If the Yankees are to win a title this year, they’ll need:
- Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner to get red hot at the top of the lineup again, as they were in the first two months of the season. Ellsbury got two hits the other night — first signs of a thaw after a horrid 1-31 stretch that saw his average plummet to the .250’s — he is now at .253. Brett Gardner is batting .265.
- A fourth pitcher to help Masahiro Tanaka (12-6 3.40), Luis Severino (4-3 3.12), and CC Sabathia (4-9 4.93) anchor down the pitching staff down the stretch and into the playoffs. Yes — Sabathia — who lately has been one of the Yankees toughest-to-face and most dependable starters (even Severino got torched by Toronto last week).
- That pitcher could be be Michael Pineda (10-8 4.25), whose early season brilliance has been lost in a fog of bad games when the slider doesn’t slide, and a minor stint on the DL with elbow issues.
- That pitcher will hopefully be Nathan Eovaldi (14-3 4.20), who has at times been the ace of the staff this year, but now on the DL until the playoffs with shoulder discomfort.
- That pitcher could be Adam Warren (6-6 3.33), who overall has probably been the Yankees 3rd best starter this year (after Tanaka and Eovaldi). Warren has pedigree (was an ace at the vaunted University of North Carolina program that graduated Matt Harvey and Andrew Miller amongst others), pitched well as a starter in the minors before being converted to a reliever, and showed moxie this year. He throws hard and knows how to navigate a lineup for 6 to 7 innings. He’s a starter. A good one.
- That pitcher will probably not be Ivan Nova (6-8 5.11), who briefly looked good after returning from Tommy John surgery, but lately has been horrid. Only good news is that Nova’s outward confidence seems high.
Dellin Betances to regain his confidence and control. In this Wednesday night’s game against Tampa Bay, Joe Girardi showed incredible managerial instincts, leaving Betances in the game when he walked three straight batters with 2 out in the 7th and the Yanks nursing a 2-1 lead — not even having anyone warm up. Girardi has always been a terrific handler of the Yankee pitching staff and he showed his chops on this night — showing Betances he had complete confidence in him. Betances then threw 2 strikes to James Loney (who was 3-3 to that point) and struck him out on 4 pitches, then escaped through the 8th after a leadoff single — a bad bunt ended up being a double-play and hard line drive ground out and just like that Betances’ line read 1.1 innings, 0 hits, 0 runs. The Betances-Miller 7th-thru-9th-inning-closer combo gives the Yankees their one significant advantage over other teams in the playoffs. The good news here is that Miller has been Filthy lately.
- Alex Rodriguez (32-83-.255) to stay hot. After a late August slump he has been red-hot lately, coming up with big hit after big hit after big homerun.
- A miracle return of Mark Teixeira in the playoffs — and continued hot hitting from rookie Gregory Bird (7-21-.248 in 101 AB). They’ll probably need both of these for a title run. Teixeira (31-79-.255) is supposed to be gone until next year after fouling a pitch off his leg and breaking a bone, but maybe he can make it back by middle of October? How long do bones take to heal? Greg Bird has been terrific as a rookie and future star to be, but he is a rookie so we don’t know how he’ll do in the playoffs.
- Brian McCann (25-87-.240) and Carlos Beltran (15-53-.277) to keep belting, and Didi Gregorius (9-52-.267) and Chase Headley (11-60-.267) to keep doing what they’ve been doing, on offense — and for Headley — no more errors; he’s used his full allotment. Headley has to settle down and become Graig Nettles on defense. You can win a World Series with Graig Nettles defense you know (1978). Stephen Drew (17-44-.202) has to keep playing the great D and keep that average over .200.
- Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve to stay sharp. Wilson and Shreve, and Adam Warren if he’s not kept in the rotation, with Betances and Miller, give the Yankees one of the best ballpens in baseball — let’s not forget that. And ballpens are important in the playoffs. Wilson has been very sharp lately — dominant in his relief outings. Shreve has been fallable lately. Girardi will need to guide the ballpen to be on the top of their game for the playoffs.
- Luck and unexpected plays by unexpected players. Slade Heathcott for one. Whom was the consolation prize when the Angels picked Mike Trout with the 26th pick in the draft. Luck is huge. A flyout caught by a fan for a home run (luck of past Yankee teams). A foul out knocked away by a fan for a foul instead of an out (luck of the Chicago Cubs). A flyout by Jim Thome caught by Paul O’Neill at the wall for 3rd out with bases loaded in the 1st, then El Duque settles down pitches a 2-hit shutout, evening the series at one (1998; Thome missed it by ‘this much’). Any good baseball team can beat any great baseball team in a short series. Who’s hot, who’s healthy, and the bounce of the ball are super important.
The Yanks are 3.5 games back of Toronto now with 17 games left. They have the first wildcard position, leading the wildcard by 3 games. They play the Mets this weekend — Tanaka vs Steven Matz tonite, Pineda vs Noah Syndergaard on Saturday, and CC Sabathia vs Matt Harvey on Sunday night. After that 3 games vs the Jays and no rest until the end of the year. Let’s bring it on!