Five keys to the 2017 Yankees success in the Second Half
When the Yankees take the field in Boston tomorrow night, they will have officially kicked off the second half of their season. On June 12th, the Yankees sat at 38-23, a season best 15 games over .500, but over the next 25 games the team fell apart, stumbling to a 7-18 finish. Today their record sits at 45-41, a mere four games over the .500 mark. The team does, however, sit just 3.5 games back of the first place Boston Red Sox and they head to Fenway this weekend for a crucial series that can have a critical impact on the final regular season standings in the division.
Brian Cashman has deemed the Yankees as "careful buyers" heading into the trading deadline, so with that being said, let's look at the five keys to the Yankees turning around their season and getting back to playing the kind of baseball they were through the season's first 61 games.
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1. Fix the Starting Rotation
The Yankees have gotten some really nice performances from Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery at the back end of their rotation this season, but it has been their starters that have been their biggest Achilles heels.
First and foremost, Masahiro Tanaka has been a far cry from the ace he was deemed to be, and the dominating pitcher we saw in Spring Training. Tanaka currently holds a record of 7-8 with a brutal 5.47 ERA and an 23 home runs allowed – already more than he allowed all of last season, and good for fourth most in all of baseball. Michael Pineda started off the year looking like he had finally put it all together, but the wheels have fallen off over his last seven starts and he too has allowed 20 home runs. CC has looked good at times but recently spent a month on the disabled list with a strained hamstring and struggled in his return.
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So where do the Yankees go from here? Is seeking outside help in the form of a trade the answer? Should the Yankees finally give Chance Adams a shot? More than anything, Larry Rothschild needs to figure out what is wrong with Tanaka. He recently ran off three strong outings before getting bombed again in his final start before the break, and the Yankees have no shot of contending this year if Tanaka doesn't turn his season around. Pineda, however, might be a lost cause.
The Yankees have expressed interest in exploring trade options for top of the rotation guys like Sonny Gray or Justin Verlander, but if the price isn't right, it makes no sense liquidating the farm system. Again, this wasn't supposed to be the year the Yankees returned to glory. Accelerating that success at the price of hurting the future isn't the answer.
I'm most in favor of acquiring another starter on the market - but one of the second tier of guys. Jose Quintana is off the board, and I just can't get behind trades for Sonny Gray or Justin because, in addition to their mediocre performances this year, the prices will be just way too high for my liking. Cashman needs to work the market and find those hidden gems that he always has a knack of uncovering. If he can do that, it allows Adams the rest of the season to sharpen his skills in Scranton, it's an improvement over a guy like Pineda, and it instantly makes the Yankees contenders. But again, the biggest issue is getting Tanaka right, and maintaining the performances from Montgomery and Severino that they have shown thus far.
2. Add an Impact Arm to the Bullpen
It's no surprise that the Yankees bullpen has been in shambles during the team's rough patch. Aroldis Chapman hasn't been himself since returning from the DL, Betances has had numerous implosions due to his lack of control and the middle relief guys – namely, Tyler Clippard and Jonathan Holder – just haven't gotten it done. Clippard, specifically, has been
borderline unwatchable over the last month. Chad Green has been a revelation of late, but that's about as far as it goes.
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If the Yankees are able to get sufficient starting pitching and the offense continues to hit well, it's on the bullpen to ensure the team wins these games that they have previously let slip away. On the season, the team has already blown an astounding (and league leading!) 17 saves. Compare that to a team that blew just 16 all of last season and it's clear this bullpen unit just isn't getting it done the way they have in years past.
The Yankees don't need a closer, Chapman will be fine. They don't need a set-up man, Betances should (hopefully) figure things out. But if the team can add one or two solid middle relievers (they've been rumored to have interest in the Padres' Brad Hand and Brandon Maurer), the depth of this bullpen increases tenfold, and the Yankees should be able to get back on the winning track.
3. Continue to Mash Home Runs
One major positive to the season so far for the Yankees has been their ability to put the ball in the seats. After hitting just 183 home runs all of last season, the Yankees have already tallied 132 dingers through just 86 games, led by MLB home run leader Aaron Judge at 30.
