It is easy to be frustrated with the Yankees’ performance over the last few games against the Orioles. The offense has disappeared at times, defense has been sloppy, and Zombie Scott Proctor was back, throwing important innings in a close game. Wednesday’s starting lineup featured a bevy of reserves including Brandon Laird, while Thursday’s game saw a veritable pu-pu platter of relievers taking over for Ivan Nova, including Aaron Laffey and the aforementioned Proctor.
Seeing these players playing important innings in close games would lead one to believe that perhaps with only a monumental collapse preventing the Yankees from earning a spot in October, Joe Girardi is not going all-out to try to win the division. Since the recent lineup and bullpen usage seems to strongly support this observation, the real question is not whether he is taking his foot off the gas, but rather, should he be doing it? My answer is strongly in the affirmative.
Dropping close games to a mediocre division rival is infuriating to watch as a fan, but given the circumstances the Yankees are dealing with, it is understandable to see the Yankee manager exercise some restraint. The of rainouts and double-headers have wreaked havoc on the Yankees’ September schedule, leaving them with only one off-day remaining (September 15). And even that day is not likely to be much of a rest day, as they will be making a long trip from the West Coast to Toronto. Playing over a game per day for the next few weeks is not exactly a recipe for keeping players fresh, so I’m glad to see Girardi using some of the available reserves.
At this point, using callups like Laffey and Proctor serves to soak up innings and help save bullets for some of the Yankee bullpens’ most important arms, to ensure that they are fresh and healthy come October. The same goes for using the bench players to give some of the regulars a day off. This is important in typical circumstances, but is especially so in situations when the team is getting little rest. With a playoff spot virtually locked up, I don’t see any need to risk injuries or ineffectiveness by pushing the Yankee regulars to their limits. It is not clear to me that there is any significant advantage to be gained by winning the division or locking up home field advantage, and would rather the team play to make it into the playoffs with a full, healthy, effective roster.
Would I prefer to beat the Orioles than lose to them? Unquestionably. But I don’t want those virtually meaningless wins to come at the potential cost of playoff losses down the line. I trust the Yankee manager to keep the workloads of his key players under control down the stretch. And honestly, I have a little selfish interest in hoping that Girardi will use a few of the prospect callups, including Kontos, Betances, and Brackman, allowing them to get their feet wet at the big league level in some low-leverage situations. I would obviously love to see the Yankees win every game that remains, but I would be satisfied for the team to figure out their optimal playoff roster, get everyone healthy and well-rested, and go into October ready to go to work.
I know the idea of losing the battle to win the war is horribly cliched, but in this case, I think it is directly applicable to the Yankees’ managing strategy over the last few games. That’s not to say that the Yankees aren’t trying to win at all, because they clearly are. Why else would Joe Girardi have used some of his regulars to pinch-hit in Wednesday’s game? It’s pretty clear to me that he’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here. It will be interesting to see if this pattern of utilization will continue over the remainder of the season, or if he will amp it up if the division stays close. While this strategy may not be particularly appealing to people who believe in the importance of momentum in determining how well a team plays, give me rest and good health any day.
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