This is the official mid point of the season for the New York Yankees. After their 6-3 win Monday night and handing the Blue Jays their fifth straight loss, manager Joe Girardi was asked his assessment about the first 81 games. He did not have to say much because if his team plays the same type of baseball in the second half there will be postseason baseball come October.
A division title may still be up for grabs. The Red Sox won their game and a July 4th matinee with Toronto will see the Yankees sitting three games behind in the division and with one or two AL wildcard spots.
However, the Joe Girardi Yankees are aware there are still 81 games remaining after their sixth straight win over a divisional opponent. And this was the way to start the remaining six games before the All-Star break after a rough stretch of losses the past few weeks.
“We have an opportunity in front of us,” Girardi said. “ You move forward. We went through a pretty tough stretch here. Whether it’s been losing tough games or losing some players seeing a gruesome injury. But our guys have continued to respond so I feel pretty good where we’re at.”
Girardi added this win was what the Yankees wanted. They started that stretch before the official break with a win and Masahiro Tanaka turned in his third straight quality outing on the mound. The slider moved, as did the curve and split.
Those 7.0 innings, one run and 111 pitches made that eight-start winless streak a thing of the past.
“I think it’s something that’s coming naturally,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “I just really try to focus on one pitch at a time. I’m really trying to execute each and every pitch. Sometimes I look up at the board and I’m surprised by myself at the velocity.”
The Yankees are moving forward and if they get these type of quality starts from Tanaka, and see CC Sabathia back in form Tuesday, his first start since coming off the DL, then there will be more quality starts coming from another key component that put the Yankees where they are now.
Tough stretches are a part of the game. And, yes, so are the injuries that have sat down Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro. Castro is one of five Yankees headed to the All-Star game next week and hopes to play. They have won for the most part without Jacoby Ellsbury who is slowly adjusting again after missing time with a concussion, and Brett Gardner the veteran with tenure, has revived at the plate and on the base paths.
Greg Bird had a setback with a bad ankle and is one of those “Baby Bombers” that may not see playing time. The ugly season ending injury to Dustin Fowler in his Major League debut, another “Baby Bomber” still lingers with Girardi and his team.
Matt Holliday gave unexpected production, but the veteran with a viral infection is out until further notice and Chris Carter got another reprieve.
So Girardi and the Yankees are content. Then there are these “Baby Bombers” that have been a major part of this first half, and mostly attributed to Aaron Judge who earlier in the day got the consent from his manager and GM Brian Cashman about enjoying and being a part of the MLB Home Run Derby next Monday evening down in Miami.
And he was named Al Payer and Rookie of the month for the month of June.
He will join catcher Gary Sanchez in the Derby. Girardi hopes they will return healthy and does not see Judge losing his ability to swing properly because his rookie has adjusted and learned at an early age about hitting to all fields.
It is also about Judge and his focus that has put the Yankees where they are, and was one of the reasons he delayed the official status as a Home run Derby competitor was to concentrate on winning games for his team.
Tanaka was outstanding with the splitter, slider, and the curve. Judge and Sanchez provided the Yankees with two runs in the first with consecutive singles off Toronto starter and loser Marcus Stroman. The All-star bound Yankees also set up a four-run eighth when Judge led off with a single and a double by Sanchez.
Oh, a veteran, Chase Headley appears to be getting his bat going. His two-run double in that inning opened the lead for a struggling bullpen to save. For the most part, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman have not been reliable with a share of struggles.Blowing saves, including two late inning setbacks against the White Sox and Astros this past week ,put the Yankees in a tailspin.
But Betances, with eight runs allowed in his last five games got help from Sanchez. Betances in the eighth inning struck out Justin Smoak on a 99 -mile fastball that saw Girardi smile. And a lot of that had to do with Sanchez completing an inning ending double play when he nailed Josh Donaldson with a perfect throw to second.
It was the Yankees first half and because of the way they finished this one off. Aroldis Chapman, also in a struggle gave up two runs in the ninth, but there were two heaters at 101 and high that made Troy Tulowitzki swing and miss in between a wild pitch.
“A lot of guys are stepping up,” Betances said. “We feel we are in a good spot.” And with Betances and Chapman adjusting to where they were, and with enough runs the Yankees will continue to be in that good position as they go into the second half.
It has been the unexpected first half and the Yankees are 44-37 as they continue to debut the rookies of their future including Clint Frazier who went 0-for-3 in his Yankee Stadium debut. They have five all-stars heading to Miami next week, maybe six if Didi Gregorius and his good first half gets the push and votes to join them.
Betances had his doubts about being an all-star for the fourth straight year. But the players voted him in along with Castro and Sanchez.
“Thank God that the players voted last week,” he said. “I had a tough couple of games.” But the Yankees had a good and better than expected first half and that has put them where they are as the second half of this long campaign begins.
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