DJ claims historic batting title; NY is 5 seed
NEW YORK -- It was a campaign that manager Aaron Boone described as “heavy” in many respects, producing substantial individual hardware as DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit reached the finish line of the 60-game sprint as the respective Major League leaders in batting average and home runs.
Now LeMahieu, Voit and their teammates have an opportunity to chase greater honors in their most important challenges of the year. The Yankees concluded the regular season with a 5-0 loss to the Marlins on Sunday afternoon, the final game this year at Yankee Stadium.
“I think we have the best team in the league still,” LeMahieu said. “We’re definitely the most talented. I don't know why [the season] was so up and down; I'll chalk it up to 2020. I know that in the playoffs, we're going to be extremely focused and ready to go.”
The Yankees (33-27) finished with the American League’s No. 5 seed and will face the Indians in the Wild Card Series. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that his team will fly to Cleveland on Sunday evening and plans to work out on Monday at Progressive Field, preparing for Tuesday’s series opener.
“Our guys know what we’re capable of, and opportunity knocks right now,” Boone said. “We hold the bat, we hold the ball, we hold the pen. We can write the story. We don’t need anyone’s help and that’s exciting, especially when you’re walking in with the group of guys that we have.”
LeMahieu went 2-for-3 with a walk, finishing with a Major League-best .364 batting average. The 2016 National League batting champ (.348) while with the Rockies, LeMahieu is the first player to win undisputed batting titles in both the American and National Leagues.
The 32-year-old is the first Yankee to pace the Majors in hitting since Mickey Mantle in 1956 (.353), and the first Bomber to lead the AL since Bernie Williams in 1998 (.339). LeMahieu signed a two-year, $24 million deal with New York prior to the 2019 season and is eligible for free agency this offseason.
“I want to stay here; I've said that a few times,” LeMahieu said. “But you never know how it goes. I thought I was going to stay in Colorado and I didn't.”
Voit completed the season with a career-high 22 home runs, becoming the eighth Yankee to lead the Majors and the first since Alex Rodriguez in 2007. LeMahieu and Voit are the first teammates to lead the Majors in average and homers since Hank Aaron (.355) and Eddie Mathews (46 homers) of the 1959 Braves.
“They’ve been the rocks in our lineup,” Boone said. “I think both guys are worthy of MVP consideration. We’re not getting on a plane and going to the playoffs without the performances of those two guys.”
Marlins starter José Ureña sustained a fractured right forearm when he was hit by LeMahieu’s 104 mph line drive in the third inning. Daniel Castano earned his first big league win out of Miami’s bullpen, hurling 6 1/3 scoreless frames. Brian Anderson and Jazz Chisholm homered to help the Marlins pull away.
Start me up
Clarke Schmidt made his first Major League start, permitting three runs over four innings. Boone has said that Schmidt will be considered for inclusion on the playoff roster.
“I think that I’m capable of getting outs,” Schmidt said. “If my number is called, I'll be ready for sure. I felt like my stuff was really good today. Hopefully, there's a few more outings in me before we call it quits.”
Chisholm stroked a two-run double and Corey Dickerson had a run-scoring hit off the 24-year-old Schmidt, who is rated as the Yanks’ top pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline. Schmidt also hit a batter, drilling Starling Marte in the helmet with a second-inning fastball.
“You see the stuff and you see why we’re excited about him,” Boone said. “The next step for him is finding that command and control and being able to harness the stuff. There’s so much movement on all of his pitches.”
End of the Gardy party?
Brett Gardner stroked three hits, and the longest-tenured Yankee wondered if it was his final time wearing pinstripes on the big diamond in the Bronx.
“It crossed my mind,” Gardner said. “I’m not too emotional of a guy. I want to and expect to be back next year. After the postseason is over, we’ll worry about that. I tried to take things in a little bit, but it’s so much different without the fans out there.”
The 37-year-old Gardner batted .223/.354/.392 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 49 games. He is expected to serve in a part-time outfield role throughout the postseason.
“I’m going to prepare like I’m going to be back here next year, but who knows?” Gardner said. “I’ll just enjoy these last couple of months. I’m excited about this opportunity that’s ahead of us.”