Can the New York Yankees Actually Make the Playoffs?
At the trade deadline this year, the New York Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman did an outstanding job as sellers. They had two terrific veteran bullpen arms with which to deal, and they made two great trades, sending Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians and Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs for a slew of high-end minor league talent.
Yes, in what turned out to be a year to reset and get younger, the Yankees did the right thing. They punted on the 2016 season and injected some much-needed youth into the franchise.
Go get 'em next year, Bombers.
So about the AL #WildCard … https://t.co/ASrSN3xfAx pic.twitter.com/2d035iq5NR
— MLB (@MLB) September 9, 2016
After beating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 on Thursday night, the Yankees suddenly find themselves legitimately in the wild card race, just two games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the final spot. Only one other team is ahead of them in the standings, the Detroit Tigers (they are one game back), and New York is now 74-65, nine games over .500 for the first time this season.
They have won 22 of their 35 games since the August 1 trade deadline, when Miller and Chapman were shipped out of town.
In short, the Yankees have been buoyed by the kids, the young guys upon which the future is supposed to be built, during this push for the playoffs. Last night, it was rookie first baseman Tyler Austin's turn to be the hero.
The streak continues! McCann’s 2 homers and @T1721Austin’s #walkoff do the trick vs. Rays. https://t.co/EqUFyn487M pic.twitter.com/MGQBZf69bg
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 9, 2016
It was his first career walkoff dinger, but all three of Austin's homers this season have given the Yanks the lead.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez has been otherworldly since he was called up to be the everyday catcher, replacing Brian McCann (who also homered Thursday night) as McCann took over the designated hitter duties from the recently departed Carlos Beltran. Sanchez is batting .336/.410/.689 with 11 home runs in just 31 games, good for a wRC+ of 188 and an obscenely high fWAR of 2.2 in just over a month's worth of plate appearances.
Another top prospect, outfielder Aaron Judge, has come up and provided some youthful excitement, even if his numbers indicate he's struggled a bit in the Majors thus far. He's batting .178/.247/.329 so far with 3 round-trippers.
New York's pitching staff, while not spectacular, has also contributed to their recent hot streak.
Over the last 30 days, Yankees starters have the second-most fWAR in baseball (2.7), just behind the Boston Red Sox (4.0) and tied with the New York Mets. Masahiro Tanaka has pitched well (2.18 ERA in his last five starts) and Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green have held down the fort.
But the area that was supposed to be made weakest by the departures of Miller and Chapman, the bullpen, continues to be a strength. As the Yanks were selling, they were also buying when they brought Tyler Clippard on board via trade. He's aided Dellin Betances at the end of ballgames, pitching 13 innings over the last month without giving up a run.
There is no area where the Yankees are doing phenomenally awesome at the moment. They are simply riding a magical wave that has them within shouting distance of the postseason.
So can the Yanks pull this off? Our projections say they have a 10% chance of making the playoffs, so the odds aren't great.
But they're certainly better than we thought they'd be when they traded three of their best players a little more than one month ago.