Each series is big for Brian Cashman, so the Yankees’ general manager wasn’t about to tag the upcoming three-game set against the second-place Red Sox as any more or less important.
“I don’t look at anything other than we’re just trying to win every day,” Cashman said by phone Monday afternoon.
But don’t take that cliche to mean Cashman isn’t pumped about his team and its first-place standing two-plus months into the season.
Most on the outside believed it would be a rebuilding year, one in which the Yankees might be fortunate to finish at .500. But they got off to a 21-9 start, and at 32-22, they lead the Red Sox (31-25) by two games.
“It’s good to know that there’s now a healthy fear as teams come to play us,” Cashman said. “They know they’ve got a team that’s capable of a lot that they have to go head-to-head against.”
He’s been in the game too long and seen too much that can go wrong, and quickly, to make a “we’re back” declaration. But there’s little question how Yankees stock is trending.
“It’s good to know we’re obviously on our way back to where we intend to get,” Cashman said.
That, of course, is contending for a World Series, something that wasn’t supposed to happen until 2018 at the earliest. But in sports, nothing precludes a team from arriving a season early. One-third into the season, the Yankees are, if nothing else, an AL East contender.
“I don’t think anyone sees this as a fluke,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Sunday.
If not for the Astros (42-16), the Yankees would be leading the league in just about every offensive category. They are 25 runs behind Houston, which has played four more games, and also are second to the Astros in on-base percentage (.341), slugging percentage (.453) and OPS (.794).
“It’s a good team,” Farrell said. “They’ve got a very good blend of young players and veteran guys. What Aaron Judge is doing is impressive, to say the least. Both defensively and offensively. So they’re swinging the bat well.”
The Yankees have 84 homers — a 252-homer pace for a full season, which would break the club record of 245 set in 2012 — led by Judge’s 18. Matt Holliday and Brett Gardner have 12 each, Starlin Castro has nine and Aaron Hicks has eight.
The latter has been a revelation this season and ranks among Cashman’s greatest successes.
The Yankees acquired Hicks from the Twins for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy in November 2015, and what followed was an awful 2016. Hicks hit .217 with a .281 OBP and .617 OPS and, along with Chase Headley, drew most of the ire from Yankees fans for that season’s struggling offense.
Two months into this season, Hicks is making a case to be an All-Star. He is hitting .321 and ranked second in the AL in OBP (.432) and fourth in OPS (1.009) entering Monday’s games.
“He’s been everything you would hope he would be when we acquired him,” Cashman said of Hicks, who was drafted in the first round (14th overall) by the Twins in 2008. “He’s honoring his draft status when Minnesota took him. The physical abilities, the tools, the athleticism that everyone always saw, we’re seeing all of those consistently on display now. Sometimes it takes time . . . You’re witnessing someone allowing all of those tools to play out on a consistent basis, and we’re the beneficiary of that.”
Up in the air with Ellsbury. Jacoby Ellsbury, who suffered a concussion and neck sprain May 24, was scheduled to meet later Monday with a neurologist, and Cashman said an update likely wouldn’t come until Tuesday.
“Obviously, the brain very much still is an undiscovered country,” Cashman said. “You have to be very, very careful, and the most important thing is to get real-time feedback on how he’s responding to increased workload, and you progress when warranted or back off when warranted, and he knows that . . . I don’t think anybody knows what the true timetable would be. The worst thing to do would be to bring him back when he’s not capable.”
The Yankees have become an offensive force to be reckoned with because their outfield — with an unexpected major contribution from Aaron Hicks — has outperformed the much heralded Red Sox trio of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. Comparing the numbers:
Yankees (Judge, Gardner and Hicks) Red Sox (Betts, Bradley and Benintendi)
113 Runs 82
156 Hits 147
85 Walks 66
38 HRs 23
98 RBIs 87
305 Total bases 242
.303 BA .258