Yankees carry big weapon into possible World Series preview vs. Dodgers
OAKLAND, Calif. — The schedule calls for Yankees fans to start dreaming of a World Series preview.
The circumstances might cause them to reflect backward, rather than forward, on an unwanted déjà vu.
Consider this column an offer to meet in the middle.
The series at Dodger Stadium this weekend, the Yankees’ first visit to Chavez Ravine since July 2013, will generate plenty of buzz, enough celebrity appearances to fill a season’s worth of “Hollywood Game Night” and, let’s hope, competitive ballgames, starting Friday night. We are talking about the two clubs owning the best records in baseball who play in the United States’ two largest cities, who have faced off 11 times for the championship, albeit not since 1981. How can you not get a little jazzed?
Yet you can forgive some Yankees fans if, after their club’s first two nights at Oakland Coliseum, they’re not ready to envision a reoccurrence of the most popular and prominent Fall Classic matchup. Because it was nearly a year ago — September 3-5 — that the Yankees lost two of three to the Athletics at the Coliseum and set off alarms that never really went away. While they proceeded to eliminate Oakland in the American League wild-card game, the Yankees then fell to the Red Sox in the AL Division Series, their starting pitching woes and Aaron Boone’s failure to expeditiously address those woes dooming them.
Before you book that Tasmanian getaway for mid-October, however, keep in mind the 2019 Yankees do not represent carbon copies of their immediate predecessors. These guys have a weapon to combat, if not necessarily neutralize, their greatest flaw.
These guys continue to hit with runners in scoring position.
Consider their 6-4 loss to the A’s on Wednesday night, a game defined by the continuing travails of Yankees starting pitcher J.A. Happ. By the time Chad Green largely cleaned up the mess left behind by Happ in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Yankees trailed, 5-1. That they drew within two runs — compelling Oakland manager Bob Melvin to turn to five relievers, including closer Liam Hendriks for five outs — meant something in the bigger picture.
Rookie Mike Ford started the top of the seventh inning with a solo homer, making it a 6-2 game. The Yankees’ other three runs resulted from delivering with runners in scoring position: Mike Tauchman’s second-inning single, Tauchman’s sixth-inning sacrifice fly and Didi Gregorius’ seventh-inning double. In all, the Yankees went a more-than-respectable 3-for-9 in these clutch situations.
“I thought [we had] a lot of good at-bats,” Boone said afterward. “Just not that big hit tonight to really break through or have that huge inning. But I thought the quality of at-bat, the guys kind of grinding and fighting through obviously good pitching over there and them really matching up and treating it obviously like an important game, like it is … was pretty good. Especially the second half of the game.”
Through Wednesday, the Yankees led baseball with a .302 batting average with runners in scoring position, and their .901 OPS ranked them second, behind just the Nationals (.904). Last year, they ranked 12th with a .253 batting average and eighth with a .784 OPS. While they went 2-for-4 in those situations as they handled the A’s in their wild-card game, they posted only four hits in 26 such at-bats against the Red Sox. Given that two of their three ALDS losses came by one run, imagine if they had come through with, say, three more timely hits last October.
This “skill” appears to waver from one season to the next, although you can see the correlation between this group’s overall identity and its specific clutchness. Thanks to the emergence of players such as DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela and even Tauchman — and the injury disappearance of Giancarlo Stanton — these Yankees hit for a higher average, .272 entering Thursday compared to last season’s .249.
You’d rather pitch your way to a championship than rely on your offensive timing. If the Yankees don’t have Option A, though, Option B is better than no option at all. Which makes this weekend’s heavyweight bout worth watching.
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