TORONTO — While the Yankees made sure to enjoy the moment on Tuesday night, celebrating a division title for the first time since 2019, New York also looked ahead.
By clinching the American League East with a week remaining in the regular season, the Yankees have an opportunity to position themselves for a deep postseason run, resting players and watching as other contenders beat up on each other in the Wild Card round.
"You can pick your spots where a lot of these guys have been through the grind in the season," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after a 5-2 win over the Blue Jays. "Everyone's a little nicked up, but it's more about getting guys healthy and strong and fresh as can be while also keeping them sharp. So we're trying to strike that balance every day. Really nice to get this done today and not have this linger on and just proud of the group."
Boone and the coaching staff can treat the final eight games of the regular season however they'd like. Starting pitchers can come out of games after a certain amount of pitches, relievers can pitch in controllable situations to audition for a roster spot or work on different parts of their game before the playoffs begin and position players can get some valuable days off their feet.
To put it another way, Boone said he can be more "strategic" going forward, focusing solely on the postseason rather than the results of each game before then.
"Obviously want to get [Zack Britton] and [Aroldis Chapman] throwing, be a little mindful of starting pitchers and how far we want to push them and things like that," he said. "Those will be all things that we've talked about here and tried to be strategic and strike that wanting to be really competitive with also wanting to be smart with guys."
Think about how this stretch can benefit a player like Aaron Judge. Sure, the slugger is one home run away from tying Roger Maris' single-season record, but he's also played in 116 of New York's last 118 games dating all the way back to May 17. A day off (or two) can't hurt when it comes to keeping him healthy for what could be another month of games leading into November.
Further, by locking up the division, New York will have five off days between Game 162 (on October 5) and Game 1 of the ALDS (on October 11).
That's right. They won't play another meaningful game again for the next two weeks.
"We'll probably take a day off as a group after that last day [of the regular season] and then probably have some form or shape of some intrasquad, live BP, simulated type of stuff for at least a couple of those days," Boone explained.
All the while, their ALDS opponent—no matter who it ends up being—will be fighting to stay alive, battling another contending foe to advance and play the Yankees.
Aaron Judge acknowledged that the team who wins in the Wild Card round will enter the ALDS with some momentum. That doesn't mean he'd rather play in that opening series, though.
"I think putting ourselves in this position, giving us a chance to let our competition play against each other, beat up on each other before they play us, that'll hopefully help us out a little bit," he said.
As of Wednesday morning, New York would be playing the winner of a Guardians and Mariners series. Cleveland won the American League Central, waiting to take on the third and final Wild Card team: either Seattle, Tampa Bay or Toronto.
Considering each of those teams have the talent to go on a run in October and upset a club like the Yankees, New York will be looking to capitalize on any possible advantage they can get. If that means a few extra days of rest and a bigger window to choose postseason rosters, it gives them a leg up before the first pitch of the division series has been thrown.
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