Yankees Thoughts: Two Out of Three at the Trop

Yankees have won 14 of 20 and are 5-0-1 in last six series

The Yankees did what they rarely ever do by beating the Rays on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Not only did they beat the Rays, but they won a series against them at Tropicana Field.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The series opener in Tampa was the best start of Jordan Montgomery’s career. The Yankees needed a big performance from someone other than Gerrit Cole, needed to set the tone for the three games and needed to beat the Rays. Montgomery was great, allowed only one run (a Mike Zunino solo home run since Zunino has to homer in every series against the Yankees) and struck out a career-high nine. He avoided the crooked number inning which has been a staple of his career, didn’t give up a lead (another staple of his career) and gave the Yankees six great innings. His next start comes on Sunday in Baltimore against the Orioles, who he has pitched well against in two starts this season (11 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 1 HR, 1.64 ERA, 1.000 WHIP), so I expect him to have another big day at Camden Yards.

The only thing that worries me is Sunday will be the sixth game in six days for the Yankees as part of this season-long, 10-game road trip. A Sunday getaway day game before going to Texas for four straight games means we are going to see something resembling a spring training lineup from Aaron Boone in the series finale in Baltimore. Montgomery better have his “A” stuff because he might not get much run support.

2. No Yankees starter is really getting any run support. The Yankees scored five runs in the three games in Tampa (1.7 per game). The series prior they scored “11” runs against the Nationals, but three of those runs were a result of the automatic runner at second base in the 10th and 11th innings, so they really only scored eight runs in that series (2.7 per game). Even against the Astros, three of their 17 runs came on an Alex Bregman throwing error.

The Yankees’ offense is nowhere near having arrived in 2021. They are fourth in the division in runs (only ahead of the last-place Orioles by five), and only ahead of the Orioles and Tigers in the entire American League.

3. “I’m not worried about our offense,” DJ LeMahieu said after Thursday’s loss. “We’re in a good place.”

Three “everyday” Yankees are below the Mendoza line in Gary Sanchez (.197), Aaron Hicks (.194) and Clint Frazier (.141), as are Brett Gardner (.182), Rougned Odor (.164) and Mike Ford (.095). Miguel Andujar doesn’t have a hit in 13 at-bats and Luke Voit doesn’t have one in six.

LeMahieu himself is only hitting .264 with a .716 OPS. He has three home runs on the season and two of them came in the same game. Aaron Judge has been inconsistent, Giancarlo Stanton’s crazy two-week run has ended, Gleyber Torres has been mostly bad and Gio Urshela has been pretty good, but is hurt again, and probably won’t play on Friday.

Ronald Acuna has a league-leading 12 home runs. That’s two more home runs than LeMahieu, Frazier, Ford, Torres, Andujar, Gardner, Voit and Tyler Wade have combined. Even if you had in Jay Bruce (who retired after playing in 10 games and still has as many home runs as Torres) and Mike Tauchman (who was traded to the Giants two weeks ago), Acuna still has one more home run than all of those players combined.

The offense was supposed to be a sure-thing in the regular season until the lineup only faces elite pitching in the postseason, and the starting pitching was supposed to be the team’s biggest concern (it was, but it’s been much better of late). It’s been the opposite through 37 games and 22 percent of the season.

4. Cole has never been a concern. Cole dominated the Rays on Thursday to clinch the three-game series for the Yankees with eight shutout innings and 12 strikeouts. If not for the magical catching powers of Kyle Higashioka, I don’t know that Cole would be capable of the season he’s having, currently leading the league in wins (5), FIP (1.11), WHIP (0.684), walks per nine (0.5) and strikeouts per walks (26). Somehow, even with a 1.37 ERA over 52 2/3 innings, the Yankees are only 5-3 in his eight starts, and had to win 1-0 in his most recent start.

The offense has scored 31 runs in Cole’s eight starts (3.9 per game) and 10 of those came in one game (10-0 win on April 30 against the Tigers) when he only needed one run to work with because of his six shutout innings. Take away that game, which is the only time the Yankees have scored double-digit runs this season, and it’s 21 runs across seven games. If any other Yankees starter was given the run support Cole has been given, the Yankees would be much worse than the 5-3 they are in Cole’s starts.

