Back on May 4, I wrote The Yankees Are Even Better Than They Have Played. Back then, the Yankees were 22-10. Here I am today, writing once again how the Yankees are even better than they have played. Yes, the Yankees and their Major League-best 42-19 record are better than they have played.
The eight reasons why the Yankees were actually better than they had played I gave nearly six weeks ago were:
1. Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t been anywhere close to his 2017 NL MVP self.
2. Gary Sanchez was basically an automatic out for the first two weeks of the season.
3. Brett Gardner continuing to bat leadoff despite having a lower on-base percentage than Austin Romine.
4. Neil Walker getting regular playing time even though he is batting .171/.233/.195.
5. Sonny Gray being bad and not lasting more than 4 2/3 innings in four of six starts.
6. Greg Bird playing zero games so far.
7. The bullpen being untrustworthy for three weeks.
8. The injury bug running through the Yankees.
A few of those reasons are still reasons, while most of them have been fixed. But yes, a team with a .689 winning percentage that is on a 33-10 run 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. Yes, that was a problem in the May 4 edition and it’s still a problem now. Stanton is batting .244/.322/.487 with 15 home runs and 34 RBIs. Those aren’t the numbers I expected from the reigning NL MVP through 38 percent of the season. Stanton is on pace to finish the season with 40 home runs and 90 RBIs, which is a far cry from his 59 and 132 last season. Sure, there is an adjustment period for a new player on a new team in a new league facing new pitchers, but Stanton has been a huge disappointment for the most part this season. Everyone keeps saying “wait until he gets hot”, and now hat the weather is finally going to be warm consistently and he is growing accustomed to the pitchers in the AL, maybe the hot streak we are all waiting for is coming soon. But back on May 4, I thought the his two home run game against Dallas Keuchel and the Astros was the start of a hot streak and since then he has hit .248/.328/.496 with eight home runs and 15 RBIs in 134 plate appearances. To think, this team is 42-19 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 had played when I wrote the May 4 edition. Not much has changed for the Yankees catcher. He has had his share of big moments like his game against David Price in Boston or his walk-off against Fernando Rodney or his three-run home run that led to Ken Giles punching himself in the face. But for the most part, Sanchez has continued to be an automatic out, and it’s not just bad luck like when he lined into a double play to end Sunday night’s loss to the Mets. It’s his approach at the plate, which continues to look lazy and undisciplined as he swings at every breaking ball low and away as if he hasn’t changed anything since he was exposed in the postseason. I have a hard time believing that Sanchez, who hit .283/.353/.567 with 53 home runs and 132 RBIs in his first 177 games in the majors, is now a .190/.291/.430 hitter. The Gary Sanchez we saw in 2016 and 2017 and against Corey Kluber and the Astros bullpen and at times this year is in there. Sanchez just needs to make the adjustments to find him. To think, this team is 49-12 despite the best catcher in baseball being non-existent for more than one-third of the season …
3. The last holdover from the May 4 edition is the injury bug. Earlier in the season, injuries forced Shane Robinson and Jace Peterson to not only be Yankees, but to start games for the Yankees. It sent Aaron Hicks and CC Sabathia, Jordan Montgomery, Adam Warren, Tommy Kahnle, Luis Cessa, Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney to the disabled list, and it prevented Greg Bird from opening the season with the team and Clint Frazier from being called up before any other outfielder. (It has also supposedly kept us from watching Jacoby Ellsbury play for the 2018 Yankees, so it hasn’t all been bad.) Every team has injuries, and thankfully, the Yankees have had the depth to cover up their injuries, but that depth is growing thin. Now that Montgomery has undergone Tommy John surgery and won’t be available until the second half of next season at the earliest and Masahiro Tanaka incredibly strained both of his hamstrings running the bases to go on the disabled list, the Yankees are in desperate need of starting pitching. Domingo German went from being day-to-day on having a rotation spot to being the No. 4 starter, leaving the Yankees with limited Major League-ready starting pitching options. To think, this team is 42-19 with so many injuries …
4. In the May 4 edition, I cited Greg Bird not yet playing as a reason the Yankees were better than they had played. But now it’s not about Bird playing, it’s about the way he is being used. Actually, it’s about the lineup as a whole. Since May 4, Brett Gardner has become Brett Gardner again, hitting .333/.408/.552, so his leadoff spot I questioned back then is no longer in jeopardy. Aaron Judge should continue to bat second because he has been the best hitter on the team for the second straight season. And now here’s where things need to change. Bird hasn’t done anything to prove he should bat third. Yes, he was good as a rookie back in 2015, and he was good at the end of last season and in the postseason. But Bird did miss all of 2016, nearly all of 2017 and the first two months of 2018, and since he has returned, he has hit .191/.255/.426. Maybe he is the best hitter on the team when he’s healthy like Judge has said, but right now he isn’t and it shouldn’t matter that he bats left-handed, he shouldn’t bat third. Put Stanton third and Sanchez fourth. Let the three big bats of Judge, Stanton and Sanchez bat 3-4-5. Give those three more than a game here and there to bat consecutively in the lineup. And stop batting Gleyber Torres ninth. And certainly stop batting him ninth AND HAVING A PITCHER BAT IN FRONT OF HIM. The kid is hitting .297/.356/.559 with 11 home runs in 42 games. To think, this team is 42-19 with the lineup being poorly constructed …
5. Speaking of the lineup, how is Aaron Hicks always batting sixth, and when Gardner gets a day off, how is Hicks batting first? Let me make this clear: Aaron Hicks isn’t good. I don’t know how many times I can say that and I’m running out of ways to say it. He’s a 28-year-old career .233/.318/.378 hitter, who is treated like he’s Bernie Williams. If the Yankees don’t want to let Gardner play center regularly and have Frazier play left then OK, let Hicks be your center fielder. But treat him like the light-hitting, no-power center fielder he is. He should be the one batting ninth every game and not Torres. I can’t believe Torres and Miguel Andujar continue to bat below Hicks in the lineup. To think, this team is 42-19 with Aaron Hicks being treated like he has more than four non-inside-the-park home runs this season …
The Yankees are already the best team in baseball. What are they going to be if their best players start playing to their career numbers and their lineup starts logically getting built? I want to find out.