Yankees Thoughts: Sweeps Are Sweet

Yankees have won nine straight and 11 of 12 to move into first in majors

The Yankees swept the Royals to extend their winning streak to nine straight. They have won 11 of 12 and sit alone in first place in the American League and in all of baseball. It’s been a beautiful two weeks.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Eleven of the 13 last days have been glorious. I have been in a happy, cheerful mood, and I have slept well even with a 19-month-old and two-week-old and overall life has been fantastic. That’s because the Yankees have won nine straight and 11 of 12. Those other two days in the last 13? One was an off day following the debacle in Baltimore and the other was when the Yankees were shut out by the Tigers in Detroit.

The Yankees just completed their third straight sweep of at least three games of the season. They didn’t sweep a series of at least three games for the third time until June 15-17 last year. They are also 10 games above .500, a mark they didn’t reach last season until August 5 last year, following their 108th game. The 2022 Yankees have done their job. They have played well against good teams (4-3 against the Red Sox and Blue Jays), and have beaten up on the bad teams (12-3 against the Orioles, Tigers, Guardians and Royals). They have done exactly what the Yankees are supposed to do.

2. The most encouraging part of the first 14 percent of 2022 has been the Yankees’ ability to be in every game. Here are their six losses:

Lost 4-3 to the Red Sox (left 13 of 16 baserunners on)
Lost 3-0 to the Blue Jays
Lost 6-4 to the Blue Jays (had tying run at the plate in the eighth and ninth)
Lost 2-1 in 11 innings to the Orioles
Lost 5-0 to the Orioles (game was 0-0 in the bottom of the eighth)
Lost 3-0 to the Tigers (game was 1-0 entering the bottom of the eighth)

The Yankees’ most lopsided loss of the season was the 3-0 loss to Alek Manoah and the Blue Jays on April 11. When you have played 14 percent of your season and your most lopsided loss is a three-run defeat to the favorite to win the AL with their best starter on the mound, well, you’re doing something right. The Yankees have either won or had a chance to win every game of the season. It’s remarkable.

3. This weekend against the Royals went as it should have: the Yankees beat up on another bad team. It’s been a while since the Yankees took care of business against the league’s worst, but they have now done so for three straight series, sweeping the Guardians, Orioles and Royals.

Four batters into the series opener against left-hander Kris Bubic, the Yankees had doubled, lined out and hit back-to-back home runs. With one out in the top of the first they had a 3-0 lead, and it seemed like the rest of the game would be a formality. Nestor Cortes didn’t have his best stuff and the defense played like they were putting a few back in the dugout, and entering the seventh, the Yankees led just 3-2 before blowing the game open with four in the eighth and five in the ninth.

Every starter except for Tim Locastro (why does he unnecessarily dive and jump on every fly ball hit to him?) had a hit and six starters drove in runs, including Kyle Higashioka who hit a three-run, bases-clearing double on ground ball down the third-base line. Despite producing just his second extra-base hit of the season and quadrupling his RBI total from one to four, Higashioka wasn’t in the lineup on Saturday. Why? Because Gerrit Cole was starting.

4. It’s ironic that Gary Sanchez is no longer a Yankee because Cole made Higashioka his personal catcher and now Higashioka is no longer Cole’s personal catcher. (What happened to all that stuff about growing up playing together and being comfortable and used to each other?)

After Cole’s clunker in Detroit, I tweeted:

Kyle Higashioka should be worried. Not only does he suck, but Gerrit Cole is running out of excuses for why he sucks, and eventually scapegoating Higashioka and requesting to pitch to Jose Trevino is coming.

Sure enough, Jose Trevino was catching Cole’s very next start against the Guardians. And after Cole dominated (6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K), there was no chance Higashioka was catching Cole again. So there was Trevino again on Saturday behind the plate against the Royals, and there was Cole dominating again (6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K).

Cole was going to pitch well against the Guardians or Royals regardless of who was behind the plate. The Guardians have one hitter to fear and at most two others that you’re a little worried about. The Royals have the worse offense in the majors. It didn’t matter that Trevino was there, and it wouldn’t have mattered if Higashioka was there, just like it never mattered that Higashioka was there over Sanchez. The whole idea of a personal catcher is outrageous, and that’s proven by Cole needing a second personal catcher in as many years.

When Trevino caught Cole the first time, Aaron Boone said it was just something he wanted to try, as if he had any amount of say in the decision to who catches Cole. Cole picks who he throws to. But there was Boone again saying on Saturday not to read into Trevino catching Cole again. Considering Cole threw to Higashioka in all three of his 2020 postseason starts, threw to him in every 2021 start outside of Opening Day and when Higashioka had COVID and threw to him his first three starts of 2022, yeah, we’re all reading into it. It’s been read. Trevino is going to catch Higashioka from here on out.

And that’s a good thing. Because Trevino is a better player than Higashioka. Quite possibly every player in Major League Baseball is a better player than Higashioka. I mean he has a .386 OPS for fuck’s sake. He doesn’t hit. He leads the league with three passed balls. He doesn’t do anything well. His whole purpose was supposed to be that he had some magical influence on Cole, as if Cole wasn’t already great and arguably the best pitcher in the world without him. (Reminder: the Yankees’ last two seasons ended with Cole starting and Higashioka catching.) Now that he’s not catching Cole, he has no purpose being on the Yankees.

5. I have already written and said many times that Gleyber Torres also shouldn’t be a Yankee. But he is and he’s going to continue to be. For as long as he is, can he not bat fifth? Can the Yankees stop rewarding and promoting mediocre players within the lineup?

