the go-ahead begin a scripted throwing program that will be evaluated daily by the medical team and pitching coach, Larry Rothschild. If all goes well, the earliest either is expected back is the end of August or early September.
Significantly, Severino may or may not return as a starter. Aaron Boone is already weighing his options regarding using Severino in the bullpen. His thinking is he will not have time to get “stretched out” enough to handle the weight of a starter’s innings.
That option becomes more viable if Brian Cashman can land a quality starting pitcher before the trade deadline on July 31.
Yankees: The Game Within The Games
In sum, there are games to be played, and then there are games to played within those games. While teams like Tampa and Boston need to go all-out as they attempt to catch the Yankees, the Bombers have the luxury of looking down at them in the standings.
The intention, of course, is to win every game you play. But unlike the Rays and Red Sox, a split by the Yankees in any head-to-head series serves the purpose.
The trick from here forward is for Aaron Boone to provide adequate rest for his position players and pitchers. This, while still giving the Yankees a chance to seize momentum heading into the playoffs – something that helped the Red Sox so much last year.
How Aaron Boone puts the pieces of this puzzle together – or not – will go a long way toward his selection as the American League Manager of the Year, as well as a 28th Championship for the New York Yankees.