The count of 132 is good for fifth best in all of baseball and this team has been able to produce runs at a rate we haven't seen from the Yankees since 2012. And it's not all Judge. Seven Yankees have already tallied double-digit home runs this year, with only Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury and the recently released Chris Carter coming in under the mark among regulars.
With pitching a huge question mark for this team down the stretch, their ability to score runs easily via the long ball will play a key role in keeping them in games, and handing leads over to Betances and Chapman.
4. Get Healthy
For a period of time in late May and early June it felt like every other day this team was losing a player. It all started when, dealing with rotator cuff tendinitis in his left (throwing) shoulder, Aroldis Chapman was placed on the 10-day DL. Jacoby Ellsbury suffered a concussion and neck sprain making a catch at the wall on May 24th. Top prospect Torres tore his UCL sliding into home during a game in triple-A and underwent Tommy John Surgery to repair the injury.
Soon after, CC suffered a hamstring strain, Aaron Hicks suffered an oblique strain, Starlin Castro suffered a hamstring strain, Matt Holliday fell to a mysterious illness that he is just now recovering from, Tyler Austin hit the DL with a hamstring strain, and Dustin Fowler suffered the worst of all, a torn patellar tendon that ended his season during his MLB debut.
Chapman, Ellsbury and have all returned from their injuries, and the Yankees expect both Holliday and Castro to be ready this week in Boston. Hicks should be back in another week or two.
Once this team is at full strength, they won't be relegated to starting guys like Ronald and Tyler Wade anymore. Holliday, Castro and Hicks were all playing at an all-star level, so adding that amount of talent back into the everyday lineup should help immensely.
5. Changes to the Starting Lineup Needed
As currently constituted (prior to the break), the Yankees batting order is broken. Aaron Judge is among the league leaders in home runs, runs batted in, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS+. He is batting second with only Brett Gardner ahead of him. Didi ended the first half on a terrible slide (4-for-25) and was being slotted in third. And the worst offense of them all was Joe Girardi batting Jacoby Ellsbury in the run producing slot of fifth in the order, yet Ellsbury is hitting just .266/.337/.384 with SEVENTEEN runs batted in on the entire season. Clearly this doesn't work.
I get Joe's fascination with a R-L-R-L lineup. It protects a lineup from a relief pitcher coming in and facing, say, three or four consecutive hitters of the opposite hand. What isn't being considered, however, is the production these guys are providing in their designated slot. Chase Headley, arguably the worst hitter on the team now that Carter is gone, has even seen time in the two-hole. This cannot happen anymore.
Certainly, adding Holliday and Castro back this week is a huge shot in the arm and changes the complexion of the batting order. However, these aren't the only changes that need to be made. With Clint Frazier showing his potential of late, and Aaron Hicks due back soon, Jacoby Ellsbury needs to be relegated to the bench. Immediately. The Yankees can slot Frazier in left, Gardner in center, Judge in right, and Holliday should assume his designated hitter role. My ideal batting order moving forward is as follows:
The lineup still allows for righty-lefty alternations at the bottom, and puts the best hitters on the team in their best possible situation to succeed.
Honorable Mention: With the Yankees getting little to no production from their corner infielders this year via Headley, Greg Bird & Chris Carter, upgrades at first base and third base could be a huge kick to the lineup both offensively and defensively.
The Yankees have all the pieces on the offensive side to continue to succeed this year, but the biggest questions are on Rothschild's ability to fix the starting pitchers, Girardi's ability to manage the bullpen as well as write up a competent lineup, and the back end of the bullpen – namely Betances and Chapman – returning to form and slamming the door at the end of games.
Chris Carter is gone, Tyler Clippard might not be far behind him, and the youth movement is in full force. These are good things. While I don't know if this team has what it takes to steal away the AL East from Boston the rest of the way, I would be disappointed if they failed to turn it around at least enough to make one of the two AL Wild Card spots.
Article by: Andrew Natalizio