It’s been a good month for New York sports fans. Well, except basketball fans.
Both New York baseball teams hold the best records in their respective leagues, so baseball in New York is the best it has been in years. The Yankees have won nine straight games, and now hope to bring that momentum into Canada, where they will be fully equipped with now fully vaccinated stars like Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo to face the Toronto Blue Jays, a team that is only 1.5 games back from the Yankees.
While this series is sure to be a lot of fun and engaging, it is worth noting that this series is one of the first challenging series the Yankees will have. They have already faced the Blue Jays in New York, and split the four-game series, with two wins. But what is more important to note is that this is the only time this season the Yankees have played an above .500 team. The Yankees have played the least amount of games against any above .500 team. I don’t want to be the realist in the room, but this fact makes me encourage fans to take their current win streak with a grain of salt.
Their hot streak started with a sweep of the Cleveland Guardians, and continued with sweeps of both the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals. Now, of course, those teams still can provide challenges, with the Orioles famously always giving the Yankees a hard time, but still, playoff teams should be able to go in and at least grab a series win, so a sweep is not that much more difficult, especially against teams like the Royals and O’s. For the fans saying these are different Yankees than last year, I would counter with, is it though?
The 2021 Yankees went on a similar hot streak, winning 11 straight games. The difference? That win streak featured 9-of-11 wins against over .500 teams, three teams that went to the playoffs, including the World Champion Atlanta Braves. I think you get the picture. Any team can go on a hot streak, and the Yankees have proven they are certainly capable of that. I just would offer pause for fans that think the Yankees are unstoppable. But now that I have rained on the parade, let’s take a deeper look into what this win streak has illustrated.
The Yankees can straight up bludgeon the ball
The Yankees begin their series in Toronto leading the league in barrels per plate appearance. They lead the league in balls hit 95mph or more. They lead the league with hard-hit %. The upshot: when the Yankees put the ball in play, fielders beware. Even for all of the fans weary about Joey Gallo, the hard hits have finally found evaded some fielders and found some grass as he is slashing .300/.364/.650 in the last 7 games.
And that is just Gallo. What Judge and Rizzo have done in the past few weeks is insane. Both are currently top 15 in WAR. Further, both sit atop the home run leaderboard, with Rizzo leading all of baseball with 9 home runs, and Judge with 8. Even more interesting is that Judge is not walking as much as he usually does, and yet is still sporting a .364 OBP. He is seeing the ball very well, and hitting 450-foot mammoth home runs. He is making both Cashman and fans apprehensive to say goodbye to him should he leave.
Reliever Michael King has been a revelation for this Yankees bullpen. Currently, King has a strikeout rate of 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings, has an ERA of .61, and has yet to give up a home run. Further, he can work his way out of trouble, leaving runners on base 85% of the time. This can be a bit dangerous of course, but using a devastating sinker nearly 40% of the time helps, as he induces ground balls 48% of the time.
A lot of numbers, but all of which point to: turn to King to get out of jams, or hold a lead, and all will be alright. This makes manager Aaron Boone’s job a bit easier.
With bullpens becoming the dominant part of pitching, it is critical to have a steady stream of performers that can hold onto a lead, or keep a team in the ballgame. King is exactly that, even going multiple innings when needed. He has seemingly replaced Chad Green as their go-to poised reliever. Like Green, he is able to provide multiple innings and bridge the gap with Aroldis Chapman.
A month into the season, and the Yankees are firing on all cylinders. Even Cole seems to have figured out his issues. The Yankees will face a few more challenges in May, as they will face the Blue Jays, Rays, White Sox, and Angels, all teams vying for playoff contention. It should paint a better picture of who these Yankees really are, and whether they have improved from their 2021 selves. Either way, winning is winning, and a 9 game win streak is never something to scoff at. Rather, it instead maybe should just be viewed with caution.
This series with the Blue Jays may provide for some stressful moments, but ultimately, having a fully vaccinated and eligible roster to play in Toronto is critical and improves their chances to prove that this win streak is no fluke.