The first day of summer played out like pretty much like every game day of spring for the Yankees.
They hit homers. They got a sturdy start. They finished with dynamic bullpen work. They won.
They are doing so at historic levels. In the last 65 years, the only Yankees team to reach 28 games over .500 and 50 victories quicker was the 1998 club, which, if you need a refresher course, won 114 regular-season games en route to a championship.
These Yanks are on pace to win 113 games. But staying on that trajectory would mean dealing with the inevitable injuries, slumps and perhaps the league adjusting to Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres and Domingo German. Also, with all they have done to date, including a 4-3 win Thursday over Seattle, the Yanks have been unable to shake the Red Sox, who are still just two back in the AL East, or the Astros, who beat them to 50 wins, in the three-headed battle for best record in the league.
But there also is this:
“I think we haven’t even played well yet,” CC Sabathia told me. “We haven’t come out and dominated for a week or two. I’m waiting for it. This team has it in them.”
The Yankees are averaging the most runs, and yet there is a sense of so much more they can get from Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and maybe even Neil Walker. Perhaps the same is true pitching-wise of Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka. There will probably be a trade for another starter, maybe a lefty setup man, too.
Last year’s team reached ALCS Game 7, and yet Dellin Betances said, “I would say we are a lot better [than 2017].”
On paper, that is true. The 2018 Yankees have the 2017 NL MVP (Stanton). They have Andujar and Torres rather than Chase Headley/Todd Frazier and Starlin Castro. They have Jonathan Holder filling the Chad Green surprise bullpen role from last year while still having Green.
“There is a lot of talent in there,” general manager Brian Cashman said as he passed by the winning clubhouse Thursday. “It is happy and it is motivated, and we just have to keep it healthy.”
These Yanks swept a Seattle team that had just split four games at Fenway. Within about 18 hours they won by erasing a 5-0 deficit Wednesday night and protecting a 4-0 lead in a Thursday matinee. The constants — as they have been pretty much all season — were power and pen.
There was a three-inning bridge from the end of Wednesday to the beginning of Thursday in which the Yanks went 7-for-14 with four two-run homers. Sanchez and Stanton tied and won the middle game of the series with two-run blows, and Aaron Judge and Andujar put the Yankees up 4-0 against Mariners ace James Paxton in the first of the finale.
Luis Severino lacked his familiar command, but held the Mariners to one hit in 10 at-bats with men on base to hand a 4-3 lead to the firm of David Robertson, Betances and Aroldis Chapman, who contributed 3 1/3 shutout innings.
By game’s end, the Yanks had 122 homers, which is a pace for 275 this season, which would eradicate the record of 264 by the 1997 Mariners. The bullpen, brilliant all year, has a 0.84 ERA in the last 21 games, and for the season was averaging 13 strikeouts per nine innings, which would eviscerate that record.
“They play well in this park,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “They are built for this park with their power and their ability to get the ball in the air.”
And the Yanks are a major league-best 29-11 at home. But they also are 21-11 on the road. They are 32-17 when a righty starts, 18-5 when it is a lefty. They beat up teams under .500 (27-13), but also have the majors’ best winning percentage (.719) against those better than .500.
That has left the Yanks with the best record while the Astros and Red Sox are tied for the second best. The fourth-best Mariners have played all three over the last two-plus weeks, going 3-3 against the Astros and Red Sox combined and 0-3 against the Yankees.
“They are all different,” Servais said. “Boston has the most balanced lineup with lefties and righties. Houston is the most athletic and has really, really good starting pitching. The Yankees have the power and the bullpen and, you know, their starting pitching is good, too. We hadn’t seen Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar before, and they are advanced in the batter’s box. Usually with young kids who have some free swing in them, you will get some anxious at-bats. We didn’t see that. They have become key players in making a long lineup longer.”
The seasons changed. The Yankees stayed the same. Power. Bullpen. Win.
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