The point was made here a week ago that the Yankees are playing for 2017 and beyond. You don't trade Aroldis Chapman, and especially Andrew Miller (with two full seasons remaining on his contract) to two of the strongest contenders for the World Series and then say we're expecting to contend as well.
So be that as it may, what realistically is in store for the remaining 36 games of 2016?
1. The Standings
Don't look now, but the Yankees are 5.5 games back in the AL East standings, but trail Boston Toronto and Baltimore with about five weeks left in the season. Twenty three games remain with those three teams, so the Yankees can control at least some of their own destiny within the division. As for the Wild Card, the Yankees are only 4.5 games behind the two top spots, but have to climb over no less than two of the division rivals plus Detroit, Seattle, Kansas City and Houston. If the chase involved only one or two teams and making up five games on the loss side, the chances would seem more realistic. Instead, if you combine the Wild Card race and the division, nearly half of the teams in the league stand in the way of the Yankees chances, one way or another. Yes, they can control their own destiny, to a point, but they are still going to need an awful lot of help.
2. The Schedule
The Yankees play only six of their remaining games against teams outside the AL East, three next week in Kansas City (one of the teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race) and three next month when the Dodgers come to the Bronx for a rare visit. The other 30 games will be played within the division, where the Yankees have struggled to a 19-27 record, which includes a 7-17 record on the road at the four division rivals. Fourteen games remain in those cities.
3. The Regular Players
The lineup is much different than the one at the beginning of this month, in case you haven't noticed. Gary Sanchez is number one behind the plate, and Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin and Ronald Torreyes are all getting significant playing time. Brian McCann is getting regular plate appearances, only because Alex Rodriguez is gone and Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley and, to some extent, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are playing less. Out of necessity, Chad Green and Luis Cessa, acquired from Detroit in the Justin Wilson trade, are in the rotation. They have done well in the recent small sample. The "lock down bullpen" consists of Dellin Betances, but Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard have replaced Chapman and Miller.
4. The September Call Ups
Right-hander Bryan Mitchell made the team as spring training was winding down and immediately suffered an injury to his toe which required surgery, Recently activated from the disabled list and assigned to AAA Scranton, expect Mitchell to return to the Bronx September 1st. Joining him from AAA will likely be Rob Refsnyder, Ben Gamel, Nick Goody and Chasen Shreve, who will be joined by several others on the 40 man roster. There is a chance the 40 man roster will be adjusted to add, perhaps, a player or two to avoid them being selected in the Rule 5 draft. Candidates for this might include lefty starter Deitrich Enns, and relievers Gio Gallegos and Tyler Webb. The Yankees bullpen recently had prospects aplenty, but injuries forced them to go with the likes of Kirby Yates and Anthony Swarzak much of the season. So this might be the way to bring more prospects to the September bullpen mix. Race or no race, a lot of players are auditioning for future consideration on the Yankees roster,
So what might we expect? Realistically, the Yankees remain on the very fringes of the playoff hunt. To their credit, the young players, led by Sanchez, have prevented a late season meltdown (to this point). There is no reason to turn off the television or switch to football, or to stop going to the stadium with these Yankees. Playoff contention or not, they are still worth our attention.