Can Yankees Survive and Advance in Postseason Without Home Run Ball?
NEW YORK — In the clubhouse after an 11-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday, snapping a modest three-game losing streak, Yankees' infielder Tyler Wade picked up his cell phone and began scrolling through his notifications.
Hours earlier, Wade drove his third home run of the season off the facing of the second deck at Yankee Stadium, a booming two-run shot to put the Yankees' offense on the board.
His eyes settled on an update from his MLB At Bat app. Up until that moment, he didn't know about the significance of his fifth-inning homer.
Wade's blast had snapped a five-game homerless streak for the Bronx Bombers, the longest stretch of games this franchise's offense has gone without sending a ball over the fence since 2014.
"I didn’t know [about the streak], but any spark to get us going, especially with the last game tomorrow going into the playoffs," Wade said. "Just get the boys rolling, get us hot and get into handing the baton off to the next guy."
The Yankees hadn't hit a home run in 216 plate appearances and almost a week of games. That's coming from the club that was one big fly short of leading all of baseball last season (one shy of Minnesota's 307 which set a new single-season record).
Before first pitch on Saturday, Yankees' manager Aaron Boone stated the obvious. Home runs are an essential component of this club's "identity."
"Home runs can also be a little bit fickle coming in bunches so hopefully we’re just going through a stretch where a handful of our guys aren’t hitting the ball out of the ballpark," Boone explained. "Hopefully that’s just a small stretch here, a small sample, and we start to turn that corner not only individually but as a group and that would be welcome."
On that Saturday afternoon, Wade opened the floodgates. The Bombers turned a 3-0 deficit into seven-run lead in a matter of six outs. In the seven-run sixth, both Aaron Hicks and Luke Voit mashed long balls as well.
The following afternoon, however, New York was shutout by the Marlins. Looking to build momentum heading into the postseason, fresh off an 11-run outburst, the Yankees scattered six hits.
No runs were scored and you know what that means. No home runs were hit.
There's no question the home run ball is all the rage in Major League Baseball these days. But the Bombers don't just dig the long ball, the live and die by it.
Sunday's sour ending to the regular season was just the 16th game of the season in which New York's bats were held in the yard. The Yankees won just two of those games.
As for the other 44 games of the season? The Bombers went 31-13 when hitting at least one home run this season. With two homers or more, that record jumped up to 21-5.
That homerless streak may wind up as a meaningless footnote in the history books in the grand scheme of things, a forgotten drought in the midst of an unforgettable season, but it's also an indication of just how meaningful home runs are to this offense.
Heading into the Wild Card Series against the Cleveland Indians, a club with one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, will the Yankees ever-dangerous offense go quietly if it can't manage to hit home runs?
Beyond that, New York's road to the World Series is poised to run through teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins and, of course, the juggernaut Los Angeles Dodgers. Will the Bombers be able to keep up and strive to be the final franchise standing if the offense can't hit the ball out of the ballpark?
In the postseason, anything can happen. The Yankees could explode on Tuesday night and end up running rampant on both sides of the ball all month long. They could also get shut down by Cleveland's ace Shane Bieber and in a best-of-three opening series, a loss in Game 1 could potentially be insurmountable.
Uncertainty notwithstanding, confidence in this club's ability to swing it with the best in the league hasn't wavered all season long. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, Boone and his ballplayers had a consistent understanding of this team's potential, even when the product on the field was as inconsistent as can be.
"Through all the injuries, ups and downs, peaks and valleys, I don't think their confidence has wavered and I don't think their expectation of what they're capable of dong in October has changed at all or been compromised at all," Boone said. "We feel the guys we're going to go into starting a three-game series on Tuesday have all the capabilities and intangibles to be a champion. That's going to be our focus and our expectation."
Those in the clubhouse have the same beliefs as their skipper.
"It just seemed like we would get hot and then have a couple of games snowballing. We just couldn’t rebound," DJ LeMahieu said on Sunday. "I think we have the best team in the league still. Definitely the most talented."
Specifically as for that power, and whether they'll be able to hit the ball out of the ballpark as the postseason begins, New York's longest tenured player has faith in this club to get it done.
"We’ve got plenty of power in that room, it’s just a matter of getting it going and turning it on at the right time," Brett Gardner said on Sunday. "Excited about this opportunity and I have no doubt that we’ll show that power this week."
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