Yankees: Gary Sanchez comeback silver lining of NYY’s recent slide

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 8: Gio Urshela #29 of the New York Yankees congratulates Gary Sanchez #24 on a two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins in the ninth inning of the game at Target Field on June 8, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Yankees defeated the Twins 8-4. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 8: Gio Urshela #29 of the New York Yankees congratulates Gary Sanchez #24 on a two-run home run against the Minnesota Twins in the ninth inning of the game at Target Field on June 8, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Yankees defeated the Twins 8-4. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /
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OK, now it’s becoming a bit of a problem that Yankees ace Gerrit Cole essentially requires Kyle Higashioka to catch for him in Gary Sánchez’s place.

Especially since we now know the real driver of Cole’s mastery isn’t Higgy at all, but rather Spider Tack. Or not. Sorry.

There hasn’t been much to enjoy about this recent run of Yankees baseball, from a 4-10 record to myriad divisional losses to the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays to a feeling of hopelessness that no runner would ever again make his way the 90 feet between third and home.

If you’ve watched these past two weeks and still believe Sánchez has been the team’s most prominent issue, though, you’re watching with Sunday night’s Yanks-Sox umpire. Just … staring at a different game entirely.

Sánchez cemented the turnaround narrative in the ninth inning on Tuesday night, hitting an extremely timely home run the likes of which Yankees fans haven’t seen in eons: a tack-on insurance dinger.

Given a hanging curve on 2-2, Sánchez waited and raked, pummeling the ball deep into the left-field seats to turn a 5-3 nail-biter into a 7-3 exhale. Miguel Andújar followed with an absolute laser homer, too, because sometimes it helps to see someone else do it, like a dog learning to shake hands.

Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez has earned credit for his hot streak.

Now, it can be difficult to give a polarizing player like Sánchez proper credit when his hot stretch doesn’t seem to have powered the team as a whole like we’d hoped. It’s also hard to pretend as if he’s changed and has been a revelation when it was just last week that he tried to run to third on a grounder to short and was nailed by 35 feet.

The lapses we’re seeing in Sánchez’s game recently, though, are largely the type of mistakes we see from someone who’s pressing, desperate to try just a little bit harder in an effort to dig the collective out of a hole. He’s not wandering off bases and forgetting the outs; he’s trying to squeeze every inch out of grounders, sometimes foolishly.

All that being said, I am just about ready to admit I was wrong on the need for a long-term Higashioka/Sánchez platoon. In the moment, it made sense, and I still believe it was temporarily necessary to make a hard-line change; Higgy was red hot, Sánchez seemed to be embodying his 2020 form.

I also still contend that Sánchez being slightly above league-average in a season where offense has been historically depressed is not a reason to call his season a success. Gary Sánchez is a star. He has generational talent. A 102 OPS+ where the average has sunk into the dirt isn’t something that deserves a medal.

Lately, though, Sánchez’s hard contact has turned to extra-base hits. He’s been either the team’s second- or third-best hitter for several weeks now, and watching him seemingly recover his mojo has been easily the best part of a brutal stretch.

The difficult thing about a catcher being among the team’s hottest hitters is that he has to sit at some point, though. Those knees and joints won’t stay intact forever — as we know from years of experience in dealing with Sánchez, specifically.

The last two weeks, though, we’ve seen Sánchez’s peripherals (86th percentile walk percentage, 89th percentile max exit velo) turn into production. We’d like to see him as much as possible, but whatever the current plan he’s on is, it’s working.

It’s been difficult to see the sun lately, but the Yankees getting an All-Star catcher back would be a wonderful trend.