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Yankees ride pitching and power to hot start

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Let’s take a look at what the Bombers have done to achieve early-season success and what they need to do to keep it going.

Didi Gregorius belts a solo home run in the tenth inning to lift the Yankees to a 4-3 victory over the Angels in Anaheim on April 27, 2018. Gregorius was named American League Player of the Week after slashing .357/.419/.821 with four homers, 10 RBIs, and
Didi Gregorius belts a solo home run in the tenth inning to lift the Yankees to a 4-3 victory over the Angels in Anaheim on April 27, 2018. Gregorius was named American League Player of the Week after slashing .357/.419/.821 with four homers, 10 RBIs, and seven runs scored.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees entered the month of May on a tear. With a 19-10 start, the club is on pace to win 106 games. They accomplished this early-season success by relying on the tried and true Bombers’ formula of pitching and power.

Through 29 games, New York leads the majors with 42 homers, 168 runs scored, and a .789 OPS. The team’s 110 extra-base hits rank second behind Boston’s 114. The Yanks are 9-2 in games when they mash at least two home runs, while they are 12-2 when knocking at least four extra-base hits.

Didi Gregorius paces all of baseball with 10 homers, 30 runs batted in, a .735 slugging percentage, and 1.159 OPS. Following Saturday’s thrashing of the Angels, Sir Didi actually led the major leagues in all three Triple Crown categories. The AL Player of the Week isn’t the only reason for New York’s offensive dominance, though.

Tyler Austin, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, and Gregorius have all produced multi-homer games, with the latter two doing it twice. In total, Sanchez has bashed eight home runs, Aaron Judge seven, and Austin and Stanton have hit five apiece. Miguel Andujar leads MLB with 12 doubles, having totaled 15 extra-base hits in just 22 games.

With the emergence of Austin, Andujar, and Gleyber Torres, New York now boasts a circular lineup. In three of the last fifteen games, every starter reached base and factored into the scoring. In two other games, each starter at least reached base safely. Unsurprisingly, the Yankees won all five of those games.

The top of the lineup has been a run-scoring machine. Judge and Gregorius have each scored 25 runs, with only two players in baseball scoring more. In addition, Brett Gardner has scored 24 times. No other team in baseball can even come close to boasting a trio of players who are on pace to score 130 plus runs each.

Although they lead MLB in secondary average and isolated power, the Yankees’ offense is not one-dimensional. The Bombers owe much of their success to their patient approach at the plate. New York leads the American League with 126 walks and a .338 on-base percentage.

This patience bodes well for the team moving forward. With Torres and Andujar continuing their development, the balanced attack takes pressure off the big guns at the top of the order and puts it squarely on opposing pitchers. There are simply no easy outs in this lineup.

The pitching, meanwhile, has been nearly as good as the offense. The staff’s .220 batting average against, .349 slugging average, .642 OPS, and 10.1 strikeouts per nine all rank second in the league. Yankee pitchers rank third with a 3.50 ERA and fourth with a 1.20 WHIP.

Each starting pitcher has produced multiple quality starts, with the staff totaling eight over the last ten games. Luis Severino appears poised to compete for the Cy Young Award once again, while Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia seem to have regained their ace form. Sabathia allowed a total of one earned run over his last three starts since returning from the disabled list.

Following some notable hiccups early on, the bullpen has performed spectacularly of late. Through the first eighteen games, New York’s relief corps allowed 36 earned runs over 71 1/3 innings, resulting in an uninspiring 4.54 ERA. Over the last 11 games, the pen has permitted just three earned runs over 36 2/3 innings, good for a microscopic 0.74 ERA.

Despite the rough start, Yankee relievers now lead the majors in WAR, FIP, and strikeouts per nine. Aroldis Chapman appears to have regained his dominance, while Dellin Betances is back to generating swing-and-miss strikes with consistency. The pair combines with Chad Green and David Robertson to form the lights-out pen we all hoped would take shape.

The key to continued bullpen success, of course, is keeping the relievers rested and fresh for the long season ahead. Provided the rotation continues producing quality starts with regularity, we should be able to count New York’s bullpen as a significant strength moving forward.

The Yankees are currently navigating the toughest part of their 2018 schedule. Beginning on April 19th, the team embarked on a 21-game stretch against the top two teams in each AL division, including all of the other 2017 postseason participants. In taking three of four from Toronto, sweeping the Twins and Angels, and splitting the first two with the Astros, the Yankees have really showed their mettle thus far. The team is now more than halfway through their big test, with eight games remaining against formidable opponents Houston, Cleveland, and Boston during this stretch.

The fan base is fired up, all across the Yankees Universe. This weekend in Anaheim, Yankee fans outnumbered the Angels’ faithful by a 3-to-1 margin. The disparity in decibel levels was exponentially higher. “Let’s go Yankees” chants rocked Angel Stadium non-stop for three days.

After Didi hit his tenth-inning go-ahead home run on Friday night, the crowd on the first-base side — comprised nearly entirely of Yankee fans — kept chanting the shortstop’s name until he re-emerged from the dugout for a curtain call. MVP chants erupted throughout the weekend as well, not for Mike Trout, but for Gregorius.

Yankee fans completely took over the right-field bleachers at the Big A, providing a roll call just as loud as in the Bronx while each Yankee fielder dutifully acknowledged his name. After warming up with the ball boy between each inning, Aaron Judge tossed the ball to a fan wearing a pinstriped jersey. Despite the right-fielder’s faithful efforts, thousands of fans wearing number ninety-nine on their backs went home empty-handed.

Following last season’s near miss, fans stand ready to watch the Yankees take that next step. New York certainly holds the blueprint for success. If the club continues playing with that magical mix of pitching and power, then the best from this year’s Yankees is yet to come.