It's time to take the kid gloves off the Yankees' offense.
As aggressive as Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been with the team's pitching staff -- quick hooks of starters and extended appearances for relievers -- he's been overly passive with constructing his lineup. Days off and handedness platooning has to -- pardon the pun -- be put to rest.
With 17 games left on the schedule and a three-game deficit in the American League East, the Yankees cannot afford to be sitting their best hitters down the stretch. The importance to winning the division, which is well within reach, cannot be understated.
One-and-done Wild Card games are a complete crapshoot. Simple bad luck can be the difference in the game. As such, it would behoove the Yankees to push to win the division and ensure themselves an actual series where flukes are not as much of a concern.
In order to have the best chance to catch the Red Sox, Girardi must trot out his best offensive grouping. The Yankees have one off-day built into the schedule which comes after the next 7 games. Girardi has done an admirable job of getting his players rest throughout the season, but now is not the time to be handing out breathers.
In my opinion, this should be the positional set up down the stretch -- everyday.
C - Gary Sanchez
1B - Chase Headley
2B - Starlin Castro
3B - Todd Frazier
SS - Didi Gregorius
LF - Brett Gardner
CF - Jacoby Ellsbury
RF - Aaron Judge
DH - Matt Holliday
Looking through the schedule, the Yankees have just two games after night games with the first one having the aforementioned off-day the next day. I would argue that Sanchez miss only the second instance. Using Austin Romine does not provide much more behind the plate than Sanchez can, but the downgrade at the plate between the two or Holliday if Sanchez is completely rested, is tremendous.
The oldest "regular" is Holliday (37), who missed 49 games this season. Resting Holliday now makes little sense. This is an experienced hitter that lengthens the Yankees lineup and still commands respect from opposing pitchers.
Castro was mired in a bit of a funk until ripping two hits Wednesday, but Girardi mentioned getting him a day off soon. Castro has missed a large chunk of games this season (48), so if anything, getting him into a groove is more important than worrying about whether he is tired. Leave Ronald Torreyes on the bench for blow out games and stop pretending he's not a downgrade to Castro.
One area of contention among some fans might be the corner infield spots. Headley absolutely needs to be in the lineup -- since June 3, he's hitting .306 with a .386 on-base percentage and a .465 slugging percentage in 338 plate appearances -- and his switch-hitting ability doesn't allow Girardi's binder to explain his absence away. Meanwhile, Frazier is slashing .217/.362/.401 with eight homers and 24 RBIs since being acquired by New York.
Girardi continues to say that he views Greg Bird as an everyday player, but 2018 seems like a better time to test that theory. Bird is hitting .214 with a .618 OPS since his return from the disabled list. This is not the time to try and get Bird hot. Headley has been more than competent at first base and exceptional at the plate, while Frazier simply provides a better chance to spark the offense right now.
The outfield seems to be the area that Girardi will be most tempted to move people around for rest and due to platoon splits. The problem here is that playing Clint Frazier in place of any of the regulars is also a downgrade. Frazier was hitting just .240 with a .274 on-base percentage before he hit the disabled list with an oblique injury. Despite a couple of hard-hit outs since his return, Frazier is hitless in six trips to the plate with three strikeouts.
In the meantime, Gardner (.333 average in last seven games) and Ellsbury (.373 average in last 60 plate appearances) have been playing well of late, and while Judge has not fully regained his first-half magic, he has found the power stroke (four homers in his last nine games). Again, it's more important that Judge be in the lineup daily because of what he can do on any given night and to become comfortable before a potential postseason run. Providing Clint Frazier at-bats hoping for a lightning in a bottle game is pointless when he won't be used as a playoff starter.
In the end that is the key. The Yankees should be playing the same collection listed above on a daily basis going forward to give the team its best chance to win and to further gel the group as they approach the playoffs. Mixing in bench players severely hinders the Yankees' scoring potential when adrenaline should be at its highest, making rest days unnecessary.