The Yankees won 100 games last season, their most since 2009, and still finished eight games behind the Red Sox. In the Bronx, that’s a bad year. That the Sox then beat the Yankees in the Division Series in four games only made it worse.
“We had to get better after that,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “I think we did, too.”
The Yankees are headed for 100-plus wins and their first American League East title since 2012 despite a wave of injuries that would have left most teams struggling to make the playoffs.
Slugger Giancarlo Stanton has played only nine games because of a right knee strain. Luis Severino, their ace last season, has been out all season with shoulder woes. The same has been true for All-Star reliever Dellin Betances.
Third baseman Miguel Andujar, who finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2018, played only 12 games before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
In all they’ve had 30 players on the injured list a total of 38 times. Both are major league records.
But general manager Brian Cashman and his staff built up enough organizational depth to overcome the injuries.
Signing second baseman DJ LeMahieu for two years and $24 million proved to be a bargain. The Yankees also got sustained production from players such as Gio Urshela, Luke Voit, and Mike Tauchman.
The 36-year-old Gardner went into the weekend with an .805 OPS, the best of his career.
“They put the ball in play,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “LeMahieu, I’ve been saying all along, he changed the complexion of the lineup. Urshela, he got better. Last year, there were more strikeouts. Not this year.”
The numbers bear that out. The Yankees had a .784 OPS with runners in scoring position last season. It’s up to .886 this year. They also dropped their strikeouts per game from 10.01 to 8.75.
LeMahieu’s OPS has hovered around .900 all season and he provides defensive versatility.
“I think we’ve been better situationally and I do feel like we’ve been a little more consistent up and down the lineup and being more of a tougher out in clutch situations, especially when facing a tough pitcher,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I feel like we’re better across the board.”
The Yankees are headed for 300-plus home runs. But they’re not dependent on their power. That should make a difference in the postseason when the pitching tends to get tougher.
“The home run is still a big part of our offense and it will be moving forward,” Boone said. “For us to have success in the postseason, I’m sure it will play a big role. But there’s no question we want to be as well-rounded as we can possibly be.”
Added Gardner: “We can do a lot of different things. We’ve proven that even when we’re missing certain guys that we have others who can fill in and get the job done.”
As Cora was leading the Red Sox to their historic 2018 season, Boone heard it from disgruntled Yankees fans.
Cora finds that amusing considering how good they were. He knows Boone well from their time at ESPN and felt the criticism was unwarranted.
“He did an outstanding job last year. This guy, he knows the game,” Cora said. “It bothered me last year when [fans] were all over him. I’m like, why? It just happened that we won 108. He did an outstanding job. He’s a good guy; he’s a good manager.
“It just happens that we manage in two markets that every move is second-guessed or first-guessed, and we know it. We did it on TV. I’m very proud of him; I’m very happy for him. I’m obviously not happy for us. But on a personal level? He’s been great.”
The Yankees are now dealing with new injuries. Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (left oblique), lefthander J.A. Happ (biceps tendinitis), and catcher Gary Sanchez (groin strain) weren’t expected to play this weekend.
But Stanton and Severino are on the way back, probably on Tuesday when the Yankees return home. Betances is not far behind them.
The Yankees also hope 38-year-old CC Sabathia can give them something after making only 21 starts in his final season because of knee issues.
If the Yankees can stay healthy, they’ll be a threat to win it all.
“The last couple of years we’ve been close,” Gardner said. “It’s a matter of winning big games when it counts. October baseball is a whole different animal. The last couple of years I feel like we’ve been close and come up short. Hopefully this year is different.”
As for the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, it’s on the cool side. The Sox honored Sabathia last week by giving him his No. 52 off the Fenway Park scoreboard. David Price made the presentation.
“That was awesome, especially here at Fenway,” Sabathia said. “Price is like a little brother to me. To have him out there to give me that piece of Fenway was pretty cool.
“It’s pretty fun to pitch in this rivalry. I’ve got some bad memories here, some good ones here.”
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Dombrowski got job done for Sox
It wasn’t unreasonable for the Red Sox to believe that the decisions they have to make about their roster over the next two seasons should be made by somebody other than Dave Dombrowski.
This will be a period where creativity will be needed, not just the most direct path.
But still, Dombrowski getting fired in the middle of a game will be looked back upon as a peculiar event.
Dombrowski had a .588 winning percentage over his time as president of baseball operations. In the four seasons Dombrowski had full control over — 2016-19 — the Sox won three American League East championships and one World Series. That had never happened before.
And for all the carping about the farm system, he kept the right prospects and none of the ones he gave up have turned into much. The deals for Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel were winners in every sense.
Travis Shaw, you ask? He was 27 when he was dealt and has a .526 OPS for Milwaukee this season. Dombrowski had no way of knowing Tyler Thornburg would get injured.
Dombrowski did what was he was hired to do and got a wayward organization focused on winning again. For whatever the internal dynamics were — and apparently they weren’t great — he’ll go down as one of the most successful executives in franchise history and deserved a better exit.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
■ Raquel Ferreira should get every consideration to be the next general manager. She started in baseball operations in 1999 with the Sox as an administrative assistant and has worked her way up to senior vice president of major and minor league operations.
