Yankees Thoughts: Please Starting Hitting Again

Yankees have won every series except for one this season

The Yankees won another series, taking two of three from the Rangers at the Stadium. But with just five runs scored in the series, the Yankees’ offense looks a lot like it did prior to their 11-game winning streak.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The Rangers are a bad team, and like the Yankees have done to bad teams this season (except for that one miserable weekend in Baltimore), the Yankees won the series against them. But like that miserable weekend in Baltimore, the Yankees’ offense was close to non-existent in the three games in roughly 28 hours.

The Yankees’ recent 11-game winning streak came to an end in a game started by the Blue Jays’ Yusei Kikuchi, who the Yankees went into that game with a team 1.078 OPS against him. He allowed one run over six innings in the Yankees’ 2-1 loss.

After three days off (one scheduled and two rainouts), the Yankees were no-hit through five innings by the Rangers’ Dane Dunning, and eeked out a 2-1 win in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader on a Gleyber Torres walk-off home run in the ninth.

In the second game of the doubleheader, former Yankees prospect Glenn Otto (who was traded to Texas in the Joey Gallo deal) allowed two earned runs over six innings (both coming on a Giancarlo Stanton home run) in a 4-2 Yankees loss.

In Monday’s series finale, the Yankees managed three singles through the first seven innings, until an Aaron Judge single and Anthony Rizzo double broke a 0-0 tie in the Yankees’ eventual 1-0 win.

2. Since the winning streak ended, the Yankees have won two of four games, scoring six runs in those four games. One on a solo home run. One on a sacrifice fly. One on a solo home run. Two on a two-run home run. One on a double. That’s it. That’s the Yankees’ offense over their last 35 innings: six runs.

The Yankees’ offense looks a lot like it did prior to scoring 19 runs in three games against Cleveland (6.3 per game), 27 runs in three games against Baltimore (9 per game) and 21 runs in three games (7 per game) against Kansas City. Even in Toronto, the Yankees scored 12 runs in the first two games of that series before being shut down and fooled for six innings by Kikuchi.

The starting pitching the Yankees faced from the Rangers (Dunning, Otto and Jon Gray) is certainly better than what they faced when they were blowing out those other teams, but it’s not even close to being what they will face later this week against the Blue Jays (thankfully, they are missing Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman) or the White Sox (thankfully, the White Sox can’t score).

The Yankees were able to score five runs in 26 innings and win twice because their pitching continues to be outstanding, top to bottom. Gerrit Cole was dominant in the first game on Sunday and Jordan Montgomery was excellent in the second game. Nestor Cortes took a no-hitter into the eighth on Monday and outside of Michael King’s first hiccup of the season, the bullpen was lights out the entire series.

3. Aaron Boone loves so Kyle Higashioka so much that after two scoreless outings from Gerrit Cole, he was willing to let Higashioka catch Cole on Sunday. (This kind of treatment happens for only the Boone favorites: Higashioka, Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres.) Cole was great again for a third straight start (as once again it clearly has nothing to do with the catcher and everything to do with the opponent), until he gave up a game-tying home run to Kole Calhoun (who is barely hanging on to a job in the majors) in the seventh. That home run came on Cole’s 114th pitch. It was the most pitches thrown by any pitcher in the majors in 2022.

I’m fine with letting Cole for as long as he thinks he can physically go. But in this instance, Boone had gotten King up with Cole having thrown 106 pitches through six innings. It seemed improbable that Boone would let Cole go back out for the seventh in his sixth start of the season on a cold May day in the Bronx with his pitch count already over 100 and King ready to enter the game. But he didm and after striking out Mitch Garver on three pitches, the Yankees’ 1-0 lead was erased on Calhoun’s first home run of the season.

Boone never did bring King into the game. He instead had King sit down (after having already warmed up) and went to Jonathan Loaisiga. As David Cone said on the YES broadcast in Toronto, “You don’t get King hot and then not bring him into the game.” But Boone did just that. And a few hours later, Boone brought King into the second game of the doubleheader and King gave away the Yankees’ lead and then some in his worst outing of the season.

4. When it comes to Higashioka and Jose Trevino and the Yankees’ catching situation, it’s obvious that Trevino is the No. 1 in a duo that really has no No. 1. In the offseason, I wrote several times how the Yankees traded their way into having the worst catching situation in the majors and that has proven true. Trevino is hitting .189/.231/.216 and Higashioka is hitting .146/.208/.416. Neither of them is a playable option and yet one of them is playing every day for the New York Yankees.

