For the first time since 1953, the New York Yankees have won 17 of their last 18 ballgames. Wednesday night they rallied against Craig Kimbrel to beat the Boston Red Sox (NYY 9, BOS 6) and move into sole possession of first place in the AL East. At 26-10, the Yankees now have the best record in baseball.
Here is New York's four-run rally against Kimbrel. It was only the sixth time in his nine-year career that Kimbrel allowed multiple extra-base hits in a game.
The Yankees have outscored their opponents 110-45 during this 17-1 stretch, so their average margin of victory is 3.61 runs. The one loss was a 2-1 game that, by Game Score, required one of the six best starts of Charlie Morton's career. Consider who the Yankees have beaten during this 17-1 streak:
- Two wins over the Toronto Blue Jays at home.
- Four game-sweep of the Minnesota Twins at home.
- Three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels on the road.
- Three wins in four games against the Houston Astros on the road.
- Three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians at home.
- Two wins in two games against the Red Sox at home.
Those are basically the six best non-Yankees teams in the American League. The Yankees haven't been beating up on a bunch of rebuilding teams these last 18 games. Among the pitchers they've handed losses during the 17-1 stretch are Kimbrel, Marcus Stroman, Jose Berrios, Ken Giles, Dallas Keuchel, Trevor Bauer, and Cody Allen. Some pretty good names there.
Now, there is always some element of luck involved when a team goes 17-1. You'd expect even the most talented teams to lose five or six times during a random 18-game stretch. The Yankees have benefited from both good play and good fortune during these 18 games, and, believe it or not, there are some reasons to believe they can be even better going forward. Here are four.
Sanchez will get hot at some point
For sure, Gary Sanchez has had some important hits during this 17-1 stretch. He hit a walk-off homer against Fernando Rodney and the Twins two weeks ago, and last week at Minute Maid Park, he crushed a ninth inning go-ahead three-run home run against Ken Giles.
Sanchez currently leads all catchers with nine home runs and 29 RBI, yet he currently owns a .205/.285/.492 batting line overall. Even including his two base hits Wednesday night, Sanchez is currently mired in a 5 for 26 (.192) rut.
Based on his career to date, Sanchez is much better than a .205/.285/.492 hitter, and at some point he's going to go on a ridiculous tear and vaporize the ball for about a month. He's shown himself to be a streaky hitter. When he slumps, he really slumps. When he gets hot, he can carry a team. The Yankees and Sanchez are still waiting for that first big hot streak.
They're starting to get healthy
The Yankees currently have nine players on the disabled list, including their starting first baseman (Greg Bird), starting third baseman (Brandon Drury), fifth starter (Jordan Montgomery), two key middle relievers (Tommy Kahnle and Adam Warren), and their second highest paid position player (Jacoby Ellsbury). That is a lot of talent on the sidelines.
Fortunately for the Yankees -- and unfortunately for the rest of the league -- several of those players are nearing a return. Bird is rehabbing from spring ankle surgery and has begun a minor league rehab assignment. He is 10-20 days away from rejoining the team.
Greg Bird homered in a rehab game yesterday. Boone said Bird could return in 10-20 days ... “we’re starting to see the light at the end.”— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) May 9, 2018
New York's first basemen have hit a weak .230/.300/.400 so far this season, so getting Bird and his lefty pop -- he's hit 20 home runs in 94 career games -- back in the lineup will help the offense and also provide balance for the righty heavy lineup.
Kahnle, meanwhile, has been down with shoulder and biceps tendinitis, and he threw in the bullpen for the first time Wednesday.
Tommy Kahnle threw 20 pitches in bullpen - fastball, changeup, slider. Said arm felt “great,” believes velo was good. Expects to be back by the end of the month.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) May 9, 2018
The plan tentatively calls for one more bullpen session, one live batting practice session, and at least one minor league rehab appearance. It's possible that process could be completed and Kahnle could return to the roster within two weeks, and adding another quality reliever -- Kahnle threw 62 2/3 innings with a 2.59 ERA and 96 strikeouts last year -- is never a bad thing.
The Yankees are also due to get Drury back within a week. He's been sidelined with an irritated tendon in his neck and back that was causing migraines and blurry vision. His 20-day rehab window closes Tuesday. Rookie third baseman Miguel Andujar has done a fine job filling in, though he's cooled of late, and Drury's return will give the Yankees another option at the hot corner, if nothing else.
Guys like Montgomery and Ellsbury are a little further away, but in players like Bird and Kahnle and Drury, the Yankees have some quality players nearing a return from the disabled list. Their roster is that much closer to being whole.
Their schedule is going to get easier
As noted above, the Yankees have won 17 times in 18 games while playing the best teams the American League has to offer. In fact, Wednesday's win was New York's eighth in a row, and all eight had come against teams that were no worse than tied for first place heading into the game. The streak ends Thursday because the Red Sox are in second place now.
By opponent's winning percentage (.550), the Yankees and Chicago Cubs have played the two toughest schedules in baseball so far this season. New York's remaining opponents have a combined .480 winning percentage this year, one of the lowest in baseball. Here are the biggest differences between winning percentage of opponents played and opponent remaining.
Now, any team can beat any other team on any night in this game, but the Yankees sure should feel great they've aced what was supposed to be the difficult part of their schedule. They have lots of games against rebuilding teams remaining and you want to play those teams late in the season, because they're likely to have been stripped for parts at the deadline and are just running out the clock on the 162-game season.
Trades are coming
General manager Brian Cashman has done a remarkable job rebuilding his team on the fly -- the Yankees never bottomed out in the standings like so many rebuilding teams, and nearly 50 percent of their playing time this season has gone to homegrown players, their most since 1973 -- but this is not Cashman's first time running a contender. He knows the expectation is a World Series title and he will act accordingly.
Because of that, expect the Yankees to aggressively pursue upgrades at the trade deadline as Cashman looks to put his club in the best position to win. The Yankees have a stacked farm system -- Baseball America ranked it the No. 2 system in the game before the season -- and about $15 million of wiggle room under the $197 million luxury tax threshold, so they have the prospects and financial flexibility not just to make trades, but to make significant trades.
As always, pitching figures to be the No. 1 priority before the trade deadline. Montgomery will be out 6-8 weeks with a flexor strain and Sonny Gray, while better of late, has not been good overall this season. Bringing in another starter makes sense. Cashman could also look to bolster his bullpen, simply because there's no such thing as too many good relievers. The Yankees are good enough to win as is. There is always room for improvement though, and Cashman knows this.
At some point the Yankees are going to lose another game, probably two or three games and a series or two, but right now they're playing some of the most impressive baseball we've seen in a long time. They're beating good teams and, even when they're down in the late innings, they're making comebacks against great closers. Last year the Yankees were an underdog exceeding expectations. This year they're a juggernaut, a juggernaut that can be even better going forward.