Yankees Thoughts: Don’t Be Scared of Blue Jays

As long as Yankees stay healthy this season, they will win division

The Yankees went to Toronto, allowed five runs and beat the Blue Jays in two of three, and had every chance to win all three games. If the week taught me anything it’s that if the Yankees stay healthy, there’s no reason to be worried about the Blue Jays.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Don’t get swept. That’s all I wanted from the Yankees in Toronto. Winning one of the three games would have been acceptable. Winning two of three would have been delightful. Winning all three seemed unfathomable.

Going into the series, I looked at the first game as even. Jordan Montgomery is a better starting pitcher than Ross Stripling, but Stripling has had success against the Yankees and Montgomery as a left-hander isn’t an ideal matchup for the right-handed-heavy Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays would have a distinct advantage in the second game with Alek Manoah going against Jameson Taillon. I fear Manoah against the Yankees more than I fear any other pitcher in the league against them. That’s how good he has been against them in his young career. And Taillon is the Yankees’ starter I trust the least.

The Yankees would have an advantage in the third game with Nestor Cortes (who shut out the Blue Jays over 4 1/3 innings in April) going against Yusei Kikuchi (who the Yankees went into the game having a combined 1.078 OPS as a team in 83 plate appearances).

2. I have crushed Gleyber Torres this season (and last), and rightfully so. He’s hasn’t been good, and his playing time has forced the Yankees to make less-than-optimal lineups.

That’s not me complaining or whining. I understand the Yankees have now won 12 of their last 14 games. I understand they are in first place on May 5. I want them to be in first place in October 5, which is the last day of the regular season. Continuing to play Torres regularly doesn’t give them the best chance to do that.

In the series opener, Torres was the Yankees’ offense, driving in all three Yankees runs in the 3-2 win. His two-run home run gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead and his go-ahead RBI single in the ninth gave the Yankees a late lead they would hold. It was Torres’ best game since Game 1 of the 2019 ALCS. It doesn’t mean he has unlocked his 2018-19 ability or that he’s ever going to return to being that player. It just means that if given everyday at-bats, he will eventually have a game like he did on Monday. And if continued to be given everyday at-bats, he will be more of like what he was on Tuesday and Thursday (0-for-5).

Torres is hitting .222/.256/.417 this season. He hasn’t been good. Monday doesn’t change that.

3. The Yankees put together an 11-game winning streak by mostly outhitting and outscoring Aaron Boone, which is the only way for them to consistently win. When Boone gets his hands on a close game, he does his best to ruin his team’s chance, and that was the case in the Yankees’ one-run win on Monday.

The second time Montgomery went through the Blue Jays’ order, they scored two runs off him to erase the Yankees’ 2-0 lead. Tied at 2, once Montgomery was able to get through the 8 and 9 hitters a second time and retire George Springer in his third plate appearance to finish the fifth, I thought that would be it for Montgomery. It didn’t matter to me that his pitch count was only at 64. Montgomery a third time against Bo Bichette (who had doubled in his previous at-bat) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (who had lined out in his previous at-bat) would be a bad idea.

4. But there’s nothing Boone loves more than bad ideas. Boone had gotten Jonathan Loaisiga up and he was warm and ready to come into the game to start the sixth. Instead of giving Loaisiga a clean inning to work with against the heart of the Blue Jays’ order, Boone sent Montgomery back to the mound for the sixth to face Bichette in an attempt to steal outs in an incredibly important game and situation against the Yankees’ direct competition for the division. Bichette line the first pitch to right for a leadoff single.

Then Boone brought Loaisiga in. Rather than have the dominant right-handed reliever get a clean inning with six straight right-handed bats in the order, he tried to irresponsibly sneak Montgomery past Bichette and Guerrero a third time. Thankfully, Loaisiga got through the inning and Boone’s latest poor decision to cost the Yankees the game.

