Thursday Afternoon Food For Thought: The Importance Of All These Marginal Upgrades

This was originally supposed to be a longer series of posts after the regular season ended, but I figured some of the wounds were still too fresh and I didn't want to be too big of a downer.  We all know there were a ton of bad losses last season.  Listed below are the 5 games I believe the Yankees should have won the most:

  • 5/11/14- Brewers 6, Yankees 5.  Yanks blew an early lead after scoring 3 off Matt Garza in the top of the 1st.  Bullpen coughed up the lead late, then gave up the walk-off loss in the bottom of the 9th after a Teix HR to tie the game in the top half.
  • 7/5/14- Twins 2, Yankees 1.  Yanks lost on a walk-off error in the 11th inning after managing to score only 1 run against Minnesota starter Yohan Pino.  They didn't have a single extra-base hit in the game.
  • 7/21/14- Rangers 4, Yankees 2.  The team made 5 defensive errors and scored 2 runs on 4 hits in 7.1 innings against Miles Mikolas.  Jacoby Ellsbury had the only XBH, a solo HR.
  • 8/5/14- Tigers 4, Yankees 3.  Yanks blew a 3-0 lead in the 6th inning against David Price, didn't score for the final 8 innings, and lost in the 12th with Matt Daley on the mound.
  • 9/5/14- Royals 1, Yankees 0.  James Shields shut the lineup out for 8+ innings just 10 days after getting knocked around for 6 runs on 10 hits.  The lone KC run scored on a fielding error and 7 innings of 3-hit, no-walk ball by Michael Pineda was wasted.

Why are those 5 games important?  Because if the Yankees did win them, they would have made the playoffs.  As bad as the Yankees were last year, both in terms of actual (84-78) and expected (77-85) records, they still came within 4 games of making the postseason.  And when you think back to those 5 games and many others like it, there were plenty of chances for them to win enough games to steal the second Wild Card.

That's why the Stephen Drew signing matters.  That's why adding all these relief arms matters.  That's why Didi replacing Derek and hoping for a healthy CC matters.  Because those marginal upgrades could make the difference between a loss and a win and a few more wins could be enough to make the playoffs.  A lot of those bad, close losses last season came as a direct result of the lineup being crappy, the infield defense being crappy, and the back end of the bullpen being crappy.  All 3 of those holes have been filled this offseason and I'd like to think this current projected 25-man roster could have won those 5 games.

Yes, the rotation is very shaky and even with all the other improvements this team is only going to go as far as the rotation can take it.  But keep in mind that the Yanks managed to stay in the hunt into the final week of last season despite getting just a little more than half a season's worth of starts from Tanaka, less than half a season's worth of starts from Pineda, and only 12 combined starts from CC and Nova.  They got almost as many starts from Chase Whitley and Vidal Nuno (26) than they did from Tanaka and Pineda (33).  If they could stay in the race with all those rotation problems last year, why can't they do that this year with a better offense, defense, and bullpen?

The Yanks may project to be a low-80 wins team right now, but the second Wild Card has made teams like that real playoff contenders.  Recent history has shown that it doesn't take much to out-perform modest expectations and there's reason to be optimistic about this team's chances of doing that again.  Joe has shown a great ability to get the most out of what he has to work with over the last 2 seasons, and the top-to-bottom roster improvements over the last 2+ months have given him more to work with and made the team much better equipped to win those close winnable games.

It's going to take a lot of things going the Yankees' way, sure, but if enough things happen in their favor and a handful of plays here or there go differently in close games, 86, 87, 88 wins is not out of the question.  That could be enough to make the postseason in today's AL environment.  The organizational focus seems to have shifted to the future, but let's not completely write off the present.