The Yankees Are Even Better Than They Have Played

Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner

After the way the Yankees came back against the Indians and then took the Astros to Game 7 and then got rid of Chase Headley and traded for reigning MVP Giancarlo Stanton, this is what I thought the 2018 Yankees season would be like. When I left Rogers Centre after the second game of the season, that’s exactly what the 2018 season felt like. But then, after falling apart in Games 3 and 4 and then losing three of four at home to the should-have-started-rebuilding-last-year Orioles and then getting embarrassed in two out of three in Boston and then getting embarrassed at home by the Marlins, I thought this season might end up more like the 2013-2016 seasons and not the way the 2017 season ended.

But since the lowest point of the season on April 17, the Yankees have won 13 of 15, including a nine-game winning streak. They have gone 13-2 in a 21-game stretch I said would decide if I had a baseball season to watch this summer. I have a baseball season to watch thanks to this run.

Exactly two weeks ago, the Yankees lost to the Blue Jays, fell to 9-9 and trailed the Red Sox by 7 1/2 games. Now they are 21-10 and trail the Red Sox by 1 game. I haven’t seen a division lead dissolve that fast since the Yankees blew a seven-game lead after the 2015 trade deadline.

The scariest part about the Yankees is that they aren’t even as good as they can or will be. Yes, a team with a .677 winning percentage that just won three in a row on the road against the defending champions can be better than they have been. Here’s how that’s possible.

1. Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t been anywhere close to his 2017 NL MVP self. Aside from Opening Day in Toronto and Wednesday night in Houston, Stanton has been bad. Like painfully bad. Four of his seven home runs have come in those two games and he’s batting .234/.314/.468 on the season. Stanton has been hard on himself, as he should be given his salary, but he did say after he single-handedly beat Dallas Keuchel that he needs to put together weeks of production, not just one night. Stanton is known as a slow starter, and if you think back to 2009 when Mark Teixeira, another slow starter, was batting .194/.315/.287 with three home runs and 11 RBIs through 31 games before going on a tear and finishing second in the AL MVP voting then there is promise that Stanton will get hot, and maybe Wednesday was the start of it. To think, this team is 21-10 without the reigning NL MVP playing anywhere near his abilities …

2. Gary Sanchez was basically an automatic out for the first two weeks of the season, or the equivalent of about one-third of the games the Yankees have played so far. Sanchez started the year 2-for-36 before becoming his usual self on April 11 in Boston. Since that night, Sanchez is batting .278 with a 1.040 OPS, seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 19 games. To think, this team is 21-10 despite the best catcher in baseball being non-existent for one-third of the season …

3. We’re getting very close to having a real conversation about Brett Gardner not batting leadoff anymore. I’m ready to have that conversation now, but any decision like that, especially with the Yankees, takes a long, long time to take place and for change to come. We’re talking about a team that played Stephen Drew at second base for an entire season despite not hitting his weight, and then finally deciding to bench him in a one-game playoff. Gardner is batting .194/.315/.250, hasn’t had an extra-base hit since April 13 and his lone home run came on Opening Day. He might be the longest-tenured Yankee and a veteran leader and a Gold Glove left fielder, but at some point you can’t give him the most possible amount of at-bats on this team. If Gardner were hitting .204, but still had a high on-base percentage then OK, but even that has has slowly faded to .315. Gardner seems to be safe for now since the team is winning, but if things get back to the way they were for the first half of April, the topic of him batting leadoff will grow in popularity. To think, this team is 21-10 with their leadoff hitter having a lower on-base percentage than Austin Romine …

4. If Neil Walker’s first name weren’t Neil, I would be much harder on him. How much harder? Well, he would basically be getting the Chase Headley treatment. But because Walker has the best first name in baseball, I take it easy on him. The rest of the Yankees fans seem to be picking up my slack and destroying him left and right, and deservedly so. Walker is batting .171/.233/.195 this season. Those are numbers of a backup catcher, who is only in the majors because the two catchers ahead of him on the minor-league depth chart got hurt at the same time as the actual backup catcher in the majors. Those aren’t numbers of a career .270/.339/.431 hitter making $4 million this season. At that price, Walker was supposed to be the steal of the offseason. Instead, it’s making a lot more sense as to why he was still available so late in the offseason. Roster spots are going to be hard to come by soon with Greg Bird starting to take at-bats, Miguel Andujar raking, Tyler Austin playing well and Brandon Drury on his way back. If Walker doesn’t start hitting soon, he will be this year’s Chris Carter. To think, this team is 21-10 with 90 plate appearances going to a player who isn’t hitting or slugging his weight (210) …

5. Sonny Gray getting a personal catcher is a ridiculous story for another day, but Gray being bad is the story right now. The Yankees’ only two losses in the last 15 games were both Gray starts as he has pitched to a 6.67 ERA and 1.926 WHIP this season. The Yankees are 2-4 in his starts and 19-6 in their other games. It was nice to see Gray pitch well in Houston this week (6 IP, 2 ER), and maybe that start was what he needed to become the pitcher he was for the Yankees last season (3.72 ERA) or the pitcher he was for A’s from 2013 until he became a Yankee (3.42 ERA). To think, this team is 21-10 with their No. 3 starter not lasting more than 4 2/3 innings in four of six starts …

6. Last season, Greg Bird was the team’s No. 3 hitter on Opening Day. Then he missed nearly the entire regular season before returning as a force in the postseason. This season, it would have been Bird, not Didi Gregorius as the left-handed hitter between the Big Three in the heart of the order, except he hasn’t even played yet. Aaron Judge has called Bird the team’s best hitter, which means the Yankees have gotten off to this start without possibly the team’s best hitter. To think, this team is 21-10 with their everyday first baseman having played zero games …

6. For as good as the bullpen has been of late, it was that bad early on. Well, it was that bad and Aaron Boone managed it in a way that made it worse. (How was Jonathan Holder allowed to ruin two of the team’s first eight games?) Before this run, when the team was 9-9, five of those losses were charged to the bullpen. What was the supposed to be the team’s strength, even more than their offense and the best in baseball, was bad and no one was excused. Holder was flat-out awful; Tommy Kahnle was bad before getting hurt; Chasen Shreve let every inherited runner score; Adam Warren looked the way he did on the Cubs; Chad Green was suddenly no longer unhittable; David Robertson couldn’t complete his famous escape acts; Aroldis Chapman couldn’t find the strike zone at times. Thankfully, the bullpen has become what was expected of it and now when the Yankees have a lead and the bullpen door opens, the game is over. To think, this team is 21-10 even though the bullpen couldn’t be trusted for three weeks …

7. The injury bug hasn’t been as bad as it has been for the Dodgers, but the Yankees have already used 17 position players and 17 pitchers this season. The injuries have forced Shane Robinson and Jace Peterson to not only be Yankees, but to start games for the Yankees, and for the team to trade for A.J. Cole off the Nationals’ scrap heap. Aaron Hicks and CC Sabathia have both been on the disabled list, Jordan Montgomery, Adam Warren, Tommy Kahnle, Luis Cessa, Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney are on it now and Greg Bird, Clint Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury (who cares?) haven’t played this season because of injury. To think, this team is 21-10 with so many injuries in just one month …

The 2018 Yankees have finally become the team I envisioned they could be in the offseason and the team I watched them be in Toronto in the first two games of the season. This is going to be one fun summer.

Comments