The armchair GMs had quite a ride with Saturday’s game between the Yankees and Red Sox. The wannabe Brian Cashmans did, anyway.
Innings One through Seven: Sell! Sell! Sell!
The Eighth and beyond: Buy! Buy!
It’s a volatile time of the year, when emotions swing crazier than Giancarlo Stanton at a two-strike slider in the dirt. With only six days left before the July 30 trade deadline, figuring out the best course of action for teams on the bubble is tricky business.
The Yankees, however, are not a conventional bubble team. Not with a $200 million price tag. And to think a bad weekend at Fenway Park would dramatically alter the way Cashman or Hal Steinbrenner views their 2021 goals would be a mistake.
If there is a path to the playoffs, Cashman has no choice but to steer these Yankees in that direction, full speed ahead.
Realistically, even with Saturday’s stirring 4-3 victory over the Red Sox, the Yankees’ AL East title hopes are bordering on Hail Mary territory, if not totally gonzo already.
But the wild card remains very much alive, regardless of how this Fenway series wraps Sunday, and having to recalibrate the playoff expectations for that route isn’t so different for the Yankees — aside from maybe dealing with the sting of finishing behind the Red Sox, of course.
After Seattle beat Oakland on Saturday night, the Yankees trailed the A’s by 3 1/2 games (two in the loss column) for the second wild-card berth, with the Mariners (2 1/2 out) sandwiched between them.
‘We’re in the fight," Aaron Boone said. "We’ve actually played some really good baseball over the last couple of weeks, sprinkled in with some really difficult, devastating losses. But I’m not surprised that these guys haven’t wavered. They haven’t folded up or felt sorry for themselves or anything like that. We’ve got to keep coming off the mat. We know how important every single game is."
In falling behind 3-0 and being dominated by Nathan Eovaldi for seven innings, the Yankees weren’t just on the mat. They were curled up in a fetal position, napping. As a group, it seemed as if they were just counting the minutes before a lobster dinner.
"I mean, the first [seven] innings, we weren’t . . . we weren’t good," Brett Gardner said.
How many times have we echoed those same sentiments about the Yankees? By my count, maybe twice a week, with late-inning comebacks like Saturday’s usually sandwiched between some type of implosion, bullpen or otherwise. Theoretically, a real playoff team isn’t awful one day and inspirational the next.
But after the first two sobering losses of this Fenway series — both "punches in the gut," as Boone likes to say — basically blew up the Yankees’ division chances, they were four outs away from a 10-game deficit Saturday. Instead, Estevan Florial’s leadoff double in the eighth inning was followed by four straight two-out hits that drove in four runs.
After Gardner’s RBI single on Eovaldi’s 100th pitch chased the Sox starter, Stanton and Rougned Odor delivered back-to-back doubles that barely eluded defenders — Stanton’s bloop to rightfield clocked in at 70.3 mph, Odor scraped the Monster at 97.2. Gleyber Torres then supplied the go-ahead run with a 72.8-mph flare to put the Yankees up 4-3.
Before that BABIP nightmare for the Sox, the Yankees were hitting .125 (9-for-72) with runners in scoring position against them this season, and only two of those were for extra bases (both doubles). They also had left 82 on base. For whatever reason, that flipped in the eighth, and Stanton needed the lucky break most of all.
After he whiffed twice, the double was only his sixth hit in 40 at-bats (.150) against the Sox this season and only the third RBI in 12 games, as opposed to 19 strikeouts.
"Hopefully we can continue to battle through the adversity," Gardner said. "I think we’ve done a good job of staying focused on the present and controlling the things that we can control."
The Yankees are getting healthier. Jonathan Loaisiga returned from the COVID-19 injured list to pitch a scoreless eighth in relief of Jameson Taillon’s solid seven innings (four hits, one earned run). Gio Urshela is expected back for Sunday’s finale, with Aaron Judge and Kyle Higashioka — still under COVID protocols — tentatively penciled in for the Rays series this week at Tropicana Field.
That should mean better days ahead for the Yankees, right? To them, however, it’s all been pretty much the same grind. Good days followed by misery followed by a day like this surprisingly happy one at Fenway — closed with another tightrope walk by Aroldis Chapman.
"It’s probably a good idea at some point to be aware of the standings and stuff," Taillon said. "But right now, we just need to put our heads down and win games. If we don’t play our best baseball, it doesn’t matter who’s ahead of us."
There’s still a few too many of those teams, with too big a lead. But the goal hasn’t changed for the Yankees, no matter how many times the emotions do.