Yankees Thoughts: It’s Not Worth Winning If You Can’t Win Big

It's been a great week to be a Yankees fan with wins in eight of nine

The Yankees went 6-0 on their homestand, have won eight of nine and have the best record in the American League. It’s been a good last week to be a Yankees fan.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. What a difference a week makes. A week ago, the Yankees were getting shut out for the third time in 13 games to start the season, losing to the Tigers and missing their second chance in two tries to sweep a series in 2022. It was an all-too-familiar performance from a Yankees offense that failed to finish off series with sweeps in 2021 and left countless winnable games on the table. The Yankees had gone an unacceptable 3-3 on their road trip to Baltimore and Detroit and everything about the team looked and smelled like the 2021 team.

The Yankees returned home to beat the Guardians last Friday, and on Saturday, after blowing a one-run, eighth-inning lead, it looked like the Yankees were headed to leaving yet another winnable game on the table. But after their ninth-inning comeback to walk off the Guardians on Saturday afternoon, the Yankees have looked like a completely different team. If the Yankees get to where they want to go this season, somewhere they haven’t been in going on 13 years, I think we will look back at Saturday, April 23 as the win that turned the season.

2. The Yankees don’t deserve praise or special treatment for winning six straight against the Guardians (who will likely finish around .500 this season), or the Orioles (who will likely finish as the worst team in the American League this season). The Yankees simply did their job in winning eight of nine against the Tigers, Guardians and Orioles, but I guess they could use some praise for doing their job since it’s something these Yankees haven’t done in a long time.

Last season, the Yankees’ inability to beat up on bad teams is what ruined their chances at winning the division, what forced them into the one-game playoff and what forced the one-game playoff to be played at Fenway Park. The 2021 Yankees went 25-23 against the Orioles, Indians, Tigers, Mets, Nationals and Angels, including a paltry 11-8 against an Orioles team that went 1-18 against the Rays.

The Yankees scored 27 runs over the last three days against the Orioles. They scored double-digit runs in three of their last four games. Last year, the Yankees scored double-digit runs six times. The Yankees’ 37 runs over the last four games surpassed their 35 runs scored in the previous 12 games. Nothing can get an offense going like Orioles pitching, which makes it all the more amazing that the Yankees lost two of three to the Orioles two weeks ago and scored just six measly runs in 29 innings at Camden Yards of all places.

3. It’s hard to fathom how the Yankees truly believed an all-right-handed lineup would be best for a team that plays half of its games at Yankee Stadium. After seeing Anthony Rizzo hit three home runs on Tuesday night, taking full advantage of the short porch in right, it made me happy to see Rizzo having such an impressive start to this season after posting his worst statistical season in 2021 since his rookie year in 2013. It also infuriated me as I couldn’t help but think back to all the times Brian Cashman spoke to the media and tried to sell everyone on the idea of the New York Yankees having no left-handed power in their lineup, and the only left-handed presence of the last few years being Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, Rougned Odor, Mike Ford and Didi Gregorius. They really thought they could win like that. A team that is focused on optimizing every possible advantage (except at manager) with high-end nutritionists, renowned strength trainers and sleep specialists, who determine the best possible time for the team to depart for road games, the Yankees purposely constructed a team the last few seasons with comical left-handed bats. Thankfully, they admitted their mistake at last year’s trade deadline and brought in Rizzo and Joey Gallo, and then brought Rizzo back. (They didn’t have to bring Gallo back as he was under contract for 2022).

Yes, I wanted Freddie Freeman over Rizzo, as did anyone who’s not related to Rizzo, but so far Rizzo has exceeded expectations and I’m ecstatic that what could have been considered the start of the downfall of his career last year may have just been one down year for him.

4. On Tuesday, Luis Severino had a no-hitter through 5 1/3 innings and the Yankees had a 6-0 lead. I thought the Yankees were on their way to their second straight laugher. Instead, the Yankees ended up needing to use Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga and Aroldis Chapman in a game in which they had two different six-run leads.

He eventually left the game in the seventh with this line: 6 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HR. What was looking like his best start of the young season ended up being his worst. But through four stars, he’s averaging a strikeout per inning with a 3.32 ERA. For a guy who made only five starts over the previous three-and-a-half years, Severino has been really good.

He eventually left the game in the seventh with this line: 6 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HR. What was looking like his best start of the young season ended up being his worst. But through four stars, he’s averaging a strikeout per inning with a 3.32 ERA. For a guy who made only five starts over the previous three-and-a-half years, Severino has been really good.

Jordan Montgomery had another good start (5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR) with both of the runs he allowed coming on a sixth-inning, game-tying home run. Jameson Taillon was could get out of the fifth inning in his start (4.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K), putting nine baserunners on and leaving with the Yankees trailing.

It was the Yankees’ worst starting pitching series this season, and even so, the starters pitched to a 4.41 ERA, which isn’t great, but it’s not horrible. With this offense (or at least the offense we have seen of late), a 4.41 starters’ ERA over a full season would still get the Yankees into the postseason.

