Here is the recipe to a 28th World Series Title for the New York Yankees
The way that the New York Yankees have been playing to close out the month of August is very reminiscent of the way in which the team played the first half of the season -- which was on pace to win 120 games -- albeit of late against the AL worst Oakland Athletics.
As the New York Yankees continue to play well and get fully healthy again, this is looking like the team that was on a fast track to the World Series.
Now that they're getting back on track, they're showing signs of life after a summer drought offensively for a period of time.
"I think that any time you win about 75 percent of your games -- there's going to be some regression and we saw that regression but I don't think the Yankees expected that regression to take them to a point where they would play under .500 for 50-game stretches," Curry said. "I think they're seeing signs now that they can be a team to be reckoned with -- again, in October -- and they can be a team that has a deep postseason run in it."
One important ingredient to make any kind of deep run in the playoffs is starting pitching.
"We always talk about pitching and we always talk about the starting rotation and which pitchers can you rely on. Well, their starters had been great, but, then there had been some moments where starters struggled. We got an opportunity to see Gerrit Cole in his last outing -- that was more of the Cole that the Yankees need to see. Montas -- first three starts as a Yankee -- tough -- but then his last start, again, a positive sign," Curry said.
While the rotation is starting to get things rolling, there are questions about the depth and pecking order in the bullpen.
"I think they're still piecing the bullpen together, and, I don't actually think that's a terrible thing because I think that (Aaron) Boone has options, I think Jonathan Loaisiga -- who, a lot of people were ready to give up on -- now suddenly looks like he's a weapon again, I think (Clay) Holmes, when he comes back off the I.L., I think he's your closer again, I'm not giving up on a guy whose as great as he was for the first half of the season," Curry said. "I do think there are positive signs that the Yankees can once again be a team that rightfully declares 'hey, they can win a World Series. I was talking to Brian Cashman the other day and I asked him that and he said 'yea, I think this is a World Series caliber team'."
While Gerrit Cole has a great season for the Yankees -- and is currently the MLB leader in strikeouts -- he has had games where he hasn't looked like the team ace and giving up big innings. He needs to turn it on down the stretch and certainly in October.
"I'm glad you brought up the big innings because that's obviously been a bugaboo for him, eight times this year he's allowed 3 runs or more in an inning, and when you think about an ace and you think about a guy whose going to slam the door, you don't think about those kinds of things, but, I would also tell you that if you went back and looked at, for instance, CC Sabathia's game log in 2009 when the Yankees won a World Series, I think you'd see some blowup starts in there," Curry said. "We're used to ace-like pitching, and, then, when a guy does have a slip-up, you say to yourself 'well, what is wrong. A couple of things I've noticed with Cole, and he's talked about this himself -- trying to be too fine. There was a start against the Mariners where he gave up 6 runs in the first inning and three home runs, and he talked about how he threw his curveball too much. Here's a guy whose got a 100-mph fastball in his pocket -- don't forget that you have that pitch -- and I think that Cole critiqued himself after that start. I think that he is such a perfectionist and so meticulous that sometimes he's out scout reporting himself."
Cole is self-critiquing and looks like he is finding his ace-like self out there of late, and you hope that he'll be that guy down the stretch.
"I think it's all in there for Gerrit Cole, it's a matter of him putting it together all at once and of course making sure he can do that when the games matter the most," Curry said.
Behind Cole in a playoff rotation will most likely be some setup, a combination of Frankie Montas, Luis Severino, and Nestor Cortes Jr., but it'll be incumbent on all four, individually and combined, to be ready to dominate in October.
"We'll see how they get stacked up and who ends up being the guy behind Cole. I think on August 2 when the Yankees had acquired Montas, I think they thought he would be the guy, I think he's (Montas) got some proving to still do to them in order to be the number 2 guy. Severino is someone that Yankee officials talk about with a lot of high hopes, I think that if you look at the Yankees situation and what Montas has shown you, I would lean towards Severino right now as a guy you might pitch in a Game 2, followed by Montas, followed by Nestor Cortes," Curry said. "I think that's a rotation that you can win with."
