John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Yankees have already played their last big series of the season, taking down the Dodgers in LA last weekend, so there won't be much September suspense, at least not in terms of clinching their first AL East title since 2012.
But their remarkable ability to overcome injuries continues to make this a compelling march to October, and indeed as the intrigue begins to build toward the postseason, there is no shortage of storylines surrounding this team.
Here, then, is your guide to what to watch for over the season's final month in the Bronx:
It will be fascinating to see how hard the Yankees push for the best record, in the American League and the majors. Teams usually prioritize rest for their players over gaining home field, but there's a case to be made for keeping the pedal down, at least to some extent, especially as it applies to the Astros in a potential ALDS.
After all, when the same teams met in the 2017 ALDS, the home team won each of the seven games, and it seemed to be more than coincidence.
The Astros, in fact, looked unnerved by the frenzied atmosphere in the Bronx at the time, and indeed that was as loud as it's ever been in the new Yankee Stadium, even including 2009. But then, after winning three straight the Bombers were shut down offensively in Games 6 and 7 amidst the deafening indoor noise in Minute Maid Park. Both teams would love to have that home-field edge.
Return Of The IL Brigade
Since the trade deadline came and went with Brian Cashman sitting tight, it has felt like the Yankees are practically counting on the return of Luis Severino, in particular, to give their starting rotation a much-needed boost. If their one-time ace is right, he could be the difference-maker to put them over the top in October, but it doesn't seem realistic to think he'll be able to dominate after missing nearly the entire season.
Same goes for Dellin Betances. Can a guy who has had major control problems at times during his career be expected to step in after missing five-plus months and be on top of his game? It seems like a lot to ask.
And then there's Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees don't really need him, the way they've hit, and privately they may not even want him taking a spot of one of their next-man-up guys, especially if Stanton comes back in September and looks rusty. His strikeouts last post-season killed them but, let's be honest, the Yankees aren't going to sit him and his huge salary if he's ready to play.
Can LeMahieu Win A Batting Title?
The last Yankee to pull off such a feat was Bernie Williams, who hit .339 in 1998. In addition, LeMahieu would join a star-studded list that includes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Don Mattingly, and Paul O'Neill as Yankees to win batting titles.
It appears he's in for a fight down the stretch with Michael Brantley, but as of Saturday Lemahieu was leading with a .335 average. It would be his second such crown, having won one for the Rockies in 2016, hitting .348, and it would cap off one of the bargain free-agent signings of last winter, as the Yankees got him on a two-year, $24 million deal.
If not for Mike Trout, in fact, Lemahieu might have a shot at the AL MVP Award. As it is, he'll be in the running for second with Alex Bregman and a few others.
How Many Home Runs Can One Team Hit?
The Yankees have hit 250 home runs this season and are well on their way to breaking their major league record of 276 that they set just last season. And yet they're not even leading the majors right now, trailing the Twins, who have hit 262.
The Twins? Sounds funny to think they could set the new record, but anything seems possible this season, the way the ball is flying out of ballparks at a record rate.
So can the Yanks catch the Twins? And does anybody care, or are we all numb to the long ball at this point?
The Phenom Watch
Will the Yankees add another bullpen weapon by calling up 20-year old Deivi Garcia from Triple-A? Cashman doesn't rule it out, which probably means the 5-foot-9 phenom will be in the Bronx at some point.
He has had his ups and downs since being promoted to Triple-A in July, but the Yankees recently put him in the bullpen, where his high-90s fastball, which he hides well out of an across-his-body delivery, can be overpowering in one-inning bursts.
Will CC Get One More Postseason?
It doesn't look good now that he has been placed on the Injured List again due to his ongoing knee problem, after being forced out of Friday night's start due the pain on that landing leg.
He's committed to retiring at season's end, and his career is deserving of one last shot at some October glory, but the Yankees aren't going to be swayed by emotion in trying to win a championship, and right now it's hard to see how he'll be on the post-season roster.
What If The Injuries Just Keep Coming?
As mentioned above, the expectation is the Yankees will get some of their key players back going into the post-season, but the way this season is going, you also have to wonder if there is a limit to how many injuries they can withstand.
On Friday, in fact, when the Yankees placed Gio Urshela on the IL with a groin strain, they set an MLB record as he became the 29th different player to go on the list this season.
To this point their next-man-up success has been the defining characteristic of their season, but as October nears they're going to need a run of good health to win a championship.