Yankees: At what point does the preparation for the playoffs begin

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The Yankees, at this point in the season, would appear to be a lock to make the 2017 playoffs. With much work still to be done, at what point, though, should the team begin preparing for those short series?

The Yankees 2017 season, assuming it doesn’t  descend into one of MLB’s most historical collapses, is destined to finalize itself in the playoffs. Of immediate concern, of course, the team needs to remain where it is atop the A.L. East, and from there go on to compile the best record among division winners to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

That, in and of itself, is a hearty task to take on given the fact that someone in the A.L. East division is bound to catch fire and at least give the Yankees a genuine scare before this thing is over.

Nevertheless, with nothing set in stone, the Yankees should at least be thinking about what they will do in these short series when they arrive, especially with regards to the order of their starting pitching.

Just like the first three months of the season have sped on by, the next three months will go by just as quickly

For a team that has a true ace, the order is pretty much pre-determined. Clayton Kershaw gets the nod for Game One of everything for the Dodgers, Corey Kluber for the Indians, and Dallas Keuchel will pitch until his arm falls off for the Astros, unless they can add another starter between now and then.

But the Yankees don’t have a true number one unless you believe that the “lull” in Masahiro Tanaka‘s performance of late is only temporary and he’ll be back to reclaim the ace of the staff designation. Mmmm, I wouldn’t count on that happening.

The rotation comes first

No one, again with the exception of Tanaka, has shown a wide variance as to what they are providing for the team from start to start. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, and Jordan Montgomery are consistently issuing quality starts and giving the Yankees a chance to win.

And there is no reason to believe there will be a decline in any of them, barring injury. So with that in mind, is that the Yankees rotation in the playoffs? Or, does it need some tweaking?

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And if there’s going to be some tweaking from the current order, the task falls on Joe Girardi to make the changes. Moreover, mid-season changes are preferable to the ones that he decides on before the initial playoff series.

Girardi clearly leans on his veterans, whether it be Brett Gardner, Matt Holliday, or, in this case, Sabathia. And if Sabathia continues to pitch as he is, whether or not Tanaka “comes back” should be a moot point because Sabathia is made for these gut-wrenching games that follow a six-month season when someone is going home for the winter.

Following Sabathia, it could wind up a flip-a-coin choice between Pineda and Severino, but Severino could easily get the nod if he continues the pace he is on.

Jordan Montgomery – what to do with him? Conceivably, the Yankees could make it through the first round of the playoffs with three starters given the “off days” that are generously allotted to ensure maximum TV ratings.

So, does Girardi give Montgomery a taste of the bullpen later in the season? And can Montgomery help the Yankees in that role, especially when the bullpen already has currently defined roles? These are all heady questions.

And what to do with the elephant?

On the offense side, the Yankees, sooner or later, will need to decide what they’re going to do with the elephant in the room – Gleyber Torres. And that question, in turn, revolves around what the team is doing with Chase Headley.

Reiterating, Girardi loves his veterans. And the word “playoffs” has a ring to it that means most managers would be more comfortable with a tested player as opposed to a full-fledged rookie at crunch time, even if that rookie is named Torres.

More likely than not, each player will answer the question himself for Girardi, and he’ll go with the hot hand when the time comes. And that’s if Headley is still with the team.

Don’t touch the outfield

The Yankees have the best outfield in baseball. At least, that’s what they said during the FOX telecast last night, and I believe it.

Barring injury, and you always have to add that caveat, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge are getting it done, not only offensively but defensively as well. Don’t touch the combination that is working.

Which, of course, leaves Jacoby Ellsbury, assuming he’s healthy, where? For Girardi, it wouldn’t be the worse thing in the world to have Ellsbury coming off the bench as a pinch hitter. In National League ballparks during a World Series, he would also be a nice choice for Girardi to use in a double-switch when circumstances dictate.

But at some point, the Yankees need to decide (for good) that Ellsbury, despite his recent rejuvenation, is the past and they need to move on. Soon, perhaps as early as the 2018 season, Brett Gardner will fall into the same category as Clint Frazier and Dustin Fowler arrive with some “pushing up on” power.

“It gets late early out here.”

That’s Yogi Berra, of course, with one of his did I hear that right words of wisdom. But for the Yankees, there’s something to be said in those words. And just like the first three months of the season have sped on by, the next three months will go by just as quickly.

And there’s no time like the present to begin planning for the team’s future this season. Planning doesn’t have to include action as that can come later. But answers to some of the questions raised here need to be formulated so that when the time comes to make the moves, the team and the players are ready for it.

Makes sense?