Seeding is not quite done yet, but the postseason is right around the corner for the Yankees. The Wild Card Round begins on Sept. 29, and 40-man player pools should be handed in to the league very soon. Some teams have already released their own.
Manager Aaron Boone will be allowed to have 28 players on his roster with the 12 extras being the team’s taxi squad that’s allowed to be in the playoff bubble – if the Yankees make it out of the Wild Card Round, of course. There are still questions surrounding exactly who will be on that roster, and overall roster strategy will need to be addressed by the Yankee skipper as well.
While injuries have hurt the Yankees throughout this regular season, the lineup is back to normal with everyone healthy at the moment. The Yankees, then, are back to their very scary selves with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton back in the middle of the lineup as well as DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres all good to go.
So, as the Yankees finish up their regular season and try to improve their seeding in the American League, here are a few roster questions Boone will have to answer once the postseason starts up:
1. Can Gary Sanchez be trusted behind the plate?
Sanchez’s troubles at the plate are worrisome enough – he’s about to finish the regular season with an average well below the Mendoza line. His career postseason numbers
.176/.225/.382 with six homers and 16 RBI in 102 at-bats
are not so good either.
But what about his defensive skills behind the plate?
Boone said on WFAN Thursday that the catching situation will be “day to day,” and that would mean Kyle Higashioka is really being considered as someone whom the Yankees want to trust despite not having any postseason experience. Gerrit Cole has loved to throw to him as of late, and given he’s the team ace, one would think that connection will go on as long as the Yankees are in the playoffs. He’s also had a recent spurt of good hitting, with his three-home run game against the Toronto Blue Jays starting it all.
Just think about that: Sanchez, a member of the original Baby Bombers whom the Yankees have lauded as a piece to build around along with Judge and Torres for years to come, might not be starting Game 1 of the Wild Card Round. Higashioka, though, is the better framer and can block better than Sanchez.
This might be the hardest question Boone faces during the postseason as a whole, let alone this best-of-three series coming up.
2. Who are the third and fourth starters?
Cole and Masahiro Tanaka figure to be the team’s No. 1 and 2 pitchers in the starting rotation when things begin. But who will come in at No. 3 and 4?
J.A. Happ should be the third, as he’s pitched well down the stretch for the Yanks and turned the tides a bit compared to his 2019 season. He was scratched from the rotation last year, so a little redemption is at hand as well.
Then, there’s the fourth starter. In a normal season, maybe Boone decides not to have one. But with virtually no off days, one will be needed. Cole can’t turn around in a Game 4 and pitch off two days' rest.
Deivi Garcia has made a case for himself. His last start against the Boston Red Sox was his first dud outing. But he’s shown that he can go deep into games and isn’t afraid to challenge hitters right away – a character trait that pitchers need in the postseason. There’s also Jordan Montgomery, though his numbers have not been the best this season (5.11 ERA, 1.295 WHIP), and the opener with Chad Green being experienced in that realm.
3. What role does Brett Gardner play?
For years, Gardner has been a valuable part of this Yankees lineup with his speed and selective hitting at the plate, especially in the postseason. But Clint Frazier has taken over those duties in left field with his solid production this season, while Gardner’s bat has taken a hit (not in a good way).
Gardner is hitting .206/.344/.381 with five homers and 15 RBI over 126 at-bats this season, which are numbers we aren’t used to seeing from the longest-tenured Yankee.
His postseason experienced shouldn’t be overlooked, especially with Frazier not playing in a postseason series yet. If he starts to struggle, Gardner could easily slot into left field if need be. But for the first time in a while, the 37-year-old looks to be a bench option for Boone right now.