After Weekend Resurgence, Don't Count the Yankees Out Just Yet

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And you were worried.

Maybe you had slight cause for concern over the Yankees. In a surreal MLB season, the Yankees are behaving in equally odd fashion. On August 17, they were 16-6, percentage points ahead of the Dodgers for the best record in baseball. Then they forgot how to play baseball, and were even called out by basher Luke Voit, who said the team that invented winning had lost its mojo.

Flash to a Sept. 8 loss to the Blue Jays - a team forced to play in that baseball-rabid town of Buffalo – that marked the Bronx Bombers' fifth straight loss and capped a 5-15 skydive that hammered them back down to a 21-21 record.
It was the first time since 1995 that the Yanks were .500 or worse in the month of September. And they were fighting the forlorn Orioles - the team they own even more than Peter Angelos - for a playoff spot.

Now, after sweeping the Orioles, the Yanks are 26-21, with a 99 percent chance of making the playoffs. Still, they've long lost their vise grip on the top spot in the American League, and even on the AL East, as they crane their necks up at the 30-17 Tampa Bay Rays. Instead of having the best record in the majors, they have the sixth-best record in the AL.

But if we're candid, the Yankees don't need the best record in the game to grab the pennant. There are no fans in the stands, no inherent edges to hosting games other than sleeping on your own mattress. The coronavirus has made the mechanics of this season very simple: play baseball, go home or to the hotel, and repeat.

In fact, there may not be playoff games in the Bronx, in long sleeves under brown leaves, if MLB decides to go NBA and play the postseason in a designated bubble.

For all their injuries, which makes this walking wounded theme a yearly thing, the Bombers are still third in the AL in home runs, walks, and on-base percentage, and sixth in runs scored and run differential. Their pitching has kept nostrils above water, ranking seventh in the AL in ERA, sixth in saves, fifth in strikeouts, third in walks allowed, and second in WHIP. Despite the turnstile planted in front of the rotation, the Yanks are still fifth in quality starts.
And their bullpen was flawless this weekend, except for Aroldis Chapman allegedly pooping in his pinstripes (we told you this was a surreal season).

Granted, these are hardly the numbers of the doomsday machine that was supposed to devour baseball this year. Aside from a few prescient pundits who tabbed the Rays to elbow past the Bombers, the Yanks were the chalk to walk to the World Series.

And they still can, but they need the bullpen to keep rolling, and need Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela back in the lineup (forget about Giancarlo Stanton, who is built like Zeus but is more fragile than Leto). Gleyber Torres has been scalding since he was benched for “rest” after one game back and DJ LeMahieu is second for the AL batting crown (.350), but they still need more. In keeping with the Twilight Zone motif, the Mets lead MLB with a .278 team batting average, 41 points ahead of the Yankees, who rank No. 21 (.237).

Plus, they need a playoff rotation that can beat someone beside the Twins. Gerrit Cole is finally pitching like the ace they signed to Jeff Bezos bank, allowing just one run in his last two starts and sporting a 0.69 ERA this month. They need Masahiro Tanaka to be his normal clutch self in October. And they need someone – whether it be a returning James Paxton, an emerging Deivi Garcia, or an old faithful in Happ or Montgomery – to complete a postseason troika. Cole can't finish the season as the only true starter with a winning record.

The Yankees have done the 100-win thing and lost. Maybe they need some midseason struggles to get properly hungry and hearty. Why not? In a year that has been flipped on its head, our nation more restless than it's been in decades, there's comfort in seeing LeBron James dominate his sport, in Aaron Rodgers scorching the Vikings as though he were 25 again…sometimes we need familiar faces in familiar places to make us feel like we're home. That's not to say the Yankees deserve to play in the World Series. They must earn it. But are you sure the White Sox, Rays, and A's are better? Combine the three clubs and you have one World Series title over the last 30 years.

Maybe it takes a team that has been there the most to get there again. The Yankees have 40 pennants for a reason. So don't count out No. 41 just yet.

Follow Jason Keidel on Twitter: @JasonKeidel

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