BALTIMORE — What to make of the Yankees’ performance so far through their Summer Siesta?
Would you prefer to get encouraged by their pitching? Distressed by their offense? Encouraged by their offense? Choose your own outlook adventure.
What interests me most is the arrival of J.A. Happ and his stabilization of the Yankees’ pitching staff for October. What would concern me most, if I cared about the Yankees’ fortunes, is how much or little the team can hope to get from the currently injured duo of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.
Happ and a resurgent Yankees offense in Game 1 of an Oriole Park at Camden Yards doubleheader, and in in a triumphantly temporary return to the starting rotation. Thanks to the Rays’ 5-1 defeat of the Red Sox, the Yankees pulled within seven games of Boston in the AL East, their closest deficit since they stood 6 ¹/₂ back Aug. 2. That still represents quite the gap with 33 games to go.
Happ — who gave up two runs over six innings, walking one and striking out nine — became the first Yankees pitcher to start and win his first five appearances with the club since Bob Turley pulled that off in 1955 (thanks, Elias Sports Bureau).
“We came out and scored 10 today,” Happ said, in response to a question about his Yankees turnaround in the wake of a rough stretch with the Blue Jays before his July 26 trade. “Having that ability to continually be aggressive and get on the board [helps]. Continue to pound the strike zone.”
Happ owns a 2.38 ERA as a Yankee, and he can claim the most credit for the team’s 3.53 ERA during this 27-game stretch that features three games against the surprisingly resilient Rays — the Yankees won one of the three — and 24 against truly lousy operations. They are now 14-5 more than two-thirds of the way through this working vacation.
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Their team ERA has ticked downward from 3.72 to 3.69, while their team OPS has increased by an even slighter margin, from .784 to .785. You’d think if the Yankees had a healthy Judge (right wrist fracture) and Sanchez (right groin strain), they’d be feasting on this carcass, rather than merely staying the course. And this past week, Didi Gregorius joined the disabled list with a left heel contusion. The many Yankees fans here let Greg Bird know of their displeasure with his being healthy enough to play, as he got booed heavily during his 0-for-4 Game 2.
Gregorius holds the most optimistic prognosis, you’d think — contusions simply need time to heel. It’s more complicated for Judge and Sanchez — Judge because wrists are so crucial and tricky for a hitter, as exemplified by his blowing by the Yankees’ original projection of a three-week return without so much as swinging a bat, and Sanchez because his 2018 season has gone so poorly amidst his groin problems.
Imagine if the Yankees’ pitching — with Happ getting help from his fellow newbie Lance Lynn, and solid, if not brilliant, performances from holdovers CC Sabathia, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka — had faltered in the August heat. The Yankees could be looking at a much more stressful duel with the A’s for home-field advantage in the AL wild-card game.
“It’s been huge,” manager Aaron Boone said. “When guys can give you innings that preserve other guys, it just continues to have that effect day by day, and guys are doing a nice job right now.”
And Happ sure looks like a guy who can start any playoff game, doesn’t he?
“I love that we have him on our team,” said Aaron Hicks, who homered, doubled and singled in Game 1. “He’s helped us get to where we want to be.”
Are we watching the Yankees’ road map to a championship? Or is this one of those times when a siesta is just a siesta? As long as the Yankees keep cruising on this road, you might as well enjoy the ride and sweat the ramifications later.
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