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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees must trust the 'healing process' as team awaits return of injured stars

Gary Sanchez #24 of the Yankees reacts after

Gary Sanchez #24 of the Yankees reacts after he was hit by a pitch during the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2019.

The AL East title is virtually clinched, with bottles ready to pop in the Bronx as soon as Wednesday.

But there’s a different Magic Number the Yankees should be more concerned about, and after Tuesday night’s 8-0 victory over the Angels, it’s down to 10, as in the number of games left in the regular reason.

Those represent the dwindling chances remaining to evaluate the questionable status of three significant players: Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez and Edwin Encarnacion. The Yankees can check the box on Luis Severino, whose 2019 debut Monday resulted in four scoreless innings, with four strikeouts, and a fastball that reached 98 mph.

The handful of injured All-Stars, however, is a far greater issue than worrying about gaining home-field advantage over the Astros. Truth be told, wouldn’t the Yankees be better off as the No 2 seed anyway? History has taught us that all the Yankees have to do is show up to beat the Twins in the first round.

As for a potential coast-to-coast short series battle with the A’s, in the Oakland house of horrors now called RingCentral Coliseum? Aaron Boone and Co. should take a hard pass on that scenario. Plus, the A’s have a puncher’s chance of knocking off their AL West rivals in the Division Series, possibly removing the Astros from the October equation.

We’ll know how the Yankees really feel about home-field advantage soon enough, depending on how they choose to deploy their players over the next 10 days. As for the power trio we mentioned, only Stanton is healthy enough at the moment to actually play and he was in transit to New York on Monday after a rehab stay in Tampa.

Boone said that Stanton could be activated as early as Wednesday, and the Yankees really can’t wait any longer to test him against major-league competition (if that’s what you consider the Angels these days without Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani). For as much as Stanton supposedly was “getting after it” in Tampa, as Boone described, you can’t simulate the intensity of Yankee Stadium.

When last we saw Stanton working out in the Bronx, he was wearing a large brace on his right knee, and his movement was a bit more deliberate. The Yankees need him capable of playing the outfield, but there’s also a question of what he can deliver at the plate. While Stanton has an MVP resume, he’s only played in nine games this season -- a total of 38 plate appearances -- and not since June 25.

Can Stanton really make up for nearly three months away in the span of  10 days or so? Boone suggested that he may have to “build up” Stanton by starting him with a few innings at a time rather than going the full nine, but he’s going to need as many ABs as possible for the Yankees to get a serviceable read on his ability.

“He’s really been bouncing back well the next day, feeling like his knee is where it needs to be,” Boone said.

The Yankees could use Stanton, but he’ll have a lot to prove in a very short period. For Encarnacion and Sanchez, it’s just a matter of whether they’ll heal up sufficiently from injuries that require a longer time frame than the Yankees have at their disposal.

Both were hurt during Thursday’s doubleheader sweep in Detroit, where winning two games over the terrible Tigers felt more like a devastating loss. Encarnacion suffered a left oblique strain that is preventing him from even swinging a bat until next week. That’s a big problem for a DH whose only activity Monday was riding a stationary bike.

“Just trusting the healing process right now,” Boone said.

As for Sanchez, he re-aggravated the same groin strain that cost him 16 games from July 24 to Aug. 10, and the only reason for optimism was his belief that the injury was similar in severity to that one. Doing the math, the best-case scenario would probably have Sanchez returning the last weekend in September, giving him a game or two to play -- unless the Yankees don’t want to risk it with the playoffs starting later that week.

Since Game 1 of the Division Series isn’t until Oct. 4, the Yankees do have some bonus days to determine who’s fit for the playoffs. But the clock is ticking, and that’s setting up a very nervous finish to an otherwise cruise-control division-clinch and 100-plus-win season.

“I guess I’ll look at it as an exciting time,” Boone said with a grin.

The manager is hoping that smile stretches all the way to October.

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