The hope for most teams before and after the trade deadline is that their new acquisitions will lead to either some sort of inspirational turnaround or make it clear just how much more they’re solidified for the playoffs. It hasn’t worked out that way for a lot of teams.
The Dodgers made the biggest splash with Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, but Turner has only played once and the team is still four games behind the Giants (though admittedly one week is barely a speck of time in a baseball season), which is where they were to start with. The Mets got Javy Báez to make up for their single-heavy ways. Báez has made contact like four times. (Who could have predicted that?) The Padres’ work was undone by Fernando Tatís Jr. getting hurt and have lost touch with the Dodgers and Giants.
The Yankees, however, have made that charge. Now it’s a question of if they can keep it going, as COVID is currently playing a game of Red Rover with the roster.
First things first. Before the deadline last week, the Yankees trailed the Red Sox by seven and a half games for the division, and were three-and-a-half out of the wild card. In the past week they’ve gained five games on the Sox and two on the A’s for the wild card spot, and even picked up a game and a half on the Rays for the top of the division.
While the easy narrative is to say the Yanks got a boost from their new acquisitions, some charge in their clubhouse (and we’ll get to those jokes here in a bit) that provided a bounce even if we can’t see the results on the field, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Gallo, and Rougned Odor haven’t done much. They have 14 hits in 78 combined ABs in the past week.
It’s the Yankees’ incumbents who have caused the groundshift. Especially Giancarlo Stanton, who has enjoyed his twice-yearly stretch of good health to hit .417 over the past week. And the team’s bullpen has been able to ride out the absence of Aroldis Chapman thanks to its best new addition so far, Clay Holmes. Holmes has made six appearances for the Yankees, thrown seven innings, struck out seven, walked no one, and given up just one run.
It’s been the formula you remember from your Yankees nightmares. They wear down the starter and go to work on the bullpen with some annoying comeback in the 6th-8th innings that has Michael Kay slathering himself in olive oil in the broadcast booth. Yesterday against the Mariners it was four runs in the 6th. Friday night it was one in the 8th and one in the 10th. Thursday it was three in the 7th. There perhaps still is no more downhill charge than the feeling of the Yankees building a rally late at home, a feeling of inevitability.
It doesn’t hurt that the Yanks have gotten to play the Mariners (who are returning to their proper level but will blame it on post-Graveman depression), Orioles, and Marlins the past week, which can make anyone look good.
How much longer the Yankees can keep this going (five in a row and eight of nine) while losing a chunk of their lineup to COVID protocols is another question. Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, and Gary Sanchez were put on the COVID list earlier in the week after testing positive. Anthony Rizzo joined them this morning. That’s two-fifths of the rotation, the starting catcher, and the first baseman. Given the way things are going, these won’t be the last players to find themselves sidelined.
Rizzo’s appearance on the COVID list certainly raises eyebrows, if not cause a couple of nodding heads. Rizzo was one of the more outspoken non-vaxxed players when he was with the Cubs. His positive test certainly puts all of his arguments about not getting vaxxed then — putting his health first, protecting his family, research — in an even dumber light than it looked at the time.
That won’t stop anti-vaxxers from using the fact that the Yankees were one of the first teams to reach the 85 percent threshold of vaccinations to loosen restrictions as a cudgel for the team’s current outbreak. It’s unlikely, however, that a vaccinated player was the genesis of this latest outbreak, and Rizzo will be out longer than he would have been had he gotten his shot. He’ll miss 10 days at least.
It’s the third outbreak for the Yanks since the start of the season, with one in July sidelining Aaron Judge and one in mid-May that took down Gleyber Torres. Boone pointed out that the Yankees were just in Florida last week, a state that is basically a Michael Bay explosion of COVID right now, and are now seeing a raft of positive tests. It’s probably not the most ridiculous conclusion, though they’re the only team to claim that.
If the Yankees can navigate these absences and get back Cole and Montgomery along with some scary lineup depth and flexibility, they could end up in the playoffs anyway. Or they could be the first team to actually claim that COVID cost them a postseason berth in MLB, both this year and last (the Dallas Stars would probably like to share a beer). Sports in 2021.