Yankees Thoughts: A Relaxing, Enjoyable Summer Awaits

Yankees are running away with AL East for first time in a long time

The Yankees swept the Rays and their current winning streak is now at seven. They have won 14 of their last 15 games and have a 14-game home winning streak as well. It’s going to be a fun, relaxing, enjoyable summer as the Yankees are running away with the AL East.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. There might as well be some sort of symbol in the standings denoting the Rays have been eliminated from the division race. At 12 games out, like the Red Sox (who were never actually a threat) and Orioles (who never had a chance), the Rays are done in terms of winning the AL East.

The Yankees swept the Rays despite only scoring eight runs on 12 hits in the three games. They beat the Rays at their own brand of baseball, which uses elite pitching and timely hitting to scratch out wins. The Rays no longer own the Yankees. They can’t. Not since the Yankees went and created an enhanced version of the Rays.

2. On Tuesday, the Yankees won 2-0, scoring one run on an Isiah Kiner-Falefa single and the second run on a throwing error on that single. The inning in which those two runs happened was extended and made possible by an error.

On Wednesday, the Yankees had just three hits. One of them was an Aaron Judge solo home run and the other was a three-run home run from Kyle Higashioka.

On Thursday, the Yankees had only four hits. One was Anthony Rizzo’s single to tie the game and another was Rizzo’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth.

In recent years (the Aaron Boone era), the Yankees would have maybe won one of those games, and quite possibly would have been on the other end of the sweep. But now they have the starting pitching and bullpen to match the Rays that they don’t need to rely on their offense.

3. The Yankees are 47-16 and 31 games over .500 because of their starting pitching, the back end of their bullpen and Aaron Judge. What has made this team and this season special to date has been the ability of the other lineup members to have a big moment or a big game when Judge doesn’t.

“I think this team can do a lot of great things,” Nestor Cortes said after his latest great start on Wednesdat (5.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K). “The way we carry ourselves in here translates out there. Night in and night out, there’s always a different guy stepping up to the occasion.”

On Tuesday, it was Kiner-Falefa. On Wednesday, it was Higashioka. On Thursday, it was Rizzo. Jose Trevino has had his games. DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton have had theirs. Josh Donaldson and Gleyber Torres have been wildly inconsistent and they have still had their moments. The only two Yankees fans are really waiting on are Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo, and even they both his hit important game-tying home run with in the last two weeks. (That’s not to say the Yankees don’t need to upgrade their roster. They do.)

Even when things don’t go their way, like Luis Severino being scratched from his Thursday start due to illness, Clarke Schmidt steps in and gives the Yankees three scoreless innings. And they call up journeyman Ryan Weber, whose major-league career has been atrocious, and he gives them 3 2/3 innings of one-run ball. If this isn’t a special, magical season that ends with a championship, something will have gone terribly wrong along the way.

4. “It feels like Judge and [Giancarlo] Stanton are always just hitting them over the fence,” Higashioka said after his big home run on Wednesday (that I was in attendance for and told my wife he wouldn’t even put the ball in play prior to the home run). “But there’s some days where other people are going to have to step up. We have the kind of team where guys can do that.”

The pitching has remained the one constant through the first 39 percent of the season, but the timely hitting of the offense has played an important role. The Yankees don’t need to score five or six or seven runs to win games. It would make things easier if they did, but the Yankees’ magic number is 3. Score three runs and they will win, as they are 39-4 (.907 winning percentage) when they score at least three runs. Score three runs and it’s goodnight, game over.

5. I get on Boone for just about everything. Everything he does is bothersome because he’s not good at his job and undeserving of it. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with him as this is Year 1 of his new three-year deal, which also carries an option for a fourth year. Barring some disastrous collapse this season or next season, Boone is here to stay for a while. And I’m fine with him staying as long as it means a disastrous collapse doesn’t happen.

