The plastic covers were off the lockers and the champagne smell was gone from the carpet in the Yankees’ clubhouse on Friday. After Thursday’s clinching of the American League East title and subsequent celebration, the Yankees went back to work to play the Blue Jays.
There used to be a time when managers would trot out a backups-only lineup the day after a clinching (and subsequent late-night celebration, the one out of the view of reporters and TV cameras). But baseball is a more corporate sport now and the Yankees still have something to play for: home-field advantage for the entire postseason.
“We want to win,” Aaron Boone said. “It certainly gives us a lot to play for here in these final weeks as we’ve punched our ticket. These games are important. The guys know that and I’m confident that we’ll come ready to go with that urgency each and every day from here to the end.”
The Yankees (100-55) are 1 1/2 games behind the Astros (101-53). To overtake Houston for the top seed and home-field advantage, they have to finish with one more victory than the Astros; Houston holds the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series, 4-3.
In the Division Series, the AL’s No. 1 seed will face the winner of the wild card game. Oakland, Cleveland and Tampa Bay are vying for the two wild-card spots.
The second seed will play the third seed, which at the moment is the Yankees’ perennial postseason patsies, the Minnesota Twins.
Here are the issues facing the Yankees between now and the start of their postseason on Oct. 4:
With Luis Severino back in the rotation and James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka both pitching well, all of the speculation that Boone is going to use “openers” and “piggybacks” and “bulk pitchers” instead of traditional starters in the playoffs could end up being a giant waste of time.
One untraditional thing Boone said he is going to try next week is pitching CC Sabathia out of the bullpen twice. The lefthander asked to get some pen time if that’s how he’s going to be used in the postseason, and Boone said he will oblige and pitch Sabathia in relief next week at Tampa Bay and Texas.
Sabathia has one career relief appearance. That came in Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS vs. Detroit.
The Yankees might not have 18-game winner Domingo German for the postseason. The righthander is on administrative leave after a potential violation of MLB’s anti-domestic violence policy was announced on Thursday. If German is suspended, that could include the postseason.
Aaron Judge didn’t play in Thursday’s clincher after landing hard on his right shoulder while attempting to make a catch on Wednesday. On Friday, he started as the designated hitter and hit his 25th home run.
Boone said he was just playing it safe with Judge. With the playoffs approaching, the Yankees don’t want to lose another slugger.
Gleyber Torres, who leads the team with 38 home runs, left Friday night’s 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays with an unspecified leg injury. He told Boone he "felt some weakness in his lower legs,'' but Boone thought he would be OK.
After appearing in his first two games since June 25, Giancarlo Stanton was given Friday off. Boone said Stanton “came out of these two games really well . . . encouraged about where he’s at physically.”
Boone said he expects Edwin Encarnacion (oblique strain) to play next week on the road trip. He said Gary Sanchez (groin strain) “is probably a little behind that, but we remain optimistic that he’ll be ready for the postseason.”
And the rest
The Yankees are off on Monday and Thursday next week and then will have four days off between their regular season finale and their first playoff game. That should give Boone plenty of time to rest his regulars, including Brett Gardner, who is the Yankees’ only healthy centerfielder.
Gardner, 36, has played in the third-most games of any Yankee (134, including Friday). He also might be their most irreplaceable player, given that Aaron Hicks (elbow strain) is not close to returning, Cameron Maybin has a sore wrist and the next centerfield option could be infielder Tyler Wade.
“I’m still mindful of giving [Gardner] days,” Boone said. “And he’s gotten days. I’ve been pretty strategic with those.”