The New York Yankees are firing on all cylinders right now. Despite Sunday’s loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Bombers have won 16 of their last 18 games. They currently enjoy an 11-game lead over Toronto in the AL East with a 49-17 record. So far, the 2022 Yankees have a starkly different vibe than last year’s club. Through 66 games last year, New York was 34-32 and eight games out of first. The question is, what has clicked this year that did not in prior years? The simplest answer appears to be this: the Yankees have finally established a two-way game. In several seasons during the 2010s, the problem seemed to be a lack of pitching depth. It was a lack of timely offence in the last couple of seasons. However, the team has found a seemingly perfect mix of deep rotation, reliable bullpen, and clutch hitting this year.
Yankees’ Two-Way Game Paying Dividends
The Yankees offence deserves a ton of credit for improving its output from last year. In 2021, the Bombers ranked 10th out of 15 American League teams in runs scored (711). They were also 13th in team batting average (.237), fourth in strikeouts (1,482) and grounded into the most double plays (154) in the league. So far this year, they lead the AL in runs scored (340), are fifth in team average (.249), tops in team OPS (.772), and they’ve struck out 534 times, slightly below the league average.
As in prior years, the home run is the Yankees’ best friend. They’ve hit 110 so far to lead the majors. However, they are finding other ways to score runs as well. For example, they already have 23 sacrifice flies, good for third in the AL. They had 34 sac flies last year, which was 12th in the league. The Yanks also have 40 steals to their credit this year, which is fifth in the AL. They are well on pace to surpass last year’s total of 63, which was the 10th most on the junior circuit. Maintaining a lot of power (led by Aaron Judge’s 25 dingers) while finding new ways to score without the long ball has led to a more balanced, dynamic offence for the Yankees this year.
On the pitching end, things are even better than last year, which means a lot. In 2021, the Yankees were third in the league in team ERA (3.74) and second in strikeouts (1,569). This year, they lead the league in both categories (2.86 ERA and 606 strikeouts). What stands out about the Yankees’ staff right now is their great five-man rotation. Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes, and Jordan Montgomery have had outstanding seasons. Cole’s ERA of 3.33, which isn’t too shabby, is the highest figure of the five. Montgomery and Cortes both have a WHIP under 1.000, and those two, along with Taillon, have ERAs under 3.00.
The bullpen, one of the team’s biggest weaknesses last year, is now a strength. One of the biggest stories has been the emergence of Clay Holmes as an elite closer. In the absence of Aroldis Chapman, Holmes has gone on a dominant streak of 29 consecutive scoreless appearances, topping Mariano Rivera’s previous franchise record. Michael King has also emerged as a great middle relief option. He has pitched to a 2.41 ERA with 51 strikeouts in only 37 1/3 innings of work.
The Yankees have not had a staff this elite or this deep in recent memory. Sunday’s loss to Toronto marked the first time they had given up 10 or more runs in a game all year. When the pitching staff gives you a chance to win practically every day, the offence usually has to scratch out a few runs to get it done. More often than not, they clear that bar. The Yankees figuring out their two-way game is leaving the rest of the league scrambling for answers. It remains unknown whether they’ll find them.
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