John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The public obsession with adding an elite starting pitcher isn't going away until a deal gets done at some point, but it shouldn't overshadow the magnificence of what the Yankees are doing these days, playing at a remarkably high level in all areas of the game.
Consider that while winning six straight games they've outscored their opponents by a whopping 47-17, with the last four of those games against the Rays and the Astros.
And to think, Giancarlo Stanton has barely been a factor yet since returning earlier this week, and now Aaron Judge is back as well, beginning Friday night. That plus newly-acquired Edwin Encarnacion riding shotgun for the big boys and, oh by the way, Gary Sanchez slugging at an MVP-level once again.
"It has to be one of the most imposing lineups the game has ever seen," a rival executive told me on Friday. "Minnesota is having a great year offensively, but nobody can match the Yankees' firepower from top to bottom, especially with everybody healthy.
"And it's more than just the slug factor now. Obviously (DJ) LeMahieu gives them a dimension they needed, but they just wear pitchers down with guys who give pitchers tough at-bats. I'll be really interested to see how (Justin) Verlander does against them."
That's on Sunday, the finale of a four-game series with the Astros, and indeed, the way Verlander has dominated the Yankees since going to Houston, especially in the 2017 ALCS, he represents something of the ultimate litmus test for this latest version of Murderer's Row in the Bronx.
Yes, it makes for a fascinating matchup, all the more so because Verlander, like so many pitchers in this juiced-ball season, has been vulnerable to the long ball.
In some ways the Astros' ace has been at his most dominant, limiting hitters to a .157 batting average, the best in the majors, yet he has surrendered 20 home runs, the third-highest total in both leagues.
As such he is giving up 1.7 home runs per nine innings, by far the highest ratio of his career. In going six innings and giving up three runs in a 4-3 win over the Yankees in April, Verlander gave up one home run, a Judge laser to right field.
So maybe the Yankees, with all of their power, match up better against Verlander than they have the last couple of years, which certainly could be a factor come October.
It's especially relevant because it's a championship-or-bust season for the Yankees, after getting knocked out of the postseason the last couple of years, which is why there is so much focus on the need to add a dominant starting pitcher.
GM Brian Cashman has said he'll be working to do just that as the July 31 trade deadline gets closer, and it remains to be seen if he strays from his way of doing business, which means avoiding giving up top prospects for rental players heading for free agency, notably Madison Bumgarner this season.
One Yankee source says Cashman would do "whatever it takes" to get Max Scherzer, who has two more years on his contract, but the consensus opinion around baseball is that the Nationals won't make him available, especially after his broken-nose gem on Wednesday that added to his legacy in Washington, D.C.
"No chance," one person in the Nationals organization told me Thursday. "Even if (GM Mike) Rizzo wanted to do it, ownership wouldn't let him. They want Scherzer to be their first Hall-of-Famer."
Not to mention the Nationals are playing well lately, clawing their way at least into wild-card contention, so it seems the Yankees can forget about the Scherzer fantasy.
In the meantime, it's worth noting that Chad Green, the Yankees' designated "opener" during this stretch when they're down a starter, is once again looking like the guy who blew away everyone in his path two seasons ago.
To the point where, as a major-league scout said Friday, don't be shocked if the Yankees employed such a strategy in the postseason.
"I'm sure they'll get another starter," the scout said, "but getting Green comfortable in that role could be an option for them. With the off-days in the postseason, they have the arms to make a bullpen game work, especially if they get (Dellin) Betances back. Green has the late life on his fastball again, and he has improved his slider."
Indeed, whatever Green worked on when he was sent to the minors in May, it's paying off now, as he has allowed only one run in his last 11 1/3 innings, excelling in the "opener" role.
It doesn't change the big picture for Cashman, but it is one more reason to believe the Yankees have the most complete team in baseball right now, to the point where they've gotten creative to make sure they don't give away Cameron Maybin, their lightning-in-a-bottle acquisition of the year.
The return of Stanton and Judge seemed to leave no room for Maybin on the roster, but there's no rule that says a team has to carry 13 pitchers on its roster, even if it's become standard practice in this bullpen-dependent era.
In recent years the Yankees have excelled at roster manipulation, shuttling relievers back and forth from Triple-A, and, sure enough, after using Nestor Cortes Jr. for three innings on Thursday, they demoted him rather than putting Maybin on waivers and almost certainly losing him.
They can surely survive with 12 relievers at least for a while, and it's the smart way to go. Maybin's surprising play, after all, is just one more reason it's starting to feel like 2019 is the Yankees year in the way 2018 belonged to the Red Sox.
The Astros surely will have something to say about that, of course. And that makes for great intrigue these next few days as the Yankees trot out one of the most fearsome lineups in their storied history, while Verlander, in particular, tries to keep them from taking him out of the ballpark.