Six Yankees off-day thoughts at the quarter-pole of the regular season
The New York Yankees are roughly one-quarter of the way home, as Sunday's win over Oakland completed their 40th of 162 games on the season, and Monday's off-day is the 47th day of the 187-day journey that is the regular season.
The Yankees finished that first 40-game stretch with a 28-12 record and tied with the Red Sox for both first place in the AL East and the best record in Major League Baseball. As a result, the timing seems right to catch up on the state of the team with a half-dozen quarter-pole thoughts.
No. 1: The Yankees are about to begin their first road interleague series in DC, and while I personally dislike the "no DH in the NL parks" rule, this one might work out better for the Yankees than, say, last year's Matt Holliday at first experiment did. In theory, the Yankees should be at a disadvantage, especially given the fact that their primary DH played in the NL East for eight seasons, right? Maybe they are, in that it's not optimal to have Masahiro Tanaka and especially CC Sabathia hitting instead of a DH, but no DH also means that the Nationals can't optimize their moving parts by getting all four of Howie Kendrick, Wilmer Difo, Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds in the lineup.
No. 2: Another potential Yankees advantage here is that handed-ness and numbers, which of course never lie, give Aaron Boone an easy defense in keeping Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup for both games. Brett Gardner is hitting .188 against lefties and has played in 37 of 40 games, so he could easily take the day off against Gio Gonzalez on Tuesday while Stanton plays left. On Wednesday, Gardner can come back in and play center to spell Aaron Hicks, who is 0-for-10 lifetime against Max Scherzer (while Stanton, who is 4-for-18 with two homers, has arguably the most success of the six Yankees to have faced Scherzer). In the same vein, Neil Walker and Tyler Austin seem to have fallen into a true platoon at first base, so it's advantageous that the Yankees can have Austin face the lefty Tuesday and Walker, who is 4-for-23 with three home runs against Scherzer lifetime, go on Wednesday.
No. 3: For one more possible advantage, let me remind of this: The Yankees have an off-day Thursday as well, so if there was ever a time to have their pitchers pull a five-and-fly, this might be it. Everyone should be able to go back-to-back days, and you'd have to imagine that A.J. Cole is itching to prove something to his former team -- and the Yankees could use him and/or David Hale for multiple innings on either day without losing them for too many games beyond that.
No. 4: The Yankees activated Brandon Drury and sent him to Triple-A on Monday, and as I posited in my last off-day thoughts column, it's the right move for many reasons. Chief among them is Drury's health, both physical and mental. Forget that Miguel Andujar deserves a shot to play every day; if Drury "isn't where he needs to be," as Aaron Boone said over the weekend, then he shouldn't be ironing it out in the Majors. Maybe, if this was August or September, and maybe, if he was a key piece of the lineup, that might make sense, but for now, it's best for all parties to let Drury work his way back in an environment where his health and development outweigh the need to win baseball games.
No. 5: Greg Bird and Billy McKinney's rehab assignments were moved up to Double-A on Monday as well, and barring a setback, the Yankees only have until the end of May to activate them. McKinney will likely be headed to Triple-A and Bird the Majors, of course, but fortunately (and unfortunately) for the Yankees, it seems like Tyler Austin and Neil Walker are making the decision on a roster move for Bird easier by the day. Walker has played well of late, well enough that he could take over as the everyday first baseman for the next two weeks if need be, and that's good, because as unfortunate as it is, it seems that Austin's suspension really stalled his momentum. He hit .290 with five homers in 17 games in March/April, but since returning from suspension May 1, Austin is 0-for-19 with one walk and nine strikeouts. He's already been ostensibly demoted to the lesser side of a first-base platoon (as in he only plays against lefties), and forget the Bird return: He might be the one who goes if the Yankees need to sacrifice a less-versatile position player for a more-versatile one in the interim.
No. 6: Last and certainly not least … winning cures a lot, but the Yankees really need to figure out why Sonny Gray has been so up-and-down. Boone and the staff can give all the lip service they want to Gray's stuff, but the fact remains that it seems like every time Sonny turns a corner, he runs back into a wall. The results, on paper, say Gray has the highest ERA (6.39), WHIP (1.842) and BB and BB/9 totals (24 and 5.7, respectively) of any Yankees starter (including Domingo German's starter-only splits), and has a higher K/9 than only CC Sabathia (who has a BB/K ratio of nearly 6 and a 2.23 ERA regardless). Like I said, the Yankees are still winning on the whole, but they're 3-5 in Gray starts, and what may be more troubling on the whole is that if you discount Jordan Montgomery's one-inning start prior to his injury, Sonny has the lowest innings per start ratio (4.75) of any starter (Montgomery is at 4.56 total, but at 5.27 if you count only his five non-shortened starts). Boone said Friday that he liked how Gray "battled to get through five," but that's neither a glowing endorsement, nor is it healthy long-term for a bullpen that has needed to get at least nine outs every time Gray starts and 13 on average. The Yankees are 2-1 in his three quality starts (and the loss was the 2-1 loss in Houston), but you can't sustain momentum with a pitcher who is liable to give up at least five earned runs just as often as he goes six innings (both have happened three times this year).