Struggling Yankees ready to put last-stretch swoon behind them

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
Yankees second baseman and 2020 AL Batting Champion DJ LeMahieu. (Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)

The New York Yankees couldn’t be heading into the postseason in a more unimpressive fashion — which only adds to the air of uncertainty that 2020 has brought.

They lost six of their final eight games, including a three-game sweep to finish the regular season at the hands the Miami Marlins.

Luckily for them, the Toronto Blue Jays lost their season finale to the Baltimore Orioles, ensuring the Yankees would keep their No. 5 seed in the American League rather than sinking to the No. 7 seed.

It’s hardly the place anyone expected the Yankees to be at the start of Major League Baseball’s 60-game season, as many tabbed them to reel off 40-plus wins and take the American League East division crown with ease.

Instead, inconsistencies, injuries, and an inability to win on the road (22-9 at home, 11-18 on the road) relegated the Yankees to a lower seed in the American League, forcing them to play the entirety of their Wild Card series on the road in Cleveland against the No. 4 Indians.

Regardless of their late-season swoon to add some extra anxiety to the Bronx faithful, the Yankees remain adamant that they’re still a team to beat.

“I think we have the best team in the league still,” second baseman DJ LeMahieu said. “We’re definitely the most talented.”

That talent has been MIA as of late. The Yankees have been held to three or fewer runs in five of their final eight games while their pitching yielded an average of 6.6 runs per game.

That included a team OPS of .684 with just three home runs and 51 strikeouts in 234 at-bats.

“When you have high expectations, you go through the frustration of a down time,” manager Aaron Boone said. “But I think we’re a group that, even in the worst of times, never lost confidence and never lost that expectation. Not just as a group, but to a man. We know what we’re capable of. We’ve just got to go out and do it.”

“We’ve had a lot of ups and a lot of downs this year,” LeMahieu added. “It’s been kind of a roller coaster.”

The margin for error, now, is depleted from slim in the final week of the season to none in the best-of-three Wild Card series against a pitching-affluent Indians club.

For veteran Brett Gardner, who came alive down the stretch, it’s time to lean on their best players, including the now-healthy Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

“We haven’t, in my opinion, played up to our ability recently,” he said. “But I think that for the most part we’ve got the majority of guys healthy and on the field and we’ve got some big guys back in the lineup at the right time and hopefully, starting Tuesday, go on a roll.”

“I’ve said before, it’s not always the best team that wins the World Series. It’s the team that plays the best in October. Hopefully, that’s going to be us, and obviously, we’ve played some baseball here recently that we’d like to forget.”