Yankees Thoughts: ‘Nobody Beats the Riz’

Yankees' new first baseman single-handedly carried team to a sweep

The Yankees did it. They finally swept a team. For the first time since June 15-17 and just the fourth time all season the Yankees swept a series of at least three games. They did so because of new addition Anthony Rizzo and some awful Marlins defense.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Between Friday and Saturday, Anthony Rizzo reached base in eight of nine plate appearances, and of the Yankees’ seven runs in the first two games of the series, he scored five of them and drove in the other two. He single-handedly carried the Yankees to wins in each of his first two games a Yankee. Then on Sunday, he tied the game at 1 in the eighth inning with a single to left field off a left-handed reliever. Of the Yankees’ 10 runs over the weekend, Rizzo scored five of them and drove in three.

As a left-handed, contact-first bat with power and four Gold Gloves to his name, Rizzo is a perfect fit for this team and future teams. Yes, I’m probably getting ahead of myself after three games, but the Yankees don’t have a real, consistent first-base option now (since Luke Voit never plays) or in the future, unless you want them to move DJ LeMahieu to first, Gleyber Torres to second and then sign one of Trevor Story, Corey Seager or Carlos Correa. Rizzo turned down a five-year, $70 million extension from the Cubs back in the spring, so it’s going to take more than that to keep him, but as of right now (after the enormous sample size of three games and 13 plate appearances), I’m all for it.

2. I understand the plate discipline and power of Joey Gallo as an offensive player, and I’m sure he will take full advantage of the short porch at Yankee Stadium, but what worried me about adding him to the Yankees’ lineup was that he was essentially the left-handed version of Giancarlo Stanton with even more strikeouts. Yes, he makes the Yankees better overall (as a left-handed hitter who can play Gold Glove defense and multiple positions), though had the Yankees only traded for Gallo and not also Rizzo, they most likely get swept by the last-place Marlins.

This weekend was a reminder that the Yankees still have a long way to go to changing their identity. Aside from Rizzo, the Yankees’ offense was non-existent and if not for the Marlins eighth- and ninth-inning defense on Sunday, the Yankees would have wasted another opportunity to sweep a series. Here’s how the everyday, non-Rizzo Yankees performed over the weekend.

Gleyber Torres: 1-for-13, 4 K
Joey Gallo: 1-for-12, 2 BB, 5 K
Gary Sanchez: 1-for-12, 2B, 3 K
Aaron Judge: 3-for-12, 5 K

3. Stanton only played in two of the three games because I guess playing both sides of the baseball two days in a row for the first time in years equated to a day off. LeMahieu and Gio Urshela were held out of the starting lineup in all three games by Aaron Boone, but Urshela ended up playing on both Friday and Saturday and LeMahieu on Friday and Sunday, so just some unnecessary rest for two everyday players at a time when the Yankees can’t be giving anyone unnecessary rest. If you trade for Gallo and Rizzo and then end up not playing LeMahieu and Urshela and play Brett Gardner and Tyler Wade, it’s as if you didn’t trade for anyone.

4. Rizzo was the only Yankee to homer in the series (doing so on both Friday and Saturday), and power has become a problem for the Yankees over the last few weeks. Here are the non-Rizzo expected regulars and their recent power struggles:

LeMahieu: No home runs since June 26
Urshela: No home runs since July 4
Judge: No home runs since July 10
Gallo: One home run since July 10
Sanchez: No home runs since July 20
Stanton: No home runs since July 20
Torres: No home runs since July 21

I guess that means they are due to get hot on this upcoming homestand against the Orioles (3) and Mariners (4).

5. While the Yankees won all three games, they won all three despite only scoring 10 runs as the pitching was able to stifle an anemic offense, one of only three worse than the Yankees in 2021. (The Yankees have the second-worst in the AL and the fourth-worst in the majors.) The trio of Jameson Taillon, Scumbag Doming German and Jordan Montgomery combined for this line: 14.2 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 15 K, 1.84 ERA, 1.022 WHIP.

The only good thing about NL rules in which the pitcher hits is that it forced Boone to take out his starter earlier than he would have if there had been a DH in the games. Not only did Boone pull his starter at the right time in all three games, but he also managed to pull off a few double switches, something I thought he certainly would screw up.

6. On Sunday, the Yankees announced Scumbag German was placed on the injured list with shoulder inflammation. Either this is the Yankees giving him a rest after trading for Andrew Heaney, or German is actually injured as a result of Boone greatly exceeding his expected pitch count in Boston as Boone put an individual achievement and the possibility of a far-fetched no-hitter over a team win in a critical game against the Red Sox. Either way, no German for a couple weeks (and that’s not a bad thing).

I don’t have much from an expectation standpoint for Heaney. He’s average at best and if there’s one aspect of the game the Yankees have no idea what they’re doing it’s starting pitching: developing, evaluating and trading for. Maybe Heaney will be different, but the track record for starting pitchers Brian Cashman has traded for is abysmal.

For Heaney, there’s no better setup than facing the Orioles in your first start and he couldn’t have asked for a softer landing spot to join the rotation. If he does well, and holds his rotation spot for the next 10 days, he will be in line to start the Field of Dreams game next Thursday in Iowa against the White Sox.

7. Entering the weekend, the Yankees needed to go 43-18 to get to 96 wins and win the division (and win me my preseason over 95.5 wins bet). The 3-0 weekend against the Marlins drastically improved a pace that’s still improbable, but not impossible.

Mariners/Royals: 5-2
Orioles: 7-2
White Sox: 2-1
Angels/A’s: 2-2
Red Sox: 4-2
Twins/Braves/Rangers: 7-2
Blue Jays: 4-3
Mets: 2-1
Indians: 2-1
Rays: 2-1

8. This weekend was so critical to the Yankees’ playoff chances because while they were playing the lowly, last-place Marlins, the Rays and Red Sox were playing each other, giving the Yankees a chance to make up ground on someone with every win. They won all three games, while the Red Sox lost all three games, so in the span of 48 hours, the Yankees’ loss-column deficit to the Red Sox went from 7 to 4. If Chad Green doesn’t blow a two-run, ninth-inning lead at Fenway two weeks ago or Jonathan Loaisiga doesn’t blow a four-run, eighth-inning lead at Fenway two weeks ago, the Yankees and Red Sox are tied in the loss column. Better yet, if the Yankees hadn’t played the Red Sox in 2021, they would be 53-38 and the Red Sox would be 53-41. But the Red Sox have taken care of business against the Yankees this season going 10-3, and creating the separation in the standings in head-to-head games alone.

9. Now the Rays are in first place. A much better team than the Red Sox with a much easier schedule than the Red Sox over the remaining two months. The Rays will play the Orioles 10 times in July, still have six games against the Twins and three against both the Mariners and Marlins. The most important part of both the Rays’ and Red Sox’ schedule for the Yankees is that the two teams they are chasing have 10 games left against each other. That’s 10 days when the Yankees will make up ground with a win or lose ground with a loss. Ten immensely important days to the Yankees’ playoff chances.

10. Fangraphs currently gives the Yankees a 53.3 percent chance of reaching the playoffs (12.1 percent at winning the division and 41.2 percent at winning a wild-card berth). The next 10 days will give the Yankees the opportunity to drastically increase those odds. Over the next 10 days, the Yankees will play the last-place Orioles (37-67), a Mariners (56-50) team that has lost four five since an unexpected trade caused clubhouse turmoil and the fourth-place Royals (45-59) that the Blue Jays just swept over the weekend. The next 10 days will determine how the Yankees’ season goes over the remaining two months.

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