Fear not, Yankees fans: The cavalry is coming!
But should the cavalry stay home? Do the Yankees even need the cavalry?
Those are the questions we were asking ourselves during the middle innings of the Yankees’ 4-1 victory over the Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night. And trust us, other minds were wandering and wondering, too.
In the bottom of the fifth, with the Yankees leading 3-0, the 36,082 on hand started doing one of the earliest and most vigorous waves in Yankee Stadium history. Around and around it went, a credit to mass participation and also mass boredom.
The game just wasn’t that thrilling. Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres homered and Chad Green threw two shutout innings to start a bullpening tour de force by the Yankees, who used six relievers to maintain their hold on the best record in baseball.
So it was OK to keep one eye on the field, another on your hands waving in the air and yet another looking to the Yankees’ October future.
Yes, three eyes are one too many (good catch!). So are four leftfielders, four first basemen, two third basemen, two centerfielders and too many potential designated hitters to even count.
That’s what manager Aaron Boone will have to wrestle with come October if Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Gio Urshela join Edwin Encarnacion in returning from their injuries in time to became options.
Who plays in October? Who sits? Do Stanton and Hicks displace Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman, who together have provided grit, speed, defense and more offense than you’d expect in left and center?
Gardner has 20 home runs, the same number as Judge. Tauchman has an .850 OPS, which is .21 behind Bryce Harper’s .871 for about $27 million a season less. But both could be on the bench for an ALDS Game 1.
Uncertainty doesn’t only exist in the outfield. Does AL batting leader DJ LeMahieu play first or third? If he plays third, does that relegate Urshela – who should be back from the injured list on Sunday – to the bench?
And who plays first? LeMahieu or Encarnacion or Luke Voit or Mike Ford . . . OK, it won’t be Mike Ford. But the rookie does have 10 home runs in 38 games and is a part of the Yankees’ 2019 next-man-up, feel-good story.
“It’s just our team -- we’ve got depth,” Judge said. “Even when guys get injured, guys get hurt, someone always steps up. I think that’s what’s been so consistent about this team, this organization. We’ve just got guys that keep filling holes. A couple of days ago, we had Mike Ford – rookie – pinch hit a walkoff homer. Mike Tauchman, what he’s been doing for us all year, defensively and offensively. You can just go on and on.”
But you can only start nine players. Bet on Encarnacion being one of them. Encarnacion, who homered in his return from a fractured wrist on Tuesday and started at first base and went 0-for-4 on Wednesday, joins Robinson Cano of the Mets in the how-did-he-get-well-so-fast club.
Boone has a tell: he smiles whenever he talks about Encarnacion, who the Yankees picked up from Seattle on June 16 in what seemed to be a bit of pinstriped gluttony at the time.
“Edwin can hit, man,” Boone said, “and he knows he can hit . . . It’s just good to have him back in the middle of the lineup.”
So let’s do some tea-leaf reading. The October certainties are Encarnacion at DH or first; Judge (who hit No. 20 on Wednesday, a two-run shot in the third); Torres (who hit his 34th homer, a solo shot, in the fourth); Didi Gregorius; Gary Sanchez (who sat after hitting two home runs on Tuesday); and LeMahieu at either first or third.
That leaves three lineup spots open. The race is on for Urshela, Stanton and Hicks to re-claim those spots from the likes of Gardner, Tauchman, Voit and Ford. It’s the most interesting race the Yankees are a part of at the moment.