Yankees Thoughts: Still Not Scared of Blue Jays

Yankees improve to 6-3 against Blue Jays after two-game sweep

The Yankees won another series. They swept a two-game series from the Blue Jays to increase their division lead and improve to 6-3 on the year against the preseason American League favorite.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. After the Yankees went to Toronto and won two of three last week, I wrote Yankees Thoughts: Don’t Be Scared of Blue Jays. In those Thoughts, I wrote:

The Blue Jays’ bullpen isn’t very good overall. We saw that on Tuesday night when they let a 1-1 game turn into a laugher with the Yankees scoring eight runs over the final three innings. Jordan Romano is really the only Blue Jays reliever I’m scared of and he nearly blew Wednesday’s one-run lead for the Yankees and kept their winning streak going.

When completely healthy, I think the lineups are close to equal and the rotations are close to equal. (I actually think the Yankees have a better lineup and rotation than the Blue Jays, but that just might be my fandom.) The biggest difference between the two teams is the bullpen, where the Yankees have an advantage over the entire majors. There’s no bullpen in the majors that could use Jonathan Loaisiga, Miguel Castro, Clay Holmes and Chad Green to close out four innings one night, go to Wandy Peralta, Castro again and Lucas Luetge the next night, and Michael King and Holmes again the following night and pitch 11 scoreless innings. The Yankees won two of three in Toronto and never even used Aroldis Chapman. The Blue Jays scored five runs in the three games.

After these latest two games against the Blue Jays, my thinking remains and has been further proved correct.

2. The Blue Jays are good. Not great. Good. They have as good of a 1 through 4 lineup as any team in the league and they have a solid rotation. But the bottom half of their order is blah. Their rotation isn’t as stable in actual play as it is on paper, and their bullpen is a flat-out mess. You have to try really hard to convince yourself that they are better than the Yankees in any aspect of the game.

That’s not to say the Yankees don’t have their own problems. The offense can disappear at any moment, the rotation is filled with oft-injured arms, the team as a whole has an extended history of injuries and their manager is a moron. The only extremely sound part of the Yankees is the bullpen.

But as I also wrote in those Thoughts: If I learned anything this week, the only thing keeping the Yankees from winning the AL East is health.

As long as the Yankees are healthy, they are the best team in the AL.

3. Gleyber Torres used to pad his stats against the Orioles. That has now changed to the Blue Jays. In eight games (seven starts) against the Blue Jays in 2022, Torres has hit three home runs with 9 RBIs. After driving in all three of the Yankees’ runs in a 3-2 win a week ago in Toronto, Torres drove in all five of the Yankees’ runs in their 5-3 win on Wednesday.

Torres’ production has been limited in 2022, but when he does do something at the plate, it seems to come in a crucial situation. He had the game-tying sacrifice fly on Opening Day. He had the walk-off single in the ninth-inning rally against Cleveland. He had that three-RBI game in Toronto last week. He had the walk-off home run on Sunday against Texas. He had the five-RBI game against Toronto on Wednesday. As crazy as it sounds, you want Torres up in a big spot.

To me, Torres still isn’t good and isn’t worthy of everyday playing time. Maybe his batting average on balls in play will improve, but for now, even with all he has done against the Blue Jays, he’s still hitting .222/.258/.444 on the season, which is awful. On Tuesday, he couldn’t field a routine grounder on a perfect hop to his glove, and on Wednesday he couldn’t complete the transfer in what should have been an easy double play. The bat still isn’t good enough and the glove isn’t close to good enough.

4. The pitching continues to be more than good enough. Through 30 games, the Yankees are 22-8, and they had a chance to win all eight of their losses. They have yet to have a start from their rotation completely take them out of game, and they have yet to be blown out in any game. Their only two losses in May were by one and two runs. Their April losses were by one, three, two, one, five and three runs. In the five-run loss, the game was 0-0 in the eighth, and in their second three-run loss, they trailed 1-0 in the eighth. Their “worst” loss of the season was their 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays back on April 11 when Alek Manoah (their kryptonite) shut them down.

In the first game of the series, Luis Severino was forced to grind through his start. He needed 29 pitches to get through the first and 36 to get through the second. That’s a lot of pitches in a short amount of time for someone who has barely pitched over the last three years because of injury. But as the game went on, Severino got better.

He put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole through two before pitching a perfect third and perfect fourth. In the fifth, he retired George Springer (why couldn’t he have signed with a National League team as a free agent?) and struck out Bo Bichette. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. singled on a ground ball through the right side and Severino was pulled for Miguel Castro. Severino turned what was on the verge of being a meltdown into a respectable 4 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts. He kept the team in the game, and eventually the Yankees won 6-5.

5. Castro coming in for Severino was a fine move by Aaron Boone. Severino had thrown 97 pitches and even if Guerrero Jr.’s single was a grounder, Severino was either at or right near his limit. Given how many high-stress pitches he had to throw in the first and second, it made sense to get him out.

While it was fine in that circumstance, there’s nothing Boone loves more than not giving his relievers a clean inning to work with. (OK, maybe he likes to give his players unnecessary days off more than he likes to bring his relievers in with runners on.) The amount of times Boone tries to steal outs with a pitcher before then going to the next pitcher who is already warm and ready to enter is astonishing. Boone has an abundance of flaws as a manager. Pretty much every managerial quality of his is a flaw. But there’s no bigger flaw than his inability to avoid stealing outs. Going to a reliever or the next reliever one batter too late is the worst thing about Boone.

