The Yankees exited Citi Field at the right time. The Mets might actually be contagious.
The Yanks lost Masahiro Tanaka to injury in the opener and were shut out for the first time in 2018 in the finale.
In fact the Mets’ offense is so atrocious — at least half the hitters in the lineup should be using “Taps” for their walk-up music — you might have missed that the Yankee lineup is currently struggling as well, playing basically the same game now five times in a row.
In Toronto, the Yanks failed to score in the first 12 innings of the opener and the first six innings of the finale of the two-game set, yet swept the Blue Jays. In the Citi opener, the Yanks failed to score for the first five innings and just once in seven and in the second game they managed just one run in five innings.
But the Yankees won those two games as well with the same formula, a powerhouse shutdown bullpen and timely homers off of opposing relievers. On Sunday night, though, the versatile, valuable Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Anthony Swarzak finally had the Yankees suffer what the other 29 other clubs already had — a shutout.
That it took this long to be blanked and that the Yankees are near the top of pretty much every offensive category makes it easy to chalk it up as inevitable and move on. Except the Yankees, as opposed to the Mets, are not playing to survive, but to advance — all the way to The Canyon of Heroes.
The last time they were blanked was ALCS Game 7 in Houston last season, which ended a relatively magical season, which only elevated the expectations on this one.
And should stretches like this offer concern that these are the kinds of games the Yankees will be playing come October, just against opponents whose offenses and bullpens will be far superior to that of the Mets? Should stretches like this raise worry that 1) the Yanks are so heavily reliant on the homer and 2) that about half the lineup — Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton and especially Gary Sanchez — are actually underperforming.
Both of those might actually be good news.
Aaron Boone has insisted all year to trust that high-end players will escape struggles over time. He said that about Dellin Betances early in the season and has been rewarded by a return to excellence from the righty reliever. And the Yankees manager has said that about each of his struggling hitters, most notably Sanchez. It is possible the Yanks have been producing and they have a lot more to come from nearly half of their regular lineup.
But it also is true that nearly 40 percent of the season has been played, and maybe what we are seeing is what we will be getting to a large degree. Maybe, for example, Sanchez is experiencing his Michael Conforto moment and it might not be so easily escapable.
As for the live-by-the-homer ethos, it has mainly been a blessing for the Yankees, who have eight more than any other team. On Saturday night, for example, the Yankees had one hit with a runner on base — a two-run, game-tying homer by Miguel Andujar. On Sunday, they were hitless in six at-bats as the Yankees struck out 11 times, seven of them looking, including three by Aaron Hicks and two by Stanton, who whiffed three times in all.
Of their last 19 runs, 18 have come via homers. They have just two hits in their past 36 at-bats with runners in scoring position over their past six games.
Yet, Boone professes not to fret about this either, even when projecting forward. He called the idea that teams win in the playoffs by manufacturing runs in a traditional way “a false narrative.”
“We are built and we have shown time and time again this year against elite pitching and really good teams that our ability to grind you down, more often than not we can take advantage of a mistake, so no, I don’t worry about [being homer dependent],” Boone said. “I think the depth and length of our lineup gives us a really good lineup in the toughest of games.’’
The toughest of games is how the Yankees will be judged. Their 2018 season is about holding off Boston to avoid the one-game wild card and winning it all. They are held to a different standard than the Mets, who can find solace in a mid-June Sunday night win.
The Yanks are thinking October. So, we watch what it means to have half a lineup not firing fully yet and to be so reliant on the long ball.
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