5. In theory, Jameson Taillon is good. He’s 6-foot-5, 230 lbs., a former second-overall pick, throws hard and has a devastating curve. On top of that, he’s an easy guy to root for given his health and injury history. In reality, Taillon hasn’t been good as a Yankee. Sure, he’s only made seven starts, but he hasn’t given the team length (four of seven starts have been less than five innings and six of seven have been five innings or less), and the performance has been mediocre at best (5.40 ERA and 4.45 FIP).

I didn’t expect more from Taillon. He’s giving me what I thought he would as a guy who has barely pitched in two years. To me, he’s Phil Hughes. He looks like Hughes on the mound, throws exactly like Hughes with his new short-arm delivery and can’t put away hitters with two strikes, just like Hughes couldn’t. If this is what Taillon is going to be full time, then OK, he’s a solid No. 5 starter. However, that’s not what he was advertised as or traded for to be.

6. Luke Voit made his 2021 season debut on Tuesday. He played on Tuesday and on Wednesday. On Thursday, he wasn’t in the lineup. Why? A planned day off, according to Boone. A planned day off after having had already had the first month-plus of the season off. To make matters worse, the Yankees faced a lefty in Rich Hill and could have used Voit’s right-handed bat in the middle of the order.

There is no medical fact or any science behind giving a player a day off after playing two games following knee surgery. The only way to prevent a player from an injury is to not play. Ever. Does Voit having Thursday make it any less likely he won’t get hurt on Friday or Saturday? Of course not. All it did was make it so he wouldn’t get hurt on Thursday. If the Yankees have solved injury prevention as an organization then why do they hold the single-season record for most players placed on the injured list and why do all of their players keep getting hurt?

7. Aaron Hicks wasn’t in Thursday’s lineup because of wrist soreness, requiring an MRI. This comes after Hicks was held out of Tuesday’s lineup because he fouled a ball off his leg on Sunday. (He was healthy enough to play through the foul ball and finish the game on Sunday, and healthy enough to be in the original lineup on Tuesday, though not healthy enough to actually play on Tuesday.) As a Yankee, Hicks has had every injury imaginable, and this wrist issue is the latest to be added to the long list. There wasn’t an update on Hicks following the game, which isn’t good, and I expect to him at least go on the injured list. It wouldn’t be baseball season without Hicks landing on the IL at least once.

8. Gary Sanchez is quietly coming out of his slump. He’s 4-for-13 with a double, two home runs and three walks in his last four games. His average still sucks (.197), however, nearly Yankees batting average sucks.

Sanchez’s on-base percentage is up to .351 and he has walked in 15 of the 24 games he has played in, including six of the last seven. Even in Sanchez’s 33-home run 2017 season, his on-base percentage was only .345 and in his 34-home run 2019 season, his on-base percentage was .316. The power hasn’t completely been there (though four home runs in 24 games is a 27-home run pace over 162 games), but we are seeing good things out of Sanchez at the plate.

9. Meanwhile, Higashioka who briefly took over the majority of the catching duties is hitting .087/.192/.261 over this last 26 plate appearances. Thankfully for him, one of his two hits in that time was a home run (the one off Max Scherzer), otherwise his .453 OPS would be even worse than it is, and it doesn’t get much worse than that.

Again, I like Highashioka. But he’s not a starting catcher and he’s not better than Sanchez. He doesn’t have magical powers that make starting pitchers better, and he has zero to do with Cole being one of the best two or three pitchers in the world, if not the best pitcher in the world. It was only a matter of time until Higashioka gave way to Sanchez again, and it happened even faster than I thought it would.

10. The Yankees have won 14 of 20 and are 5-0-1 in their last six series. If they continue to play like they have over their last 20 games, they will be where they want to be at the end of the season and that is as AL East champions with the best record in the AL and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The easy way to achieve that is to beat up the bad teams in the AL, and there are a lot of them. The Yankees have gone 7-3 against the Orioles and the Tigers this season, which is good, but not good enough (because of their play against the Rays and Blue Jays), considering they are only 4-3 against the Orioles. This weekend in Baltimore presents another chance for the Yankees win another series and beat up on a bad team before going to Texas for four games against another bad team.

The hard part of the 10-game road trip is over and the Yankees did what they needed to do in Tampa. A 5-2 record in Baltimore and Texas isn’t too much to ask. It shouldn’t be too much to ask.

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