Thursday had a well-known feeling for the Yankees in a frustrating second half of the season: one step forward and one other one back. Nestor Cortes, an All-Star starting pitcher for his stellar first half, was reinstated from the 15-day injured list and was scheduled to start out against the Minnesota Twins. Nursing a strained groin muscle, Cortes had missed two and a half weeks of games.
However the return got here with an accompanying setback as D.J. LeMahieu, the versatile infielder who had been struggling on the plate, was placed on the I.L. with inflammation in his right second toe. The injury, which got here because the team’s massive division lead has been slowly crumbling, has undermined LeMahieu for a while. He had not played since Sunday and he had hit .187 with one home run in 27 games in August and September. He tried to administer the injury with some rest, but to no avail.
LeMahieu became the fifteenth Yankee on the I.L. — and that’s regardless of the recent returns of the All-Star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton (Achilles tendinitis), the All-Star closer Clay Holmes (back spasms) and Cortes. The injured Yankees alone could make up most of a complete squad. They include starter Luis Severino; infielders Anthony Rizzo and Matt Carpenter; outfielders Harrison Bader and Andrew Benintendi; and the relievers Zack Britton, Chad Green, Michael King and Aroldis Chapman.
A few of those players have been out for all or many of the season (Britton and Green). Several joined the I.L. prior to now two weeks (Chapman, with an infected wound stemming from a tattoo; Benintendi, with a broken hamate bone in his right wrist; Rizzo, with headaches related to an epidural injection for his balky back).
Thankfully for the Yankees, who had 25 regular-season games remaining entering Thursday, a few of those key players are working their way back to the sphere. Severino and Britton have been pitching within the minor leagues as they hope to return this month. (Bader might make his Yankees’ debut by then, too.) But it surely is difficult not to check the state of the Yankees now to their first half, when every thing appeared to go right they usually were, at one point, on pace to match a significant league record for wins within the regular season.
On July 8, the Yankees held a 15½-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays within the American League East. Since then, they’d gone 22-31 entering Thursday’s game. Their margin over the Rays fell to 4 games on Saturday. 4 straight wins since, including three against the Twins, improved their result in five games. With three more games left against the Rays this season, starting Friday, the Yankees are still in prime position to say their first division crown since 2019. But what’s going to their health seem like come the playoffs?
When healthy, LeMahieu, 34, is a steadying force within the Yankees’ lineup. It’s what earned him a six-year, $90 million contract with the Yankees before the 2021 season.
But he has been compromised by injuries the past two seasons. After hitting .336 with 36 home runs in 2019 and 2020, his first two years with the Yankees — the 2020 season was shortened to 60 games due to the pandemic — LeMahieu has hit .265 with 22 home runs since. And maybe it’s no coincidence that the Yankees’ offense — excluding the star outfielder Aaron Judge — has struggled of late, too.