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TWiYB: This Week in Yankees Baseball – Week 4

It was an odd week for the Yankees. With an off day on Monday and a rainout on Tuesday, I was legitimately having withdrawals come Wednesday afternoon. 48 hours-plus without baseball in the middle of the seasons is a real shock to the system and something I hope we will not have to endure many more times this season.

In case you missed it, here’s last week in Yankees baseball.

After failing to take advantage of Pittsburgh literally handing them games last weekend, the Yankees had a sweet 2-game sweep in Boston. Here’s what stood out to me:

Judgement (birth)Day

I for one am not sick of talking about Aaron Judge. Every day he does something to wow fans and Wednesday night at Fenway, his 25th birthday, was no different.

The 460-foot bomb he hit in Pittsburgh was no doubt impressive. It was the third longest in PNC Park history and the longest by a visiting player in the Statcast era (which is becoming an annoying caveat. We get it, Statcast is only three years old). But the homer he hit in the fog at Fenway was truly something special.

Breaking down Judgement Bombs has become one of my new favorite traditions. Look at where that ball from Rick Porcello, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, was pitched. It was a 2-seamer running in on Judge. In Jeter-like fashion he pulled in his hands to inside-out the ball to right, except instead of lining a soft single in front of the the outfielder, he hit a 385-foot shot into the Fenway bullpen. It simply defied logic, causing an instant buzz on Twitter and leading people to say: Did you see that?

Judge was the defensive star on the night as well. When he tumbled over the short fence down the right field line to catch a foul fly, I gasped. He drew more comparisons to Jeter, who dove head first into the stands in 2004 vs Boston. Unlike Derek though, Judge did not stand up bloody and bruised, because he is an indestructible 280 pound tank.

I’m sure Judge will struggle at some point this season. Pitchers will adjust and then Judge will readjust. But four weeks into the season there is no doubt that Aaron Judge has been the most impactful player on the field and among fans for the Yankees.

It’s not all roses

So much has gone right for the Yankees that it’s easy to lose sight of what has gone wrong — that’s what I’m here for.

After Greg Bird tore up the Grapefruit League like he had all the cheat codes activated, he has looked lost. I know some experts are saying Bird is close to breaking out, and the home run against St. Louis on Sunday Night Baseball and double off the Green Monster on Wednesday were encouraging, but sporadic hits and a few hard-hit foul balls are not enough to convince me he’s close to turning his .118 batting average and .235 slugging percentage around.

Bird’s swing has looked slow, long, and loopy. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to be all those things at once, but that’s what I’m seeing. It’s been a difficult start to the season for Greg, who missed time due to an ankle injury and illness. He sat Thursday night against Chris Sale, which is a good considering his struggles and Sale’s filth. He’s still looking for consistent at bats and sustained success though, and riding the pine isn’t going to allow him to break out. I suppose the good news for Bird is the Yankees are going to be patient with him because Chris Carter is not doing anything to warrant more playing time.

Unlike with Bird, the Yankees may not remain patient with Brett Gardner if his struggles continue. Gardy had 6 hits in the Yankees’ first 4 games but has gone 5-for-43 since (.116). Girardi left him batting leadoff because Jacoby Ellsbury was actually producing in the cleanup spot, albeit unconventionally. With Didi Gregorius’ impending return I could see Joe moving Ellsbury to leadoff as he phases Gardner out of the lineup.

Another factor that’s bad news for Gardner is that Aaron Hicks is actually playing well. Hicks has an OPS over 1.000 and, as we all know, is better when he gets regular playing time. I’m riding the outfield hot hand right now if I’m Girardi.

Ace or number 1?

If you’re familiar with my take on Masahiro Tanaka then you know I do not think he’s an “ace.” The ace label should be reserved for pitchers like Clayton Kershaw or Jon Lester. Too many times people confuse an “ace” with a “number 1” pitcher. I understand the paradox this creates; every team has their own “ace” just like they have a leadoff hitter — in other words, their best pitcher. But I do not choose to simply call Tanaka an ace just because he’s the Yankees’ best pitcher.

Tanaka did a lot on Thursday night in Boston to shut me up, however.

Ah, the elusive “Maddux.” A complete game performance while throwing less than 100 pitches is truly an impressive feat. Tanaka and the Yankees were up against Chris Sale, who has struck out at least 10 batters in each of his last 4 outings. Although Tanaka has the pitching edge in most match-ups, he was the underdog against Sale. He prevailed, however, causing my mentions to blow up with How you like our ace now? tweets.

Like I said, Tanaka nutted-up. There are a couple things that still give me pause in labeling him an ace after one dominant outing this season. First, he was on seven days rest (SEVEN!). We know that Tanaka performs better with a full five days rest, and even better with six. Now we know that with an entire week off he can be at his best. Adapting to a five day pitching schedule is a hurdle Japanese pitchers have had to overcome. Tanaka has adapted pretty well all things considered, but more than five days in between starts is not something the Yankees should have to rely on for their best pitcher to perform.

Another thing people seem to be ignoring is that the Red Sox offense stinks right now, and they have especially stunk in Chris Sale starts. Add the week off and a sputtering Sox offense together and you got a perfect storm for a Tanaka ace-like performance. I’m going to need to see more of them on regular rest to change my opinion on Tanaka.

Didi is almost back

Sadly, there were no hilarious images or gifs this week of Ronald Torreyes next to a giant human to express how tiny he is. Torreyes has gone about his business and out-performed all expectations in Didi’s absence with a .308 average and 13 RBIs. But can we please chill with the “What are we going to do with Toe when Didi comes back” talk? I love Torreyes as much as the next fan, but he’ll be just fine as the utility infielder. I’m looking forward to watching Didi take the next step as he enters the prime of his career and Ronald freakin’ Torreyes is not going to stand in his way.

Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Rotondi

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