Yankees vs. Red Sox: Interview with Tim Kurkjian of ESPN

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 26: ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian watches members of the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox warm up before the start of their game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 26, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 26: ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian watches members of the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox warm up before the start of their game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 26, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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On Tuesday night, as the Yankees were victorious, 3-2 over the Red Sox, I spoke with ESPN MLB analyst Tim Kurkjian about Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres and what we can expect moving forward from these high-flying Yanks.

MC: I’ll begin with the question most Yankees fans are probably wondering about — will we see any sort of retaliation during this series for Tyler Austin getting plunked back in April, or are these next three games too important to risk losing someone from the 25-man roster?

TK: Well, I would hope that they would be way too important. But with baseball players that are so vengeful and so remorseless, you never quite know. I think they got most of it out of the way and when you get to a point like this, where you have the best records in the game, and it’s such a big game and such a big rivalry — and it’s so good for baseball, the last thing you want, frankly, is a fight.

I covered the Orioles during their great years — and Earl Weaver used to tell his players all the time, don’t get in a fight, don’t throw at anyone because somebody is going to get ejected. And our players are better than their players, and we’re going to lose in that exchange. I just can’t imagine two teams going this well would want to lose anyone for any reason at this point.

MC: The Yankees have hit 50 home runs this season as compared to the 30 they’ve allowed to opponents. Is breaking the record of 264, set by the Mariners in 1997 a reality considering Giancarlo Stanton has yet to find his groove, and Greg Bird still hasn’t played a single game?

TK: I’m going to say the that Yankees are going to break that record. I am just so impressed with what they have done so far — with a lot of things going wrong. You know Stanton is going to get red-hot at some point, and I think that Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar’s emergence has really helped this team. I’m not saying they are going to be huge home run guys, but those are good offensive players already.

When Greg Bird does come back and adds that needed left-handed bat to the lineup, I think they’re going to be even better. There’s frankly, nothing to not like at this point about the Yankees lineup.

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MC: Can Stanton’s inconsistencies at the plate be attributed to him not playing his customary right field position? I mean, not everyone is cut out to be a DH primarily.

TK: Yeah, that’s a possibility. Quite simply, I think it’s baseball. The most beautiful part of the sport is that the best players aren’t always the best players. LeBron James is always the best player on the court every night, but really good players aren’t so good on certain nights in baseball, given the degree of difficulty of the game.

I think Stanton, moving to a real contending situation — a huge market — and just trying to get settled in is difficult. And maybe the position has something to do with it, but I don’t think there’s really any excuse because there’s not going to be any reason when he comes out of it. And when he does comes out of this completely, it’s going to be breathtaking to watch.

MC: Before Gleyber Torres burst onto the scene as a slick-fielding second baseman, minor league scouting reports questioned his range and all around defensive ability. So is it more that Torres was a second baseman with a shortstop’s throwing arm all along, or were scouts mistaken in their initial assessments?

TK: I think he’s just gotten a better chance to play second base now. It was put in his head right away; you’re going to be the second baseman on this team when the recall comes. So I think he’s got it in his head, this is my position now — and I think he worked extremely hard at it in the minor leagues and Spring Training, knowing this is where I’m going to play.

It’s no surprise, when a good athlete gets told, here’s what you’re going to do — he can make the adjustments, and that’s what Torres has done because he’s certainly been much better defensively than a lot of people thought he would be.

MC: Domingo German went from a secondary asset in the Nathan Eovaldi trade in 2014, to a Tommy John recipient in 2015, to almost being traded to the Mets last July for Jay Bruce. Now at 25, German became the first pitcher in modern baseball history to not allow a single hit through six innings while striking out nine batters in his first career start.

Do you believe German is the real deal? And if so, how does manager Yankees manager Aaron Boone sort out the rotation once Jordan Montgomery returns?

TK: [laughs] I’m not sure he’ll be as good as he was in that first start, because what German did hasn’t been done since 1893, so I don’t think we should expect that. But that stuff plays at any level, in any situation. And I think that they [Yankees] might have found someone here, who’s really going to help them.

Whether it’s in the bullpen or the rotation, or back to the minor leagues for a short amount of time, they found something in him — and it was really fun to watch. It’s just another reminder how much depth the Yankees have in their minor league system — and it’s a scary thought, that as they rebuilt this team, they kept a lot of their good young players — German being one of them.

MC: With the Yankees fighting tooth and nail for a share of first place in the AL East, and the Red Sox going a combined 10-3 vs. the two worst teams in the AL East (Rays and Orioles), which club has the makeup to sustain the rigors of a 162-game schedule and win the division?

TK: I think they’re both fit — they are both going to the playoffs. The biggest question in the American League might be who wins this division, the Yankees or the Red Sox because the other team is going in as a wild card — I am pretty sure of that.

The Yankees have won 16 out of 17, beating some pretty good teams, and I think they deserve some credit going down to Houston and beating them the way they did — they went to Anaheim and just pounded the Angels.

It’s really impressive what they’re doing, not just because they are winning, beating good teams, but if, they were beating up on bad teams, that’s what they are supposed to do! And I don’t have any problem with beating the heck out of bad teams, but the Yankees right now, are beating the heck out of good teams.

MC: Is there one area the Yankees still need to sure up as they head into the summer months?

TK: I don’t see a problem at the moment because this team is doing everything right, and has for close to three weeks. However, I think they are going to need another starting pitcher if they’re going to win the World Series. They are in a perfect position with the money, and being below the luxury tax — and with all the resources and minor leaguers they have to go get whatever they need — and now is the time.

Brian Cashman and the front office have been so patient over recent years, for not giving up the best young kids in a trade for a veteran player. But if that veteran pitcher, let’s say, become’s available, they’ll be in a better position than anyone to go make a move. That’s another reason to be very encouraged if you’re a Yankees fan at this point.

MC: The Yanks and Sox will take their rivalry to London next June. Are you surprised the Red Sox would give up two home games, and what are your overall thoughts about expanding the game to Europe?

TK: Well, we’ve done this before and I’m not the biggest fan of it. And yet, I have to be a little more progressive and understand this is what baseball is doing — it’s trying to grow itself globally and I’m OK with that. My mother was born in England, so I’m really OK with that.

Let’s face it, Red Sox owner, John Henry, has some soccer holdings over in England — Liverpool. I think he’s got a pretty good idea why he’s going over there and what he’s trying to do, so I’m all for it. It’ll be a novelty, it’ll be strange — but it’ll be OK. It’s only two games, they play 160 more.

Next: Interview with ESPN’s Buster Olney

ESPN’S Wednesday Night Baseball, hosted by Karl Ravech, alongside analysts Eduardo Perez and Tim Kurkjian begins at 7 PM on the mothership. Game 2 of the three-game series will feature starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka (4-2, 4.39 ERA) and Rick Porcello (5-0, 2.14 ERA).

Porcello, the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner, was moved up one day due to David Price being scratched with left-hand numbness.