New York Yankees: 5 Keys to a Deep 2017 Postseason Run
They're mathematically alive in the AL East entering play Thursday, but that's a mere formality barring a total meltdown by the Boston Red Sox.
So The Yanks, in all likelihood, will face a one-and-done tussle and then, if they win a postseason contest for the first time since 2012, advance to the American League Division Series.
What will it take for New York to get that far—and further? As we await the excitement of October, let's explore five keys.
Jacoby Ellsbury Continuing His Late-Season Resurgence
Jacoby Ellsbury will never live up to the seven-year, $153 million contract he signed with the Yankees in December 2013. His performance in the intervening years has vacillated between marginally serviceable and abysmal.
Forget all that, though, at least for the moment.
Ellsbury is hitting .361 with a .993 OPS in September. His overarching failure in pinstripes aside, the 34-year-old is turning it on at the right time.
If he can continue his hot hitting into the playoffs, it would take pressure off some of New York's younger hitters and lengthen the lineup.
For what it's worth, Ellsbury is a .299 career postseason hitter with with 17 RBI in 39 postseason games, 38 of which came with the Red Sox.
Luis Severino Pitching Like a True Ace
The Yankees will almost surely face the do-or-die crucible of the AL Wild Card Game.
And they will almost surely hand the ball to the 23-year-old Luis Severino, who leads Yankees starters in ERA (2.98), innings pitched (193.1), strikeouts (230) and opponents' batting average (.208).
At the same time, Severino has never pitched past Game 162. He'll be a babe in the woods.
This is his test, his opportunity to emerge as a true ace.
The Yanks could bypass Severino for the Wild Card Game in favor of, say, right-hander and trade-deadline acquisition Sonny Gray. But manager Joe Girardi seemed to cast that notion aside.
"I think that’s pretty risky," Girardi said, per Newsday's Erik Boland. "Because you're in the one-game playoff, and the season's over if you don't win that game. That's the bottom line."
CC Sabathia Pitching Like a True No. 3
Severino needs to be the stud and Gray needs to be his primary wingman. If the Yankees want to force their way past the division series, however, they will need at least one more starter to step forward.
Fallen ace Masahiro Tanaka and rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery are dubious choices. CC Sabathia is no sure thing, either, but at least the veteran southpaw has an extensive pedigree.
A six-time All-Star and 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner, Sabathia is a creaky shell of his former self. Still, the 37-year-old has won his past four decisions and owns a respectable 3.84 ERA.
If he can muster some quality playoff starts and hand the ball to the bullpen (more on that shortly) it would ease the burden on Severino and Gray and immeasurably aid New York's cause.
Aaron Judge Crushing It
For the first half of the season, Aaron Judge was George Herman Ruth melded with a dinger-crushing cyborg.
Then, after the All-Star break, the Yankees masher crumbled into a heap of strikeouts and his power stroke evaporated.
Fortunately for New York, there was a third act to Judge's 2017 story.
The 25-year-old has clubbed 13 home runs in September and, in the process, surpassed Mark McGwire for the all-time rookie record with 50.
With those results and the strapping slugger's even-keel demeanor, former Yankees skipper and current MLB executive Joe Torre believes he could be a postseason force.
"You watch him run around the bases when he hits a home run, there is no fanfare," Torre said, per ESPN.com's Andrew Marchand. "He is all business."
The Bullpen Being Truly Dominant
In recent years, one of the most predictable recipes for a championship run has been a shutdown bullpen. The Yanks have the right ingredients.
After posting a 9.00 ERA in August, flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman has logged nine scoreless frames in September, with 13 strikeouts while going 4-for-4 in save opportunities.
Dellin Betances has wobbled at times but has struck out 100 in 59.2 innings.
Trade-deadline acquisition David Robertson, meanwhile, has posted a 1.09 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 33 innings since redonning the pinstripes.
Overall, the Yankees bullpen ranks third in baseball in ERA, though they trail two of their AL postseason rivals in Boston and the Cleveland Indians.
Still, this is a potentially dominant unit, the kind that could shorten games to six or even five innings. That's positive news for the Yankees rotation and a hopeful note for the Bronx faithful as October approaches.