NEW YORK — With Tuesday’s Trade Deadline quickly approaching, the clock is ticking for the Yankees to make a big move that could ensure their best season since the turn of the century results in the type of postseason run they have not seen in more than a decade.
Less than 48 hours before the 6 p.m. ET cutoff, the team with the Majors’ best record (69-34) had not yet addressed its biggest hole: starting pitching. New York’s 8-6 loss to the Royals on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium illustrated as much, while also spotlighting two acquisitions from last year’s Deadline.
While left-hander Jordan Montgomery was chased in the fifth inning, first baseman Anthony Rizzo — who arrived from the Cubs on July 29, 2021 — smashed what was then a go-ahead three-run homer in the seventh. But the Yankees’ attempt to sweep the four-game series was halted in the ninth, when closer Clay Holmes — who came over from the Pirates three days prior to Rizzo — gave up a decisive three-run homer to Salvador Perez.
Though the Yanks struck early with Wednesday’s deal for outfielder Andrew Benintendi, here’s a look at how another reinforcement could change the club’s dynamic and how two already have.
1) Could help be on the way?
After lasting just 2 1/3 innings in his previous start against the Mets — his shortest outing of the season — Montgomery’s fortunes looked to be turning Sunday. He allowed only one hit in his first four frames, while striking out four consecutive batters.
But when he returned to the mound in the fifth, Montgomery walked the first two hitters he faced, and his start unraveled from there. A pair of singles and a double later and the Royals had taken a four-run lead, ending his afternoon.
With the southpaw’s recent struggles, paired with Luis Severino’s recovery process and Nestor Cortes’ workload management, the need for another starter has only intensified. While the Yankees missed out on their top target in Luis Castillo, the A’s Frankie Montas would be the next best option.
“If we’re able to do something, I’ll certainly be excited about it,” said manager Aaron Boone. “I’m sure it’s with an idea of making us better right now. But my focus is on who we have right now. We’ve been one of the best teams, if not the best team in the league, and we’ll continue to be that with whatever happens.”
2) Another weapon in the ‘pen
Given Aroldis Chapman’s struggles out of the bullpen, the emergence of Holmes and his earning of the closer role has provided much-needed stability to the Yankees’ relief corps. Entering Sunday afternoon, the bullpen had combined for 10 scoreless innings in the first three games against the Royals.
That run came to an end as Holmes allowed his first home run of the season to Perez on what has been his most reliable pitch. Perez took Holmes’ 98 mph sinker in the lower half of the zone and crushed it a Statcast-projected 441 feet to straightaway center.
It marked just the fifth appearance in which Holmes has allowed a run this season, and the second in which he has allowed multiple runs.
“Perez was able to elevate a sinker — you don’t see many righties do that against him, if ever.” Boone said. “So [Holmes] probably didn’t quite have the bite on the sink that he normally does, but a really good power hitter caught him. [It’s] one of those you’re not going to see very often.”
3) No such thing as too much of a good thing
At this time a year ago, the Yankees weren’t far removed from being a .500 ballclub, having endured the type of roller-coaster ride that made it unclear whether they would be in postseason contention. But the Bombers maintained that they would be buyers at the Trade Deadline, and they backed it up by dealing for a couple more sluggers in Rizzo and Joey Gallo.
The Yanks were down by one run in the seventh on Sunday when Rizzo clubbed a Statcast-projected 418-foot homer to right field, his 25th long ball of the season. Though it didn’t deliver the victory, it boosted the 32-year-old to 62 RBIs and an .852 OPS in 95 games this year.
Fifteen of Rizzo’s 33 homers as a Yankee have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead.
“There’s always places you can go to get incrementally better,” Boone said. “That being said, I feel like we’re a complete team. Whether it’s starters, relievers, defense, baserunning, power, whatever it may be, we’ve felt like those have all been overall a strength for us.
“And if we end up strengthening those a little bit more, great. If not, you got a job to do.”