Yankees: October question marks entering 2020 playoff run


The Yankees still have questions to answer heading into the 2020 MLB Playoffs.

Whew! All is right in Yankee Land! After a three-week stretch which saw this Yankee team play so abysmally that it was literally painful to watch, many fans had already began crying in their beer, ruminating about the prospect of no October baseball. Lo and behold, the Yankees are now scorching hot, blowing up Statcast with a barrage of HRs and near flawless pitching.

As we close out this bizarre regular season and look toward a likely bizarre postseason, how will the Yankees navigate the tricky road ahead?

The team is as healthy as it’s been since 2018, at least for now, with the likes of Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela returning from IL stints to assist M.V.P. candidates Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu as they pummel A.L. pitching staffs. Coupled with dominant starting pitching led by Gerrit Cole, and the Yankees appear locked and loaded for October.

But with a best of three Wild Card round, no intra-series off days, and potentially 41 days in “the bubble”, the road to glory is one fraught with potential hazards. Lose Game 1 of the WC round and you already face elimination. Will no off days be too much for many of the more fragile players?

During the last week of the regular season, MLB is requiring playoff teams to quarantine. Will the surreal isolation of being away from family and confined to hotels for what could be 41 days, should they go all the way to a World Series Game 7, be a factor?

These are thoughts and questions all postseason teams are no doubt pondering. But, as usual, the spotlight and pressure looms larger for the “World Series or bust” NY Yankees.

MLB’s 2020 postseason roster rules could easily come into play. The 26-man rosters (usually 25) must be submitted prior to each series. A club may request permission from the Commissioner’s Office to replace a player who is injured during the course of a series, but that player is then ineligible for the rest of that round and the subsequent round, if there is one.

In a tough series with no off days, can teams afford to rest an injured star and lose a roster spot for what could be multiple series? Given the brittleness of some of these Yankees, this could become a real dilemma. The Yankees have been very cautious with their returning stars, not allowing them to play on consecutive days. With seeding implications still in play, how stringently do Aaron Boone and Co. adhere to this approach? Conversely, how many games and at bats do these returning players need to be October ready? Can Judge and Stanton get into a groove over the remaining regular season games if they don’t play everyday?

Although Gary Sanchez, still “on the interstate” hitting .145, has looked better of late, does Boone stick with him or give more time to Kyle “The HR Stroka” Higashioka, who alleviates the “passed balls at the worst time” syndrome that Sanchez brings?  Do they carry three catchers, keeping Deivi Garcia’s chaperone Eric Kratz around just in case?

If Stanton is the everyday DH in October, will Boone sit Clint Frazier in favor of Brett Gardner against RHPs because that’s what the book says? We’ve seen Boone sit players who’ve gone 3-3 the previous night because of an almost dogmatic faith in the analytics. Given the added pressure and assorted variables that October often presents, will a hot bat or a gut feeling override the book?

It’s a given that this year’s format with no off days during a series will require teams to use four or five starting pitchers rather than relying on just three, as many teams do in the postseason. For the Yanks, Cole and Masahiro Tanaka are certainly numbers one and two.  Is rookie Deivi Garcia number three? Or does a hot veteran like JA Happ take the three spot? Garcia could be an X-factor, given his inexperience and the likelihood that none of the playoff teams (outside of Toronto) have seen him. The kid has thus far shown poise beyond his years, but again, October is not the regular season.

Yankees, Deivi Garcia, Erik Kratz
Deivi García #83 of the New York Yankees pitches in the second inning during game two of a doubleheader baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 4, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

How much of an impact will the lack of off days have on starters’ length and bullpen usage?  Any battle-tested postseason manager knows you have to play for today, not for a tomorrow that may never come. But to what extent do these analytics affect managerial decisions? We all saw Joe Maddon’s misuse of Aroldis Chapman in the 2016 WS almost cost the Cubs the series.

The Yankee bullpen is deep and has been better of late. However, high leverage guys Adam Ottavino and Chad Green need to sort things out over the remaining days of the regular season, as October implosions don’t fly in NY. Zack Britton has been solid, but how much work should Chapman get down the stretch? Does he enter lopsided games vs Toronto or Miami? Or will Boone risk having a rusty closer? We’ve all seen a rusty Chapman, and know it ain’t pretty! And when’s his suspension?!

Soooooo many questions to ponder. Some will sort themselves out over the next week of baseball. But the irregularity of this year’s postseason will leave many unanswered. The three game Wild Card round will certainly provide some upsets, and the other oddities will likely also provide some added drama. The Yankees and their fans have had a very up and down season and can certainly do without any October surprises.