The Yankees continued their historic season, winning two of three against the Rays in Tampa to improve their league-best record to 51-18.
1. The Yankees went to Tampa needing to win one game. They won two, and nearly won all three, taking yet another series from the Rays and improving to 7-3 on the season against the Rays. In recent seasons, that’s a series the Yankees lose and possibly get swept in. But not this season. Not in 2022. Not with this pitching staff and not with the magic that seems to follow the offense as they nearly always come through with the big hit at the right moment. And even when they don’t, like in the second games of the seres in which they lost 5-4, they still had a chance to win the game, and almost tied it with two outs in the ninth when Aaron Judge just missed hitting a game-tying home run to left field.
2. It’s very good news that Gerrit Cole has learned to beat the Rays. After his 2020 and 2021 seasons against them (and against the Red Sox and Blue Jays) I was extremely fearful Cole couldn’t beat the teams the Yankees needed him to beat the most. But this season against the Rays, he has been outstanding, culminating in him nearly throwing a no-hitter in the series opener on Monday.
3. Nestor Cortes wasn’t good on Tuesday and Jordan Montgomery turned in his worst start of the season on Wednesday. Both of them got hammered by Isaac Paredes, who hit four home runs in the series and who the Rays acquired from Detroit for Austin Meadows. The Rays traded away one player who destroyed the Yankees in Meadows and received Paredes who apparently destroys them. At the time , the Rays got crushed for the deal. Now Paredes has an .817 OPS, while Meadows has no home runs in 147 plate appearances. Just like the Evan Longoria, Chris Archer and Blake Snell deals, the Rays always make the right deal and move on from their players at the right time. For once, I would like them to get fleeced in a trade.
4. It didn’t matter that the starting pitching wasn’t good outside of Cole in the series, as the offense did just enough in the other two games to win two of three. The first game was a 4-2 Yankees win. The second was a 5-4 Yankees loss. The third was a 5-4 Yankees win. One game decided by two runs (and tied entering the ninth) and the other two decided by one run (both of which came down to the ninth). Again, in recent seasons, the Yankees don’t win those games. But this iteration of the Yankees with their league-best rotation, league-best backend relievers and timely hitting (led by Judge’s MVP season) have rolled over the Rays this season in terms of wins despite playing nearly all close games.
Here are the scores of the Yankees-Rays games this season:
Nine of the 10 games have been decided by two runs or less and four have been decided by one run.
Over the last few seasons, the Rays had created a team perfectly built to beat the Yankees with a pitching staff full of hard-throwing righties. Well, the Yankees have countered the Rays by building a much better version of the Rays, now capable of winning these low-scoring games the Rays live off of. That was the last time these two teams will see each before the All-Star break.
5. When the All-Star break comes, Jose Trevino better not be spending it at home with his family. He better be spending in Los Angeles with his family at Dodger Stadium.
Jose Trevino is the man and his All-Star candidacy shouldn’t be in question. The Blue Jays’ Alejandro Kirk is deserving of being the starting catcher for the American League, but when he gets pulled from the game, Trevino should be the next catcher in. With his clutch, two-run home run in the eighth inning on Wednesday, Trevino is now hitting .283/.339/.478 with six home runs and 21 RBIs in 45 games and 124 plate appearances. It’s not his fault he’s 17th in plate appearances among AL catchers. That’s Aaron Boone’s fault as Boone continues to give his catchers equal playing time despite the fact one of them is an All-Star and one of them is barely in the league.
Not only did Trevino hit the go-ahead home run, he also had another hit in the game, and picked off Taylor Walls at third base with the bases loaded and two outs and the Rays threatening to put the game out of reach. Two nights earlier, in the series opener, it was Trevino hustling down the line on a ball hit in the infield with two outs to give the Yankees a 2-0 and it was his sacrifice fly in the ninth of that game that gave the Yankees a much-needed insurance run in their 4-2 win.
Trevino does it all. He’s the best framer in the game. He’s allowed just two passed balls. He’s thrown out 33 percent of would-be basestealers. He hits clutch home runs. He puts the ball in play. He always hustles and he always says the right thing when speaking with the media. He’s an easy player to root for and it’s obvious why he’s become a fan favorite.
6. It’s the play of players like Trevino and Judge and the starting pitching and the back end of the bullpen that has produced a 51-18 record record for the Yankees. And it’s the play of those players and pitchers that has allowed players like Kyle Higashioka (who has been better of late, but still overall horrible), Aaron Hicks (who has also been better of late, but still has two home runs and three doubles through 43 percent of the season), Joey Gallo, Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to get somewhat of a free pass and avoid immense criticism and scrutiny. But that’s what I’m here for and I’m not giving them a free pass.
Barring an amazing turnaround, it looks like the end is near for Gallo as a Yankee. When he was acquired by the Yankees, he batted second in his first few games. For the last month, except for a handful of times, he has batted ninth. He bats behind bats like Hicks, Higashioka and Kiner-Falefa. He rarely plays against left-handed pitching, and within the last few series, he has been pinch hit for on multiple occasions, including by Trevino. And as you read just a few moments ago, I love Trevino. But a guy you expected to hit in the Top 4 spots in the order and a guy you gave away four prospects for shouldn’t be getting pinch hit for by a catcher you acquired for depth right before Opening Day.
