It’s finally here: the last weekend of the regular season. The Yankees have made it clear that they are prioritizing resting key players over gaining home field advantage through at least the AL portion of the playoffs. As frustrating as it can be to watch the team lose in semi-listless fashion, I think this is a good call. The team has been so banged up this year that giving guys a break during the last week of the regular season gives the team the best chance for a good outcome in the playoffs. Even without the injuries, the Major League Baseball season is a physical and mental grind; all of these guys could use a breather.
In this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about preferred playoff match-ups, lament the case of Greg Bird, brag about Gardy, and ponder Loaisiga’s playoff role. Let’s get at it:
Larry asks: Out of the likely group of playoff teams, who do you most want the Yankees to face in the ALDS?
Regardless of what I want to see happen, we’ve got a pretty good idea at this point how the playoff match-ups are going to work out: the Astros are going to play the Wild Card team, and the Yankees are going to play the Twins.
Interestingly enough, I think that this is the best match-up the Yankees could hope for. At the end of the day, every team that will make the playoffs in the American League is dangerous, but one of the most important factors I look at in evaluating the Yankees’ chances is the opposing team’s pitching staff. Obviously, the Astros are the cream of the crop in the AL, but the potential Wild Card teams would scare me as well. The Rays have a staff that can create match-up nightmares for opposing teams, and their pitchers are already accustomed to pitching in non-traditional roles, which often comes into play in modern playoff series. The same can be said about Oakland, and their pitching staff is getting healthy and peaking at just the right time. Even Cleveland, who is probably out of the Wild Card race (but we’ll include them in this bucket anyway), boasts two top flight starters in Clevenger and Bieber, despite a thin bullpen. All of these teams can pitch.
The Twins are in a slightly different bucket. The Twins have a strong bullpen (6.9 fWAR for all relief pitchers according to Fangraphs, 3rd in MLB behind the Yankees and Rays at 7.6 fWAR), but their starting rotation is getting thin. Michael Pineda was a main cog in their rotation, but he is out for the playoffs due to a PED suspension. The remaining potential starters, Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, and Martin Perez all have their flaws. Berrios and Odorizzi have significantly outperformed their xFIP figures this season and allow a high percentage of fly balls, a recipe for disaster against the Yankees’ lineup. Perez is a solid back-end starter, but he’s left-handed, and the Yankees crush mediocre lefties. Really, the only starter I think poses a match-up problem for the Yankees is Gibson, and the Yankee lineup is good enough that I like their chances against all but the very best pitchers. Sure, the Twins could make things interesting by turning games into bullpen affairs, but someone will need to soak up at least 2 or 3 innings, and I think that presents an interesting vulnerability.
Again, all of these teams are really good, so I’m splitting hairs to a certain extent, but I think that the Twins are the best match-up the Yankees could hope for in the ALDS.
Jim asks: What are the chances that we ever see Greg Bird in pinstripes again?
I know that a lot of people in the Yankee universe speak derisively of Greg Bird, but I really feel bad for the guy. This is not a Carl Pavano situation where the guy is actively looking for ways to not play. The poor guy has just had to sit by and watch his body break down over and over again.
I think that Greg Bird does have talent. Bird’s innate feel for swinging the bat is real, even if his ability to play 1B defensively is nearly non-existent. Even if Bird got healthy, I think it makes the most sense to take the glove out of his hand, and become a DH. That limits his value significantly, and even as a 1B, the offensive bar is high. At some point, the Yankees are going to have to come to terms with the fact that some of these injuries have likely sapped at least some of Bird’s offensive potential.
The Yankees have always clearly loved and believed in Bird, but I think this might be the off-season where the Yankees cut ties with Bird. The 40-man roster crunch is real and on its way, and Bird is an easy spot to clear. Particularly if the Yankees decide to retain Encarnacion’s services, it’ll be clear that Bird will play elsewhere next season. I really feel for the guy, and I hoped he’d get healthy and mash for years for the Yankees, but the chances of that are slim-to-none, and Mike Ford is perfectly fine as the left-handed insurance option at 1B.
Tom asks: Brett Gardner has had a great year, and deserves to be a Yankee for life – please tell me he comes back next year?!?
I love Gardy, and once CC retires, he will be the longest tenured Yankee on the roster, assuming Gardy returns. And yes, I think that the Yankees will find a way to bring him back for one more go-around. Gardy has been impressive in 2019. Most people have focused on his hitting/power output, but what has impressed me the most is how well Gardy has played in CF. Brett Gardner has played perfectly credible defense in CF filling in for Aaron Hicks this season at 36 years old – that’s nothing short of incredible. Prior to the season, if you had told me that Brett Gardner started almost 100 games in CF, I would have said that Gardner was likely worn out and the Yankees were in trouble. That hasn’t happened this year, and Gardner has been a nearly-all-star caliber player this season according to Baseball-Reference, producing 4.1 bWAR.
Cheers to Gardy, and sign me up for one more year.
Don asks: Jonathan Loaisiga looks like he can be so good in a bullpen role, but the performance doesn’t seem to match his stuff – does he make the playoff roster, and if so, what role will he play?
I love Loaisiga, and the stuff is incredible. Out of the bullpen, Loaisiga is averaging just shy of 99 MPH on his fastball, occasionally touching 100 MPH at his best. Loaisiga also employs a wicked breaking ball that looks like it could be an asset out of the ‘pen. For sure, Loaisiga has the strikeout numbers to back it up, but he has also been prone to the gopher ball because his command is bad, even for a reliever. This makes sense – Loaisiga has lost a ton of development time!
One look at the stuff, and you can easily be made to believe that Loaisiga can replace Betances in this year’s playoff bullpen and be a high-octane piece. One look at the stats on paper, and it looks like Loaisiga fits onto the Yankee playoff roster, but he’s one of the last two guys out of the bullpen.
I think Loaisiga can eventually be a near-Betances level arm in a bullpen role, I’m just not sure that will happen this year. That said, I do think that Loaisiga will make the playoff roster, and based on the Yankees’ plan to lean heavily on the bullpen in the postseason, I think that Loaisiga will be forced to throw some important innings. Time will tell how Loaisiga fares when that time comes, but the pieces are there for him to have his coming out party in October.
That’s all for this week! Thanks again for reading, keep sending in your mailbag questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com, and let’s enjoy the last weekend of the regular season!