I want to like Boone. I want to not have to worry that come October, he’s not going to go to Ron Marinaccio in the seventh inning of a one-run game only to have him put two runners on and then go to Michael King, who could have just started the inning. I don’t want to have to worry about that. But I do. I also have to worry that he’ll bat Aaron Hicks leadoff in the postseason or start Higashioka over Trevino. I have to worry about these things because we have four seasons of decisions of his prior to 2022 that suggest come October he’s not suddenly going to understand basic logic. In an ideal world, every Yankees game would consist of the starting pitching going seven innings and then turning the ball over to King and then Clay Holmes, completely taking Boone out of the equation. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

6. Despite my dislike for Boone (the manager), I do like his postgame comments of late. He’s not celebrating minor victories or wins like he has in seasons past. He’s not getting ahead of himself by thinking that just because he wears the interlocking NY on his hat and jersey that he’s magically going to experience success.

“It’s an awesome number; an awesome record at this point,” Boone said this week. “But I also think we’re all very aware that we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got 100 of these left. This is just a drop in the bucket — it’s a good deposit.”

Every win is just a “drop in the bucket” until the Yankees have won their 11th game in the postseason. And they better only need 11 wins. They better win the division and receive a bye to the ALDS. Losing the division at this point would be horrific. Not finishing with the best record in the American League (of which they have an eight-game lead) would also be unacceptable. Not finishing with the best record in the majors (of which they have a six-game lead) would also be really, really bad.

7. The Yankees still need roster upgrades for the postseason. Their current record doesn’t change that. Because the Royals, Orioles, Cubs, Tigers and Angels won’t be an opponent in October. Every game the Yankees play in the AL postseason will likely come against either the Rays or Blue Jays or Astros, and at-bats and outs can’t be given away like they are now with the bottom of the Yankees order (mainly from two of their outfielders).

You can live with Kiner-Falefa in the 8- or 9-hole in October. He can’t be batting seventh (like he has been of late) come the playoffs. Not when he will either bat just ahead or behind whichever starting catcher Boone lets start that day. (If the Yankees are facing a lefty, you can bet the farm it will be Higashioka.) Either Hicks and/or Gallo will come around or they can’t be a part of the August, September and October plans.

Hicks and Gallo were both going to be given seemingly endless opportunities to figure it out not matter how the Yankees had performed until now, but given the Yankees’ success, record and lead, they are going to continue to play to see if they can turn it around. Each time it seems like it might be the game where they get going, it isn’t.

8. The same can be said for Donaldson. Because of his career success, and because the Yankees took on the entire $48 million owed to him between 2022 and 2023, he’s not going anywhere. But he desperately needs to get going. Donaldson has less (5) home runs than Matt Carpenter (6), who plays about once a week. He’s hitting an abysmal .232/.330/.387 given his name, reputation, past performance and salary. I don’t think anyone would have signed up for a .717 OPS from Donaldson through mid-June.

Like Hicks and Gallo, the Yankees’ historic start has allowed his underachieving to be passed over and rarely discussed. That’s what I’m here for.

Donaldson was one of the most feared hitters in the league against the Yankees for me before joining the Yankees. Now he’s a free-swinging, antsy hitter who seems to either strike out on three pitches or ground out to third. He’s become Kiner-Falefa when prior to the Yankees I knew his plate appearance would result in him hitting the ball hard, and I just hoped he hit it at a fielder.

9. I would move Judge to the leadoff spot for good. I want him getting the most at-bats possible, even if the difference between batting first or second over the course of a season is a minimal difference, it’s still a difference.

Give me this lineup 1 through 5:

Aaron Judge
Anthony Rizzo
Giancarlo Stanton
Josh Donaldson
DJ LeMahieu

10. The Yankees’ goal this weekend is to win one game in Toronto. Win one game, and you leave Toronto still up nine games on the Blue Jays with three head-to-head games taken off the schedule, leaving just seven between the two teams for the rest of the season.

The Blue Jays are barely hanging on to their division-winning dreams and a bad weekend against the best team in baseball will eliminate them as well. If the Yankees go to Toronto and take two of three or sweep the Blue Jays, well, you can put that same symbol used to denote the Rays’ elimination next to the Blue Jays in the standings.

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