Gallo has gone from 2-hitter to 9-hitter to platoon hitter to being pinch hit for by a catcher. The next place for him to go is somewhere other than the Yankees. The trade deadline is in 41 days. Unless he becomes the exact player the Yankees thought hey were trading for, I don’t see how he’s a Yankees at the end of the day on August 2.
7. Fortunately, for Hicks, he’s under contract for next season … and the season after that … and the season after that … and then will get bought out and paid to not play for the Yankees in 2026. If not for the money owed to him, he might be on his way out as well. He likely would have been out a while ago given his combination of injuries and lack of production since 2019. Hicks is here to stay. Unless there’s some team out there dumb enough and foolish enough to take him and his owed money. (Please be some team dumb enough and foolish enough to take Hicks and his contract.) And owed money is why he’s still a Yankee and why he still plays. Owed money and name are more important than actual production for the Yankees.
8. Donaldson has both. He has the owed money in that he Yankees are paying him $24 million this season and $24 million next season, and he has the name in that he’s a former AL MVP (even if that was seven years ago, which is a long fucking time ago in baseball). But Donaldson has been absolutely atrocious as a Yankee. He’s hitting .233/.327/.386. His batting average is 35 percentage points below his career average. His on-base percentage is 28 points below his career average. His slugging percentage is 114 points below his career average. His .714 OPS is both embarrassing and 141 points below his career average. He has six home runs and is on pace to hit 14 if he plays every game for the rest of the season. That would be the lowest single-season home run total of his career.
Donaldson is 36 years old. He will be 37 and four months for Opening Day 2023. Prior to becoming a a Yankee, he was one of the hitters I feared most in the majors against the Yankees because you knew every at-bat would be six or seven pitches and would likely result in him hitting the ball hard somewhere and you just hoped it was hit right at a fielder. Now he’s a free-swinging, undisciplined shell of himself. He’s behind 0-2 in every count and nearly all of his at-bats result in a strikeout, ground ball to third or popup in the infield.
Matt Carpenter is a better play than Donaldson is right now. The difference is Carpenter had to revitalize his career over the offseason and accept playing in Triple-A to prove he could still play, whereas Donaldson had two years left on major-league deal. Donaldson is in no way deserving of playing over Carpenter right now, but he will continue to do so. And for anyone who thinks Carpenter should continue to just be a once-a-week player because he’s good at it, that’s like saying Luis Severino should have remained a reliever after 2016 because he was good at it or should have been in the bullpen this season because he was good at it last season.
There’s a good chance Donaldson is finished. Given his advanced baseball age and his recent injury history and his lack of power, it wouldn’t be surprising if he is. Given his owed money and name, he’s going to get endless chances to prove he isn’t.
9. The Twins were able to get the Yankees to take Donaldson and the $48 million owed to him and Kiner-Falefa (who they didn’t want and who the Rangers so badly didn’t want they g ave a half-billion dollars to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien) and then used the freed up shortstop position and money saved on Donaldson to sign Carlos Correa. All Correa has done on his short-term deal (which is exactly what the Yankees were looking for) is hit .293 with an .820 OPS this season, while Kiner-Falefa tries to make an out as quickly as possible in each of his plate appearances. He does put the ball in play though! He may be in the first percentile of barreling balls in the majors and the seventh percentile of hard-hit percentage, but he puts the ball in play! Who cares if “in play” means a weak grounder to short!
Kiner-Falefa was sold to Yankees fans as a Gold Glove defender. Yes, he won a Gold Glove … at third base. The problem is he plays shortstop for the Yankees and the bigger problem is that he botches routine plays frequently. I trust him no more than I trusted Gleyber Torres at the position, and I would be willing to put Torres back there to free up the lineup spot it would free up by not playing Kiner-Falefa. With Kiner-Falefa’s bat, he needs to be Omar Vizquel at shortstop.
10. I can’t imagine the Yankees are going to try to win the World Series with all of these players getting regular and everyday playing time in October. I can’t imagine they won’t move on from some of them this summer and I can’t imagine they won’t upgrade the roster and put the team in the best possible position to succeed in October. Something they didn’t do in either 2019 or 2020 when they made zero trades at the deadline in both of those seasons.
The Yankees are good enough to win the World Series as currently constructed. Obviously, since they are a league-best 51-18. But they could win 120-plus games in the regular season and if they were to lose a short series to the Blue Jays, Rays or Astros I don’t think anyone would be surprised. Winning the division (which they have already done) and getting the 1-seed in the playoffs and avoiding the best-of-3 wild-card series (which they have already done) were needed goals to help put them in the best possible to succeed in October. The next step is upgrading the roster and making sure come October there aren’t as many as four below-league-average bats in the lineup.
Come October, whatever the team accomplished in the regular season will be meaningless if they don’t finish the job with a championship. And the team they will see over the next four days at the Stadium will likely be the team they have to finally overcome to get to where they want to be.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!