LOS ANGELES – The Yankees are getting whole again.
Not completely, of course. Lefthander Carlos Rodon, though progressing, isn’t close to rotation-ready and Harrison Bader just went back to the injured list after missing the season’s first month.
But when Friday’s series against the Dodgers begins, three reinforcements will be in tow — Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson and Tommy Kahnle.
The Yankees telegraphed the move after Wednesday’s night’s 1-0 loss to the Mariners, announcing that utility man Oswaldo Cabrera, outfielder Franchy Cordero and reliever Matt Krook had been optioned.
So what to make of the first two-plus months of this Yankees’ season with, as of now, their roster starting to resemble the one they envisioned?
As good a place as any to focus is their performance in the American League East, which in 2023 is the sport’s toughest division by far.
And though at 34-24 going into Thursday — good enough for third place in the East — the Yankees have acquitted themselves fairly well to this point.
They have not dominated, to be sure, but they have not been dominated, either.
“Every game in this division,” one rival coach in the East told Newsday recently, “is like a war. You just hope to survive [those series]. And if you’re not on your game, you’ll get your [expletive] handed to you.”
The way Aaron Boone has put it since his first season as Yankees manager in 2018 when it comes to the East: “Pack a lunch.”
The Rays, after a historic start, have cooled a bit, which was inevitable as their early efforts had them on pace to win roughly 120 games. The Yankees, six games behind the Rays as of Thursday, are 3-4 against Tampa Bay, a nemesis in recent years on the field and off as well. The Yankees have a borderline obsession with how the Rays operate, especially when it comes to their use of analytics, data science, etc.
The games against the Rays have been predictably playoff-like and taut, with six of the seven games decided by a run.
The Yankees are 3-3 against the resurgent Orioles, who have a diverse lineup that should hit all season and finally have bullpen pieces that no longer seem intimidated in the late innings against the Yankees.
The most entertaining East series so far for the Yankees, who have yet to face the Red Sox, has taken place against the Blue Jays. Toronto is a team desperate to take the next step as prime-time players nationally, but a club that has often wilted in the spotlight. The Yankees, 4-3 vs. Toronto, took three of four in the club’s most recent meeting. In that May 15-18 series at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays all but embarrassed themselves — embarrassment expressed by multiple people in their organization, including by some in the dugout —– by focusing on seemingly everything but baseball, the whole act bottoming out when manager John Schneider yelled “shut up, fat boy!” at Brad Wilkerson, an assistant Yankees hitting coach.
The East is a long way from being decided and the Yankees, though not as top-to-bottom deep as Tampa Bay, are more than capable of making a division push. There likely will be additions at the trade deadline — there almost always are with the Yankees — and the pursuits probably will be what they’ve been since the spring: starting pitching depth and another outfielder, preferably a lefty-swinging one.
What could be some of the stumbling blocks to the division crown, or at the very least, strongly contending for it and notching a playoff spot?
The primary one, of course, is the injury bug, a constant for the Yankees over the years, despite the fanfare that accompanied a major overhaul of their medical staff in January 2020. And the Yankees, even with some of their emerging young talent, still trend to the older side when it comes to their roster overall.
As another rival coach in the division said, referencing injuries: “Attrition very well may decide this thing.”