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Homer or nothing? Yanks swinging for October

@MikeLupica
June 18, 2019

There is still nothing more fun than watching the Yankees be the Yankees and make the kind of splashy move they made this week for Edwin Encarnacion. In the season after they hit more home runs than any team ever had, the Yankees have added even more home runs, as

There is still nothing more fun than watching the Yankees be the Yankees and make the kind of splashy move they made this week for Edwin Encarnacion. In the season after they hit more home runs than any team ever had, the Yankees have added even more home runs, as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are about to return from the injured list. Just because the Yankees add more home runs doesn’t mean they aren’t going to add a starting pitcher -- or two -- before the July 31 Trade Deadline. They will add pitching -- maybe even star pitching. It’s what they do. They’re the Yankees. For now, they take another big swing with Encarnacion.

But if they are going to win their first World Series since 2009, as they try not to go through this entire decade without winning a World Series, they are going to do it with Murderers Row ’19, built around these four guys: Judge, Stanton, Encarnacion and Gary Sánchez. Sometimes you get the idea that the Yankees are going to keep doing it with their big swing-and-miss guys until they get it right. And who knows? Maybe this time they will get it right.

For now, almost six full weeks before the Trade Deadline, they add the guy -- Encarnacion -- with the most home runs this season in the American League, and wait to see what the market for starting pitchers is going to look like by July. Maybe in July they can even find a true ace, even in the age of relief pitchers, who can shut down teams in October’s most important games the way Justin Verlander did two years ago for the Astros, and the way David Price finally did for the Red Sox in October of 2018. The last time the Yankees had an October ace like that was in ’09, with CC Sabathia, the last time the Yankees won it all.

This is from the book “Inside the Empire,” written by Bob Klapisch and Paul Solotaroff, published earlier this year, an in-depth look at how the Yankees, and general manager Brian Cashman do business:

“But power at the expense of everything else is a trap they’ve set for themselves. This team’s so overleveraged on one-trick sluggers that it has no option when they swing and miss. These Yankees don’t win, not because they can’t run, but because they don’t even bother pretending to try. The bunt, the steal, the extra base taken -- all these are affronts to their self-conception. Never mind that the Core Four rosters won four rings by doing those things better than everyone else. The current Yankees have doubled down on their bet that the three-run homer conquers all.”

On the last page of the book’s epilogue, Cashman is quoted this way:

“I don’t want to be talking in some article 20 years from now about the Yankees team that broke the home run record but. … We play for one thing, and that’s to win in October. We had the opportunity this year [2018] but just … didn’t.”

Much has been made, and properly so, about how the Yankees are on their way to their 27th consecutive winning season, to the point where you sometimes get the idea that it is somehow the equivalent of the 27 World Series the team has won. And having all those winning seasons is an extraordinary accomplishment. But Cashman is right: They won’t sell winning records at Yankee Stadium. The sell winning the 11 games in October (12 if you’re a Wild Card team) that Reggie Jackson always talks about.

Starting in 2004, the Red Sox have won the World Series four times, with three different general managers. During that time the Yankees have made it to a single World Series, the one they won in 2009. We hear a lot about what a crapshoot the postseason is. And it is, no getting around it. But it was a crapshoot for the Giants in this decade, as they won the World Series three times. It’s been a crap shoot for the Red Sox. The Yankees came as close as they did in 2017, getting three games in a row off the Astros in the American League Championship Series, before they went back to Houston and scored a grand total of one run in Games 6 and 7, hitting no home runs. Last year they ran into the Red Sox in the first round and lost the last two games of that AL Division Series at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox beat them 16-1 in Game 3, then 4-3 in Game 4. The Yankees hit no home runs in either of those games.

So here the Yankees come again, having overachieved tremendously in a season when they’ve put 20 players on the injured list already, thanks to all the irregulars Cashman had ready to step in. Judge has played in just 20 games thus far. Stanton has played just three. Now they are ready to rejoin the season as Encarnacion joins the Yankees. The swing-miss Yankees get ready to swing for the fences as much as ever. Maybe this time they swing themselves all the way back to the end of October. Been awhile.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.