Yankees GBU – An All-Star Break roundup
Welcome to the All-Star break folks! We made it. The Yankees are 57-31 with a six and half game lead in the American League East over the Tampa Bay Rays. To say that the Yankees have overcome the odds to take control of the A.L. East is an understatement. The Yankees have overcome both injuries and inconsistent pitching to find themselves in control of their destiny.
This Yankees team is most certainly flawed but find a way to win almost every game. When the chips are stacked against them, they find a way. There’s a different hero almost every night and the way they play team baseball is remarkable. Some players who we hadn’t even heard of before the season have come in the clutch, including Gio Urshela and Nestor Cortes Jr. Let’s roll off some GBU from the first half of this 2019 MLB season.
D.J. Lemahieu is an MVP Candidate
Sure Mike Trout might be the best player in baseball but D.J. Lemahieu is the most valuable, especially on a team plagued with injuries all season. Lemahieu is batting .336 with 12 HRs and 63 RBIs. Probably his most telling stat is the fact that he’s batting .446 with RISP and has delivered almost every time the Yankees have needed him to.
Lemahieu is a “five tool” infielder. He has won a Gold Glove and a Batting Title with the Colorado Rockies but he came into the season not knowing how much playing time he would get. That all changed when Miguel Andujar and Greg Bird went down with injuries. Lemahieu has played third base, second base and first base throughout the season and is a jack of all trades in the infield.
Who knows where the Yankees would be without D.J. Lemahieu. He is an exceptional player on and off the field and a great presence in a mixed clubhouse of veterans and younger players. He is always cool, calm and collected in the big moment and he is a legitimate American League MVP.
The surprise gifts that keep on giving
There are players like Lemahieu who have a pedigree of success, and then there are players like Gio Urshela and Nestor Cortes Jr. Urshela was a journeyman third baseman who has hung around the Majors because of his defense. He had a .224 career batting average before he came to the Yankees, but he’s carved out a nice niche on this Yankee squad, batting .304 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs. Urshela was given the opportunity to play nearly every day after Miguel Andujar went down with season ending shoulder surgery. He has been a Godsend defensively and has contributed offensively much more than people expected.
Nestor Cortes Jr.’s stats may not looking gaudy, with a 3-0 record and 4.78 ERA, but he’s had some excellent games. Cortes is the jack of all trades out of the bullpen. He can be an “opener” along with Chad Green, but he can also pitch in important late game situations.
Cortes Jr. certainly isn’t the most reliable Yankee reliever but he has come up big in some big situations. Whether it be a late inning stop against the Rays or the first save of his career, Cortes Jr. has been all around the bullpen and have plugged and played in nearly every situation possible.
The strong Yankees bullpen
The 2019 Yankees bullpen was looked to be one of the best in baseball history. Five arms with closer stuff (Chapman, Green, Britton, Ottavino, Kahnle) and all have contributed to the Yankees’ success along the way. Chad Green has had his struggles, being sent down to AAA earlier in the season, but he’s been lights out for the most part over the past three weeks.
Adam Ottavino is the best reliever in this bullpen, appearing in 42 games and sporting a nice 1.80 ERA. Aroldis Chapman leads the league in saves with 24. Tommy Kahnle and Zack Britton have also both had their struggles but they are excellent as a whole.
The Yankees bullpen is relied upon a lot (we’ll get to that) and they’ve done an excellent job of staking the Yankees to that lead whenever they have it. Without this great group of relievers, the Yankees very well could be the Mets.
A resurgent season for Sanchez, Torres
Gary Sanchez batted below the Mendoza line for all of last season, but this year he is an All-Star. Sanchez is currently at .245 with 24 HRs and 57 RBIs. Sanchez has improved vastly defensively and has looked like a rejuvenated player. His power surge hasn’t been a surprise, but he’s also hitting many line drives and spreading his wealth of power to every part of the field.
Gleyber Torres is also an All-Star this season, well deserved despite being a backup plan to a backup plan. He made it in after Brandon Lowe of the Tampa Bay Rays was injured. Torres is batting .292 with 18 HRs and 50 RBIs. He’s improved leaps and bounds defensively and has become a very well rounded player at both shortstop and second base.
Considering both Torres (22) and Sanchez (26) have yet to hit their prime, they’ll be around in the middle of the Yankees lineup for quite some time. Both still have room for improvement but you couldn’t ask for a better start to the 2019 season for either youngster.
James Paxton’s inconsistencies
The trade that sent James Paxton to New York may already be a success considering Justus Sheffield was demoted twice in the Seattle Mariners’ system. However, Paxton still has struggled for stretches this season and currently holds a 5-4 record with a 4.01 ERA.
Those numbers aren’t horrible but considering Paxton was supposed to be a second ace on this staff, it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows. Paxton has had multiple games of 10+ strikeouts and has looked dominant at times. He’s also had outings where he’s given up multiple home runs in the first inning.
What exactly is James Paxton? Can he be relied upon during the playoffs? Those are just a few questions Yankee fans ask themselves while watching him pitch. Clearly he has dominant stuff, but can he pull it all together and have a better second half? That remains to be seen.
Lack of length from the rotation as a whole
The loss of Luis Severino has stung the Yankees mightily, not only because he was the de facto ace of the staff but also because he is an innings eater. The Yankees have had to rely upon Chad Green and Nestor Cortes Jr. as “openers” in lieu of a fifth starter. Their other four starters haven’t done much to relieve their bullpen from a taxing workload.
C.C. Sabathia barely goes five innings anymore, J.A. Happ has been knocked around all season and Masahiro Tanaka has yet to find the splitter that he so desperately needs to be successful. Sure there have been stretches of dominance by the pitching staff but overall the bullpen has been the collective defensive MVP of the Yankees.
If the Yankees are to go deep in the playoffs they will need better efforts from their rotation. They can’t keep relying on their bullpen to pitch four plus innings every game. They need more dominating Tanaka starts and some ten strikeout performances from James Paxton.
The injury bug has struck all season
At one point the Yankees had more than half their starters and half their rotation on the Injured List. The list is as follows; Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Greg Bird, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier, Cameron Maybin, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, C.C. Sabathia, James Paxton and Luis Severino.
You can make an All-Star team out of those players and they have all been on the Injured List at least once over the course of the season. The Yankees are a resilient bunch but eventually it’s going to catch up to them. They need to be healthy going into the playoffs. They will hopefully be in a better spot by the end of the season, but for now it’s a next man up mentality.