Yankees remain upbeat about playoff prospects despite challenges

Yankees' Isiah Kiner-Falefa steals a base during the game against the White Sox on August 8, 2023, in Chicago.

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The Yankees maintain their belief in their ability to achieve a playoff berth in the face of tough hurdles. After their 7-1 victory against the White Sox on Tuesday night, the Yankees continue to trail by 4.5 games for the third and final American League Wild Card position.

As of Tuesday, with 48 games remaining, their chances of making it to the playoffs stand at 12.3%, according to Fangraphs. Meanwhile, Baseball-Reference projects the Yankees have a mere 6.8% likelihood of earning a spot in the postseason.

The Yankees haven’t made it to the World Series since 2009. They’ve consistently reached the playoffs every year since 2016. They’re still the biggest and most well-known team in baseball. Compared to what many teams aim for, they’re seen as a role model. However, when it comes to their own expectations, they’re not meeting them.

Despite the disheartening defeat to the Chicago White Sox on Monday, which added to the Yankees’ struggles in the wild card race, Gerrit Cole remains optimistic about the team’s playoff prospects. The team’s ace commented that achieving the goal was feasible. He likened the journey to climbing mountains of varying sizes, emphasizing the importance of reaching the summit, regardless of the challenges faced along the way.

Yankees widening playoff challenges

After a successful 99-win season and securing the AL East title, the Yankees commenced the 2023 season with familiar key players and a promising 81.2% likelihood of reaching the playoffs. However, as they approached the All-Star break last month, their playoff odds had decreased to 56.5%, even though they were just one game away from securing a postseason berth.

Presently, the team finds itself at a 4.5-game distance from securing the third and last Wild Card position in the American League standings. With a record of 59-55, they are treading just above the .500 mark. Their absence from the playoff contention has persisted for nearly a complete month, tracing back to July 8.

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The Yankees have encountered a series of obstacles. Aaron Judge, the reigning AL MVP, has been absent for a substantial portion of the team’s matches due to a hip strain and a persistently limiting toe injury. Alongside him, outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Harrison Bader also endured extended periods of absence. Furthermore, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who experienced a two-month slump, recently landed on the injured list due to post-concussion syndrome.

The depth of the starting rotation has also faced significant challenges. Nestor Cortes recently made a comeback on Saturday after being sidelined for over two months due to a rotator cuff strain. Carlos Rodon, on the other hand, endured a lengthy absence during the initial three months of the season due to forearm and back problems, only to find himself back on the injured list on Monday, this time with a left hamstring strain.

Frankie Montas has been absent from the mound throughout this season following shoulder surgery in February. Meanwhile, Luis Severino has faced difficulties, posting a 2-6 record along with a 7.74 ERA. Additionally, the team had to cope with the potential loss of Domingo German for the rest of the season, as he entered inpatient treatment for alcohol abuse last week.

During the August 1 trade deadline, the Yankees chose to maintain their current lineup, showing confidence that their skilled roster could recover from injuries and meet the initial season predictions. The defeat on Monday led to the Yankees’ second-half record dropping to 9-13 for this season.

First baseman Jake Bauers expressed on Monday night that there is a significant amount of talent within the clubhouse. He acknowledged the challenges the team has been facing, highlighting that things haven’t been going as planned. He mentioned that there will be a turning point, a period when the team’s fortunes will change, and they will start winning games. He anticipated that by September, they will find themselves in a competitive position.

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Ahead of Monday’s game, the Yankees held an impressive 9-0 record in matches where Cole took the mound following a loss. Cole’s performance on this occasion saw him concede four runs, two of which were attributed to him after his departure, spanning over 7-plus innings. The Yankees’ offensive struggles were evident as they left 13 runners stranded against the White Sox. This followed a previous game where they left 15 on base during a 9-7 defeat to the Houston Astros.

While the gap to the third Wild Card position might seem relatively small at just 4 ½ games, the statistical challenges facing the Yankees are more daunting than they may appear.

Can the Yankees enter the playoffs?

The New York Yankees, a team with a rich history in baseball, are working hard to secure a spot in the playoffs this year. As the season is coming to an end, they are facing tough competition in the American League. Dealing with both older players and injuries, the Yankees are fighting to earn one of the ten available playoff spots.

The Blue Jays (64-51) currently occupy the third Wild Card slot, as of Wednesday morning. Based on their current performance, they are projected to secure around 89 wins this season. Rounding up, let’s say they reach 90 wins. For the Yankees to have a realistic shot at entering the postseason, they would need to accumulate at least 90 victories themselves.

This implies that the Yankees must achieve a record of 32 wins against 16 losses or better across their upcoming 48 games.

Out of the remaining 48 games, 18 of them will be played at their home stadium. So far, they’ve performed well at home. As the season moves forward, the Yankees will have some extremely important games and series ahead of them that could decide whether they make it to the playoffs or not. They will be facing off against division rivals like the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays in upcoming matchups. These series are going to be pivotal because the outcomes of these games directly influence their position in the standings.

