3. Here’s That ‘Varied Offense’ You’ve Been Looking For!
Remember 2021, when every run the Yankees scored came on either a home run or a wild pitch?
Well, meet 2022, where the Yankees move runners over, smack sac flies, and even use the contact play to perfection, as Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rizzo did on the tiebreaking run on Sunday.
Literally, did that work one time in ’21?
Saturday’s contest was exceptional in this regard, with the Yankees coming away from “bases loaded, no outs” in the second with only a single run (on an IKF double play, which was bad), then not getting discouraged and tacking on runs in the third and fourth on sacrifice flies. The Yankees barely had any feel offensively in Game 2 in Kansas City, but still managed three runs in a game they might’ve otherwise been shut out in and went home with their eighth straight victory.
The differences in the offense overall? Kiner-Falefa’s peskiness, as well as DJ LeMahieu’s return to an elite level, with a 141 OPS+ through 22 games. Remember how well this team performed when he was their MVP in 2019? Beyond Judge, he might be their most crucial contributor, and his key is firmly in the ignition right about now.
2. Sunday’s Win Showed Why This Team is Different
Eight wins in a row? Sunday finale on the road without Joey Gallo, and with Miguel Andújar getting a showcase start? Luis Severino mis-locating, with the bullpen stuck between a Toronto series and a hard place? Aaron Boone didn’t necessarily need to go for the kill in this one. And in 2021, we might’ve seen, say, Luetge try to fight through his own mess in the seventh in the interest of preserving King.
In 2022? Down 4-1, the offense decided not to rest on its laurels, punching back with two in the fifth (ignited by … obviously, IKF and LeMahieu) before loading the bases in the seventh and putting all the pressure in the world on Kansas City. When it came time to add insurance, Judge did it. Even Aroldis Chapman didn’t pull any funny business until there were two outs in the ninth, and calmly disposed of old enemy Andrew Benintendi to add a bonus dose of hilarity to the ending.
Every fan, just about, would’ve forgiven a loss on Sunday. The Yankees decided they had no interest.
1. Want to REALLY Show Me Something? Beat Alek Manoah.
This Toronto series will not be easy (and, again, the Yankees have left themselves a lot of leeway here by blazing through a relatively soft part of the schedule and racking up wins).
The division is won by holding serve in difficult battles and running over the rest of the competition. The Yankees, so far, have escaped the Red Sox and Jays with a 4-3 record (back when they were bad, remember?), and plowed through the underbelly these past two weeks.
With the acknowledgment that it won’t be easy … the Yanks could make a real statement by finally topping Alek Manoah, who’s starting the second game in this three-game set against Jameson Taillon. Though New York ducks the dominant Kevin Gausman, they couldn’t get by Manoah, who is 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA in three career starts against the Bombers (after debuting against them last May in the Bronx).
No matter what happens in the opener, the second contest will be extremely telling, and Manoah’s coming off a guns-blazing 1-0 victory over the Red Sox. It’s always nice when an AL East ace decides to be an equal-opportunity destroyer and buzzsaw both the Yanks and Sox, but New York can show they’ve really changed if they can foul off pitches, bother Manoah, put runners on base, and maybe scratch three or four runs across in five agitated innings.
Not to say I’m not already impressed, though. The Yankees may never get the credit they deserve for this stretch of less-than-stellar opponents, but they powerfully took care of business. This next test will be strenuous, but they’ve set themselves up well by doing a perfect job handling the lead-up.