After months of underperformance and a seemingly never-ending string of heartbreaking losses, the New York Yankees are back in postseason position. The Yankees swept the Red Sox in a doubleheader on Tuesday, and in the process jumped over their historic rivals and into a wild card spot. It is the first time the Yankees have been in a postseason spot since May 29.
Here are the updated American League wild card standings:
- Yankees: 68-52
- Athletics: 68-52 (the Yankees lead the season series and thus currently hold the tiebreaker)
- Red Sox: 69-53 (percentage points behind Yankees and Athletics)
- Blue Jays: 63-55 (4 GB)
- Mariners: 64-56 (4 GB)
The Yankees were a whopping 10 1/2 games behind the Red Sox on July 6. Since then they've gone 26-11, the best record in MLB, while the Red Sox have limped to 15-21. The 10 1/2-game deficit is the third largest deficit either team has erased in rivalry history. The Red Sox erased a 12-game deficit in 1949 and the Yankees erased a 14-game deficit in 1978.
New York's march up the standings has not been easy -- the Yankees play nothing but tight games and the bullpen always seems to make things interesting -- but there are no style points in baseball. Only wins and losses matter, and the Yankees are showing a resiliency they lacked earlier this season. No longer do they give off the impression that they've given up on a game.
The big names have played an important role in getting the Yankees back into the race. Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, et al have done their part. Making up 10 1/2 games in less than two months requires a total team effort, however. Here are five unsung heroes who have helped the Yankees catch the Red Sox and pull into postseason postseason.
Acquired in the Brian McCann trade with the Astros a few years ago, Albert Abreu has been called up and sent down nine times this season -- nine! -- though he is now emerging as a trusted late-inning reliever. Over the weekend he recorded his first MLB save when he bailed out Zack Britton and escaped a bases loaded jam, and on Monday he threw 1 2/3 innings in a one-run game.
"Abreu, coming into that situation, it's tough to do," Judge told reporters, including Dan Martin of the New York Post, following Abreu's save on Saturday. "A sold out crowd on the road, bases loaded. It's not ideal for a reliever. He showed a lot of guts."
The 25-year-old Abreu had a disaster game against the Rays on July 29 (six runs, zero outs), but since then he's allowed only two runs in 10 innings while striking out 12 and walking two. Like nearly everyone who comes out of New York's farm system these days, Abreu throws very hard, regularly touching 98 mph, and that velocity produces strikeouts and ground balls.
New York's bullpen is a bit of a mess right now. Aroldis Chapman is hurt, , and Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga are overworked. There has been (and will continue to be) an opportunity for Abreu to step in and get big outs, and he's done exactly that over the last month.
Technically, this is Nestor Cortes Jr.'s third stint with the Yankees. They originally drafted him out of high school in the 36th round in 2013, got him back when the Orioles returned him as a Rule 5 Draft pick in 2018, and then they signed him to a minor league deal this past offseason. Coming into 2021, Cortes had a 6.72 ERA in 79 MLB innings.
This year Cortes added a little velocity and has become a secret weapon. He originally joined the Yankees as an emergency long man in May, then he moved into the rotation when righty Michael King got hurt in July. In six starts, Cortes has a 2.73 ERA, and he set career highs in innings (six) and tied a career high in strikeouts (seven) against the White Sox this past weekend.
"He's in the middle of a really strong year," manager Aaron Boone told reporters, including Dan Martin of the New York Post, following Cortes' start in Chicago. "He's a big reason why we're turning this thing around ... He's pitching really well and we like when he has the ball in his hand."
Cortes, 26, is a textbook funky lefty who uses a variety of deliveries and arm angles to befuddle hitters, and he pitches with big league confidence. There's a swagger to his game even though he's only throwing 91-92 mph (that's with the newfound velocity too). Cortes moving into the rotation coincides perfectly with the team's 26-11 run. He's had a real impact as a starter.
