NEW YORK – Everything is fine on the surface with the Yankees. Barring some sort of historic collapse, they're going to win the American League East in a walk and spend the next six weeks or so merely getting things in order for the playoffs.
But even though they entered the weekend tied with the Dodgers for the best record in the game, the Bronx Bombers have issues that raise beet-red flags.
Will Aaron Judge ever snap out of his funk? Can the Yankees really rely on the likes of D.J. LeMahieu, Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres to be postseason mainstays? And, of most importance, will the starting pitching hold up in October battles with teams such as the Indians, Twins or Astros?
The Yankees finished 17-2 this year against the sad-sack Orioles – winning the last 16 meetings and wrapping up the streak with Wednesday's 6-5 victory. They opened a much more difficult stretch Thursday night, a 10-game run exclusively against the Indians, Athletics and Dodgers. The first game, a 19-5 thumping at the hands of Cleveland, was not the best omen. One-run victories on Friday and Saturday were better signs.
Now a disclaimer here: All teams, of course, should wish they have "problems" like pushing 40 games over .500. When the Yankees got there Wednesday with their 6-5 win over the Orioles, it was their first time that much above water since 2009.
Still, there are serious issues with Judge – who entered the weekend with just one home run since July 20 and batting .148 in August after a four-strikeout game Thursday. He has just 12 homers and 32 RBIs all season. There's rumors of oblique trouble continuing to bother him.
“It stinks," Judge said of his slump. “You want to help out your team any time you can. Whenever you go out there and don’t produce, it’s tough. I keep doing my job and play good defense and try to get something going at the plate. The most important thing is winning. If I go 0 for 3 and we keep winning, I think we’ll be fine.”
Maybe. If you had been told in April that Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would have just 13 homers combined in mid-August, what would you have said about the Yankees' chances? That says a lot for the job manager Aaron Boone has done shuffling players in and out of the lineup, and for the way he's gotten production all over the lineup and from the bench.
Boone was adamant Judge will snap out of his funk and isn't ready to write off the season of a player who had combined for 79 home runs over the last two years.
"It’s not one of those years,” Boone said. “It’s a tough couple of weeks. This game is hard. He’s not good, he’s a great player, one of the game’s best. And it’s just a couple of weeks he hasn’t been locked in.”
Boone is probably stretching things there. Judge already missed 54 games with the oblique problem and things are clearly not right. He has not pulled a single home run all season, a bizarre stat to comprehend.
Still, the lineup has been able to withstand not having Judge at full strength. Edwin Encarnacion has his cast off after suffering a broken wrist. LeMahieu should be a top-3 candidate for AL MVP. Torres and catcher Gary Sanchez both will hit 30 home runs.
Stanton, who has played only nine games due to leg trouble, should return. But the bigger return could be when Luis Severino gets back on the mound. If the former ace can get to full strength, it would be the equivalent of a trade deadline acquisition, something GM Brian Cashman got skewered for because he did not make one.
At 16-2 entering the weekend, Domingo German projects as a Game 1 starter in the postseason. The Yankees hope Severino becomes a legitimate October option and they need him given the numbers entering the weekend from Masahiro Tanaka (8-6, 4.64), J.A. Happ (10-7, 5.40), James Paxton (8-6, 4.40) and CC Sabathia (5-6, 4.78).
The Rays are probably only wild-card good. The Red Sox have imploded without a bullpen. The Yankees are a lock to play in October. How far they go is another question entirely.
Schedule issues for 2020
Never remember a schedule release any earlier than this year's Aug. 12 unveiling of the entire 2020 slate. That said, why would MLB do its release the same day as the NBA, which was unveiling games later that afternoon with a lot more marquee value because they were less than three months away?
Baseball couldn't have waited another day?
One other question: What genius put together the Indians' 2020 schedule? They open with six games at Progressive Field from March 26 through April 1. Six. Wonder which one will be Ice Scraper Day.
The Indians then play seven straight road games from April 2-8 – in Detroit and Minnesota. The Tribe's '20 season ends at home Sept. 25-27 against the Blue Jays, an interesting note to file for Buffalo-area fans if either team is in next season's race.
The March 26 start to the season is in part because MLB wanted the World Series over before the 2020 Presidential election on Nov. 3.
Irish Hall honors ex-Rich exec's father
A neat nugget passed along by Bill Collins, vice president of advancement at Canisius College: Earlier this summer, the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously inducted infielder Danny O'Connell into a six-man class. O'Connell is the late father of now-retired Rich Products executive Maureen Hurley, the wife of Canisius president John Hurley.
O'Connell played 1,143 big-league games from 1950-1962 with Pittsburgh, the Milwaukee Braves, New York and San Francisco Giants and Washington Senators. The native of Paterson, N.J., was third in the voting for the 1950 National League Rookie of the Year and 16th in balloting for the 1953 NL MVP.
On April 15, 1958, while playing for San Francisco, O'Connell scored the first run in history in a game played on the West Coast in the Giants' 8-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 1,143 big-league games, O'Connell batted .260 with 39 homers and 320 RBIs. He retired following the 1962 season and died of a heart attack in 1969 at age 42 when Maureen, the eldest of his four children, was 13.
The Irish Baseball Hall is housed at Foley's Pub, an iconic baseball bar in Midtown Manhattan, which features an extensive memorabilia display. This year's class included former Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy, current Braves manager Brian Snitker and former Red Sox CEO John Harrington.
Around the horn
• The Red Sox are making the best of a bad situation Thursday in Fenway Park, offering free admission to kids 18 and under and $5 adult tickets to the finish of their Aug. 7 suspended game against the Royals. The score is tied 4-4 in the top of the 10th and the teams did not have another meeting the rest of the season.
The Royals are returning to Fenway between road games in Baltimore and Cleveland while Red Sox players were reportedly furious about losing an off day in San Diego before starting a series against the Padres the next night.
• In Toronto, Bo Bichette is already a star and Vladimir Guerrero entered the weekend batting .316 with a .913 OPS since some columnist said either he a) didn't belong in the Home Run Derby or b) it was going to ruin his swing (my bad). Meanwhile, Teoscar Hernandez is on pace for 25 home runs and Lourdes Gurriel has thrived since switching to the outfield.
The big issue among Blue Jays prospects? Cavan Biggio entered the weekend batting just .207 for the season – and only .178 since the All-Star break. It's iffy if he's a big-league second baseman, too. The Blue Jays, however, have to fast-track him to see what his future looks like because as a college player he's already 24. Keep in mind that Bichette (21) and Guerrero (20) are appreciably younger.
• More good news for Amherst native Jonah Heim as Oakland catcher Beau Taylor was designated for assignment (and landed with the Bisons as the Blue Jays claimed him on waivers). Taylor spent 62 games in Las Vegas and nine games with Oakland but he's 29 years old. His departure takes away more competition from Heim, who entered the weekend batting .389 in 31 games with Vegas since his promotion from Double-A Midland. Heim, 24, could be looking at a promotion to the 40-man roster this winter.
• Former St. Bonaventure infielder Cole Peterson was sent to Double-A Erie by the Detroit Tigers on Friday after spending four days with the Toledo Mud Hens. Peterson, who was batting .284 at Class A Lakeland, got the call to Triple-A and went 3 for 14 with Toledo, including 1 for 9 in games Wednesday and Thursday against the Bisons in Sahlen Field. He was a 13th-round pick in 2017.