Yankees Thoughts: Season-Long Road Trip Ends After Rolling Through Rangers

Yankees win sixth straight series and have won 19 of last 27 games

The Yankees’ season-long, three-city, 10-game road trip ended with a 7-3 record, three series wins and three straights wins. Now it’s back to the Bronx, where the Yankees will play the best team in the American League: the White Sox.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. I’m happy with the road trip. I wanted a 7-3 road trip and the Yankees provided it, winning all three series. They managed to play .700 baseball despite only outscoring the Rays, Orioles and Rangers 37-35. They were able win seven of 10 because they won a 3-1 game, a 1-0 game and two 2-0 games.

The offense is still a problem, and it’s going to continue to be a problem because one-third of the expected everyday lineup is currently injured (Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier), and while Frazier isn’t on the injured list like the other two, he hasn’t played since Monday. Gary Sanchez was removed from Tuesday’s game, Gleyber Torres just returned, Gio Urshela is dealing with a lingering knee issue and Aaron Judge seems to always be dealing with something.

2. Remember when the Yankees overhauled their entire training staff following 2019 and hired Eric Cressey and he was going to prevent the amount of injuries the Yankees had recently suffered? So much for that. That isn’t a knock on Cressey either. He was hired to do an impossible job: keep the Yankees healthy. It’s impossible because the Yankees’ roster is full of injury-prone and soft players. There’s no fixing that. Cressey notably changed the offseason workout routines of Judge and Stanton, and Judge has already missed four games due to injury and held out of others for fear of getting injured, while Stanton had four personal day off to prevent injury and still ended up on the injured list with a quad issue. The Yankees aren’t quite to the level of the 2019 Yankees when it comes to injuries, but they are on their way.

Because of the injuries, Brett Gardner, Rougned Odor, Mike Ford, Tyler Wade and Ryan LaMarre (until he was also injured) have become somewhat everyday players. It’s 2019 all over again with replacement players placing, minus the consistent production from the replacement players.

3. Given the Yankees’ disappointing loss in the series opener in which Gerrit Cole looked like Nick Nelson, I thought the Yankees were headed back to where they were in April. Instead, the Makeshift Yankees came through with a five-run rally on Tuesday to overcome the most recent deficit Jameson Taillon has put his team in, got a no-hitter from Corey Kluber on Wednesday and a combined shutout from Scumbag Domingo German, Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman on Thursday.

Cole had easily his worst start as a Yankee (5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR) and likely what will end up being his worst start of 2021 (at least I hope it is). When Cole is on (like he mostly is), it’s hard to envision any team ever hitting him, let alone the way the Rangers did with five extra-base hits in five innings. Cole gets a pass because of how good he is and because there’s no way (just knocked on wood) he will have back-to-back bad starts. He laid an egg and it’s over with. Now he gets the best team and best lineup in baseball on Saturday afternoon, and a chance to get back on track.

4. You know who doesn’t get a pass? Taillon. He has run out of passes. Another start in which he was unable to go five innings (five times in eight starts). Another start in which he allowed four earned runs (four times in eight starts). Another start in which he aallowed a home run (seven of eight starts). Another start in which he couldn’t put away hitters with two strikes.

Taillon is Phil Hughes. He looks like Hughes, throws like Hughes and can’t put anyone away with two strikes, allowing countless two-strike fouls, like Hughes. His stats also resembles Hughes’. Taillon has a 5.73 ERA, a 1.274 WHIP, has allowed nine home runs in only 37 2/3 innings and batters have an .806 OPS against him.

The season is more than a quarter complete at 27 percent and Taillon has been had for essentially all of it. I know, I know, he hasn’t pitched in two years. And yes, that’s a valid excuse, but there’s no time for excuses because of the Yankees’ horrific start to the season they are still trying to undo and because the top four teams in the AL East are all separated by one loss. The Yankees can’t wait around for Taillon to figure it out, and the same goes for Jordan Montgomery. They have to figure it out now, or the Yankees need to give Deivi Garcia a chance to.

5. Kluber has figured it out.

Back on Jan. 7, before Kluber became a Yankee, I wrote a blog titled Corey Kluber Is Perfect Low-Risk, High-Reward Candidate. In that blog, I wrote:

What I do see is the Yankees signing Corey Kluber. Rather, I want them to sign Kluber. I will go pick him up if needed.

Kluber faced three batters in 2020 before going down for the season. In 2019, he only threw 35 2/3 innings because of injury. But from 2014 through 2018 he was the best pitcher in the American League, pitching to a 2.85 ERA and 1.016 WHIP, while averaging 218 innings per season and 10.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings.

