Thursday, May 26, 2022

Yankees are MLB’s best team instead of a one-trick pony

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Brian Cashman had been laying low in recent weeks, a posture he tends to take when his team is playing well. And the Yankees have been excelling.

But his Yankees hosted about 10,000 Bronx students Wednesday and Cashman went out to represent the team. That meant passing a group of reporters, and suddenly the Yankees general manager was at a full stop, answering questions that have been accumulating for weeks.

He maintained an embargo on discussing anything involving Aaron Judge’s contractual situation and expressed confidence Joey Gallo will positively impact the Yankees. But one turn of phrase particularly resonated when it came to discussing the subject du jour – the 2022 club’s early success:

“You don’t want to be a one-trick pony,” Cashman said.

It reverberated because Cashman had allowed recent rosters to become one-dimensional. He pursued power – pitching and bats – like a Kardashian chasing attention. There were lots of victories in that philosophy if you could obtain a critical mass of the genre. But the redundancy of talent also led to a greater inconsistency of play while making it harder to win playoff rounds. Unplug the power and you defused the Yankees – and better foes could do just that.

Antony Rizzo, left, celebrates with Gleyber Torres during the Yankees' win over the Blue Jays.
Antony Rizzo, left, celebrates with Gleyber Torres during the Yankees’ win over the Blue Jays.

When asked in years past why he kept adding one brutish righty hitter after another, Cashman replied they were the best individual available and he didn’t want to grab a lesser player just for diversity. But the lack of diversity left the Yankees with areas in which they were terrible and, thus, vulnerable. The 2022 Yankees have a less-menacing overall lineup, but a better overall team: offense, defense, pitching, baserunning and health. Don’t ignore that last one. Clint Frazier and Luke Voit have already done injured list time elsewhere and Gary Sanchez has endured a few nicks. The Yankees have used the IL once so far this season – for Tim Locastro.

Cashman has stocked lots of good players and getting them on the field over and over has helped them – after a 5-3 matinee win Wednesday over Toronto – to build an MLB-best 22-8 record. The Yankees won at least 22 of their first 30 games eight previous times and they went to the World Series on each occasion, the last time in 2003 (the only one of those eight times they didn’t win).

“To this point in the season, we’ve won in a lot of different ways,” said manager Aaron Boone, who in 2003 hit the Yankees’ pennant-winning homer versus the Red Sox. “It’s been pitching and defense, maybe some days a base-running play. … It’s been nice that it’s coming in a lot of different ways. I think that’s built a lot of confidence in that room that we know, we don’t have to lean on one thing on a given night. We have a lot of different ways to beat you. ”

The Yankees improved to 6-3 against Toronto despite a rare day when their defense struggled – particularly the infield left side of Isiah Kiner-Falefa and DJ LeMahieu. But in general the infield defense plus the catching have been terrific. The strikeout rate has remained strong, but the ability to convert outs has improved. This reflects Cashman’s pivot to more nuance, acquiring Kiner-Falefa, which not only upgraded short, but produced a better all-around version of Torres at second (Torres drove in all five runs Wednesday). Sanchez has been replaced by drama-free and tension-free catching.

Brian Cashman
Brian Cashman

And Cashman’s baseball operations department has continued to win trades at a high rate. Think about the two made last year with the lowly Pirates. Pittsburgh’s full results, because it involves prospects, are not fully known. But the early read is, edge Yankees.

Jameson Taillon, acquired after the 2020 season for four prospects, had ankle surgery and was not even supposed to pitch the first month this year. But he has not missed a start and has a 2.77 ERA. On Wednesday, he loaded the bases with no out, using 17 pitches to open the game. The Yankees are scheduled to use Luis Gil on Thursday in Chicago, so the need for innings was vital. Taillon settled down to give the Yankees 5 ¹ / ₃ against two runs.

Clay Holmes, obtained for two marginal prospect bats, has been the Yankees ‘relief version of Nestor Cortes, who went into the rotation full-time late last July and has been the Yankees’ best starter since. Holmes was acquired about the same time and has been the team’s most consistent reliever.

He entered with the Yankees ahead 5-2 in the seventh and induced Vladimir Guerrero Jr., up as the tying run, to hit into a double play. No surprise. Throwing what Boone labeled “a bowling ball,” Holmes began Wednesday with an 81.1 percent ground-ball rate – by far the majors ’best. The ball also never left the infield in a scoreless eighth. Holmes has permitted one run in 16 ² / ₃ innings this year. He has yielded just two walks in 2022 and just two homers in 44 ¹ / ₃ regular-season innings since becoming a Yankee.

He is part of the most diverse talent the Yankees have had in recent seasons. The reflection is in the majors’ best record five weeks into the season.

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