Yankees Thoughts: Baseball Is Fun (Right Now)

After sweeping the Tigers and winning series against the Astros and Rays, the Yankees swept the Twins over the last three days. Winners of 10 of their last 12, the Yankees sit atop the American League.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. After beating up on the Tigers and Astros at home last week, the Yankees took care of business at Tropicana Field over the weekend with yours truly in attendance for the Sunday series finale. Winners of seven of their last nine, the Yankees put their recent run on the line against the hottest team in baseball over the last three-plus weeks and didn’t disappoint.

On Tuesday night in the series opener against the Twins, when Ryan Jeffers greeted Carlos Rodon with a leadoff home run to immediately put the Yankees in a one-run hole, I thought Here we go again! But after Jeffers crossed home plate at the end of his home run trot no other Twin crossed the plate for the remainder of the series. The Yankees went on to sweep the Twins, outscoring their 23-year-old doormat 14-1.

2. Rodon gave them a nice performance on Tuesday (6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 1 HR) and Marcus Stroman turned in his best start in five weeks on Wednesday (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 K), but the star of the rotation in Minnesota was Clarke Schmidt, who put together the best outing of his career on Thursday: 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K.

“I’ve learned so much on the mental side of this game, how to navigate lineups and how to manage an outing throughout the past year and a half,” Schmidt said. “So it’s been really good to see that progression and continue to put some work in.”

Nine times through the rotation now and Schmidt leads Yankees starters in wins (5), ERA (2.49), FIP (3.41), strikeouts (55) and is second in innings pitched (50.2). The rotation has been so good that Nestor Cortes has the worst ERA of the group, and it’s not even bad at 4.02.

3. “His pitches are taking that next step all around,” Austin Wells said of Schmidt. “I think that’s just given him so many options to attack different hitters and different lineups.”

In the past Schmidt has had immense trouble with left-handed hitters and going through a lineup a third time. He overcame his lefty issues and of late he is having success going through lineups that vaunted third time. He has been the Yankees’ best and most consistent starter through more than a quarter of the season, and is as big of a reason as any for the Yankees sitting atop the American League.

4. Aside from winning (which is always the most important thing even if the organization forgets that at times), since the start of the Tigers series, Aaron Judge has returned to being Aaron Judge. Over the last 12 games, he’s hitting an absurd .452/.566/1.024 with nine doubles, five home runs, 11 RBIs, 10 walks and just eight strikeouts. Every ball Judge has to put into play for nearly two weeks seems to either go over the fence, hit it or bounce up against it.

“I’ve seen him obviously do a lot of great things the last six, seven years,” Aaron Boone said, “this trip alone … just seeing it and not missing when they do make a pitch to him.”

With Judge getting hot, Juan Soto has cooled off and is experiencing his first slump as a Yankee. Soto is hitting .111/.219/.148 over the last seven games. Soto carried the Yankees for the first six weeks of the season and Judge has carried them for the last two. One day they will both be at their best at the same. One day.

5. Even with the recent one-week slump, Soto is still hitting .302/.403/.517 on the season, which is a reminder of how great he has been in his first seven-plus weeks as a Yankee. Hal Steinbrenner told Jack Curry what every Yankees fan expects and that’s for Soto to be a Yankee “for the rest of his career.”

“I think it’s worth doing at some point,” Steinbrenner said of discussing an in-season extension. “I wanted to give Juan time to really settle in, have a conversation with him at some point.”

Oh, you think it’s worth talking to Soto and Scott Boras at some point about a contract extension before the best hitter on the planet reaches free agency at age 25 and every team has a chance to sign him? Good to know, Hal!

“They know the phone number and everything,” Soto said when asked about negotiating in season. “They know where to call.”

“We all know he’s generational, right?” Steinbrenner said.

Yes, we all know that, Hal.

“He’s the complete package. I had no doubts he would perform here under pressure; zero doubts with that … He’s fun to watch.”

6. As I have written many times since Soto became a Yankee, if he isn’t a Yankee for 2025 and beyond, it may be time to walk away from the team and the game. If the team that possesses more financial resources than any other and generates more revenue than any other isn’t going to do whatever it takes to sign a 25-year-old Soto then who will they do whatever it takes for?

To think about where the team would be without Soto when Judge was struggling through the first five-plus weeks of the season is scary. Without Soto, the 2024 Yankees are the second-half 2022 Yankees and 2023 Yankees. Without Soto in 2025, they will revert back to that.

7. Soto’s presence makes it so that Judge doesn’t have to be the offense, when you can’t count on for Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo for health reasons, or Gleyber Torres for consistency reasons. Torres only had one hit in the three games in Tampa, but it was a big one: a three-run home run to extend the Yankees lead after Boone and his bullpen nearly blew a six-run lead. Torres then went on pick up a pair of multi-hit games in Minnesota, going 5-for-12 in the series with two doubles. His slash line is still an embarrassing .223/.301/.295 with his OPS sub-.600 at .596, but he needs to start somewhere and maybe that three-run home run on Sunday at the Trop was that somewhere.

“It’s really good to see Gleyber starting to swing like we all know’s he’s capable of,” Boone said, “because he all of a sudden gets it going like that, then we got that real length going in our lineup.”

8. After struggling for a month, Anthony Volpe has gotten hot again as well, hitting .361/.385./.611 over the last eight games. With Judge being in an impossible out, Volpe and Torres getting hot and Jose Trevino hitting like Jorge Posada, Soto has been able to slump and Rizzo and Stanton have been able to remain unreliable without the team racking up losses. This is how a lineup is supposed to work. It’s been so long since the Yankees weren’t reliant on one batter to carry them that I forgot how a real lineup worked.

9. Am I going to harp on Boone’s mismanagement of the bullpen in the first game of the Brewers series back on April 19 all season? Why yes I am. Boone cost the Yankees a win by not going to Clay Holmes in that game, and since, Holmes has appeared in five games in the last 20 days and was only needed in a save situation in four of those games. Holmes has thrown six pitches in the last week and just five innings in May. This should serve as a reminder to Boone and all that you should worry about the game at hand and not about some potential scenario that may never play out. The Baseball Gods don’t like that.

10. Baseball is fun when your team is hitting home runs, getting timely hits and getting the kind of pitching the Yankees are. It likely won’t last forever since it rarely does (outside of 1998), but when things are going right it sure is fun.

I do expect it to last this weekend at the Stadium with the horrendous White Sox visiting. At 14-30 with a negative-87 run differential, they are the worst team in the AL and have had nothing to play for since the first week of the season. At the absolute minimum, I expect the Yankees to win the weekend series, and will be disappointed if the Yankees aren’t riding a seven-game winning streak at the end of play on Sunday.