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TWiYB: This week in Yankees baseball – Week 15

Happy belated All Star week everyone!

I hope the time off was well spent, particularly for the Yankees players. It has been a mental grind since June 13, which if you read last week’s TWiYB you know was when the timeline skewed into this bizarre Yankees reality we live in.

This was actually a fun week if you are a Yankees fan. Aaron Judge dominated the Home Run Derby and was the breakout star of All Star week. I like that the ASG doesn’t “count” anymore, and even though FOX tried some awkward in-game interviews, it was still better than going through the charade of treating it like a playoff game because World Series home field advantage was on the line. Removing that stipulation was another step in the right direction for MLB, which has made some great aesthetic changes to the game recently.

Judgement Day at the Derby

Was there ever any doubt?!

Usually when hype is sky high for a player to achieve something – like it was for Aaron Judge to win the Home Run Derby – the player does not live-up to it. Somehow Judge exceeded expectations on Monday night.

I’m convinced that if Judge wanted to he could win the next ten Home Run Derby’s. While that probably wouldn’t be good for the event, it would be a marvel of pure domination. Judge hit 47 blasts with ease because he was created in a laboratory specifically for the derby. He is just bigger and stronger than all other baseball players, including the best in the world, which he went up against on Monday. Judge hit home runs to all fields (half of his homers went to right of dead-center), he mishit a few and they still traveled 400 feet, and of course, he remodeled Marlins Park windows, walls, and fountain features 500+ feet away from home plate. Even the roof wasn’t high enough to contain him.

The biggest takeaway I had was that Judge was the most popular player of the week. He out-shined Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and even Giancarlo Stanton playing in front of his home fans. Yankees fans traveled to Miami in support of Judge, as evident by the countless wigs, gavels, and All Rise signs. He got a standing ovation after both Marlins sluggers were ousted from the derby, and was even cheered in pre-game announcements when his fellow Yankees teammates were booed. (Side note: Yankees players being booed at the All Star game is good news because it means the Yankees are relevant and dangerous again.)

Although he was overshadowed, Gary Sanchez also put on a show in taking down Stanton in the first round. Sanchez, unlike Judge, wore-down in the second round, but his power was nothing to scoff at. At the very least he proved MLB made the right decision in inviting him to the derby over Logan Morrison.

Whether or not Judge participates in future derby’s (he was asked immediately following his victory and answered in classic Judge fashion: “We’ll see”), I will watch. Baseball made a great decision three years ago implementing the timed rounds. I can’t recall one memorable derby between Josh Hamilton’s 2008 performance and Todd Frazier winning the thing at his home park in Cincinnati. The event grew stale. Now, with the clock and prospect of Judge becoming the ultimate HRD king, MLB has a great event to market each year.

We were all Dellin Betances on Monday night.

Does El Rojo have staying power?

Last week I wrote that Clint Frazer was only in the big leagues because the Yankees needed a capable outfielder after Aaron Hicks and Dustin Fowler went down with injuries. While that remains true, Frazier’s impressive weekend vs Milwaukee in which he went 5-for-11 with two triples and two home runs got me thinking: Might he play his way onto the team for the remainder of the season?

Through late May the Yankees outfield was stacked. Judge was doing Judge things, Hicks was enjoying his breakout season, Gardner was on pace to set a career-high in home runs, and even Ellsbury was hitting a respectable .281/.349/.422. Then Jacoby went down with a concussion, Gardy stopped hitting home runs, and Hicks suffered a minor (Achilles) and major (oblique) injury that landed him on the DL.

Frazier, in just 7 games, already has half the number of extra base hits as Ellsbury. Think about that. Ellsbury, who despite his concussion has played 50 games, has just 12 extra base hits. Although 7 games are hardly a large enough sample size to evaluate Frazier, 50 games are certainly enough to know that Ellsbury is a singles hitter whose speciality is reaching first base on catchers interference.

Cashman has always said he will never deny a player a roster spot if his play dictates he have one. If Frazier is hitting when Hicks returns from the DL, and Ellsbury — who has a .560 OPS since returning on June 26 – doesn’t wake up, the Yankees are going to have a tough decision to make between letting Clint flourish at the big leagues or continue playing the overpaid and underperforming Ellsbury.

Mid-season Awards

On Thursday’s episode of The Bronx Pinstripes Show, we took a look back at the first half of Yankees baseball. It was eventful if nothing else.

MVP: It’s obviously Judge, but in the interest of talking about other players on the team, Scott gave the award to Matt Holliday and I thought Hicks deserved the honor.

Cy Young: This was a tough one because no pitcher has really stood out all season, but Luis Severino gets it by default.

ROY: Again, Judge… But what Jordan Montgomery is doing as a rookie SP is impressive. He would actually be in the league contention for ROY if not for Judge.

Biggest Surprise: I guess no surprise here, it’s Judge again. Hicks’ breakout season before the injuries were also shocking, to me.

Biggest Disappointment: Scott and I differed on this one; he said Masahiro Tanaka and I thought the Yankees’ first base debacle has been most disappointing.

Best Game: Despite the last month of baseball, there are a lot to choose from, but none better than the 9-1 comeback against Baltimore on April 28.

Oh Shit Moment: I guess you could say the aforementioned comeback, but the most shocking moment of the season for me came on May 5, when Gardner stunned the Wrigley Field fans with a 9th inning go-ahead two-run shot. The win came out of nowhere, and that 3-game sweep of the defending World Series champs was the first time I thought this team had something special.

Chris Carter Close Your Eyes and Look Away Moment: Dustin Fowlers gruesome injury was heartbreaking and one I wish I never saw, much like Carter never saw the baseball coming at him.

You can listen to the full episode here: (Awards start at the 40:00 minute mark)

 

Can the Yankees flip a switch?

The Yankees are lucky to be only 3.5 games behind Boston. Amazingly, they can retake first place with a 4-game sweep this weekend. Even if that doesn’t happen, we all just want to see better and more consistent baseball as they exit the All Star break to start an 11-game road trip.

In theory, the break is a great time to reset, but it’s easier said than done. What the Yankees endured over the last month — between injuries, meltdowns, and sloppy play — was nothing short of disgusting. They haven’t won a series since June 11, their longest stretch since 1991 (that team finished 71-91). Over the last 26 games their team ERA skyrocketed to 4.93 and they have surrendered 37 long balls. While pitching, specifically the bullpen, has been the main issue, the offense is not without blame. As a team they are hitting .238, a precipitous drop from the .275 team BA pre-June 11. Yes, injuries are a factor, but they are not an excuse for losing 18 of 26 games.

There is some good news. Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro, who combined for 27 HR and 92 first-half RBI, are returning. Hicks is not far behind them. Those three offensive weapons will add to the Yankees already impressive plus-98 run differential, which suggests they should be 7 wins better than their current 45-41 record. But in the words of the great Bill Parcells: “You are what your record says you are.” I guess we’ll find out who the real 2017 Yankees are soon enough.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Rotondi

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