The Yankees have gotten off to a great start this season, despite some scheduling complications. While the strength of schedule has been relatively easy, all things considered, the extended lockout forced the Yankees into a situation where they had to play 16 games in 17 days to begin the season.
Well, as if that early season stretch wasn’t rough enough, you’re going to want to hold onto your butts for this one, folks: thanks to recent inclement weather, the Yankees are about to embark on a stretch that sees them play 23 games in 22 days. While the Yankees have seen some excellent play from all around the roster that has been a big positive for them in the early-going — specifically, Aaron Judge’s return to MVP-level play, Anthony Rizzo’s powerful start, and the pitching staff’s brilliance — we’ve written about that quite a bit here on the site. As we’re staring down the barrel of a grueling early-season stretch for the Yankees, let’s take a look at some of the under-the-radar narratives that are going to influence how this important swing shapes up for the team.
When the Yankees began the season with a bigger share of pitchers than hitters on their major league roster, we got an early glimpse at the strategy they felt comfortable rolling with after a shortened spring training. Now that arms have been stretched out and a rhythm has been set, we expected to maybe see less bullpen arms and the infusion of another bench piece going forward.
Well, while that may still be true, it might be time to start up the ol’ Scranton Shuttle again. With such a demanding schedule upcoming, it’s highly likely that we see the return of some of the early-season depth arms that pitched some solid innings for the team. Primary among these names would likely be Clarke Schmidt (1.08 ERA in 8.1 innings pitched), but this would also include Ron Marinaccio (11.50 ERA in 4.0 innings pitched) and JP Sears (0.00 ERA in 2.0 innings pitched). Schmidt looked particularly impressive during his run with the big league club, while Marinaccio — whose numbers are a bit inflated after one poor outing — and Sears would be nice low-leverage arms to add to the arm barn to take the pressure off both high-leverage guys like Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Michael King and the starting rotation.
I was one of Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s earliest detractors on this site, but I’m happy to say that he has proven me wrong so far. Appearing in 23 out of a possible 25 games, IKF has slashed .295/.329/.372 with a 108 wRC+. He’s been solid defensively after a bit of a bumpy start to the season and his speed on the base paths has already worked out in the Yankees’ favor.
Beyond his on-field performance, however, his stability in the lineup has been a huge plus for this team. Plugging IKF into the starting shortstop role on a nearly daily basis gives Aaron Boone the flexibility he needs to rotate DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Josh Donaldson, which is the key to not only getting everyone off their feet for some rest, but also to getting LeMahieu and the hopefully rebounding Torres consistent at-bats. It’s still early, but it’s been nice to have some consistency at shortstop so far.
Speaking of lineup rotations and flexibility, the bench is bound to come up big in a stretch like this. Luckily for the Yankees, they have a couple fairly solid bench pieces besides the catcher position. Tim Locastro has had a very small sample size thus far, but he hasn’t been a complete loss at the plate, which is huge for a solid defender who can field all three outfield positions with literal 99th percentile sprint speed. On the infield, Marwin González has gotten off to a great start at the plate in a very small sample size and is capable of fielding four of the five positions in the infield. In addition to LeMahieu’s swiss-army knife approach to positional versatility and Judge’s ability (and willingness) to play two of the three outfield positions, this flexibility could be huge to ensure everyone’s getting adequate rest.
With 23 games in 22 days, things are about to get fairly intense in Yankees-land. Despite having the best record in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays are still hot on their tail, so continuing their winning ways during a stressful but winnable stretch of games (some of their opponents include the Texas Rangers, two series against the underperforming Chicago White Sox, and two series against the lowly Baltimore Orioles), while ensuring that the team doesn’t burnout their roster, is paramount.