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View from the other side: Yankees questions for Andrew Mearns of Pinstripe Alley

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

We start a four-game series against the Yankees in New York today (1:00 Eastern start today).

As I type this the Yankees are in second in the AL East, 7.5 games behind the Rays. They are holding the first Wild Card spot, a half-game ahead of the Red Sox, and 5.5 ahead of the Blue Jays (4.5 now).

The Yankees are 11th in runs per game in the AL at 4.35 (Jays are 3rd at 5.05). But they are first in the AL in runs allowed per game 3.96 (Jays are 6th at 4.16).

I sent off some Yankees questions to Andrew Mearns, Managing Editor at Pinstripe Alley and he was kind enough to send back answers.

Might as well start with the easy one, will the Yankees catch the Rays?

I wish like hell that I could say yes. But Tampa Bay is too far out in front at this point, and the difference is really AL East play. The Rays have posted winning records against every division opponent, including an 18-1 pounding of the Orioles. The Yankees, meanwhile, only have a winning record against Baltimore, and even then, they’ve allowed the O’s to beat them more times than anyone else in baseball. Simply put, the Rays have taken care of business, while the Yankees dug themselves an early hole and have made too many unforced errors to bridge the gap.

Aroldis Chapman went through a very rough patch but seems to be back. What was going on with him? Do you have confidence in him now?

The short answer is that Chapman completely lost any semblance of command, and his once-imposing fastball was getting crushed. He’s never had the pinpoint control of Mariano Rivera, but a 6.5 BB/9 at the end of ballgames is a recipe for disaster. The command going haywire led to both the high walk rate and hitters squaring up pitches better than ever against him because when his fastball did reach the zone, it sat too close to the middle of the plate. His fingernail issues and posture on the mound weren’t helping matters, either.

Now, though? Well, I don’t think Chapman’s actually back. He’s better than he was in June, but that’s not much to brag about. He came back from an IL stint related to elbow inflammation on August 18th, and in seven appearances since then, he’s looked good in four and like crap in three (including Saturday against the O’s). The command comes and goes in the blink of an eye. As old manager, Joe Girardi used to say, “It’s not what you want.” I don’t have confidence in him. I trust the likes of Jonathan Loáisiga and Chad Green much more.

Joey Gallo has been a favorite of mine for a long time, how is he doing for the Yankees?

Like with the Rays question, I wish I could say that Gallo was raking. I thought he was a great fit for the Yankees, especially since he’s under contract for next year as well. Alas, he’s been in one of those patented Gallo slumps ever since coming to New York. He’s homered 6 times in 33 games, but since he’s only registered 10 other hits as of the beginning of play on Sunday, he’s rocking a .641 OPS in pinstripes (as opposed to .869 in Texas). The defense is great and he obviously knows how to take a walk, but he has to do better at the plate.

At the opposite end, Rougned Odor is, let’s say, not one of my favorite players. Why would the Yankees want him? How is he doing?

The Yankees didn’t have much infield depth beyond Tyler Wade, so Brian Cashman decided to take a flyer on Odor when the Rangers DFA’d him. Even then, it still took us by surprise considering how lousy he’d played since the start of 2019. Sure enough, Odor struggles when he’s overexposed, but in limited doses? The Yankees could do worse as far as “fifth infielders” go, and considering how much time has been missed by everyone on the infield not named DJ LeMahieu, it probably hasn’t hurt having him around. He can still play solid defense and occasionally run into a pitch (his 15 homers are fourth on the team). The 89 wRC+ is whatever and not good enough for a starter, but he doesn’t have a spot in the ideal Yankees playoff lineup. So in the grand scheme of things, he nails that glowing review of “Fine, I guess.”

Can you give us a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers we are likely to see? Are Yankees’ fans confident in the rotation going down the stretch?

Assuming Aaron Boone doesn’t shuffle the rotation and that there aren’t any surprise injuries, it looks like the Blue Jays will face Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole, Néstor Cortes Jr., and Jordan Montgomery. Coming off a second Tommy John surgery, Taillon started the season slowly but really put it together after a nightmare outing in Philadelphia on June 12th. He tweaked his mechanics, changed up his pitch mix, and ended up winning AL Pitcher of the Month in July. As summer rumbled along though, Taillon began to fade, and he hasn’t had a genuinely good outing since August 9th. He’s hitting at a wall at the exact moment that this Toronto lineup could feast on him.

Cole’s excellence speaks for itself. He’s a monster with a very good shot at taking home his first Cy Young Award. Montgomery’s a stealthy good mid-rotation starter who won’t go deep into ballgames (he’s pitched in the seventh just 4 times in 25 starts), but pretty much always gives the offense a chance to win. The only problem is that they’ve given him very little run support throughout 2021. Cortes, however, I could talk about all day because his story’s so weird. He’s gone from non-roster invitee to surprising rotation force. He comes at hitters with a bevy of different pitches and all sorts of angles to go with ‘em. He just happened to find a rotation opening at the right time and has run with it.

Am I comfortable with the Yankees’ rotation? It’s weird because I’m not super confident in them, but the pitching staff has managed to post the best ERA and the second-best FIP in the league. The results are the results, but still, it’s hit-or-miss. I feel great about Cole, good about Montgomery, cautiously optimistic about Cortes, and not great with Taillon. I need to see more of Corey Kluber to know if his shoulder has truly recovered or not, Andrew Heaney’s dinger tendencies terrify me, and I would love to see rookie Luis Gil get another crack at a Major League lineup.

Who is your favorite Yankee to watch?

There is no more aesthetically pleasing highlight than Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge mashing a baseball a long, long way. Hell, it’s even fun when they lash singles or doubles at exit velocities of over 115 mph, too. Them catching fire was key to the 13-game winning streak in August, and the Yankees will only go as far as these two will take them. There’s a chance that if they’re both shut down, then someone like Luke Voit or Anthony Rizzo can beat you anyway, but it becomes a lot easier to tame the Yankees’ lineup if Stanton and Judge are slumping or just held at bay.

What else should we know about the Yankees?

There are going to be some names coming out of the bullpen in this series that might surprise you. Loáisiga’s 2021 ascent is probably well-known around the league at this point, but he won’t be seen in this series since he just hit the IL with a rotator cuff strain. However, the Yankees have turned Lucas Luetge and Clay Holmes into legitimate relief weapons. Wandy Peralta and Joely Rodríguez have each had their moments, too. The Yankees have both played in and won a ton of close ballgames in 2021, and the bullpen beyond Chapman has definitely played its role.

Thanks Andrew.