The 2010s was their first decade without a pennant since the 1910s. By giving Cole a record nine year $324-million contract this winter, the Yankees believed they secured the missing piece to put them over the top.
Two of the Yankees’ past three playoff exits were in the A.L.C.S. and at the hands of the Houston Astros, who admitted to cheating during their 2017 World Series winning season and were punished. Despite a 27-26 record through Sunday, the Astros are poised to reach the playoffs again.
To reach the postseason themselves this year, the Yankees overcame 15 players spending time on the injured list, including standouts such as Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, D.J. LeMahieu, James Paxton and Tommy Kahnle. During a regular 162-game campaign last year, the Yankees set a major league record by sending 30 different players to the I.L.
While the Yankees prevailed over their many ailments in 2019 because of their depth and unheralded stars, it was more of a struggle this year. They endured slumps and inconsistencies throughout the roster, from catcher Gary Sanchez to outfielder Brett Gardner.
Their lineup, powerful and healthy once again, has been carried most of the season by first baseman Luke Voit (who led the majors with 21 home runs through Sunday) and LeMahieu (who led the majors with a .361 average through Sunday), with help from outfielder Clint Frazier and third baseman Gio Urshela.
Led by Zack Britton and Chad Green, the Yankees’ pitching strength of recent years, their bullpen, has remained stout. But their improved starting rotation — anchored by Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and Cole — may benefit them in October since there are no longer days off during the first three rounds.
Before Sunday’s game, Yankees reliever Adam Ottavino said the team had not discussed how they would celebrate clinching a playoff berth. (During normal years, teams usually do so with Champagne and beer celebrations in the clubhouse.)
“I don’t even know if we will,” he said. “I think we’ll acknowledge it, but for us, we’ve been thinking about this as, ‘Just get your foot in the door and go from there.’”