Yankees Thoughts: Interim Ace and Seven Straight Wins

The Yankees haven’t lost in more than a week.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. That’s how it’s supposed to go if you’re a true championship contender: play a historically bad team and beat the crap out of them.

On Friday, I wrote

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.

The Yankees have that seven-game winning streak after sweeping the White Sox, outscoring them 17-5.

2. Aaron Judge got the series started with a bang, homering in the first inning of the first game of the series, continuing his return to his normal self. In the last week (starting last Sunday in Tampa), Judge went 12-for-24 with five doubles, four home runs, seven RBIs and eight walks (with just six strikeouts). A comical .500/.625/1.208 slash line and 1.833 OPS.

“When Aaron’s swinging it like he is right now, the guys definitely get a jolt out of that,” Aaron Boone said. “And we’ve seen a lot of that in the last week.”

Nestor Cortes didn’t allow an earned run over seven innings (7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) and Clay Holmes slammed the door on the worst team in baseball. It was a nice, tidy 4-2 win over a team on pace to lose 114 games.

3. On Saturday, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez threw out the first pitch on a day Luis Gil started. A three-time champion with the Yankees, Hernandez entered Saturday still holding the Yankees’ rookie record for strikeouts in a game (13), but after nearly 26 years (Aug. 13, 1998), Gil now holds the record.

Like Don Larsen and Yogi Berra throwing out the first pitch to commemorate Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series on the same day David Cone would throw a perfect game of his own, Gil went on to strike out 14 White Sox on Saturday to pass Hernandez.

“I was very happy to meet him today and establish a connection,” Gil said of meeting Hernandez.

Yes, it was the White Sox Gil broke the record against, but 14 strikeouts are 14 strikeouts. Cortes didn’t strike out 14 White Sox on Friday. Carlos Rodon didn’t strike out 14 White Sox on Sunday.

4. Gil leads the league in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (4.8), has struck out 62 in 49 innings and has only given up three home runs on the season (a 12-home run pace projected out over 200 innings). Of Gil’s nine starts, the only time he gave up more than three earned runs was in Milwaukee, and the only time he really had no command was after the Yankees idiotically gave him eight days off between starts. He hasn’t just filled in for Gerrit Cole, he has been Gerrit Cole.

If the Yankees had to play one game for their season right now, I don’t know how you don’t pick Gil to start it. Certainly, he may be a little too amped (think Luis Severino in the 2017 wild-card game) and may have trouble commanding his fastball (which he tends to do regularly), but if he’s on, he’s as good as any starting pitcher in baseball.

5. Someone is leaving the rotation when Cole returns. I don’t envision the Yankees going with a six-man rotation, but maybe they will surprise us. If all five members of the current rotation are heathy, given the combination of production and money owed, I’m not sure who the odd man out will be. Usually these things have a way of taking care of themselves (injuries, lack of production, etc.) and Cole isn’t coming back any time soon, and maybe by the time he does, the Yankees will be in dire need of rotation help (knock on all of the wood). All I know is right now, Gil can’t lose his spot. He has been the team’s best starter.

Gil is only getting better too. He shut out the Orioles for 6 1/3 innings in Baltimore to lead the Yankees to their only win in that four-game series. Then in his next start, he allowed one hit over six innings to the Astros. He followed up that up by shutting out the Rays over six innings in Tampa (a magnificent start I got to watch in person), and then there was Sunday’s 14-strikeout performance.

6. “It was fun,” Juan Soto said of Gil’s dominance of the 6-1 win over the White Sox. “I mean, I was just standing out there.”

Soto had the luxury of standing out in right field smiling as Gil racked up strikeouts and because of his own destruction of the White Sox. Soto rebounded from his first Yankees slump with a 5-for-11 series, hitting a double and two home runs.

“I’ve been working my swing, working with my hitting coaches, watching videos,” Soto said. “I think we are in a good spot.”

Soto’s slash line is back up to a ridiculous .311/.411/.552.

7. On Sunday, with a chance to sweep the White Sox, Rodon took the ball and put the Yankees in an early two-run hole. He rebounded to have a solid start and his line from the day (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HR) looks nice, but allowing a home run, walk, triple sequence to Corey Jules, Korey Lee and Zach Remillard is worrisome. Rodon had to pitch around a two-on, no-out situation in the fourth, but after that it was smooth sailing and a chance to pitch to the scoreboard with Jon Berti opening the game with a three-run home run in the eventual 7-2 win.

“My goal is to go out there and think about getting 18 outs every time I come to the field,” Rodon said. “The goal is to start with 18 outs, and we’ll go from there.”

Last season, in 14 starts, Rodon got 18 outs three times. This season, he’s already accomplished it six times in 10 starts, including his last three starts and five of his last six.

8. Even with his shiny 3.27 ERA, Rodon hasn’t really dominated this year outside of a seven-inning, one-hit shutout of the A’s (the third-worst offense in the American League). I still don’t trust him. After last season’s antics of being out of shape, oft-injured, blowing a kiss to heckling fans in Anaheim and turning his back on Matt Blake during a mound visit that went undisciplined by his friend-first manager, it’s going to take a lot more than Rodon simply doing the job he’s grossly overpaid to do for one-third of a season.

“I sit down in the dugout now and look around, and I feel pretty comfortable in this stadium,” Rodon said. “I’m looking around and I’m like, ‘This does’t feel overwhelming anymore. This feels like home.'”

I want Rodon to do well, and I’m glad he mostly is. I also don’t forget the past and am not willing to easily move on from what he did (or didn’t do) last season. Ten starts doesn’t change that.

9. During the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak, they have outscored opponents 41-12 and their starters have an ERA of 0.80. They have built a two-game lead in the AL East and trail the Phillies by one game for the best record in baseball. They are playing as good as they have in two years with a winning percentage of an 111-win team. (Their preseason over/under win total was 90.5.)

10. There are still four games left on the current homestand before the Yankees head West for a 10-day, nine-game West Coast trip to play the Padres, Angels and Giants. The Yankees will host the AL West’s first-place Mariners (they would be 7 1/2 games out in the AL East) for the next four days. The Mariners are AL West good (25-22 with a plus-1 run differential), which means not very good, but they do have excellent starting pitching. It will be a good test for the Yankees’ offense.