That Ferreira has stayed on the staff through the administration of five general managers is a testament to her abilities and drive. Outside of traveling secretary Jack McCormick and several members of the clubhouse staff, nobody has been in baseball operations longer.
It would be groundbreaking for the Sox to select Ferreira. But that’s not why she deserves a shot. It’s because nobody knows the organization better or commands more respect.
Ferreira also has the best shot of getting Mookie Betts to sign a contract extension, too. She’s the team executive he trusts most.
■ There was a time not too many seasons ago when Red Sox road games were routinely staffed by seven or eight local media outlets. That number has steadily declined in recent years to a point where only the Globe and Herald covered the series against the Angels in Anaheim last month.
Cutbacks in the media industry have been so deep that there could come a time when some MLB teams are covered only by the team website.
That’s what made some recent decisions and comments by the Red Sox so chilling.
The team did not make any executives available for questions when Dombrowski was fired. It only issued a press release announcing his “departure.” Like he was getting on a cruise ship.
A day later, team president Sam Kennedy went on WEEI and actually said, “I’ve observed press conferences with sports figures leaving organizations for a long, long time. I’m not sure what purpose they ultimately serve.”
Since the day he was hired, manager Alex Cora has promoted a culture of accountability among his players. Sox players, in moments good or bad, are made available to speak to reporters.
That should apply throughout the organization. The Red Sox have passionate and knowledgeable fans, many who are avid consumers of news stories, features, and analysis about their team. Trying to restrict the information fans receive is not good business for the Sox.
Press conferences aren’t for reporters; they provide an avenue for fans to learn more about their team. Nor did the Sox do Dombrowski any favors. Ducking questions left the impression that there was something that needed covering up.
■ Noah Syndergaard is 27 and can become a free agent after the 2021 season. Andrew Benintendi is 25 and can become a free agent after the 2022 season.
There is a deal to be made here. The Mets put Syndergaard on the market in July but didn’t find a trade they liked. He has since complained about having to throw to catcher Wilson Ramos, and his relationship with the team is strained.
The Mets need outfield help; the Red Sox need a starting pitcher. Syndergaard is the more valuable player, but the Mets get the extra year of control with Benintendi and maybe the Sox toss in a prospect to get it done.
The Sox can then convert Michael Chavis to left field, which opens up a spot for Bobby Dalbec at first base.
■ Only 11 Red Sox players have spent the entire season on the active roster: Matt Barnes, Benintendi, Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Christian Vazquez, and Brandon Workman.
■ Betts needs two more home runs to join Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Rogers Hornsby, Chuck Klein, and Stan Musial as the only players with at least 40 doubles, 30 home runs, and 5 triples in three or more seasons.
■ The Sox aren’t eliminated quite yet. But once they are, they will become the 10th defending World Series champion in the last 19 seasons not to make the playoffs. Since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000, no team has repeated, and only the 2008 Phillies returned to the World Series the following season.
It’s easy to be aggravated with the Sox this season; they certainly underachieved. But for reasons nobody has been able to solve, winning the World Series leads to a step back a year later.
Top-notch scout on open market
The Giants fired eight of their professional scouts this past week, part of a new direction being taken by president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. It’s a trend throughout baseball.
One of those let go was 64-year-old Glenn Tufts, a Middleboro native who now lives in Bridgewater. He was with the Giants for 34 seasons and has three World Series rings.
Tufts has had quite a career in baseball. He was the fifth overall pick of the 1973 draft out of Bridgewater-Raynham High, a hard-hitting first baseman who looked like a sure thing for the Indians.
Tufts was taken right after Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Dave Winfield and before Fred Lynn, who went in the second round. Eddie Murray was a third-round pick.
Five months later, Tufts broke his leg in a car accident. Other injuries led to his playing career being finished in 1977 without having reached the majors.
But Tufts went into coaching and had great success at Bridgewater State before the Giants hired him as a minor league manager. He then went into scouting and was a key adviser for former GM Brian Sabean and respected throughout the scouting community. He’s a regular at Fenway Park and minor league parks throughout New England.
Tufts is hoping to join another organization.
As the Red Sox seek another general manager, Brian Cashman is in his 22nd season in that post for the Yankees. He has outlasted five Red Sox counterparts in that time: Dan Duquette, Mike Port, Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, and now Dave Dombrowski . . . The Rays added an interesting player who could have an impact on the postseason in 29-year-old Johnny Davis. He has kicked around baseball for seven years in the Milwaukee organization, the independent Frontier League, and the Mexican League. Davis had a modest .326 career on-base percentage and only six home runs. But he does have 234 stolen bases and could be a pinch runner in the playoffs. The Rays signed Davis on Aug. 29 and added him to the major league roster on Wednesday . . . Bruce Bochy, who will retire after the season, has been a manager since 1995 with the Padres and Giants. When the Giants lost to the Pirates on Monday, his record was 1,995-2,019 . . . Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso asked Major League Baseball if the Mets could wear caps with the logos of New York City first responders for their game on Sept. 11 and was turned down. An exception should have been made. The spot that is now Citi Field was a staging area to bring supplies to the site where the Twin Towers collapsed and the Mets were involved to a point that many of their players and manager Bobby Valentine helped load trucks and comfort rescuers . . . Happy 43rd birthday to Matt Thornton, who played for six teams over 13 seasons from 2004-16 including the Red Sox for 20 games in 2013.