In many playoff games, you're going to see the high-leverage guys out there often to get the big outs, especially in close run games. There's still some work to be done by the bullpen to determine the pecking order there as well including and beyond Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta, Scott Effross, and (Toms River native) Ron Marinaccio.
"You get a lead in a postseason game and you're the Yankees, if it's not Cole on the mound, Boone is going to be rushing to get to bullpen matchups that favor the Yankees as quickly as he can," Curry said.
The offense is obviously led by Aaron Judge whose numbers and chase for history speak for themselves. However, it's still important that he continues to adjust so that the Yankees can go far and this year, again, has been indicative of that.
It's been a special year nonetheless for #99.
"Just a staggering season for a very, very talented hitter who has gotten smarter as a hitter, who has gotten more disciplined as a hitter. You look back to his first full season (2017) when he had 52 home runs -- I think he chased more, he had a stupendous season, he hit over 50-home runs, but you watch him now and to me, he has improved in leaps and bounds as a hitter. He's not just a power hitter, as his batting average will attest," Curry said. "Aaron Boone discussed this earlier this year and I think that it has applied all season -- Judge has done a really good job of taking away the pitcher's best weapon, so if Pitcher-A thinks that the way he's going to get Judge out is by busting him inside with fastballs and try to get him to foul a bunch pitches off and then maybe get into a two-strike count and throw a slider away that's never meant to be a strike but looks like a strike and fades away from the zone -- Judge just isn't allowing that to happen."
Beyond Aaron Judge, there needs to be more consistency and production before and after his spot in the lineup down the stretch and certainly in October.
"We provide a lot of statistical information on YES, and I'd like to think that all of it is helpful. We had some numbers most recently when Giancarlo Stanton came back and I think it tells the story -- first and foremost, Stanton missed 28 games, the Yankees went 11-17 -- during those 28 games, Aaron Judge saw the highest percentage of breaking pitches of any hitter in Major League Baseball, so, they were not throwing him fastballs, they were not going to challenge him, they were going to try and make him hit their pitches. The other thing is that he (Judge) saw the third highest percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone," Curry said.
When the other guys in the lineup are not hitting, no pitcher will throw to Aaron Judge.
"They're going to spin some pitches that are going to be outside of the zone and they're going to hope that Judge bites, and if he doesn't bite, they're willing to walk him because there wasn't, as always, a looming presence behind him," Curry said. "(Anthony) Rizzo's had a nice power year, but, he's had his own peaks and valleys, so I do think that getting Stanton back in the mix -- not just because of who Stanton is during his at-bats but how Stanton impacts the rest of the lineup. I think that not only helps Judge, I think that helps their entire offense."
There are some keys to the Yankees finishing the job in the regular season winning the AL East and then securing home-field advantage for the playoffs, but, also what they need to do to win a World Series.
"The easy answer is you got to stay healthy, the other thing is that when they were winning at such a torrid pace earlier in the season -- this is going to sound like a cliché but there are clichés for a reason -- they were doing all of the little things right, they were running the bases better, they were playing excellent defense, they were getting solid starts from their starters, when Boone called a guy out of the 'pen he picked the right guy and he applied the right pitcher in what he likes to call the 'lanes that were available to that pitcher', so, I think it's a product of being more like they were at the beginning of the season, and, it's obviously getting hot at the right time," Curry said. "There are seasons where teams win 100 plus games in the regular season and then they're not the last team standing -- look at the Atlanta Braves last year, they got very hot at the right time -- that's the team you want to be, I know from covering (Derek) Jeter's entire career, on more than one occasion he would say 'it's not always the best team that wins in October, it's the best team that gets hot at the right time, so, I think that if you can make sure that you're peaking at the right time, that will help you out a lot."