Yankees Thoughts: The Best Pitcher in Baseball?

Luis Gil was impressive again and the offense did just enough to squeak by the Angels with a 2-1 win on Wednesday.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Last week I referred to Luis Gil as the “interim ace” of the Yankees, but maybe he’s just the actual ace of the team moving forward, no matter who’s in the rotation. On Wednesday night in Anaheim, Gil went a career-long eight innings and allowed just two hits and one earned run. The Yankees won 2-1 and finished May having won all six of Gil’s starts.

2. “Am I fully 100 percent surprised?” Gil asked of his dominance this season. “I’m not.”

Gil finished May with this ridiculous line: 38.2 IP, 14 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 12 BB, 44 K, 2 HR, 0.70 ERA, 0.672 WHIP. Batters hit .109/.184/.178 against him in the month.

3. “When you’re able to command pitches out there,” Gil said, “really good things happen.”

Gil leads the league in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (4.1), has struck out 79 in 63 1/3 innings and has only given up four home runs on the season (a 13-home run pace projected out over 200 innings). Of Gil’s 11 starts, the only time he gave up more than three earned runs was in Milwaukee, and the only time he really had no command was after the Yankees idiotically gave him eight days off between starts. He hasn’t just filled in for Gerrit Cole, he has been better than Gerrit Cole.

4. If the Yankees had to play one game for their season right now, I don’t know how you don’t pick Gil to start it. Certainly, he may be a little too amped (think Luis Severino in the 2017 wild-card game), but if he’s on, he’s as good as any starting pitcher in baseball.

“Having Gerrit Cole around and being able to listen to the points that he’s giving me,” Gil said, “it’s been great.”

5. Someone is leaving the rotation when Cole returns. I don’t envision the Yankees going with a six-man rotation, but maybe they will surprise us. If all five members of the current rotation are heathy, given the combination of production and money owed, I’m not sure who the odd man out will be. (I know who I would make it be, but again veteran status, reputation and money owed are more important than winning typically for the Yankees.) Usually these things have a way of taking care of themselves (injuries, lack of production, etc.) and Cole isn’t coming back any time soon, and maybe by the time he does, the Yankees will be in dire need of rotation help (knock on all of the wood). All I know is right now, Gil can’t lose his spot for any reason, including workload. He has been the team’s best starter. He’s been arguably the best starter in the majors.

6. Gil is only getting better too. He shut out the Orioles for 6 1/3 innings in Baltimore to lead the Yankees to their only win in that four-game series. Then in his next start, he allowed one hit over six innings to the Astros. He followed up that up by shutting out the Rays over six innings in Tampa (a magnificent start I got to watch in person), and then he struck out a career-high 14 against the White Sox to set the Yankees’ rookie single-game strikeout record. He pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Mariners last Thursday and then there was Wednesday’s masterpiece against the Angels.

“I’m friendly with a couple of guys on other teams,” Anthony Volpe said, “and they’re saying after games that it’s the most electric fastball they’ve ever faced.”

7. Volpe has been on a nice run of his own and extended his hitting streak to 21 games with a leadoff single on Wednesday. He later added a triple that he would score on after the Angels sloppily threw the ball around. Volpe has had multiple hits in five of the last seven games and has returned to being the guy he was for the first week of the season.

Volpe’s season can be broken down into three parts:

March 28-April 14: .382/.477/1.041
April 15-May 5: .163/.247/.238
May 7-May 29: .341/.378/.550

8. The Yankees needed Gil to be as dominant as he was and for Volpe to score on his wild triple because the offense was nowhere to be found in terms of driving in runs for a third straight game. A day after scoring three runs and stranding 10 baserunners, the Yankees scored two runs and stranded 13 baserunners, including stranding all nine of their walks.

Nothing was more frustrating than in the first inning when Volpe singled, Juan Soto and Aaron Judge walked and the Yankees had the bases loaded with no outs. Followings two straight walks, Giancarlo Stanton decided to swing at the first pitch he saw and popped it up in the infield. The infield fly rule was enforced and Stanton was called out, but in getting back to second base, Soto and Angels’ shortstop Zach Neto bumped into each other and Soto was also called out for interfering with the play. The call of interference was the right call by the rulebook, but also nonsensical since Soto didn’t have a lane to get back to the base and Stanton was already called out because of the infield fly rule. As mentioned on the YES broadcast, on a play like that, the play should be ruled dead since the batter is already out and the ball doesn’t even need to be caught. Instead, it was a double play against the Yankees and they wouldn’t score in the inning.

9. I figured that play and not scoring with the bases loaded and no outs in the first would come back to haunt the Yankees, and it nearly did with Clay Holmes on the mound in the ninth.

Here is what I wrote about Holmes on Wednesday:

I don’t trust Holmes with anything less than a four-run lead If the Yankees don’t have a big lead, the bullpen will either blow it or come as close as possible to blowing it, and Boone will see to it.

Holmes allowed a leadoff single to Luis Rengifo on a ground ball to begin the ninth after getting ahead of him 0-2. (Reminder: having a closer that relies on weak contact isn’t a great strategy since bad things happen when the ball is put into play.) Holmes then threw a wild pitch to move Rengifo to second. With the tying run on second and the winning run on first with no outs and ex-Yankee Willie Calhoun up, I figured the law of ex-Yankees would come into play with every former Yankee coming up big against their former team. Thankfully, Calhoun hit into a 4-6-3 double play. Rengifo moved to third with two outs, but never scored as Logan O’Hoppe hit a rocket to third base that DJ LeMahieu in just his second game of the season was able to make a spectacular play on to field the ball and throw out O’Hoppe. Ballgame over. Yankees win.

10. On Thursday night the Yankees will face left-handed Patrick Sandoval in the series finale. Sandoval hasn’t been good this year (5.60 ERA), but he has pitched decently well in three career starts against the Yankees (18.1 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 11 BB, 19 K, 1 HR, 3.93 ERA, 1.091 WHIP).

Carlos Rodon gets the start for the Yankees. His lone start again the Angels as a Yankee came last July  19 in Anaheim. That was the game Rodon got lit up (4.1 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 5 BB , 3 K, 2 HR) and then responded to heckling fans behind the Yankees dugout by blowing them a kiss. I trust Rodon about as much as I trust Holmes, so hopefully the offense shows up for the first time in this series and takes Rodon, Aaron Boone and the bullpen out of the equation.