As Yankees hit .500, what reasons are there to continue watching the rest of the season?


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ATLANTA — Luis Severino only gave up three earned runs in four innings and it was the lone positive — if we’re calling it that — of Tuesday’s 5-0 Yankees loss against the Atlanta Braves. His ERA is now below 8 on the season. After the game, both New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone and Severino were encouraged with the outing.

“We saw some swing and miss and that’s something we haven’t seen lately,” Boone said. “He had stuff tonight. You could tell he was having his way a lot of the night which was good to see.

“I thought it’s as good of stuff that I’ve seen, meaning the life was there. It just felt more conviction. I think he felt like he was building a little momentum there and then (Ronald) Acuña catches him there to kind of end the outing. Not a good line, but I think that was a much better Sevy than what we’ve seen.”

Even with Severino at his best of late, it didn’t matter because the Yankees’ offense no-showed. They had one hit, a single by DJ LeMahieu in the second inning. They finished with more errors (two) than hits. They had quadruple the amount of double plays than hits. With the loss, the Yankees are 60-60 and 6 1/2 games out of the third wild card spot. FanGraphs estimates a 3.3 percent chance of the Yankees making the playoffs.

This is the latest in the season the Yankees have been .500 or worse since September 1995. Reasons to watch this team for the rest of the season are beginning to fade, and, truthfully, there aren’t many to begin with. But let’s run through what fans can look forward to for the rest of the season.

The world famous chicken parmesan dinner on June 12 with former minor league teammate and one of his closest friends, Austin Wells, is a critical inflection point in Anthony Volpe’s rookie season. Before the two poured through old tape over an Italian feast, Volpe was one of the worst hitters in the sport. He hit .186/.260/.345 with a 66 wRC+ and there was lots of chatter on whether or not he should be sent down to Triple A to continue developing rather than looking lost in the big leagues. But since the dinner, Volpe has been one of the lone positives of this team. He entered Tuesday’s game hitting .251/.337/.455 with a 119 wRC+, providing hope that his new closed batting stance could lead to him turning into a positive on both sides of the field. Most encouragingly, he’s striking out less often with the new stance and walking more. The ideal version of Volpe is likely a hitter who is a high on-base percentage player who works counts before being a menace on the base paths.

Defensively, Volpe has been a positive. His 81 percent success rate leads all shortstops. That means on balls Volpe gets to, it leads to an out more often than any other shortstop in the league. His 3 outs above average is slightly above average, which means he’s not the rangiest of shortstops. But, it’s at least encouraging how he’s been a net positive at shortstop, even with him not having the strongest arm. If the Yankees do move on from Gleyber Torres, a Volpe-Oswald Peraza middle infield does have the potential to be one of the better defensive combos.

In a lost season like this one, Volpe’s continued improvement at the plate is arguably the most important storyline for the future of this team.

What do the rookies have? 

If things continue progressing the way they have, the Yankees should prioritize playing their younger prospects. Randy Vásquez and Jhony Brito are already in the mix as starters, but instead of using an opener for them, just let them work as traditional starters. Both of them may factor into the equation next season with Severino and Frankie Montas becoming free agents and Domingo Germán likely done with the organization. As of now, the Yankees will have Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón and Clarke Schmidt in their rotation. Nestor Cortes will be back, but it remains to be seen how he’ll recover from his latest rotator cuff strain and if he’ll be able to avoid shoulder surgery. If Cortes is able to avoid surgery, the Yankees will still have a spot open in their rotation. They might as well fully unleash Vásquez and Brito to see if either can lock down the fifth starter spot. Both of them have shown encouraging glimpses of their potential.

Outside of Vásquez and Brito, Clayton Beeter, Will Warren and Mitch Spence could see some time at some point. Those three aren’t on the 40-man roster so moves would have to be made, but they could designate Albert Abreu, who will be a free agent this offseason, for assignment. They could do the same with Wandy Peralta, another free agent.

On the position player side, calling up Oswald Peraza, Everson Pereira and Austin Wells should be a consideration. Giving Peraza everyday playing time at third or second should be the biggest priority for the organization. He’s someone who could be on the Opening Day roster next season and they need to see if he can develop into a quality hitter. Pereira has put up monster numbers in Double A and Triple A this season and could also be in the Opening Day mix. Designating Billy McKinney, Greg Allen or Jake Bauers for assignment is an easy move the Yankees can make to clear room for him. Wells’ left-handed bat could provide some balance to the lineup, and they need to see how well he can hold up defensively behind the plate. If he’s adequate, the Yankees could move on from Kyle Higashioka in the offseason to make room for Wells.

Frankly, if the deficit gets to a point where there’s realistically no hope for the playoffs, the Yankees need to go all in on the youth movement for the rest of the year.

Gerrit Cole’s chase for a Cy Young 

This isn’t an everyday reason to watch the Yankees but every fifth day, fans get to see one of the best pitchers of his generation go to work. Cole has been brilliant this season and should be considered the frontrunner for the American League Cy Young Award.

Cole has finished inside the top five in voting five times in his career. If he continues dominating the way he has, this could be the first year he cements his legacy as one of the greatest pitchers of his era. For all of the talk last season surrounding Cole’s worth to the Yankees after giving up 33 home runs, he’s completely shut down that narrative and has shown he’s been worth every penny the Yankees spent to land him. It’s unfortunate that the offense will have wasted one of the best single-season pitching performances in the team’s history.

Morbid curiosity

The Yankees haven’t finished a season below .500 since 1992, when the author of this piece was just four months old. The Yankees are a bad team and there aren’t any signs of that turning around by season’s end. There’s a better chance of the Yankees finishing below .500 than making the playoffs at this point.

The 1992 Yankees finished with 76 wins. To tie that mark, the Yankees would have to finish 16-26 the rest of the way, which is certainly possible with how they’ve played. They were a season-best 11 games over .500 on June 4. Since then, they’re 24-35. The Yankees would have to totally bottom out to have a worse team than the ’92 Yankees but would anyone be surprised if that happens?

If the Yankees finish under .500 — or even just in last place in the American League East — owner Hal Steinbrenner will have to consider drastic changes to both management and the front office.

(Top photo of Anthony Volpe: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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