February 2, 2023

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Yanks' core finding 'different ways to win'

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This is something Brian Cashman said near the end of Spring Training. It means he was speaking at the end of an offseason when the general feeling, especially with Yankees fans, is that their general manager hadn’t done enough since the Yanks’ AL Wild Card thumping at the hands of the Red Sox to improve his ballclub.

“We’ve stayed in touch and engaged a lot of clubs about what our needs seem to be right now,” Cashman said in late March. “If something comes out of any of those discussions, great. If not, we’re prepared to go with what we have here.”

The Yankees have basically gone with what they have for the most part. You see how it’s worked out for them. They entered Thursday’s games with the best record in baseball. They just took two more games from the Blue Jays, who were supposed to be the beasts of the AL East and might still be yet. After barely more than a month of the season, after they’ve played just 30 games, the Yankees are 11 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox.

They are a couple of games better in the fight for the New York City championship than the Mets. A game-and-a-half better than the Dodgers, who have the best roster, top to bottom, in the whole sport. The Yankees are four games ahead of the team that has been an even bigger nemesis for them in the East than the Red Sox have been over the past few years, which means the Rays.

The Yankees have been that good so far, in a season when they need to make the World Series more than any team in the big leagues, when so much is on the line for Cashman and for Aaron Boone, the manager Cashman selected to replace Joe Girardi even after Girardi had taken the Yankees to within one game of the Series in 2017.

So far, so good for the Yankees with so much season left to be played. Historically, when the Yanks do break for the gate with a record like this (22-8), they do make it to the Series.

Cashman did add pieces, if not a big piece like Carlos Correa or Corey Seager that the fanbase originally wanted. But Isiah Kiner-Falefa has been big at shortstop, giving the team better defense there than it got from Gleyber Torres when he was there last season.

But if you step back and look at the whole picture with the Yankees as they go into Chicago for four games with the White Sox, it’s clear that the reason they are where they are and have done what they’ve done is so many of their holdovers have simply picked it up, and picked up the Yanks in the process. You want a blast from the past? So far the Yankees are doing it with their core.

Torres had the biggest swing on Wednesday afternoon against the Blue Jays, a three-run homer in a 5-3 Yankees victory. Now that he is back at second base where he belongs, he is once again showing flashes of being the star the Yanks thought he was going to be when he hit 38 home runs in 2019. DJ LeMahieu’s batting average seems to be on its way back to .300 after an extremely soft and disappointing ’21.

Anthony Rizzo, the biggest free-agent signing for Cashman even though Rizzo had come over from the Cubs last summer at the Trade Deadline, has hit nine homers in 30 games. He had eight for the Yankees after the trade last season. Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 35 homers in 2021, is on pace to hit more this time if he stays healthy. Stanton hit a big three-run homer on Tuesday night, before Aaron Judge walked off another Yankees victory over the Jays with his own monster three-run homer in the bottom of the 9th.

Judge is once again carrying the Yankees, especially over the past few weeks, after turning down the Yanks’ offer for a long-term contract extension right before Opening Day (reported to be $213 million over seven years), and thus placing an awfully big bet on himself. Over his last 11 games, all Judge has done is hit six homers, score 11 runs, knock in 16 and look like as much an MVP as anybody else around.

Then there is the pitching. Gerrit Cole, whose ERA was 3.23 last season, is down to 2.67 now. Jameson Taillon’s ERA was 4.30 a year ago; it’s at 2.93 today. Jordan Montgomery’s own ERA is down almost a run. Michael King, the breakout star of Boone’s bullpen, had an ERA of 3.55 starting and relieving in 2021. Presently King is at 1.35.

“It’s been nice that [the winning] is coming in a lot of different ways,” Boone said after the Yankees’ fast and furious two-game sweep of the Jays at the Stadium. “I think that’s built a lot of confidence in that room that we know, we don’t have to lean on one thing on a given night. We have a lot of different ways to beat you.”

And they are currently beating everybody. If you think about it, the 2022 Yankees are in the process of proving what you hear at the gym all the time. Your core has to be strong. Theirs is right now.

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