The Yankees lost Cole and Jordan Montgomery to the COVID-19 list soon after the trade deadline, so they couldn't bring in a stopgap starter to help the rotation. They had to turn to their internal options, which meant summoning Luis Gil, their No. 4 prospect coming into the season. Gil, 23, has a 4.13 ERA in the minors and a 5.64 ERA in Triple-A this season.
Despite those minor league numbers, Gil has had a historically great start to his MLB career, throwing 15 2/3 shutout innings in his first three starts. That is the most scoreless innings to begin a career by a Yankee in the Expansion Era (1961 to present), and Gil is the first pitcher in history with a scoreless start in each of his first three big league games.
"That's a big game out there. Red Sox-Yankees, August, playing for a lot,". "I thought he was unflappable and locked in. When he's in the strike zone, he's difficult to hit."
Cole and Montgomery returned earlier this week, so right now the Yankees have six starters for five rotation spots (Cole, Cortes, Gil, Montgomery, Andrew Heaney, Jameson Taillon). Given how well he's pitched, the Yankees have to figure out a way to keep Gil around. He's pitched too well, and his power stuff plays against big league hitters. He's a weapon for a team in a postseason race.
"Before every start, I pray a lot. I pray for things to work out well, to give me the strength to face the battles of a tough game," Gil said following Tuesday night's win. "My team helps me, working together to be the best we can."
Back in April, the Yankees traded the popular Mike Tauchman to the Giants because they didn't have a spot for him. Their big league outfield was full and he couldn't go to Triple-A without passing through waivers, so they traded him. Soon thereafter Aaron Hicks got hurt, and the Yankees looked foolish for rushing to trade Tauchman. That is no longer the case.
Tauchman played so poorly with San Francisco that he was dropped from the 40-man roster earlier this month, and Wandy Peralta, the reliever the Yankees received in the trade, has become a high leverage weapon. Peralta recorded a save against the White Sox with a key double play over the weekend, and he got the biggest outs in Tuesday night's win over the Red Sox too.
"When it hit him I'm like, 'Oh, crap,'" Luke Voit said following Tuesday night's game, referring to the play Peralta made on Bobby Dalbec's comebacker to end the sixth inning. "And then I was like, 'I don't know where this throw is going to go,' and he made the throw of his life."
Peralta was one of six Yankees to land on the COVID list immediately after the All-Star break, and, since returning, he has allowed just one run (unearned) in 8 2/3 innings. In a bullpen that includes Britton and (when healthy) Chapman, Peralta has become Boone's most trusted lefty. And, because he relies predominantly on a changeup, he's effective against righties too.
The Yankees lost their starting third baseman (Gio Urshela) and their starting shortstop (Gleyber Torres) to injuries in the span of a week earlier this month. Urshela went down with a hamstring issue and Torres jammed his thumb on a slide. They're both still on the injured list and are at least a week away from returning (likely longer in Torres' case).
Those injuries have forced the Yankees to lean on utility infielder Tyler Wade, who has responded with the best stretch of his career. The 26-year-old speedster is 15 for 34 (.441) with six stolen bases in his last 15 games while starting games at short, third, and in left field. Wade reached base four times (three hits and a walk) in Tuesday's doubleheader sweep.
"His work has been really good," Boone recently told reporters, including Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. "Whether it's on the defensive side, making sure he's getting reps as much as he can in different spots. Obviously the hitting part of things, being engaged in the game and being ready for different situations, you know, whatever running situations might come up he's just been ready and it's really good to see him come and get an opportunity and play really well and help us win ball games."
In the first half the Yankees ranked dead last in baseball in stolen bases (20) and stolen base attempts (25). Since the All-Star break they lead baseball in stolen bases (27) and stolen base attempts (32). It's been quite a turnaround on the bases, and only Starling Marte (16) and Whit Merrifield (10) have stolen more bases than Wade (8) in the second half. He's hitting, he's running, and he's playing multiple positions. Wade has been a difference-maker since Urshela and Torres got hurt.