June 3, 2020

Yankees Bludgeon Price and the Red Sox: Weekend Takeaways

The Yankees and Red Sox wrapped up their final matchup before the All-Star break, with New York bludgeoning Boston en route to an 11-1 victory on Sunday night. Paced by six home runs, the Yankees put an exclamation point on a series in which they outscored Boston 19-2 in two victories bookending an 11-0 loss.

A particularly odd three games, all were decided in blowout fashion but left us with plenty of nuggets that reveal both clubs have their strengths and some glaring weaknesses. Nevertheless, as the calendar flips to July with teams sitting atop the American League standings, it’s clear the rivals will be neck and neck until they meet six times in the regular season’s final 13 games.

Of course, in the end, it’s about wins and losses. Thus, the Yankees should feel very good about what they accomplished this weekend, by taking two out of three from the Red Sox in the Bronx. As the team part ways until a four-game series in Fenway one month from today, let’s take a quick glance at some key takeaways.

Ace High: On Saturday night, the Yankees went down quietly to Boston ace Chris Sale, who one-hit the Yankees over seven innings with 11 strikeouts. On Sunday, the Yanks’ sent their ace, Luis Severino, to the mound and responded in style. Severino tossed 6 2/3 shutout innings, fanning six and surrendering only two hits.

Following a shaky no-decision in Fenway April 10 (5 ER, 8 hits in 5 IP), Severino has rebounded by allowing just two runs over his last 12 2/3 innings, with 17 strikeouts and three walks against the Red Sox. Severino’s June performance (4-0, 1.60 ERA, 40 K, 5 BB) has put him in the driver’s seat for the AL Cy Young. His 13 wins, 1.98 ERA, and 215 ERA+ all lead the Junior Circuit.

It’s clear both clubs have their bonafide ace, but question marks certainly exist beyond their respective #1 guy. CC Sabathia came up huge on Friday night with seven innings of one-run ball, and posted a sparkling 1.93 ERA in five June starts, but age and injury concern still linger. Masahiro Tanaka, coming off an almost comical, simultaneous injury to both hamstrings, feels like a roll of the dice against the Sox stacked lineup (10 ER in 10 1/3 IP vs. BOS this year). The combination of Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga are young and unproven, and then there is the questionable case of Sonny Gray (more on him later).

Meanwhile, David Price, and his **24.92 ERA and .480 opponents’ batting average** against the Yankees this season, can expect to be fileted like a North Atlantic cod on the Boston airwaves this week. Behind him, is a lefty-heavy rotation that will ultimately have to find a way to keep a right-handed heavy Yankees lineup that has feasted on left-handed pitching this year (MLB-best .825 OPS vs. LHP).

Hicks Stick: Aaron Boone, almost without comment, slid Brett Gardner down to the 9-hole last week and designated Aaron Hicks as the Yanks’ new leadoff man. The centerfielder sure has made his manager look smart. Hicks slugged three home runs on Sunday night, cementing himself atop the order. Hicks is now hitting .288 with nine home runs and 15 RBI in the top spot. After hitting .230 through May, Hicks hit .279 in June has is clearly on a roll.

Hicks hit 15 home runs in 88 games in 2017, and is already one short of last year’s totals through 24 fewer games this year. Not only has the 28-year-old outfielder made his manager look good, but he’s made GM Brian Cashman appear downright prophetic. Cashman swapped journeyman catcher John Ryan Murphy for Hicks, who Cashman claimed had untapped potential at the time of the deal with the Twins. Two-plus seasons later, Hicks has developed into one the best all-around centerfielders in baseball.  

Meanwhile, Gardner has taken his drop in the order with stoic professionalism. Gardner, who turns 35 in August and is in the final guaranteed year of his contract (club option for 2019), is not the table-setter he once was. But his speed, tenacious plate approach, and still plus-defense makes him the veteran heart of this young team.

Torres Tested: Boone has finally moved Gleyber Torres out of the bottom third of the order, and Sunday night slotted the 21-year-old AL Rookie of the Year-favorite in the five-hole. He responded by belting an opposite field 3-run home run off Price, and put the Red Sox on the mat for good.

Torres has maintained an unflappable presence throughout his ballyhooed rookie campaign, quietly executing at such a high level no matter his spot in the order. List after list places Torres’ combination of production and youth on par with Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Last night’s 3-run shot exemplified the calmness under the bright lights that scream future franchise player. Judge has the highlight reel home runs and the endorsements, but Torres – to me – is truly the centerpiece player the Yankees will play around for years to come.

Son-set: If acquiring a starting pitcher at the trade deadline is priority number one for Cashman, perhaps priority 1A is deciding what on Earth to do with Sonny Gray. For the second time this season, Gray was roughed up by the Red Sox, against who Gray has yielded 12 ER in 5 1/3 IP (that’s a 20.25 ERA). Gray, the owner of a ghastly 5.44 ERA and 1.51 WHIP this season, would be the odd man out in any postseason rotation at this point. How much longer can the Yankees stick with him?

Gray has been atrocious in the Bronx (8.25 ERA in eight home starts this year), but plenty serviceable on the road (3.28 ERA in eight starts). But more than home and away, Gray has a clear and present problem getting two times through an order. Opponents are hitting .336 off the right-hander when they see him a second time, while Gray has made it beyond the fifth inning just twice in his last seven starts.

Trade him? Bench him? Stick with him? Gray was acquired to be the stable number-two presence behind Severino. Right now, injuries to other starters appear to be the only thing keeping him in the rotation.

Bottom Line: The Yankees’ Jekyll and Hyde series with the Red Sox concluded a Jekyll and Hyde month, which is an odd thing to say given their 18-9 record in in June. A deeper look reveals the Yankees hit an offensive lull. They hit just .232 as a team (23rd in MLB) and scored 107 runs (21st in MLB) last month. However, they were anchored by MLB-bests 2.62 team ERA and 1.05 team ERA in June. The true mettle of a championship-caliber team is all 25 guys picking each other up.

The Yankees, at 54-27, enter the first Monday in July with an MLB-best .667 win percentage. Yet, there is no time to rest on success. The Yankees welcome the NL-leading Braves, owners have a top-2 offense in the National League to the Bronx, before ending the season’s first-half with an 11-game road trip through Toronto, Baltimore, and the first-place Indians.