5. Here’s my current level of trust with the rotation (scale of 1-10):

Gerrit Cole: 7.9
Against bad teams it’s somewhere around a 9.6. Against the Rays, Blue Jays or Red Sox, it’s in the 3s.

Luis Severino: 7.7
As long as he’s healthy, the last time he wasn’t a superb front-end starter was in 2016.

Nestor Cortes: 6.8
The most enjoyable of the five to watch, I feel good when he’s on the mound. (2019 me can’t believe I wrote that.)

Jordan Montgomery: 5.3
I’m always waiting for him to allow the crooked number after cruising for three or four innings (like he did again on Wednesday).

Jameson Taillon: 4.1
He reminds me too much of Phil Hughes to ever feel truly good and confident with him. There always seems to be traffic (hat tip, Aaron Boone!) on the bases when he’s on the mound and he rarely ever gives the team adequate length.

6. It was the worst series for the bullpen as well. It was the first time the bullpen has been hit all season and for it to happen against the Orioles was odd. The line: 9.2 IP, 12 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 5 BB, 15 K, 2 HR, 6.51 ERA, 1.758 WHIP. It wasn’t good, but thankfully, it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because the offense showed up, and the best part about scoring 27 runs in three games is Boone was completely taken out of the series from a bullpen management standpoint. Scoring consistently is Yankees’ best (and only chance) to win over the long haul because it makes all of Boone’s decisions moot. He can’t ruin games by getting his hands on the game since there’s no illogical, nonsensical decision that can match up with the kind of offensive production. When the Yankees can outhit and outscore Boone, it makes winning that much more fun and enjoyable.

7. The only enjoyable part of the offense has been Josh Donaldson. Aaron Judge now has five home runs and a .944 OPS. Giancarlo Stanton just went 5-for-11 with two walks. DJ LeMahieu is hitting .313 with an .858 OPS and a 12-game hitting streak. Rizzo has a league-leading eight home runs. Hicks has a .377 OBP. Gallo finally homered and homered twice in the series. Isiah Kiner-Falefa is hitting .298. Even Gleyber Torres has six RBIs, had the big sacrifice fly on Opening Day and the walkoff single against the Guardians. Josh Donaldson needs to join the party.

Donaldson had the walkoff hit on Opening Day and the momentary go-ahead home run last Saturday against the Guardians, but overall his plate appearances have been painful to watch. The power hasn’t been there (.348 SLG), getting on base hasn’t been there (.312 OBP), and he’s chasing bad pitches and getting himself out, something I never saw him do while playing against the Yankees. Maybe his elite playing days are done and he’s finally washed up or maybe he’s just in a season-opening slump. All I know is he hasn’t been hitting into bad luck. He’s just not been hitting.

8. After the Guardians series, I wrote the following about Stanton:

I’m not worried about Stanton. I know who he is as a player, and he could homer four times in the next six games. At some point he’s going to do something exactly like that. But with nearly the entire lineup slumping prior to Sunday, which was the first time the Yankees scored six runs this season without the automatic runner), it would be nice if that power and home run barrage arrived this week.

Stanton went 5-for-11 with a home run, four RBIs and two walks in the series. The home run came on Wednesday, and when Stanton homers, they usually come in bunches. Because he didn’t homer on Thursday, I’m thinking the Royals should be worried about this weekend.

9. The Royals should be worried because we haven’t seen the Yankees be this good against bad teams since 2019. That Yankees team went 17-2 against the Orioles and 50-12 against the Orioles, Royals, Mariners, Angels, Giants and Red Sox: all bad teams that season. That Yankees team was the best of the teams from this core, winning 103 games and the team’s only division title since 2012. It was made possible by beating up on the bad teams.

The Royals are a bad team. They aren’t bad like Orioles or Reds bad since they do have a future and a plan, something the Orioles haven’t had for the last few years and something the Reds clearly don’t have now. But they are bad in the sense that they’re still a few years away and their current talent level and ability doesn’t match that of the Yankees on paper and shouldn’t on the field either.

10. After this weekend in Kansas City, the consecutive cupcake schedule of Detroit, Cleveland Baltimore and Kansas City is over. In May, the Yankees will play the Blue Jays five times, the White Sox seven times, the Rays four times and will start a three-game series with the Angels on the last day of the month. They will have games against the Orioles and Rangers sprinkled in, but the Yankee don’t have another stretch of games like the one they’re currently in against mediocre to awful teams.

The Yankees have done their job. Even including the debacle in Baltimore two weeks ago, they have gone 9-3 in these 12 games. They have gotten fat in term of wins and now have the best record in the AL and are a 1/2 game ahead of the Blue Jays, two games up on the Rays and 5 1/2 games up on the Red Sox. They have mostly won the games they are supposed to win and have put the pressure on their division competition to do the same when they play the weak part of their schedules.

It’s been a good week to be a Yankees. No. It’s been a great week to be a Yankees fan.

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