Maybe at some point Oswald Peraza will start hitting Triple-A pitching and Anthony Volpe will start hitting Double-A pitching (neither of them doing well in the minors this season isn’t great!) and will force the Yankees to move them up. And maybe then the Yankees would move Isiah Kiner-Falefa (who has caught 73 games in the major) to catcher. It’s probably crazy, but it’s not that crazy. It’s not as crazy as playing the Trevino/Higashioka combination every day.

Yes, the Yankees are winning, and yes, they’re in first place. I want them to stay in first place. Are the Yankees four games (in the loss column) better than the Rays and five games (in the loss column) better than the Blue Jays? Unlikely. The true margin between teams in the AL East is slim, and the Yankees need to optimize every aspect of their team to gain any advantage they can over Tampa Bay and Toronto. Playing with an automatic out at the bottom of the lineup like they’re a coed softball team in Central Park without enough women and forced to have the 9-hole be an out, isn’t going to increase their chances at winning the division.

5. I can’t stand Hicks. I really can’t, and that’s the Yankees’ fault, not Hicks’ fault. Hicks didn’t force the Yankees to give him the seven-year deal, and he doesn’t force them to bat him as high as first in the lineup. They do that on their own.

Yes, Hicks has a high on-base percentage. It’s a product of a combination of mediocre and bad pitchers being unable to throw strikes and Hicks not wanting to swing the bat. Hicks’ plan in each plate appearance is to not swing, hoping four pitches will be out of the zone before three pitches are. He’s not going to go to the plate and grind out a walk with multiple foul balls and close takes, like someone like Rizzo will. The only way Hicks is walking is if the pitcher is shockingly wild and makes it easy for him to walk.

The worst part about Hicks is his inability to drive a runner in from third with less than two out. It’s painful to watch him hit with runners on, always swinging over changeups or popping up balls in the infield. He’s 0-for-16 (that equals .000) with four walks in high-leverage situations this season, and in low- and medium-leverage situations he’s 17-for-52 (.327) with 12 walks. It’s not a small sample size either, it’s in line with his career numbers in high-leverage situations: .211/.315/.351.

The higher you bat in the order, the more opportunities you get to hit. Why would you want Hicks getting more opportunities over Judge, Rizzo, Stanton, Donaldson or LeMahieu? You wouldn’t. If Hicks were to bat near the bottom of the order and performed the way he does, I would have no problem with him. My problem isn’t with Hicks, it’s with the way the Yankees view and use him as if he’s Bernie Williams.

Hicks has 17 hits this season. Sixteen of them are singles and the other was a home run. He has no doubles. None. The Yankees’ season is 17 percent over. I wish for the next 83 percent the Yankees would bat Hicks seventh.

6. The only way Hicks could bat seventh frequently is if Torres didn’t play. As we have seen, that’s not going to happen. Because the catcher has to be the automatic out at the bottom of the lineup, and Kiner-Falefa plays every day and bats eighth, Hicks could bat seventh if Torres were on the bench. But Torres is rarely on the bench.

Torres had the walk-off home run against the Rangers on Sunday nd then went 0-for-6 with a walk the next two days. That’s kind of who Torres is. He will have big moments like he did with the pinch-hit sacrifice fly on Opening Day, the walk-off single against Cleveland, the three-RBI game in Toronto and the walk-off home run on Sunday, and everything in between will be unplayable.

Torres’ batting line is down to .220/.258/.685 this season with four home runs. Not good. Not good at all.

7. I would be happy if either of these lineups were the Yankees’ “everyday” (since they don’t have an everyday lineup because someone needs a day off every day):

DJ LeMahieu, 2B
Aaron Judge, RF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Giancarlo Stanton
Josh Donaldson
Joey Gallo
Aaron Hicks
Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Automatic out

Aaron Judge
Anthony Rizzo
Giancarlo Stanton
Josh Donaldson
DJ LeMahieu
Joey Gallo
Aaron Hicks
Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Automatic out

I would even be OK with Donaldson leading off again. I’m just not OK with Hicks leading off.