5. The Aaron Judge home run off Manoah was awesome. I think it was as big of a regular-season home run as Judge has ever and will ever hit. Given the score, the inning, the opponent and the pitcher, it’s hard to top. Judge is having the best year of his career when he needs to the most, after turning down a seven-year, $230 million extension. He leads the league in home runs (nine) and total bases (60), and is hitting .293/.356/.652. For as good as he has been, I think he can be better. His on-base percentage is 29 points below his career number. In terms of Judge’s peak ability, I don’t think we have even seen it yet this season. That’s frightening.

6. Tuesday was Jameson Taillon’s best start as a Yankee. (I still have him fifth on my rotation depth chart, but he was excellent in Toronto.) It wasn’t his longest start. He didn’t record a career high in strikeouts. But he matched Manoah, an impressive feat, and that was enough to give the Yankees a chance to win once the Blue Jays bullpen got involved.

7. When the Blue Jays brought Yimi Garcia into a 2-2 game for the ninth on Monday, I felt good about the Yankees winning. Garcia isn’t good. As the husband of a Dodgers fan, I watched all of Garcia’s Dodgers career and watched him piss away countless games. Anyone who watched him pitch ineffectively with the Astros in the playoffs against the White Sox and Red Sox knows what I’m talking about. When Garcia came into the game, Kay remarked the Blue Jays look at him “as a second closer” with Jordan Romano. If the Blue Jays trust Garcia like that and think of him as highly as that, the Yankees’ chance of winning the AL East drastically improve.

The Blue Jays’ bullpen isn’t very good overall. We saw that on Tuesday night when they let a 1-1 game turn into a laugher with the Yankees scoring eight runs over the final three innings. Romano is really the only Blue Jays reliever I’m scared of and he nearly blew Wednesday’s one-run lead for the Yankees and kept their winning streak going.

8. When completely healthy, I think the lineups are close to equal and the rotations are close to equal. (I actually think the Yankees have a better lineup and rotation than the Blue Jays, but that just might be my fandom.) The biggest difference between the two teams is the bullpen, where the Yankees have an advantage over the entire majors. There’s no bullpen in the majors that could use Loaisiga, Miguel Castro, Clay Holmes and Chad Green to close out for innings one night, go to Wandy Peralta, Castro again and Lucas Luetge the next night, and Michael King and Holmes again the following night and pitch 11 scoreless innings. The Yankees won two of three in Toronto and never even used Aroldis Chapman. The Blue Jays scored five runs in the three games. If I learned anything this week, the only thing keeping the Yankees from winning the AL East is health.

9. If the Yankees weren’t going to lose a game started by Manoah, when would they lose? Certainly not on Wednesday with Kikuchi starting, who the Yankees have owned as much as any pitcher, possibly ever. But as John Sterling often says, “You can’t predict baseball.” And you couldn’t predict what would happen in the series finale. If you could I wouldn’t have hammered the Yankees’ money line the night before the game and then again minutes before first pitch.

For a team to have an OPS of 1.078 against a pitcher, that pitcher allowing one run on three hits and a walk over six innings is the last thing you think would happen. But that’s exactly what happened as the Yankees reverted into the pre-winning streak Yankees and left everyone on base. The Yankees hit into an inning-ending double play in the first. They couldn’t advance a leadoff walk in the fourth. They couldn’t score a leadoff double (from Kyle Higashioka of all people!) in the sixth, as they failed to get Higashioka in from second with no outs and from third with one out. They stranded two in the seventh and another two in the ninth. They lost 2-1 in the game of the series they had the biggest pitching advantage, and their 11-game winning streak came to an end.

10. The Yankees can start a new winning streak this weekend with the last-place Rangers coming to the Bronx. The Yankees have beat up on bad teams this season (12-3 against the Orioles, Tigers, Guardians and Royals), and the Rangers are a bad team, who will face Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery,

The Yankees can’t let this 11-game winning streak be a blip in a season of mixed results, like their 13-game winning streak of 2021 was. They need to continue to build on their AL East lead and take advantage of the rather easy schedule they have in May, like they did in April, because June’s schedule isn’t as favorable.

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