The Yankees locked up the playoffs a while ago. They are locked into the second seed in the American League and the first-round bye that comes with it. They can’t overtake the Astros for home-field advantage in these final seven games. Aaron Judge has already hit 61 homers and any more from here on out are gravy for the Yankees slugger.
The last seven games, however, are still important for the Bombers. They went into Friday night’s final regular season home series of the year with plenty of question marks about their playoff roster makeup. They need to find answers about DJ LeMahieu, Matt Carpenter, Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton among others before they make the decisions on who will be playing for them in the postseason.
LeMahieu came off the injured list Friday night and was playing in his first game since Sept. 5. He has been playing through painful inflammation in his right big/second toe area since before the All-Star break when he had a cortisone shot to try and get some relief. Lately, the Yankees have been talking about ways to limit the pain, including shots.
These last few games of the season will be a test for LeMahieu, who admitted the other day he will be “useless,” to the Yankees if he can’t get good swings off. The torque on the toe during swings has been a particularly tough issue for him. So, he will see if he can contribute enough to be on the playoff roster.
“I think it will just show itself,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said when asked how he will know if LeMahieu can be a productive member of the playoff roster. “We’ll see how he responds, see how he reacts to it. And then try and make determinations about if he’s really able to get his swing off what that does to him. How does it affect them as the game unfolds? The next day? All those things, so we’ll just kind of make those evaluations as we go.”
LeMahieu admitted the injury has affected him, hurting him as he tries to push off on his swing. In 120 games this season, LeMahieu is hitting .262/.358/.381.
Carpenter took batting practice with the team for the first time since fracturing his left foot on August 9. While the veteran slugger said there is a chance he will play in Texas this weekend, Boone indicated they are leaning more toward having him go to the alternate site they are setting up and work out with Triple-A and Double-A players in Somerset. That way he can get more at-bats than just pinch-hitting in a big league game or two.
The Bullpen has a lot of questions heading into the postseason. The Yankees are certain they will have Wandy Peralta (back) ready by the postseason, but they aren’t sure what they have in Britton, who has returned just 12 and a half months after Tommy John surgery. In two appearances, Britton has allowed one run and recorded two outs. The Yankees didn’t exactly give him a soft return, throwing him immediately into high-leverage situations.
“I mean, sharpness, with Brit, his first two outings. I feel like it’s been good. I know he feels really good, which is good. I do feel like the arm speeds there. And the stuff is there, now it’s just a matter of getting sharp and finding that next level of command and finding the timing of his release point and all that in being in these games, “Boone said. “So yeah, they’re good opportunities here to kind of make those evaluations.”
And it’s a chance to make a decision on Chapman, who was their closer until losing their confidence this season. The 34 year old has the lowest strikeout rate and the highest ERA and walk rate of his career. The Bombers have largely only used him against the bottom of the lineup or lower-leverage situations this year like when he pitched to the bottom of the order in an 8-3 game against the Blue Jays this week.
When asked if Chapman had locked up a spot on the playoff roster, Boone did not directly answer.
“I’m really excited about where Chappie is physically. And, he has an outing like he did the other night in Toronto where you see it. It’s like, that’s it right there. I mean, that’s dynamic,” Boone said. “And we know he can be that guy. So it’ll be an important week for him too, you know, hopefully get some regular work and continue to kind of have that consistency.”