8. Cortes took a no-hitter into the eight on Monday. In appreciation of Cortes, here is what I wrote about him in my praise of the lefty back in the April 25 Yankees Thoughts:

Here are some things I wrote and tweeted about Nestor Cortes in 2019:

I guess this is a throwaway game. Nestor Cortes is warming up. – May 19, 2019

When it was announced that Nestor Cortes would start (or open) for the Yankees on Tuesday and when the lineup against the Tigers was posted and DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge and Luke Voit weren’t in it, I shook my head in disbelief like Lee Trevino in Happy Gilmore. – Sept. 11, 2019

I have no idea how he’s survived a demotion in more than four months, but I guess good for him? He’s been a New York Yankee, making a major-league salary and traveling in luxury nearly all season, earning service time toward his future pension. Good for him. Bad for Yankees fans. – Sept. 16, 2019

Nestor Cortes being on the major league roster for as long as he has is more impressive than Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak. – Sept. 28, 2019

There are more (many more), but you get the point. I didn’t like Cortes and he didn’t like pitching well.

The 2018 Orioles lost 115 games and they didn’t want Cortes, but the Yankees did. He somehow held a major-league roster spot for nearly the entire season on a Yankees team that won 103 games despite pitching to a 5.67 ERA and allowing 104 baserunners and 16 home runs in 66 2/3 innings. After the season he ended up pitching in Seattle in 2020, put 20 baserunners on and allowed six home runs in just 7 2/3 innings. For some unknown reason, the Yankees wanted him back for 2021, and thankfully they did.

Cortes was outstanding last season for the Yankees, both as a starter (14 starts) and reliever (eight appearances). This season he has been even better, allowing just two earned runs in a two-run home run and seven hits in 15 2/3 innings, while striking out 25. His pitch arsenal and unusual deliveries coupled with his results have made him the most enjoyable part of the season to date. With shades of El Duque, the four days between his starts feel like an eternity.

Cortes’ ERA+ in 2018, 2019 and 2020 was 60, 79 and 29. Last season it was 150, and this season it’s at a comical 323. (For perspective, Mariano Rivera is the all-time ERA+ lead at 205.) He hasn’t just been good or great or outstanding in 2022, he’s been the best pitcher in the league. The same guy who was piggybacking Chad Green as an opener two years ago and allowing at least three earned runs in each relief appearance is currently the best pitcher in the league. Fucking crazy.

Right now, Cortes is one of six pitchers I would say are the current front-runners to start the All-Star Game for the AL at Dodger Stadium. Yes, fucking crazy.

9. What’s really crazy is the Yankees is the play of the rest of the division to date. The Blue Jays have a minus-10 run differential and have played three games better than their expected record. The Red Sox have lost five straight, are nine games below .500 and are two games back in the loss column of the ORIOLES! It might only be May 10, but you can pretty much count the Red Sox out on the division. They will eventually (but hopefully not) get rolling and be in contention for one of the three wild-card spots because just about every non-division winner will be in contention for those, but when you consider this math, you can consider the Red Sox eliminated from the division:

If the Yankees play .500 baseball for their remaining 134 games, they will win 87 games. The Red Sox have to go 77-56 now to win 87 games.

To win 90 games, the Yankees will need to go 70-64. The Red Sox would need to go 80-53.

To win 95 games, the Yankees will need to go 75-59. The Red Sox would need to go 85-48.

Yes, the division is over for the Red Sox.

That means what was expected to be a four-team race to most (I always considered it to be a three-team race with the regression that never came for the 2021 Red Sox coming for the 2022 Red Sox), is now truly a three-team race.

10. The Yankees play one of the two teams beginning tonight against Toronto in what is a weird two-game series in which the Yankees will miss both Manhoah and Gausman, and will get a chance to avenge their sad offensive performance against Kikuchi on Tuesday and face Jose Berrios, who they always seem to hit on Wednesday.

Every game is important, but games against the Blue Jays and Rays are extra important. The Blue Jays have been playing poorly, having lost two in a row to Cleveland, and the Yankees have a chance to create even more separation (currently five games in the loss column) between them and the Blue Jays over the next two days.

Beating up on the bad teams has allowed the Yankees to just need to play .500 against the good teams. But when you miss Manoah and Gausman in a two-game series, it’s hard not to think about playing more than .500 against the Blue Jays.

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