If the Yankees sign Kluber and he’s his 2018 self (20-8, 2.89 ERA, 0.991 WHIP, 9.3 K/9), well then they have Gerrit Cole, Kluber and potentially Luis Severino as their 1-2-3.

Over his last five starts, Kluber has looked every bit like his 2018 self. The Yankees have won all five of his starts, he has given the team length going at least 5 2/3 innings in all five starts and has pitched to this line: 35.1 IP, 21 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 9 BB, 36 K, 1 HR, 1.78 ERA, 0.850 WHIP.

I have never been worried about Kluber’s performance, just about his health. Even when Kluber didn’t look like himself early in the season, I still had an odd sense of confidence and comfort when he was on the mound, always thinking he would figure it out.

It took him nearly a month, but he has figured it out, and so far, the Yankees have hit on their low-risk, high-reward candidate.

6. After Cole’s clunker, I thought the Yankees could be looking at potentially getting swept by the last-place Rangers. The Yankees had once again only scored two runs in a game on Monday, and Aaron Boone put out this lineup on Tuesday:

DJ LeMahieu, 3B
Brett Gardner, CF
Aaron Judge, DH
Gio Urshela, SS
Rougned Odor, 2B
Gary Sanchez, C
Miguel Andujar, LF
Mike Ford, 1B
Ryan LaMarre, RF

That’s an early-March spring training lineup. Taillon put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole, but a shocking (mostly) two-out rally in the fourth inning saved the game.

With one out, Judge singled and Urshela doubled in Judge. Then with two outs and Urshela on first, Sanchez doubled in Urshela, Andujar singled in Sanchez, Ford singled, LaMarre walked and LeMahieu doubled in Andujar and Ford. The Yankees batted around in the inning, and Gardner made two of the inning’s outs.

7. The next night, the offense didn’t show up again. I thought there was a real chance Kluber could throw nine no-hit innings and the Yankees would eventually lose in extra innings because of the offense’s inability to do anything against Hyeon-Jong Yang. Thankfully, a Kyle Higashioka single and Tyler Wade triple, yes triple, gave the Yankees the lead. I didn’t know Wade was capable of hitting a line drive into the gap because he has never done it before in any of his five seasons with the Yankees. It was a more improbably feat than Kluber throwing a no-hitter, and I would bet a Yankee throws another no-hitter before we see Wade barrel a ball again.

8. The Yankees entered Thursday’s afternoon, getaway day game with an 0-5 record in weekday afternoon games and a 2-7 record in getaway day games, and for the first six innings we saw why. The Yankees hit into a couple more double plays to increase their league lead, ran into a couple of more outs on the basepaths, as if they think they have to be pegged by the ball to be out on, and also made Dane Dunning look like a star, allowing him to throw six shutout innings. With the Yankees’ offense enduring a season-long slump and missing one-third of its expected everyday members (Stanton, Hicks and Frazier), Boone decided to give Judge and Urshela the day off. Judge had only DH’d the previous two games, so he was getting a day off from only batting, and Urshela was just given Friday off, before being needed to hit a pinch-hit, three-run home run.

9. Urshela was needed again on Thursday after being unnecessarily given the first six innings of the game off for the second time in seven games. And for the second time in seven games, he delivered a go-ahead pinch-hit. With a 1-0 lead and Sanchez on second and Urshela on first, Boone then called on Judge to pinch hit. He singled in Sanchez to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. It’s a good thing Urshela and Judge both had the first six innings of the game off with the offense in its current state and the amount of everyday major leaguers available on the roster.

10. This weekend is going to be tough. The White Sox are the best team in the American League with a deep, balanced lineup and a strong rotation. All offseason I wrote and said the White Sox would be the Yankees’ biggest obstacle to reaching the World Series (aside from Boone), and that has proven to be true through the first nearly two months of the season. 

The Yankees will see Carlos Rodon (1.47 ERA), Dylan Cease (2.41 ERA) and familiar for Dallas Keuchel (4.44 ERA) this weekend. (Keuchel doesn’t scare me the way he once did after the Yankees finally solved him for good in the 2017 ALCS.) The Yankees will send Montgomery, Cole and Taillon to the mound. Their best starter sandwiched between their worst two. I expect Cole to pitch well, especially after his most recent start. I don’t expect much from either Montgomery or Taillon, and will be surprised if they are able to successfully navigate their way through the White Sox’ lineup.

The Yankees are 19-8 in their last 27 games and are 7-0-1 in their last eight series (and 7-0-2 if you count the two-game series against the Braves). It won’t be easy, but I want the Yankees’ current unbeaten series streak continue this weekend. That means winning two of three against the best team they have played this season.

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