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How the Yankees dominated the AL’s best teams for three weeks

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Following an 8-8 start, the Bombers just breezed through the toughest part of their 2018 schedule.

Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

On April 19th, the 8-8 Yankees were staring at 21 straight games against teams ahead of them in the standings. They cruised to an 18-3 mark over the toughest part of their 2018 schedule, and ended up tied for the best record in baseball. Let’s take a look at how they got it done.

Stellar pitching

Through the first 16 games of the season, the Yankees pitching staff posted a rather pedestrian 4.62 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Starting pitchers handed a lead to the bullpen 10 times, while producing six quality starts. The bullpen, though, turned two of those wins into losses, and allowed at least one earned run in 12 of those 16 games. Relievers also allowed 47% of inherited runners to score.

Over the next 21 games, Yankees hurlers pitched to a 2.62 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Starters turned the game over to the pen with a lead 12 times, a scoreless tie twice, and posted one complete game shutout. The Yankees went 15-0 in those games. Starters turned in 14 quality starts, and allowed two runs or less 15 times. The bullpen did not give up an earned run in 11 of the 21 games and permitted only 35% of inherited runners to score. The pitching staff accomplished all this despite enjoying only one day off.

Standout performers included Luis Severino, who dominated Houston’s potent offense in tossing the club’s lone complete game shutout of the 2018 campaign. With that gem, Severino joined Cleveland’s Corey Kluber as the AL’s first five-game winners. CC Sabathia made four straight starts in which he surrendered one earned run or less. Aroldis Chapman regained his dominance, lowering his ERA to 1.50 while joining the league leaders in saves.

It always comes back to pitching. Every great team is built on solid mound work. Over this 18-3 stretch, Yankees hurlers were stellar.

Clutch hitting, late

To start the season, the Yankees offense was anemic late in games. The Bombers were outscored by opponents 32-23 from the seventh inning on through their 8-8 start. New York carried a dismal 2-5 record in games where the winning run scored in the seventh inning or later.

The team turned that around beginning on April 19th. Over the next 21 games, the Yankees outscored opponents by a whopping 51-21 margin from the seventh inning on. Over that span, the team surged to a 9-1 mark in contests decided late.

The Yankees really saw their circular lineup begin to take shape during this period. Every single regular in the batting order contributed heavily to multiple wins. In fact, the run production was virtually evenly distributed.

Yankees offense: April 19 - May 10, 2018

5 Sanchez 66 15 14 4 0 6 16 14 10
9 Torres 61 9 21 3 0 2 11 5 5
3 Gregorius 81 13 20 3 0 5 15 6 8
8 Andujar 78 10 23 8 0 2 8 1 10
1 Gardner 69 12 11 2 1 0 9 9 3
6 Hicks 62 11 13 3 1 0 7 12 4
2 Judge 76 14 22 6 0 5 17 16 11
4 Stanton 77 18 20 5 0 6 13 9 11
7 Walker 44 13 10 4 0 0 5 7 4
7 Austin 35 4 7 2 0 3 9 2 5
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, table by Brett Borzelli

It bodes well that the team has been able to notch so many wins without relying exclusively on their big guns to carry the burden. Rookie Gleyber Torres, for example, notched a trio of three-RBI games over a four-day period. Miguel Andujar became the youngest Yankees player in history to knock a walk-off hit. He held the distinction for less than 48 hours, as Torres subsequently took the mantle. To see the youngest members of a generally youthful team contribute so much is great.

Improved defense

New York’s fielders committed a major league-leading 17 errors through the first 16 games. The miscues cost the team 11 unearned runs. The Yankees went 1-4 in games where at least one unearned run scored.

The defense has really turned it around of late. During the 18-3 run, the Yankees created only six unearned runs. The club was able to overcome them, though, going 4-0 in those games. All totaled, the team committed just nine errors, four of which occurred in a single game versus Minnesota. The defensive trend continues moving in the right direction as well. Over thirteen games from April 30th through May 13th, the club was charged with only two errors.

Great play from replacements

Injuries happen, all teams must overcome them. The Yankees have seen their replacements step up and get the job done.

After a slow start, likely due to signing late in spring training, Neil Walker has really come through. In fact, Walker and Tyler Austin combined for 14 RBIs and 17 runs scored during the Yankees’ 18-3 run. Their combined contribution on offense while manning first base in place of the injured Greg Bird is comparable to what the big bats in the lineup produced over the same span.

Domingo German stepped up big time when Jordan Montgomery left the game hurt after completing only one inning in Houston. German’s four scoreless frames kept the team in a game that they would ultimately win. His subsequent six shutout, no-hit innings of nine-strikeout ball in his first career start set a MLB record.

Injuries suffered by bullpen stalwarts Tommy Kahnle and Adam Warren was a big blow to a relief corps that was struggling to gain consistency. Chasen Shreve and Jonathan Holder stepped up, though. The pair have contributed to multiple Yankees’ victories.

The Yankees made a statement

The Bombers could have muddled their way through this tough stretch, staying around .500, while hoping to make up ground later in the season against the weaker teams. Instead, they beat up on the best teams in the league, proving themselves legit contenders in the process.

Five of the six teams they played were in first place at one time or another during this stretch. The Yankees went 15-2 against the Twins, Angels, Astros, Indians, and Red Sox. Since these clubs must be considered favorites to make the playoffs, it bodes well that the Yankees did so well against their likely October opponents.

New York finally got the Anaheim monkey off their backs, sweeping the Angels in California for the first time since 1987. Going 3-1 against the Astros in Minute Maid Park, after an 0-4 showing there in the ALCS, is also a big confidence booster.

The variety of ways the Yankees won games during this stretch is both impressive and encouraging. They won some blowouts, as well as a number of one-run games. They won with mostly dominant pitching, but also managed to overcome a few shaky performances on the mound to win anyway. The Yankees made a statement, and they did it at the right time against the right teams.