6. It’s a good thing Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge exist because otherwise the Yankees would have been shut out on Tuesday. Stanton’s game-tying three run home run was a Yankee Stadium special, but Judge’s game-winning three home run was anything but, as it reached the second deck in left field.

After Stanton hit his home run off Yimi Garcia, Garcia drilled Josh Donaldson on a pitch that had zero intent. The Blue Jays are trying to win the division. They are trying to beat the Yankees. Garcia is trying to stay in the majors. That last thing he’s doing in a big spot is throwing at Donaldson to put the go-ahead run on base. That didn’t stop the umpires from ejecting Garcia.

That decision from the umpires was horrible for the Yankees. Garcia’s career has been built around blowing big games. He had blown the game against the Yankees a week ago in Toronto and had just blown another one. The Yankees wanted him in the game, and the umpires took him out of it. That decision brought David Phelps into the game, and the last thing any Yankees fan should ever want is an ex-Yankee pitching or playing against the Yankees. All ex-Yankees do against the Yankees is succeed. So of course Phelps got out of the inning, eventually setting up the Yankees needing that Judge home run in the ninth.

7. Judge got that chance because the Blue Jays’ best reliever Jordan Romano struggled in his second straight appearance against the Yankees. A week ago, he needed a great defensive play from Matt Chapman and an unbelievable scoop from Guerrero Jr. to avoid blowing a ninth-inning lead to the Yankees. On Tuesday, after retiring Isiah Kiner-Falefa, he inexplicably walked Jose Trevino. I don’t know how someone with Romano’s pedigree walks someone with Trevino’s, but it happened. Then he walked DJ LeMahieu as well, bringing up Judge.

Going into that inning, I didn’t think the Yankees had much of a chance. You had to assume Kiner-Falefa and Trevino wouldn’t reach, and then the Yankees would be down to their final out, needing LeMahieu to reach to give Judge a chance at tying the game with one swing.

You shouldn’t have that little faith in two batters in the lineup to possibly reach base, as I do (and I think every Yankees fan does) in Kiner-Falefa and Trevino. I would put the Yankees’ 8-9 combination against any of the other 29 teams as being the worst in the majors. It’s not just Trevino (.175/.233/.200). It’s also Kyle Higashioka (.140/.200/.200), who is somehow worse offensively than Trevino.

I can’t imagine the Yankees plan on going through the entire season with Kiner-Falefa and the Trevino/Higashioka combination making up 22 percent of their lineup. None of the three can hit, and if you want an all-glove shortstop who can’t hit, get an all-glove shortstop who can’t hit. Kiner-Falefa isn’t an all-glove shortstop who can’t hit. He’s a pretty good-glove shortstop who can’t hit. He doesn’t make the routine play look easy like truly elite defenders do and I feel only slightly more comfortable when he goes to field or throw a ball than I did when Torres was making a mockery of the position. Kiner-Falefa isn’t good enough defensively to let his bat slide and operate under the adage that whatever he provides offensively is a bonus because the Yankees are already operating under that adage at another lineup spot in catcher. With Kiner-Falefa’s glove, limited ability to get on base and absolutely no power, it’s just not going to cut it.

And if they Yankees do plan on playing this entire season with that trio playing every day, they better pray the stars in the lineup hit like stars all season, or that the pitching continues to be as good as it has ever been for the Yankees.

8. Jameson Taillon is a big reason why the pitching has been outstanding in 2022. I still trust him the least of the five starts in the Yankees’ rotation, but he’s held down the Blue Jays in back-to-back starts after they knocked him around for 6.23 ERA and 1.308 WHIP in three starts last season.

Taillon has a 2.93 ERA and a 3.25 FIP in 2022 with just three walks in 30 2/3 innings. A big part of his success has been his ability to keep the ball on the right side of the fence, allowing a home run every 10 innings compared to every six innings last season. My fear of traffic on the bases (Boone!) every inning he pitches and watching Phil Hughes 2.0 on the mound has diminished. Taillon has been great in 2022.

9. The Yankees have been great in 2022. The two-game series sweep of the Blue Jays has created some serious separation in the division. Right now the Yankees have a loss column lead of five over Tampa Bay, seven over Toronto, 10 over Baltimore and 12(!) over Boston. The Orioles were never a threat to win the division and you can eliminate the Red Sox as an option as well. (If the Yankees were to play .500 baseball for the rest of the season, they would finish with 87 wins. The Red Sox have to go 76-55 to finish with 87 wins.)

The supposed four-team race is now a three-team race, and the Yankees have an incredible advantage in the race. Their hot start (something they haven’t had in years) and ability to beat up on bad teams (something they haven’t done with consistently in recent seasons) has given them a cushion to play with. Not that they should “play with” their cushion and piss away what they have built, just that they can afford to have the offense disappear or the rotation falter or the bullpen blow a few games and it won’t destroy their season like it did last year.

10. The Yankees’ upcoming schedule is favorable. The next four days will be spent in Chicago playing an underachieving White Sox team that was supposed to run away with the Central and has just gotten over .500 thanks to an abysmal offense. After that it’s back to Baltimore where the Yankees need to avenge their disastrous mid-April series there. Then it’s back home to host both the White Sox and Orioles and then four games in Tampa for the first meeting of the season with the Rays.

That’s 18 games in 18 days (as of now and barring any weather issues). There will be a lot of unnecessary rest over these next two-plus weeks and a lot of questionable lineups. That’s just how Boone and the Yankees operate and given the current lead they have in the division, they are going to take load management and days off to another level.

When this run is over, it will be Memorial Day (a day in which the Yankees inexplicably don’t have a game and don’t have one on the Fourth of July either). By then, with this schedule, their division lead should be even bigger.

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