The path to the playoffs is quite challenging for the New York Yankees. However, they have some key players who are performing really well, and there’s potential for improvements in the team’s roster. The Yankees have a skilled team with lots of experience, so they have the potential to improve their season. To make their playoff dreams a reality, the Yankees need their star players to step up and perform exceptionally well. One player who has consistently shown his skills is Aaron Judge, and fortunately, he’s back in action. This tall outfielder has been hitting the ball with power and driving in runs, making a big impact at the plate. His ability to hit a home run in a single swing can completely change the course of the game, and his contribution will be vital for the Yankees’ success in the final stretch of the season. Interestingly, the Yankees have won about 58% of their games when Judge has been in the lineup this season.

Considering the return of Nestor Cortes to the rotation and Aaron Judge being back in the lineup, the Yankees hope to clinch a spot in the playoffs.

The opening series in Chicago marks the initial leg of a nine-game road journey that also encompasses matchups against the Miami Marlins and the top-seeded Atlanta Braves, both lasting three games each.

The Yankees are also confronted with a demanding schedule moving forward. Merely 19 of their remaining contests are against sub-.500 teams, while the majority are against playoff-contending opponents, each with more favorable odds than the Yankees. Challenging visits to Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Boston are all on the horizon.

It’s crucial to recognize the level of competition the Yankees are facing in this scenario. Apart from the teams currently occupying the Wild Card positions — the Rays (67-45), Astros (63-48), and Blue Jays — the Mariners (58-52) and Red Sox (57-52) have better standings than the Yankees. Additionally, the Angels (56-55) trail the third Wild Card spot by five games.

Unless they experience significant downturns in performance during the upcoming two months, it’s highly likely that the Orioles (68-42) and Rangers (64-46), both leading their respective divisions, as well as the Rays and Astros, are on the verge of clinching playoff berths. According to FanGraphs, each of these teams has a probability exceeding 86 percent to secure a spot in the postseason.

Hence, the Yankees find themselves among a group of five teams vying for the remaining Wild Card position.

Yankees pitcher Jonathan celebrates victory over the White Sox with catcher Kyle Higashioka on August 8, 2023, in Chicago.
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Yankees are constrained in their quest for a playoff berth

The Yankees are facing challenges due to their large payroll and contracts that aren’t delivering the expected results. This is stopping them from transitioning into a younger and more athletic team for the future. They’re still dealing with a huge financial burden of $294 million, and their general manager, Brian Cashman, admitted that there’s no easy way to escape this situation. Cashman’s recent comments about their playoff position reflect a sense of frustration, as the team is struggling and he’s finding it difficult to make the changes needed to improve the situation. He even used the phrase “taken a wrecking ball to it” to express the extent of the challenge.

This is where the frustration lies. Despite still having a shot at the wild-card spot in the playoffs, the Yankees don’t quite feel like a strong contender for October’s success. It’s understandable why Cashman, the general manager, faced a tough decision during this year’s deadline.

On the other hand, they have a top-notch pitcher in Gerrit Cole, who signed a massive $324-million contract and is having an outstanding season in the race for the Cy Young award. Additionally, Aaron Judge, who is one of the most formidable hitters in baseball, has returned to the lineup after being out for seven weeks due to injury. Another positive is that the Yankees possess the best bullpen in the league, which has maintained an ERA of 2.75.

Apart from those positives, the Yankees are facing some serious challenges. They have expensive contracts and are not performing up to expectations. Another unexpected setback came before Wednesday’s game when Domingo German was put on the restricted list to get help for his issues with alcohol. Just a month ago, German achieved a remarkable feat by pitching a perfect game, which is a rare accomplishment in baseball. However, this achievement is overshadowed by the serious personal problems he and his family are now dealing with.

When it comes to the Yankees’ performance on the field, most of their positions have struggled to produce good numbers. Six out of their nine positions have an OPS (a measure of offensive performance) that ranks 24th or lower among all 30 MLB teams. Throughout the years, Cashman has often opted for straightforward solutions to address clear team needs. He often refers to this approach as “plug-and-play.” For instance, if the team lacked left-handed power, he would acquire players like Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. When the rotation needed improvement, he sought pitchers like Frankie Montas or Sonny Gray. However, as these names suggest, Cashman didn’t always make the right decisions and occasionally wasted valuable prospects in the process.

This time around, it’s reasonable to think that Cashman was a bit hesitant to make moves. The potential rewards were less clear due to the Yankees’ inconsistent performance in the first four months of the season. For Cashman, the potential gains didn’t seem worth the risks involved.

Cashman mentioned that he believed their current roster was sufficient. He also indicated that they wanted to test whether their existing team could meet their needs. He explained that while they would welcome any additions that could positively influence the team, the decision depended on certain factors. If the options available through their minor-league system were limited or if the costs were too high, they would stick with their current lineup.

Recent Yankees teams have been lacking a noticeable and undeniable sense of joy. Despite this, it’s worth noting that according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Yankees have consistently held one of the highest payrolls in baseball since 2013, with only one exception, and are expected to finish in the top three this year as well. This raises the question of whether the issue lies in how the Yankees are utilizing their financial resources. Considering this, if the Yankees were considering a major change, this could be an opportune moment to consider parting ways with Cashman.

It’s important to keep in mind that in baseball, unexpected things can happen, and the journey to the playoffs is often packed with unexpected twists and turns.

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