On August 12, the Yankees lost a heartbreaker against the Chicago White Sox in the inaugural Field of Dreams Game, as Zack Britton spoiled a four-run top of the ninth inning by allowing a two-run walk-off homer to Tim Anderson. It was just the latest in what was a number of gut punch losses and bullpen meltdowns since the beginning of July, and, despite the hot stretch that the Yankees had put together, you’d be forgiven for believing it was just another example of the team getting in its own way in a frustrating season.
Rather than falling apart, however, the Yankees bounced back in a big way, going on a win streak that met its end yesterday afternoon. But how have they gone about winning all these games? Let’s take a dive into the numbers.
High-Leverage, All the Time
The Yankees may have been winning a lot, but they haven’t come easy — aside from two games against the Minnesota Twins on the 20th and 21st and one against the Atlanta Braves on the 23rd, the Yankees have won every game by three runs or fewer; seven victories, moreover, had a margin of only one or two runs. You know what that means? A lot of high-leverage innings.
Since August 14, Yankees pitchers have faced 61 total batters in high-leverage situations, or more than five per game; only the Dodgers, Royals, and Giants pitching staffs have dealt with more high-leverage situations in that time span. In contrast, they have only faced 167 batters in low-leverage situations; only Rockies and Giants pitchers have seen fewer. That’s a lot of high-stress innings, but somehow, the Yankees pitchers have been able to walk the tightrope just enough to keep winning.
The Goal Line Package has mashed
Aaron Judge. Giancarlo Stanton. Joey Gallo. Anthony Rizzo. Luke Voit. If this five lined up as the offensive line for the New York Giants, they might actually be better than the real starting offensive line over in the Meadowlands. Fortunately for the Yankees, all five opted for a different sport, and instead represent the two-through-six spots of the order when manager Aaron Boone pencils Judge in as the center fielder for the team’s most brutally effective offensive configuration.
Although Rizzo has struggled since returning from the COVID-19 IL, the other four have more than made up for him with their performance at the plate. Judge, Stanton, and Voit share the team lead with 0.7 fWAR in this span, posting wRC+ figures of 190, 223, and 248, respectively. Gallo, meanwhile, has added four home runs of his own and driven in eight runs, for a comparatively paltry wRC+ of 123.
2021’s Mike Tauchman
Every year, somebody comes out of nowhere, performs well above his career norms, and stakes out an important role for himself as the Yankees deal with a barrage of injuries. In 2019, that player was Mike Tauchman. Last season, it was Erik Kratz. This year, it’s hometown kid Andrew Velazquez.
Signed as a minor league free agent over the winter and promoted to the Majors on August 9, Velazquez has put together the best stretch of his career: in addition to hitting his first career homer, he has driven in six runs, scored six times, and made an electric game-ending stop to jam and secure the sweep over the Boston Red Sox.
Andrew Velazquez's fielding chops seals a Yankees series sweep against the Red Sox and sixth consecutive win.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) August 19, 2021
At some point, Velazquez will come back to Earth and begin playing more in line with his career norm, but boy, his success has been fun — and a big part of the Yankees’ win streak.
Dominant Pitching — Just Not From Who We Expected
Coming into the season, the Yankee rotation consisted of Gerrit Cole and four question marks. Somehow, that became the recipe for a top-flight pitching staff, as the Bombers are second in the American League with 3.96 runs allowed per game, second in the AL with a 3.81 FIP, and have limited opposing batters to just 145 home runs (fourth in the league).
This win streak has seen more of the same. The team’s 2.61 ERA is second in baseball, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers, and they are tied for the league lead in fWAR (2.5) with the Dodgers and the Kansas City Royals. But what made this particular stretch unique was which pitchers have been the most important during this time.
Cole’s position at the top is exactly what you would have expected back in April, and while Jonathan Loáisiga’s ranking would have been a surprise then, anyone who has seen him now knows just how electric he can be.
But the players immediately after them on the list? Wandy Peralta has been a solid middle reliever for most of the season, but over the last two weeks, he has become a veritable relief ace, largely in part due to an increase in changeup usage. Although he doesn’t necessarily pitch deep into games, Néstor Cortes Jr. has been a savior for the Yankees, so critical to the team’s success when four-fifths of the rotation (i.e., everyone besides Jameson Taillon) was on the injured list. And Andrew Heaney, who gave up 15 hits on 15 runs in his first 15 innings as a member of the Yankees and who was in many ways the true architect of the team’s most recent loss, managed to stifle the Boston Red Sox for seven innings on August 18 and keep the Atlanta Braves in check for four on the 24th.
All Around Excellence
To conclude, let me just show you a list of stats compiled by ESPN’s Jeff Passan:
The Yankees' winning streak ends at 13 games. During that two-week stretch, their numbers and ranks in MLB.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 28, 2021
Runs: 75 (T-2nd)
Hard-hit%: 35.5% (3rd)
wRC+: 128 (2nd)
SB: 11 (4th)
GIDP: 4 (T-2nd)
ERA: 2.61 (2nd)
Bullpen ERA: 2.25 (3rd)
K/9: 9.71 (5th)
“Across-the-board excellence” is right. The four components discussed in this article cover almost all aspects of the game. Over the course of two-plus weeks, the Yankees simply did everything well — and although baseball always entails a little bit of luck, the best way to win a whole bunch of games in a row is to simply do it all.