Going back to when the 11 wins in the last 12 games started in Detroit, Torres has started eight of the 12 games. Seven of those eight starts have come at second base, which means seven times in the last 12 games, the Yankees purposely move a multiple Gold Glove-winning second baseman in DJ LeMahieu off the position to play Torres. No one will ever know how much that bothers me because I can’t describe it in a way that does it justice. And when you willingly play someone who’s as bad a defender as Torres is and who has as low of a Baseball IQ as Torres does, you get plays like the one one on Saturday when Torres thought he could outrun Bobby Witt Jr. in a rundown.

Torres’ bat has been better of late, but it’s still not good. Going back to the Detroit series, he’s hitting .281/.294/.763 and is now at .222/.261/.397 on the season. Neither is impressive and the overall slash line is horrible.

Unfortunately, Torres is going to continue to play as the Yankees continue to not want to admit his 2018-19 success will never be replicated and that player no longer exists. Unless the juiced baseball comes back, this is who Torres is: a free-swinging, low-on-base player with little power who’s also a bad defender. But get him as many at-bats as possible!

6. It might be good to get Josh Donaldson as many at-bats as possible and to stop sitting a player who is owed $48 million between this season and next. Donaldson had 12 career plate appearances against Friday’s starter Bubic (the most of any Yankee) with a 1.242 OPS, and yet, he didn’t play.

Donaldson has not started three games already this season. The Yankees have played 22 games and he has only started 13 at third base. The Yankees traded for Donaldson and took on his remaining salary to play him in the field 59 percent of the time? What?

We saw how Giancarlo Stanton’s production took a hit when he became a full-time designated hitter and what happened when he went back to playing the outfield regularly: he was back to hitting like an MVP. Donaldson has a .777 OPS when he plays third and a .487 OPS when he’s the DH. Play him regularly and play him at third like he’s supposed to.

7. Neither Cortes (5 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K) or Luis Severino (5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR) had their best stuff in their starts in Kansas City and the Yankees won both games. Cortes’ stuff wasn’t that far off and his line was more a product of the Yankees’ defense. But Severino had to grind through each inning of his start, and still managed to get through five, while keeping the Royals at four runs. His ability to keep it right there gave the Yankees a chance to come back.

I still think he should have been out of the game after the first two batters reached in the fourth, and he should have definitely been out after he was allowed to finish the fourth, regardless of him pitching a scoreless fifth. Severino missed essentially all of 2019, did miss all of 2020, and missed essentially all of 2021 for various injuries. The last thing the Yankees need is him throwing around 30 high-stress pitches in the fourth inning of the 22nd game of the season when they have an extended bullpen for roster expansion and when they have Clarke Schmidt ready to go, who hadn’t pitched in 13 days. Irresponsible managing from Boone.

Schmidt pitched a scoreless sixth for his first appearance since April 19, the night Cole got rocked by the Tigers. After the game, Schmidt was sent down (as was Miguel Andujar despite a two-hit day) because of the roster losing two spots. The decision to send Schmidt down made sense. He’s the Yankees’ best pitching “prospect” and their most important depth pitching piece. When the Yankees need a starter at some point, you want it to be Schmidt. Having him sit in the bullpen for two weeks going unused and pitching sporadically isn’t in the best interest of the team. (Unfortunately for him, it is in the best interest of his bank account and his service time clock.) He will be back at some point.

8. I will never not think Aaron Judge made the wrong decision by turning down the more-than-fair, seven-year, $230 million offer from the Yankees. Even if he were able to replicate his 2017 rookie season, $230 million still might be the best offer he gets. Given his age, injury history and what he would need to do to top that offer, the chance of doing so would be as likely as Aaron Hicks playing 140 games in a season. And even with his early-season production, given his age and injury history, its still unlikely.

But so far Judge has done everything he can to put himself in position to improve that $230 million offer from the Yankees or improve what another team might value him at. After a slow start, he’s up to .300/.364/.663 with eight home runs. Maybe the Yankees will increase their offer after the season with a career year from Judge, or maybe Judge will be another Robinson Cano (who was designated for assignment by the Mets on Monday) and end up playing somewhere else in 2022. If he keeps this level of production up, some team will pay him more his late-30s decline.

9. The mid-30s, post-juiced baseball decline of LeMahieu was premature. I refrained from ever getting on LeMahieu during his down 2021 because of how good he was in 2019 and 2020. I’m loyal, unlike many Yankees fans who crushed him daily, while he played through the season with a hernia that forced him to miss the one-game playoff and would have forced him to miss the entire postseason if the Yankees had won the one-game playoff. That injury required surgery and now resolved, LeMahieu looks like his 2019 and 2020 self even with the non-juiced baseballs.

After starting the season hitting in the middle of he order, LeMahieu has regained his leadoff status and is hitting .299/.372/.442 on the year. He has a 141 OPS+ and seven extra-base hits after having 35 all of last year. Pre-injury LeMahieu is back.

10. Yankees-Blue Jays is also back as the Yankees head to Toronto for the first time this season and as a completely-vaccinated team, the Yankees won’t be leaving anyone behind in the U.S. to watch the games from afar.

Unfortunately, for the Yankees, both Cole and Severino won’t pitch in the series as it will be Jordan Montgomery (I don’t feel great about him facing the righty-heavy Blue Jays), Jameson Taillon (I don’t feel great about him ever) and Cortes (here’s to him shutting down the Blue Jays like he did in April). Fortunately, for the Yankees, they will get to face Ross Stripling and Yusei Kikuchi sandwiched around Alek Manoah, who dominates them. No Jose Berrios and No Kevin Gausman.

It’s a rather even matchup from a starting pitching perspective, and because the Yankees’ bullpen is an advantage over every other team in the majors, they will need their offense to show up against a Blue Jays team that is seven games over .500 with just a plus-1 run differential.

I don’t expect the Yankees’ sweep streak to continue in Toronto. They just can’t be on the other end of one.

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